Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Parshas Noach 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ha’azinu - Succos

12 Tishrei 5783/October 7, 2022


For the past few summers Camp Dora Golding, our summer home, has had a bunch of chickens on campus. The director of camp’s wilderness program constructed a sophisticated coop and the chickens enjoy free room and board for the 8 weeks of the camp season. The chickens roam the campgrounds during the day and return to the coop around sunset. At that point the coop is locked to keep the chickens safe from predators overnight.

Our 6-year-old twins, Gavriel and Michoel, were enamored with the chickens. Whenever they were in the vicinity, no matter what was going on, they would make a beeline, or rather a chickenline, for the chickens. They loved to watch them, feed them, chase them and hold them. In Camp Dora Golding the chicken likely crossed the road to escape one of the Staum twins.

Recently, our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, had a beautiful shabbatone at Camp Nageela in the Catskills Mountains. On the grounds of Camp Nageela there is an area where they have a bunch of animals, including a mule, horse, rabbits, and… chickens.

Our twins were very excited with all the animals, but they were most excited with the chicken. As soon as they saw the chickens they started running after them like long-lost friends. The chickens didn’t share their sentiment and scattered in all directions.

In the corner of my eye, I saw Michoel running after a chicken. A moment later, I saw him running in a panic in the other direction with a chicken in hot pursuit. It was rather comical until I saw the chicken peck him on his hand. I don’t know if he was more shocked than hurt, but Michoel was crying for a few minutes. He later told me that he doesn’t like chickens anymore.

What Michoel didn’t realize was that the chicken that pecked him wasn’t a chicken at all. It was a rooster. Unlike docile chickens, roosters are more aggressive and protective of their territory. Poor Michael had unwittingly encountered their cantankerous rooster.

That rooster also had a terrible peculiarity of cockadoodling all day long. Every three minutes he would bellow another call. It seems that not only was the rooster moody, but his body clock was also completely out of whack.

In the first of the series of berachos recited each morning we thank Hashem for giving the “sechvi” wisdom to differentiate between day and night. The common definition of sechvi is rooster.

Chidushei HarRim explained that thanking Hashem for giving roosters the ability to distinguish between day and night is indirectly thanking Hashem for giving us bechira - free will to choose between right and wrong. Just as the rooster can differentiate so do we have that ability throughout our lives.

Judaism rejects the notion that our decisions and behaviors are predetermined, as if we are conformed to a computer program encoded within our minds.

People would rather believe in predetermination, because it means they cannot be held accountable for their actions.

The gemara (Berachos 33b) famously states, “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven.” In other words, everything that occurs to us is divinely ordained and we have limited control. However, whether we choose to exercise our free will and behave as G-d-fearing people is in our control.

Rambam (Teshuva 5:3) writes that free choice is a principle of our faith.

Soon after he was appointed king over the nation, when Shaul Hamelech set out to destroy Amalek, he failed to kill Agag, the Amalekite king. When Agag was captured and brought before Shmuel Hanavi, the pasuk (Shmuel I 15:32) states that Agag appeared before Shmuel ma’adanos. Some commentators interpret this as “in chains”, while others explain it to mean “with delights.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Hunter (Pachad Yitzchak - Purim 29) noted that combining the two meanings symbolizes the false ideology of Amalek. Amalek espouses that we are chained by our desires and pursuits of delights and pleasures. Our desires are part of our genetic makeup and there is nothing we can do to overcome them. We are chained slaves to our whims. That belief stands in stark contrast to our belief that free choice is granted to every person and therefore we must take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.

The rooster who pecked Michoel did not have free choice to decide whether to hurt a young child. Nor does that rooster have the ability to choose not to crow all day long. But Michoel has the ability to differentiate between a rooster and a chicken, or at least to ask someone else who does.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Friday, October 21, 2022

Parshas Bereishis 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bereishis

26 Tishrei 5783/October 21, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Cheshvan


Succos is a multi-sensory celebration, celebrated with every facet of our being. The mitzvah of succah is one of only two mitzvos performed with one’s entire body (the other being yishuv Eretz Yisroel). The Kotzker Rebbe would say that in the succah even the mud on one’s boots becomes holy. We eat delicacies, drink wine, and bask in the glory of the succah. We also ‘take’ the Four Species which contain a plethora of symbolisms. This includes the four-letter Name of G-d, four different classifications of Jews, the patriarchs and Yosef Hatzaddik, and the seven Ushpizin.

Water, the most basic and essential liquid on our planet and for our well-being, has a central focus in our prayers and celebrations.

Soul and body unite in the intense Succos celebration. But there is one part of my body that gets nervous and takes quite a beating during the days of preparation for this glorious holiday - my hands.

I’m not very construction-oriented to say the least. While I have friends who get excited going to Home Depot or Lowes, I can think of few places that evoke more confusion and helplessness for me than going to those stores. When I was told I needed new screws for my succah, I took one of the old screws to Home Depot, showed it to one of the employees and asked him if he could find me more of those. If anyone starts telling me numbers and measurements of screws or panels I’m as lost as a kindergartener at NASA.

When I finally start building my succah, (more precisely, trying to help our righteous neighbor building our succah), I invariably end up smacking my fingers with a hammer. When rolling out the mats of s’chach, my custom seems to be to roll them out in the wrong direction first and then being forced to redo it. It’s a challenge to lift the re-rolled up mat and turn it around while standing atop a ladder. I also always end up scraping my fingers and getting a few bamboo splinters along the way. Those splinters are particularly painful.

Another of the famous meanings of the Four Species is that they symbolize and represent four of our major organs. The esrog is shaped like a heart, the lulav like a spine, the elongated leaves of the aravah like lips, and the leaves of the hadasim like eyes. We grasp and clutch all four together in our hands in performing the mitzvah.

When something is precious to us, we clutch it tightly. When we feel strongly about something we may make a fist and shake or pump our fist in the air. For example, when an athlete makes a great play, he may pump his fist as an expression of enthusiasm or bravado. A closed fist symbolizes acquisition and mastery. Whatever is within one’s fist is within his grasp and control.

In a different vein, at times when a person prays intensely and emotionally, he may wave his closed fist. This is an expression of hope that he merits what he is praying for.

During the days before Succos, we busy ourselves preparing for the beloved mitzvos of Succos. Despite the fact that doing so may at times entail some discomfort, especially for a novice like me, we do so exuberantly and excitedly. Throughout the seven days of Succos, we grasp the Four Species lovingly and circle the bimah while reciting hoshanos. We grasp each other’s hands in song and dance at simchas bais hashoeivahs. But the crescendo is achieved on Simchas Torah. Throughout hakafos, aside from everyone holding hands and dancing, parents and grandparents lovingly clutch their children. At the start of each hakafa, many have the custom to throw their children upwards, an expression of the parents’ greatest desire that their children always spiritually transcend the confines of normal limitations. But most profound of all is when we clutch the Sefer Torah and hold it close to our hearts. In doing so we profess our devotion and love to its timeless words and values. We want our youth to witness that spectacle so that it gets seared into their souls.

What we clutch and grasp tightly says a lot about our values.

It is always sad when it’s time to dismantle the succah and put the Four Species aside. For me, there are always a few more splinters and pricks. But somehow the pricks I accrue while I am dismantling the Succah and s’chach are far more painful than the ones I get assembling the succah.

The formidable challenge of post-holiday is to maintain the emotional connection we attained and felt. Perhaps one way we can do so is to think about the precious things we clutch constantly. As we hold our siddur, don our tefillin, hold a sefer, or perform a kind deed for another, we can remind ourselves how precious those commodities are and how they connect us with our greats at values. In doing so, we can also mentally connect with the joy we felt on Succos when we held and performed so many special mitzvos in our hands.

Most of the mitzvos of Seder night are performed with our mouths. Many of the mitzvos performed on Succos are performed with our hands.

They say you can’t take it with you. But if we hold it dear in our hearts and pay attention to what we are holding in our hands, perhaps we can indeed take some of that growth with us.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, October 6, 2022

Parshas Hazinu 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ha’azinu - Succos

12 Tishrei 5783/October 7, 2022


Everybody knows the apocryphal story about the rabbi who loved golf so much that he decided to sneak out of shul to play a few rounds on Yom Kippur afternoon. To his utter delight, at every hole he scored a hole in one. Not only was it his best game ever, but it was also the best game of golf ever.

The angels in heaven were shocked. Is this the reward that a rabbinic sinner deserves? But they soon realized the incredible wisdom of the rabbi’s stellar performance. For the rabbi couldn’t tell anyone in the world about his incredible feat.

I’ve often wondered if a woman sets her table beautifully for Yom Tov or makes a particular fancy meal or dish, but doesn’t post a picture of it on her status or social media, has she fulfilled her obligation? Does it count for anything if it wasn’t publicized?

The prophet Michah famously exhorts us, “And you shall go modestly with your G-d.” Modesty is not limited to a mode of dress, but more profoundly it’s about an attitude and mindset. To be modest means to be inward focused, to act in accordance with one’s values without always seeking the approval or attention of others.

In society people love to post their lives on social media. Often people are looking for validation, adulation and attention. But external validation leaves a person feeling somewhat empty and unfulfilled.

There is another dimension to the idea of modesty. When something is special, we keep it private, not because we are ashamed of it but because it’s unique and precious. Halacha prohibits spouses from show affection for each other in public. Part of the reason is, not because doing so is shameful, but because it’s special to them and must remain so. It’s no one else’s business.

There is a specialness in privacy and when something is exclusive and hidden.

In his famous lecture, “Ten steps to greatness” Rabbi Avigdor Miller suggests that every day one should do one act of chesed - even a small one - that no one in the world knows about, except Hashem. Such an act is performed with true modesty and integrity.

The Navi relates that after a great miracle occurred to Chizkiyahu Hamelech, the Babylonian King was so impressed that he sent letters and a gift to Chizkiyahu. When the envoy of the Babylonian King arrived, Chizkiyahu wanted to impress them, and he showed them his treasure house and many other invaluable artifacts. Rashi writes that Chizkiyahu even showed them the holy Aron, luchos and sefer Torah (Melachim II 20:13).

The prophet Yeshaya then informed Chizkiyahu that because he had pridefully shown the Babylonians the Jewish People’s treasures, those treasures would eventually be looted by the Babylonians following the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.

Our greatest treasures aren’t meant to be flaunted or exposed. They retain their uniqueness specifically by remaining hidden and private.

On Yom Kippur we reach deep within ourselves and connect with our Creator in the deepest and most private recesses of our being. We state in the viduy recited on Yom Kippur that Hashem “probes all innermost thoughts and minds and hearts.” In those deeply private chambers of our soul, we seek divine connection.

That follows with the holiday of Succos. The sanctity of the succah is primarily the result of having valid schach above. However, there must also be walls (at least two and part of a third) beneath the schach in order for the succah to be valid.

The holiness of the succah is personal and modest. It is the result of our creating a private place, cordoned off and designated for the sole purpose of living under the shade of G-d.

It’s the things we do, feel, and think that no one else knows about that is most connected with our core essence. During the month of Tishrei we turn inward to get in touch with who we really are. Our job then becomes to maintain that awareness after the great holidays have ended, and not allow it all to get lost in the ostentatious externalities that surround us.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum