Thursday, July 28, 2022

Parshas Matos-Massei 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei – Chazak!

Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5782/July 29, 2022

 Avos perek 2


June 1994 was a great month for New York sports. The New York Rangers, who had previously not won a Stanley Cup since 1940, finally prevailed. Until then, for years, whenever the Rangers played on the road, the home team would taunt them with chants of 1940.

The 1994 playoffs were incredible, culminating with the Rangers beating their rivals, the New Jersey Devils, in double overtime of game 7. The Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks also went to seven games before the Rangers finally secured the cup. New York Rangers fans were euphoric.

At the same time, the New York Knicks were winning their way through the NBA playoffs, beating the Nets, Bulls and Pistons. Alas, in the championships, Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were defeated by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in seven games.

All that sports excitement is very distracting for a ninth grader studying for his first two New York State Regents. That year I was taking the math regents and the biology regents. Math has never been my strong point and I invested hours of studying. I’m proud to say that I scored a 96. The biology regents, however, didn’t turn out that well for me. Thanks to the Rangers, Knicks, and too much time studying for math, I got a 60 on biology. (We’ll just keep this between you and me, my faithful readership. If word gets out it can affect my children’s shidduchim.)

The next biology regents was offered in August, and it was suggested that I retake it. I registered for the regents and then spent the summer studying biology. When I went off to Camp Torah Voda’as for the second half of the summer, I had the biology review book under my bed, and would study from it at night.

The night before the regents, my father picked me up from camp and brought me home. The next morning, I went to a local public school to take the exam. Later that afternoon, my father drove me back up to camp. I was obviously quite anxious about how I did, and I knew it would take a couple of days before I would receive the grade.

What made it more challenging was that in those days we were only allowed to call home on Friday, and I didn’t want to wait almost an entire week to find out how I did.

The next day I received a fax from my father (this was during ancient times, before email….). It said: “To get to you (Camp Torah Voda’as, Highland, NY) we take the 299. To get to Ahuva (Camp Sternberg, Narrowsburg, NY) we take the 17. To get to Yitzie (Camp Dora Golding, East Stroudsburg, PA) we take the 80.” The number 80 was circled five times.

It took me a few perplexing minutes before I realized that my father was covertly telling me that I had scored an 80 on the regents. To the kid in the office handling the faxes, for some reason my father was giving me directions. But I was able to decipher the symbolic personal message without anyone else realizing it.

Just prior to Shemoneh Esrei each morning, we state: “Praised is the man who listens to Your mitzvos and Your Torah and Your Words he places upon his heart.”

Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that one fulfills “sheyishma l’mitzvosecha – hearing Your mitzvos” not only by performing the actual mitzvos, but also “hearing” the message and ethical values they convey.

The Torah instructs us “Kedoshim tihyu - You shall be holy.” Ramban explains that a person can be a “naval birshus HaTorah - a despicable person within the parameters of Torah”. In other words, he can observe the letter of all laws and technically be an “observant Jew”, and yet behave in an uncouth and undignified manner. The Torah instructs us that we must strive to be a people of regal bearing, people who others see as holy and G-d-fearing.

It is not enough to merely observe the laws; we must hear and adhere to their message as well.

Beyond the underlying message of mitzvos and the Torah, there is often a more personal message. These are the messages one gleans from daily living, from events that transpire to us or around us, or from people we encounter.

Being that none of us are gifted with prophecy today, no one has the right to definitively declare what G-d intended through an event that occurred. Interpreting and attaching explanations for G-d is an especially slippery slope when people decide messages for others. But every one of us is able to glean symbolic messages from life generally. The keen person pays attention to events and tries to personally grow from everything that happens to him and around him.

A friend related that one day his watch had stopped. Apparently, the battery needed to be changed. He noticed that it had stopped at 7:42. He attends a daily minyan that begins at 7:45. He knew that to be properly ready for davening he needed to be in shul a few minutes early, but, as of late, he had become lax in that regard. When his watch stopped, he took it as a personal message that he needed to try harder to get ready for davening at 7:42.

