Thursday, June 30, 2022

Parshas Korach 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach

2 Tamuz 5782/July 1, 2022

 Avos perek 4


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


I was the principal of Yeshiva Ohr Naftali in New Windsor NY for six years. This year I returned to seeing clients in private practice and left my position as principal. But it was a wonderful experience to be associated with such an esteemed and respected yeshiva.

At some of the yeshiva dinners, each of the honorees were presented with a beautiful painting of a Gadol that their family was particularly close to. A talmid of the Mir received a painting of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. Another received a painting of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and another a painting of Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.

One year, the yeshiva honored the police chief of New Windsor, Chief Doss, as an expression of gratitude for his assistance with the yeshiva. There was a table of his colleagues on the police force at the dinner who seemed very impressed by the yeshiva, although they probably had no understanding of the speeches emphasizing the value of Torah and chinuch.

I was curious what painting they would present him with. Which Gadol does he ascribe to? Would they give him a painting of his superior or of the first police chief of New Windsor?

The Rosh Yeshiva made the presentation and called up Chief Doss to receive a painting… of himself. It was a beautiful painting of the chief in his uniform looking intense and vigorous.

I can’t imagine that there was even a fleeting thought to present any of the other honorees with a portrait of themselves. The Torah teaches us to always be thinking beyond ourselves, and to look upwards to those wiser for guidance and direction. That is why pictures of our rebbes and mentors adorn our walls. Would anyone hang up a picture of himself, even one in which he is wearing tallis and tefillin on his own wall?

The secret to our national longevity is based on our unbroken tradition, passed down from father to son and rebbe to student.

Having a rebbe/mentor helps us maintain a sense of perspective and keeps us humble.

The Navi states about Yehoash, one of the kings of Yehuda, “he did what was correct in the eyes of Hashem all the days that he was taught by Yehoyada Hakohain” (Melachim II 12:3). The tragedy of Yehoash is when his rebbe, Yehoyada Kohain Gadol, died, he was swayed by miscreants who prevailed upon him to commit tragic sins. This included the heinous murder of Yehoyada’s son and successor, Zecharyah Kohain Gadol. It was Zecharya’s blood that bubbled on the floor of the Bais Hamikdash for decades.

In our chain of tradition, we not only speak of our family lineage, but also of the teachers and yeshivos that formulated our thinking and Torah outlook.

It’s been said that “humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. This is a vital point. We have to take care of ourselves and value our abilities. But we also need to utilize those abilities to enhance the lives of those around us.

It’s also said that EGO is an acronym for Easing G-d Out. When we are too focused on ourselves and our own ego, we become unpleasant to be around. Conversely, we like to be around people who think and care about others, and to use their talents and capabilities to assist others.

Sometimes humility is conveyed as self-abnegation and the need to put oneself down. That is a tragic and damaging distortion. A person must recognize his talents and capabilities. However, he also must feel his accomplishments are a fulfillment of his responsibility and doing so doesn’t make him better than others.

No matter how old one is one’s rebbe continues to infuse him with spiritual vitality, perpsetive, balance, encouragement and chizuk. In fact, even well after one’s rebbe has left this world, the example and imprint that his rebbe infused into his soul remains in perpetuity. It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone say “My rebbe explained” decades later.

As this week is the week of 3 Tamuz, the yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it’s worth noting the incredible influence the Rebbe had, and continues to have, upon thousands of his chassidim and students, many who do not consider themselves Lubavitch, the world over, who were influenced by his brilliance, wisdom and foresight.

Whether one has a picture of his rebbe on his wall or not, the mental image of his rebbe remains seared in his soul and continues to influence his progeny in perpetuity.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Parshas Shelach 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach

25 Sivan 5782/June 24, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Tammuz - Avos perek 3


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


Dedicated in honor of Avi Staum’s graduation from Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

“And let me conclude, dear graduates, by saying that as you go forth from the hallowed halls of our institution, know that life bears many vicissitudes and unknowns. But fear not! The educational fortitude you have received during your years here will stand for you in good stead. We are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Know this - the world is now open before you and you can become anything and do anything. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams, and make us proud.”

End of pontification. Time for crowd to wake up and applaud politely.

‘You can be anything you set your mind to be’ is one of the great lies often touted. It sounds nice, but it’s simply not true!

The hackneyed graduation message can be chalked together with the message of entrepreneurs who have become incredibly successful. In podcasts and articles, they tell us if they were able to do it so can you, and it’s as simple as following their 3 or 4 step plan. Just purchase their book or program and, before you know it, you’ll be fabulously wealthy too. Then you’ll be able to peddle the same lie, about being able to procure quick and easy wealth, to others.

The reality is that there is a predestined path for every one of us. We are not amorphous entities ready to be shaped into anything we desire. We are granted unique and particular personalities, talents, and limitations. The family and community into which we were born as well as the generation into which we were born both shape and limit the trajectory of our lives.

When a five-year-old is asked what he wants to be when he grows up he may reply that he’s going to become a fireman, policeman and doctor, and possibly invest real estate or become an entrepreneur on the side.

Part of maturity is recognizing that we are limited in the choices we can make. In addition, every choice we make is an act of exclusion, choosing one thing is to the exclusion of everything else. Many people have a significantly hard time making choices because they are hard pressed to close the door on all other possibilities.

Our biggest challenge is more about how we deal with the cards dealt with, than about choosing the cards we are dealt.

This week, 30 Sivan, is the yahrtzeit of my Bubby, Rebbitzin Fruma (Frances) Kohn a’h. I was blessed to have my Bubby for the first four decades of my life and that my children knew her, if even slightly. In her youth, my Bubby and most of her family survived Siberia and the horrors of World War II. After being liberated from Siberia, she met my Zaydei and eventually made their way together to the United States.

A few years later, my Zaydei was offered to be the Rabbi of the prestigious Slonimer shul on the Lower East Side. At first my Bubby cried at the mere prospect of becoming the Rebbitzin of a sizeable congregation. It wasn’t what she had “signed up for”. But eventually she embraced it and fulfilled the role for two decades with aplomb. She would cook each week for Shabbos, never knowing how many guests would return home with my Zaydei from shul. Their apartment was a welcoming place for all different types of Jews. It’s amazing how much delicious food and warmth emanated from that minuscule kitchen on the Lower East Side.

I should add that in the 1970s the shul’s membership dwindled until the shul was forced to close its doors and sell the building. After that my Zaydei became a kashrus mashgiach.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often wondered how hard that must have been for my grandparents. I was born well after my Zaydei had left the rabbinate. My memories of him are of his ever-present warmth and sense of humor. If there was any bitterness no one ever saw it.

The real question in life is how we respond to each situation. My grandparents came from a generation that had far less choices than we are privy to. Though we may have more options, we too often find ourselves in different situations than we had envisioned for ourselves.

We may not be able to be anything and everything we want to be. But we can choose how we proceed in every circumstance and what our attitude and perspective is.

Perhaps the more accurate message we can convey to our graduates is:

“Dear Graduates - the serpentine paths of life may not always lead you where you expected. Nevertheless, we are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams. But remember that even when our dreams are not fulfilled, Hashem is leading us on a path tailor made for our greatest growth and spiritual accomplishment.”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Parshas Behaloscha 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha

18 Sivan 5782/June 17, 2022

Avos perek 2


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


One of the more unpleasant parts of traveling is dealing with luggage. Not only do you have to pack your clothing, toiletries, and accessories for your trip, but it has to remain under a certain weight.

I have had the inglorious experience of having to open suitcases at the check-in counter in the airport, trying to shift contents from one bag to another and into carry-on. There’s nothing quite like a long line of people pretending not to look as they watch you in the corner of their eye try to subtly gather clothes off the floor of the airport.

If you’re lucky enough to get a compassionate agent, when she feels you have sufficiently humiliated yourself, and when she gets impatient enough, she may tell you just to put it on the belt and send it. Otherwise, she will tell you that you have to pay the fee for the excess weight.

I have also on occasion traveled for a day and didn’t have any luggage to check in. What a pleasure it was to be able to go through security without having to stop by the check-in desk and worry about weight and size. But traveling for any significant amount of time requires baggage, and there’s not much anyone can do about that.

In our vernacular we refer to people’s “stuff” - their emotional, familial, and personal challenges, as well as their internal struggles as their baggage.

In our baggage we carry our history of negative messages received or perceived throughout our lives, from parents, friends, teachers, society around us, and most significantly from within ourselves. Packed in there is also our bad habits, past failures and negative thoughts about ourselves and others. Basically, anything that can impede our confidence and ability to grow is in our baggage.

There is no one who doesn’t have baggage. The worst about it is that it accompanies him wherever he goes, and he cannot check it in or send it underneath in cargo. Somehow it evades the extra fines and weight limitations and finds a way to be with us constantly.

One of the greatest inhibitors of happiness is that no one knows exactly when he has achieved it. I’ve heard from many clients that they “don’t feel happy”. When I ask them what it is they feel they are lacking in their lives, they shrug and say they just feel they should feel happier.

I ask them to consider if perhaps this is their moment of happiness, and one day they might look back and wonder why they didn’t enjoy or appreciate it more.

In 1979, a woman Vivian Green wrote a short poem that included the following powerful quip: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain.” There is a great deal of unappreciated wisdom in that quote. Most of the time we have no control over the storms of life that we encounter. The question is only if we can learn to dance in the storm, and to see the light in the tunnel. We don’t know when we will emerge from the tunnel or when/if the storm will end. The most we can do is to learn to navigate and even celebrate the present moment with all its frustrations and imperfections.

The same holds true for happiness. True happiness can only be achieved when one learns to make peace and see the blessing in whatever situation one finds himself.

We may feel we will be truly happy when we get a raise, move to the house of our dreams, get married, have a child or a grandchild, etc. But the real challenge is to find joy here and now.

If we want to rid ourselves of the weight of our emotional baggage, we have to first realize that we are schlepping it around with us. Only when we realize that it contains a lot of stuff we don’t need, can we begin to counter the negative messages that have become embedded within ourselves. We can then confront our traumas and demons and begin to process them in a healthy manner, so that they don’t lurk menacingly in the shadows of shame and pain.

But there is another important component to recognize in dealing with emotional baggage. Some of our emotional baggage is not easily left behind. Much as we wish we could discard it and move on, at times it may hold onto us. Even when we cannot rid ourselves of it however, we can still count our blessings and seek to be happy in the moment. Regarding that baggage we can proceed to the best of our ability despite its weight. It will tire us and take a toll, but we can keep our head up and not let it impede our progress to the best of our ability.

Happy travels.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, June 9, 2022

Parshas Naso 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Naso

11 Sivan 5782/June 10, 2022

Avos perek 1


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


Among the list of things we take for granted is our dishwasher. What a gift to be able to place dirty dishes inside it, push a few buttons to run a cycle and then open the door to find all the dishes fresh and clean.

Of course, the cure for taking things for granted is when we run into a problem with the device. One day recently we ran out of the specialized soap pellets for the dishwasher. Our cleaning help surveyed the problem and figured that if we don’t have the pellets, she could just add liquid dishwashing soap.

Our younger children were delighted when they come into the kitchen shortly after to find bubbles rapidly oozing out from the sides of the dishwasher. It took a great deal of bubble cleaning and running a few cycles before our dishwasher was successfully ‘debubblized’.

We often tell our children that when someone bothers them, they should just ignore it. While there is merit to that idea, at times it can be unproductive. When a person is constantly angry and doesn’t know how to handle their intense feelings, over time just squelching them can have negative consequences. This is all the more true with children who have harder time navigating their emotions.

I often tell clients that there are two vital ideas regarding emotions to bear in mind. The first is that we need to notice and respect our emotions. Our immediate emotions are generally automatic. We can learn a great deal about ourselves when we pay attention to our emotions in any given situation. We may wish that we didn’t feel a certain way. But wishing away an emotion doesn’t negate its reality.

In fact, this is an integral part of being honest with ourselves. Often, we convince ourselves that we don’t feel something because it’s not socially or even morally acceptable. Yet the feeling lingers beneath the surface. Until we are willing to admit it, we will be unable to confront it and contend with it.

A simple example would be if one feels envious of another’s success. It’s hard to admit to feeling jealous. After all, jealousy feels petty and is also forbidden by the Torah. But it’s only if one faces the fact that he feels jealous that he can begin to try to exorcise those feelings.

At the same time, we must also bear in mind that emotions don’t always reflect reality. Although I may feel a certain way, and I need to be candid about those feelings, just because I feel them doesn’t mean my feelings are correct. Just because I feel angry at someone for something they did doesn’t necessarily mean that the person was wrong or deserving of my ire.

These seemingly paradoxical ideas are very much part of our reality.

When I was an elementary school social worker, students would often meet with me to discuss their frustration with another student who was bothering them. (It was not a bullying situation.) They would often begin by telling me, “I tried to ginore him but he’s not stopping.” (I noticed that quite a few children think the word ignore is pronounced ginore…) Their frustration and anger were compounded by the fact that after following instructions to “just ignore it” it didn’t make them feel any better.

Learning to ignore is incredibly important, but it’s part of being able to forgive and move on. If one is not able to actually let it go, pretending it doesn’t bother him will not alleviate the problem.

I tell younger children about a cat named Fester who is often forced to stay under the carpet. The longer he is kept under the carpet the angrier he becomes. Eventually he bursts out and begins running around madly, often even hurting people. Keeping Fester under the carpet is a recipe for disaster.

For us too, allowing feelings to fester by sweeping them under the carpet, only compounds the problem.

In marriage too, we are taught how important it is to forgive and forget. However, at times we may be unable to do so for whatever reason. If we shove down the unaddressed feelings, they will not disappear but may resurface in more unpleasant ways later on. We may try to ignore feelings because it’s uncomfortable to address them. But doing so causes them to fester.

If we try to pour soap on our emotional dirt and quickly shut the door on them, we will have to deal with the mess that will unwittingly ooze out from the sides. To fix the problem we have to face the problem. It may not be pleasant in the moment, but there’s a much better chance that the situation will be able to be resolved, fresh and clean.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, June 2, 2022

Parshas Bamidbar, Shavuos 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bamidbar

Erev Shavuos

4 Sivan 5782/June 3, 2022

Avos perek 6 - 48th day of Omer


לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר


I am happy to report that my Striving Higher Haggadah is currently being edited and will be published by Mosaica Press before Pesach 5783 iy”H.

Although much of the book has already been sponsored, I am looking for more sponsors to help offset publishing costs.

Sponsors can be in memory, in honor or as a zechus.

Please contact me if you are interested in partnering with me in the production of this unique Haggadah (


The story is told about a poor Jew in Europe who came home one day and told his wife that he wanted to eat blintzes, like the rich people. The wife replied that rich people eat blintzes because they can afford the ingredients.

When the husband asked what they needed, his wife replied that they didn’t have money for eggs, cottage cheese or the other fillings.

The husband instructed her to make the blintzes without those ingredients. The wife did so and dutifully served her husband.

After eating a few bites, he said to his wife, "You know, I don't see what rich people see in blintzes."

Since the 1940s Coca Cola has been known for its slogan, “It’s the real thing”. In 1999 they adapted it to “Can’t beat the real thing” and in 2005 to “Make it real”. Among other things, the slogan aims to affirm the supremacy of coke over its rival, Pepsi. Although Coke is only 12 years older than Pepsi, founded in 1886, Coke uses that seniority to emphasize that it has ‘soda supremacy and authenticity’.

On Shavuos we celebrate not only the giving of the Torah three-and-a-half thousand years ago, but also that we continue to observe the Torah as we received it then, in its pristine form.

We don’t just learn Torah; we seek to internalize its messages and to make them the central focus of our lives. The more we invest in Torah study and Torah living the more it becomes part of our being.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks noted that people think the reason why many don’t become more observant is because Judaism is too constricting and too difficult. If only it were easier and less demanding more people would embrace it. But the reality is not that way. In thinking about the three major Jewish holidays, more Jews observe Pesach than Sukkos and more Jews observe Sukkos than Shavuos. Paradoxically, Pesach is by far the most difficult to properly observe. It involves cleaning the house, koshering the kitchen, using special utensils, and much else besides. Sukkos is not as challenging but also entails building a sukkah and gathering the Four Species. By far, Shavuos is the easiest holiday to observe, with no special mitzvos.[1]

Most difficult of all is Yom Kippur, when we pray much of the day while fasting and reflecting on our shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, that is the most observed day by Jews across the religious spectrum.

The counterintuitive reality is that the things we value most are the things that are the most demanding.

“Things that cost us little, we cherish little. What matter most to us are the things we make sacrifices for. If Judaism had been easier, it would have died out long ago. Never doubt that it’s a privilege to be a Jew. Head for head our people have done more to transform the world than any other. There are easier ways to live, but none more challenging. G-d asks great things of our people. That’s what made our people great.”

In one of his masterful letters, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner wrote that in large cities there was a city clock hanging atop a tall building or tower. Most assumed that the clock was hung there so it could be viewed even from a distance.

The real reason, however, is that if the clock were easily accessible, every person would adjust the city clock to match their watch, which they perceived to have the correct time. But once the clock was placed out of reach, it would be seen as the standard, and everyone would set their watches according to the City Clock.

The Torah is our city clock. It is the standard bearer for all times, and we seek to adjust our lifestyles and decisions by its expectations, and never the other way around.[2]

When the Constitution was drafted in this country, the Founding Fathers wisely recognized that times change and there is a need for adaptations. They therefore created a process to create and ratify amendments. To date, 27 amendments have become law.

The Torah, however, contains no amendments. Its laws and commandments are infallible and are as applicable today as they were when they were given at Sinai.

To be sure, there have been many necessary precautions, customs and rabbinic enactments that have been added over the years. But those are all to bolster and safeguard the Torah itself.

No matter what society advocates, Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, our code of morality and values have never changed and will never change.

The gemara (Shabbos 31a) states that one of the first questions one is asked by the celestial courts after one departs this world is, “Did you set aside time for Torah?”

Aside for the simple meaning of those words, there is an additional understanding: Did you set the times you lived in to fit with and into the dictates of Torah? Did you ensure that no matter what people around you said or did, you strove to maintain the laws of the Torah?

The alternative is trying to fit the Torah into the whims and practices of the society surrounding. What we know is that those who have embarked upon that path often don’t have many Jewish descendants.

We remain Torah observant not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. We have endured by rising to the challenge and investing ourselves in it. It is those ceaseless efforts that we celebrate on Shavuos. Our Torah is truly the real thing.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] Staying up all night is a custom, but not obligatory

[2] In that letter Rav Hunter was making the point that the Rabbi of a community must be like the city clock. He must set the standards of Torah observance in his community, and not that he flails according to what everyone wants. The same point can be made about Torah generally.