That is part of what we mean that we try to “hear” the Word of Hashem. Messages and lessons abound if we are looking for them.

During the time of the Bais Hamikdash and particularly in the Bais Hamikdash, one “encountered” G-d and felt greater connecting to Him. In exile, we have to invest far greater effort to do so. Part of our focus during these days of mourning is to discover and encounter G-d and to try to discern His Word constantly through the world and life generally.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Parshas Pinchas 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Pinchos

23 Tamuz 5782/July 22, 2022

 Avos perek 1


Every word of the Torah is precious, beloved, and timeless. But I have a particular affinity for parshas Balak. I know we just read it. Still, while it’s fresh in my mind I wanted to write about why I enjoy the parsha so much.

For one, parshas Balak has the uniqueness of being the only narrative in the Torah of which our ancestors were completely unaware. As Moshe related the words of the Torah, reviewing all the events that transpired during their forty-year sojourns in the desert, the nation nodded knowingly. But when they were informed that Balak had hired Bila’am to curse them, but their nefarious plan had been thwarted, the nation was stunned. They knew nothing about the evil intentions or about the beautiful praises Bila’am had unwittingly stated about them.

In addition, there is a poignant practical message the parsha conveys. We often don’t recognize the blessings in our lives, because we grow accustomed to them. But when an outsider conveys his amazement and admiration for what we take for granted, it generates within us a renewed appreciation for those blessings.

The Jewish people have their flaws; there’s no doubt about that. We are, and have always been, a tough people. We are stubborn, strong-minded, and strong-willed. Although those traits have assured our survival, they also make us difficult to contend with at times. Moshe Rabbeinu himself told our ancestors at the end of his life. “You have been rebellious from the day I knew you” (Devorim 9:24).

At the same time however, there is much greatness, nobility, strength of character and inherent goodness in the Jewish people. But since it surrounds us and we don’t know any other type of life, we often don’t realize or focus on the gift of being part of such a great people.

It’s well-known that there are non-Jews who keep a yarmulka in their glove compartment. If their car ever breaks down on the highway, they don the yarmulka and stand outside their car, assured that within a short time a bunch of yarmulka-wearers will stop to help. The truth is that in the last few years there have been numerous stories of religious Jews, particularly of Chaverim, helping non-Jews with flat tires, and cars stuck in snow.

A few weeks ago, there was a formula shortage crisis in the United States. There are sensitive and hypoallergenic toddlers that could only have certain amino acid-based formula. As can be imagined, that formula was in high demand and even more limited than general formula.

There was a post that was circulated that said the following: “Emergency post: please share. If anyone, anywhere has this formula (the post had a picture of the can), a desperate mother in Baltimore is looking for this exact formula. Her baby is having severe allergic reactions to everything else tried.” Within a few hours a follow-up post circulated: “Mi K’amcha Yisroel!!! 4 cans located in Monsey with a ride directly to Baltimore!”

The story is truly remarkable. It was sent from Monsey to Baltimore, from one family to another they had never previously met.

I saw the posts about the formula on a beautiful new WhatsApp group called “#MKY” (Mi K’amcha Yisroel - Who is like Your people, Yisroel). The group’s description states:

“A place to celebrate the joy, the connection, and the flavor of simply being a Yid!” What a beautiful idea!

There is so much collective beauty being a Torah Jew and being part of our communities m, but we often forget it in our daily frustrations and gripes.

The average American family starts saving money for their children to go to college when the children are just beginning elementary school. In our communities, we pay astronomical amounts in tuition for our children to attend Torah institutions every year.

The average American family has a family meal on Thanksgiving and perhaps December 25. We enjoy such special family meals every Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In addition, we spend thousands of dollars on Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, kashrus, shul dues, tefillin and mezuzos. Our communities have endless opportunities for inspiration and lectures on a variety of topics, including parenting and improving marriage, parsha, daf yomi and all areas of halacha. I wonder how often the average American listens to a class or attends a lecture about improving their character, marriage or becoming a better parent.

A year and a half after the Covid pandemic began, public school teachers were arguing that schools had to remain shuttered. Meanwhile in our yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs, our rabbeim, moros, and teachers were on the front lines, trying to get our schools to reopen as soon as it was reasonably safe enough to do so.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman noted that we must point this out and emphasize it to our children. They should realize the primacy and vital importance we place on educating and teaching our children Torah and Torah values.

Everyone is familiar with the dictum that the optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees the glass as half empty. I once heard the following clever and true observation:

Whether one sees the glass half full, or half empty is dependent on his vantage point when looking at the glass. If he is looking up for below, he will see the water in the glass. But if he looks at the glass from above, he will see the emptiness on top.

How we view everything in life depends on the perspective from which we are looking. If we have sense of humility and appreciation we will look up at others and at life, and we will notice the blessings on our lives. But if we are looking down from above with a sense of entitlement and arrogance, we will first notice the things we are missing from our lives.

The same is true regarding our perspective when thinking about the Jewish people. If our focus is on the deficiencies of others and with a negative perspective, we will see the faults of the Jewish people. But if we have a perceptive of humility and look up at our fellow Jews, we will see the incredible beauty the Jewish people have and the gift we have to be part of the eternal people.

As we begin the Three Weeks of mourning for the loss of the Bais Hamikdash and our elongated exile, it is an apropos time to focus on our focus. How do we think about and view others and the Jewish people collectively? When we seek the good, we will discover that there is much good to be found.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, July 14, 2022

Parshas Balak 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Balak

16 Tamuz 5782/July 15, 2022

 Avos perek 6


I’m typing this quickly because I don’t have much time. I have to get back to my computer as soon as possible because it’s Amazon Prime Day. That’s not really true - I really don’t have much to buy; but it was a good opener.

The first Prime Day was observed on July 15, 2015, created to celebrate Amazon's 20th birthday. It’s actually a two-day event, this year on July 12 and 13.

On a website describing Prime Day, it suggests: “Your best bet is to make a list prior to Prime Day. To start, you can jot down a general idea of what you want in the notes app on your phone. This way, when the sales begin, you can check off your wish list before items go out of stock.” In other words, you gotta prepare in advance if you want to (literally) get the most bang for your bunk and take advantage of the bargains.

This week, Rabbi Noach Sauber, the learning director here in Camp Dora Golding, noted that a Jew should view every day as a spiritual Prime Day. Each day presents us with opportunities to perform mitzvos and acts of chesed and to fulfill the Will of Hashem in a variety of ways.

It’s well known that in the last hours of his life the Vilna Gaon was crying. He was asked why he was crying; surely, he had no reason to fear the celestial judgement. The Gaon replied that he was pained to leave a world where, for a few kopecks (his currency), one could purchase a pair of tzitzis and accrue eternal reward. In the hereafter one no longer has such opportunities to fulfill mitzvos and garner reward.

The gemara (Eruvin 54a) says: “Shmuel said to Rav Yehuda: sharp one, grab and eat, grab and eat, because this world that we are going from is like a wedding feast”. The delectable food served at a wedding is there for the taking to be enjoyed by all the invitees. But if one doesn’t eat when he is served, soon enough the waiters will clear it away and he will be left with nothing. Opportunities for spiritual growth abound. But if we don’t take advantage of them, they will soon be gone.

Rav Lazer Shach was one of the great Torah leaders in the previous generation. On one occasion he wasn’t feeling well and overslept the first z’man (deadline) to recite Kerias Shema (the opinion of the Magen Avrohom). When he realized that the time had passed, Rav Shach was inconsolable. A student asked him why he was so upset. After all, the halacha follows the opinion of the Vilna Gaon that one has until the second z’man Kerias Shema to recite Shema. In addition, it was beyond his control because he wasn’t feeling well.

Rav Shach replied: Imagine if someone isn’t feeling fell on Erev Pesach and decides to take a nap. When he wakes up, to his utter chagrin, he realizes that it is the first morning of Pesach and he overslept the entire Seder night. (It should be remembered that in Eretz Yisroel there is only one Seder.) We can understand that the person would be devastated. He has lost out on the mitzvah of matzah, marror, four cups, reciting the Haggadah, and the entire lofty experience. Despite the fact that he may have a valid excuse, it will be of little consolation for his loss of the once-a-year opportunity.

Rav Shach explained that he felt like that individual who overslept the Seder. True, he fulfilled the actual mitzvah. But he had lost out the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah in a more ideal manner, and that opportunity was lost forever.

A good businessman is always on the prowl, seeking another chance to make a buck. No matter how wealthy and successful he was yesterday, he is always looking to expand his wealth and portfolio.

That is how the wise Jew views his every day. Serving Hashem is a constant opportunity not to be missed. But each one is a rare chance and if it’s not grabbed it will be gone.

A friend of mine related that he never says, “I have to go to Mincha now” or “I have to go learn now”. Instead, he is careful to say, “I want to go to Mincha now” or “I want to go learn now.” Not only is it a far more positive message for his children, but it’s also a reminder to himself that each mitzvah is a privilege, not a burden.

So, be ready. Prepare in advance. Perhaps even jot down a general idea of what you want to accomplish. This way, when the opportunities arise, you can check off your wish list before it is out of stock.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, July 7, 2022

Parshas Chukas 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas

9 Tamuz 5782/July 8, 2022

 Avos perek 5


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


So, I did it again. I forgot to put on sunscreen on the first day of camp.

Opening day of the camping season last week here in Camp Dora Golding, was a picture-perfect day. It wasn’t too hot and there was a pleasant breeze under bright and sunny skies. Being that it wasn’t too hot I forgot that it was still prudent to put on sunscreen.

I spent the day driving around camp, helping campers locate and move their luggage into their bunkhouses. When the day was done my forehead was a bit sunburned, but my arms were bright red, totally sunburned.

For the next couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about forgetting the sunscreen even if I wanted to, because my burning arms were constant reminders.

Since last week I have never forgotten to wear sunscreen on the first day of camp.

Although I put on tefillin the next morning along with everyone else in shul, no one else realized that it was harder for me that morning. Wrapping tefillin on my sunburned arm was painful.

It’s societally acceptable for someone to pat a friend on the back as an expression of conviviality and friendship. Sometimes it can happen that a person does so, and the recipient unexpectedly reacts angrily. “What’s your problem? Why did you hit me?” The friend might likely think the recipient needs emotional help. That’s because he has no way of knowing that the recipient has a blister or sunburn on his back and the relatively light tap actually caused him a great deal of stinging pain.

The Mishna (Avos 2:5) says “Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place.” In other words, don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Sfas Emes notes that it is essentially impossible to ever “reach his place” because even if one is in the exact same physical situation as another, he has vastly different life experiences, personality traits, and proclivities. The Sfas Emes is essentially saying that no one can ever fully be in someone else’s shoes and, therefore, no one can ever truly judge someone else.

In his landmark book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey relates that he was on the subway in New York City one Sunday morning. It was a calm, peaceful scene with most people reading the paper or dozing.

Then, suddenly, a man entered the subway car with his children. The children were loud and rambunctious, and the serenity of a moment earlier was quickly lost. The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.

Covey relates that he couldn’t help but feel irritated. How could the man be so insensitive and oblivious to the ruckus his kids were making?

After a few minutes, with tremendous patience and restraint, Covey noted to the man that people were disturbed by the noise his children were making and it would be appreciated if he could control them somewhat.

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to consciousness of the situation for the first time. He said softly, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either…"

Covey concludes his story, “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?”

The challenge of life is that we don’t know anything about the trials, sorrows and temptations of those around us. We don’t know of the pillows wet with tears, of tragedies masked by superficial smiles, or secret worries and struggles others contend with daily.

We have no idea of the sunburns others have that cause them to be overly sensitive to the slightest provocations.

In Avos (1:4) it also says, “One should judge the entire person favorably.” It doesn’t say that one should judge every person favorably. Rather it says that one should judge the entirety of the person favorably. Before one judges another, he first has to know “the whole person”, including their background, inner psyche, and all surrounding events. And no one can know everything about another’s life.

The moral of the story is to wear sunscreen and not be too quick to judge others.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum