Thursday, January 26, 2023

Parshas Bo 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo

5 Shevat 5783/January 27, 2023


I always think it’s ironic when a security guard in the airport asks me the purpose of my visit to Israel. It would be a valid question if I was visiting London or Paris. But does a Jew need a reason to visit Eretz Yisroel?

I had the great zechus to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel last week. The main impetus for my visit was to spend time with our son Shalom who is learning there. But while there I try to take advantage of every moment I have to see and take in as much as possible.

One morning during my trip, I went to the yeshiva in Mevaseret Zion to visit friends and students from both Yeshiva Heichal HaTorah and Camp Dora Golding. When I left the yeshiva and was walking to the bus stop to return to Yerushalayim, I passed an elementary school where young children were running around during recess. Upon the wall of the school building was etched the pasuk (Yeshayah 40:9) “על הר גבוה עלי לך מבשרת ציון - Upon a high mountain go up for yourself, mevaseres Zion (who heralds the news for Zion). Lift your voice with strength, lift it up don’t be afraid. Declare to the cities of Yehuda: “Behold, your G-d”!

When I stopped to take a picture, the security guard asked me why I was doing so. I replied that on the buildings in New York there are no pesukim containing the timeless words of the prophets regarding redemption etched upon its walls. The guard smiled and replied “emet - true”!

Before I left to Eretz Yisroel I spoke to Henoch Messner, the father of my former student, Dovid. Henoch is very involved in a unique and wonderful organization called Ateret Kohanim, dedicated to buying back Jewish homes from Arabs in the Muslim Quarter and what’s known today as East Jerusalem.[1]

Henoch himself owns an apartment in the Muslim Quarter, that he purchased through the efforts of Ateret Kohanim.

One evening during my stay in Yerushalayim, Dovid Messner, who is learning in yeshiva there, brought my son and myself to see the “basement” of his parent’s apartment.[2]

The basement was fascinating.

When the Messners originally purchased the home, they were accosted by Arabs who claimed the building belonged to them. At that point when they began digging it had to be in secret. Eventually the matter was settled in court and the excavation was able to continue unhindered. An archeologist was hired to direct the digging, and every bit of dirt was sifted through.

If you would dig beneath the basement of my house, I’m not sure you’d find anything too intriguing. But in the dirt beneath the Messner home they found artifacts from generations ago, including a pitcher from the Ottoman period (1516-1917) and a lamp from the Mamluk period (1250-1516). Henoch noted that they assume when the excavations recommences and they dig deeper, they will discover artifacts that date back to earlier periods, perhaps even from the period of Bayis Sheni.

I also visited the newly excavated Kishleh building, next to the area known as Migdal Dovid[3], near Sha’ar Yaffo - the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Yerushalayim. There too, as one descends deeper, it’s like a descent through history and past generations. In more recent times, before Israel became a state in 1948, the British used the Kishleh as a holding cell for prisoners. Beneath that are remains from the time of King Herod, towards the end of the second Bais Hamikdash. Further down one encounters the remains of a Hasmonean fortress from the years after the miracle of Chanukah. Beyond that there are even remains from the time of the first Bais Hamikdash.

The same experience occurs in Ir Dovid just south of the Har Habayis (Temple Mount). There are layers of relics and discoveries from many generations. Remnants from the time of Chizkiyahu Hamelech (bayis rishon) and even those that are dated to the days of the ancient Canaanites, before the Land was conquered by our ancestors, are visible.

Another memorable and special part of my trip was being able to participate in the Heichal HaTorah alumni Shabbaton in Yerushalayim. All the yeshiva’s alumni who are currently learning in Yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel were invited to join a Yeshiva-sponsored Shabbaton in Bayit Vegan. In fact, I moved my trip up a few days so that I could be in Yerushalayim for the event.

Aside from the beautiful ruach and rekindled feelings of connection that the special Shabbos generated, I was personally inspired.

As I looked at the aspiring b’nei Torah and budding Torah scholars in front of me, images popped into my head of these same boys as ninth graders, not too long ago. Suffice it to say that back then they weren’t quite the motivated and spiritually energized young men that they are today.

During my aforementioned visit to the yeshiva in Mevaseret Zion after Shabbos, one of those formerly-not-too-spiritually-enthused young men asked me to learn with him for a few minutes “for old time’s sake.” I was limited on time so I told him we could learn for ten minutes. During those ten minutes he referenced three gemaras connected to the sugya (talmudic discussion) he was learning, explained a machlokes between Rashi and Tosafos, and noted how the Rambam fits with the explanation of Rashi.

This was not learning for old time’s sake because during old times - ninth grade- I could hardly get him to keep his head up, never mind get him to actually listen during shiur. Hearing him explain the sugya with such clarity was a beautiful experience. And he wasn’t the only former student who inspired me in that vein.

Seeing our wonderful alumni reminded me that an educator must never limit his vision of a student to the teenager sitting before him. Every child (and adult) has a “basement” in which are hidden treasures, waiting to be sifted and found. Not every treasure looks the same. We do ourselves and our children a terrible disservice by limiting our definition of what is considered inner treasure. But if we can recognize those treasures and have confidence that they are there, we can overcome the initial resistance and challenges to dig them out.

Yerushalayim is not only a location, but also an inner reality within the heart of every Jew. The deeper you dig, the greater the discovery.

So why did I go to Eretz Yisroel last week? Of course, to visit our son and enjoy that nachas. But beyond that, I went to see the priceless treasures that have been excavated. I went to see the revelation of what has been hidden until now being brought to light, physically and metaphorically.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] I had the great fortune to go on two tours of the Old City of Yerushalayim, beyond the Jewish quarter. But that is a discussion of its own.

[2] I must admit that Shalom and I were a bit uneasy walking through part of the Muslim Quarter at night. But then we saw two young frum girls nonchalantly walking and talking as they headed in the opposite direction.

[3] Although the area is called Migdal Dovid – the Tower of Dovid, it has nothing at all to do with Dovid Hamelech. The area mostly contains the remains of three towers built by King Herod during the final century of Bayis Sheni.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Parshas Vaeira 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera

27 Teves 5783/January 20, 2023

Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat


On the morning of the fast of Asarah b’Teves a few weeks ago, I wanted to speak to my ninth-grade class about the reason and significance of the fast. I began by asking them “so, what sad event happened today?” One of my students explained that the previous night during an NFL game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, Damar Hamlin of the Bills, went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field before being rushed off to the hospital.

That wasn’t quite the tragedy I was referring to.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that Hamlin’s injury was a major national event. The fact that it had occurred in front of thousands of people in the middle of a game after a routine tackle, added to the shock it sent to the NFL faithful. Some players were in tears while others walked around dazed afterwards. The game did not resume.

As of this writing, Hamlin has been making an astounding recovery.

A few days after the event while the incident was being discussed on ESPN’s show “NFL Live”, Dan Orlovsky, a football analyst, interrupted the show to offer a 50 Second prayer to G-d. He did not use terms like a “higher power” or a “greater force”. He did not suffice with the general statement of our “thoughts and prayers are with him”. He went all in. He stopped the show, acknowledged G-d, closed his eyes, bowed his head, and led a full-fledged prayer session in the middle of a sports show on national TV.

It was a daring move and one that easily could have cost him his job. Our society has sought to undermine G-d and prayer, even abolishing it from our public schools. Surprisingly, the reaction to Orlovsky’s prayer was positive. In fact, it has been described as one of the “most powerful TV moments ever.”

For us, as believing Jews, prayer is a cornerstone of our faith. In fact, the two are synonymous - Jew and prayer.

Rabbi Shabsi Yudelevich (Derashos Hamaggid 1) recounted a story that appeared in the secular newspapers. It was about a seven-year-old boy from Bogota, Columbia. His parents were so destitute that they couldn’t provide for his basic needs. They left him on someone’s doorsteps, hoping that he would be cared for there.

Although the boy was taken in and his basic needs were cared for, he missed his parents terribly and wanted to be reunited with them.

The boy wrote a letter... to G-d. He wrote about how painful and difficult things were for him, and how badly he wanted to go home. He asked G-d to give his parents the money they needed to care for him and to help him find them. The boy addressed the envelope to G-d and dropped it in the mailbox.

When the letter arrived at the post office, it was brought to the director of the post office. Not knowing what else to do, he opened and read the letter and concluded that it was written with sincerity. He decided to try to track down the author the letter so they could help him.

After a long search and much advertising in local papers, they discovered who the child was. They helped the parents purchase a home and reunited the boy with his parents.

Afterwards, the director asked the boy why he hadn’t written a return address on the envelope. The boy replied honestly that he didn’t think to do so because G-d knows where he lives.

Rabbi Yudelevich concluded that we don’t need to write letters to G-d. Every sincere prayer we utter is accepted from wherever we are, as long as we call out faithfully.

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus noted that to daven to Hashem and have one’s prayers heard, doesn’t require that one be righteous. At the same time, even a sinner should never assume his prayers won’t be accepted. There is only one requirement for prayer - that one call out to God with sincerity and faith. “Hashem is close to all those who are close to Him; to all those who call out to Him with sincerity.” The goal of prayer is that we should feel like we have an ongoing and deep connection with G-d.

In parshas Beha’aloscha when Hashem chastises Aharon and Miriam for speaking unbecomingly about their brother Moshe, Hashem states, “My servant Moshe, in My entire House he is a ne’eman.” Ne’eman is loosely translated as trustworthy or faithful.

Ibn Ezra comments that a ne’eman is like a ben-bayis, a quasi-resident of a home, who enters whenever he wants, even without prior permission, and feels comfortable to speak his mind if he needs or wants anything.

Growing up, my neighbor Eli was a ben-bayis in our home. He would pop in literally whenever he wanted, shmooze with whoever from the family was around, take snacks from our cabinet, and enjoy whatever book or gadget he found. My family loved his visits and appreciated the fact that he could come and go as he pleased and truly feel at home.

There is a certain endearment with having a ben (or bas) bayis who has that feeling of comfort.

A Jew is supposed to feel that he is a ben-bayis of Hashem, in the sense that he is comfortable turning to Hashem in prayer whenever and wherever. He doesn’t have to wait for times of prayer or for when he is in a shul. Beyond set times and places of prayer, he knows G-d is never out of earshot. On the way into a meeting, on the way to work or school, or on the way home, he is constantly praying to G-d for assistance and guidance. He knows that he and his prayers are always welcome.

Prayer is not limited to times when someone is in cardiac arrest or other moments of crisis. Prayer is foremost about connection. In the words of Dovid Hamelech, “I love that Hashem hears my voice, my supplication; that He inclines his ear to me, and in my days I call.” When it comes to prayer a Jew should always feel at home.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       





Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Parshas Shemos 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemos

20 Teves 5783/January 13, 2023




One of the many virtues of being a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah, is the yeshiva’s Rebbe’s room. I pick up many great Torah thoughts, perspectives and stories from my far more esteemed colleagues.

One morning recently, I overheard Rabbi Michoel Parnes sharing a story. Seeing the amazement on my face he offered to give me the phone number of the person who told him the story - Mr. Bernie Hammer - so I could call him and hear it for myself. I took him up on his offer and was glad I did. Mr. Hammer graciously related the following story about his late father, R’ Nosson Hammer z”l.

In his younger years, R’ Hammer had been a student of the famed yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin. Founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, Chachmei Lublin was a majestic Torah institution for elite young scholars. During a time when yeshiva students were disparaged, Rabbi Shapiro founded the yeshiva to raise the esteem of Torah scholars in the eyes of the masses. R’ Hammer was one such scholar and possessed a photographic memory. Decades later, he would repeat shiurim he heard from Rabbi Shapiro verbatim.

During World War II, R’ Hammer was an inmate at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. The camp had two basic sections where inmates were assigned. One was the quarry which entailed dragging heavy rocks up and down a steep mountain. Most inmates sent there didn’t survive. The other was a factory which produced the Messerschmitt fighter planes the Nazis used in their battles against the Allies.

One afternoon, a Nazi officer approached R’ Hammer and demanded that he construct the engine to a Messerschmitt by the following morning. If it wasn’t completed, the Nazi vowed R’ Hammer would be shot.

R’ Hammer received permission to remain in the factory overnight. For hours he analyzed the different parts but could not figure out how to construct the engine. Finally, out of complete exhaustion he collapsed into a fitful sleep, assuming it would be his last sleep on earth.

While he was sleeping an elderly man appeared to him in a dream and told him that he had come to teach him how to assemble the engine, which he proceeded to do. When he woke up, R’ Hammer assembled the engine exactly as he had been shown. When the Nazi officer appeared the following morning, he was flabbergasted. R’ Hammer was allowed to live.

Mr. Hammer related that he isn’t one to easily believe such a story. But his father repeated it so many times over the years and would repeat that the dream saved his life. He was never sure who the person who appeared to him was.

That was the fascinating story Rabbi Parnes had related and was now confirmed by Mr. Hammer. However, I found the subsequent story Mr. Hammer related to me to be even more intriguing:

As the Allies closed in in the waning weeks of the war, the Nazis forced the 50 weary Flossenburg inmates onto a death march. Every inmate had to continuously walk in perfect formation, without food, water or rest. If any of them so much as stumbled or stepped out of line, he was immediately shot, and his dead body left there.

At one point, the Allies began shooting close to where the march was occurring, and the inmates ran in all directions. The nefarious Nazi guards mercilessly shot at the hapless inmates. All those inmates but R’ Hammer and two others were killed. R’ Hammer was shot in the back, one of the other was shot in the leg (which later had to be amputated) and the third was shot as well.[1]

They escaped into a nearby barn. Being that he was in the best condition of the three, R’ Hammer broke into a nearby tavern and stole a bottle of milk. As he was leaving, a Nazi saw him and threw a grenade at him. For the rest of his life, R’ Hammer had pieces of shrapnel from that grenade lodged in his back.

A few weeks later, after the war had already ended, the trio of survivors were walking on a local German street, when they noticed their former Nazi guard, now wearing civilian clothes, walking opposite them. They immediately ran over to him and began beating him.

At the time the American military was trying to keep order. An American officer saw the brawl and brought all 4 of them to a military station for further investigation. When the three Jews explained who their “victim” was, the American officer asked if they had any proof. It seemed like a hopeless request. How could they prove anything? Yet, R’ Hammer replied that he indeed could prove their claim. He told the American officer to remove the German’s boot and to gently turn it over on the table.

When the American officer did so, out came gold watches, earrings, and a lot of other expensive jewelry. The American officer realized there was truth in their claim and investigated further. The German was subsequently hung.

Mr. Hammer continued that when he asked his father how he thought to tell the American officer that idea on the spur of the moment, his father replied with just two words: “Abayei v’Rava!”

(Abayei and Rava were two of the greatest Torah leaders during the years of the teachings of the Gemara. It’s said that no four consecutive folios of Gemara pass without mentioning Abaye and Rava. Their constant Talmudic debates represent and are synonymous with Talmudic debate.)

To me, that story is even more powerful than the first. We learn Gemara because it contains the foundation of our traditions and is the building blocks upon which Torah observance is based. The side benefit of learning Gemara is that it trains a person to think out of the box, to see another perspective, to mine beneath the surface, and to be inquisitive, intuitive and focused.

Our enemies, particularly the Nazis, were well aware of the centrality of Gemara to the Jewish people. They therefore made a supreme effort to destroy Talmud and forbid its study.

Yet, Abayei v’Rava have outlived them and continue to be studied throughout the world. R’ Hammer noted that he had prevailed because of Abayei v’Rava. No doubt, he wasn’t only referring to that encounter with the Nazi, but to his entire survival and rebuilding afterwards.

In fact, it’s the story of our people. We have endured so much yet we continue to thrive. How? Abayei v’Rava!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] Mr. Hammer related that his father, with some assistance, buried the other 47 who were murdered in the death march. R’ Hammer erected a matzeivah which is still there today. 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Parshas Vayechi 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayechi

13 Teves 5783/January 6, 2023


I have a nose, but I’d like to think I’m not too nosey. I have ears, but I don’t think I’m eerie. One thing is for certain. Although I have hands, I am definitely not handy.

So, when I went to retrieve our mail one afternoon, and the entire mailbox came off its stand, it was stressful. The mailbox was old and rickety for a long time. That day it completely came off its rotted screws and was clearly beyond repair.

At first, we placed the severed mailbox on top of a light post at the edge of our driveway. But our mailman informed us that we needed to have a proper mailbox and it needed to be installed before the ground froze.

For many people purchasing a new mailbox isn’t a big deal. But for me, an unhandy dandy, it was no simple matter. We could have had it installed professionally but we decided to get a “do it yourself” one with simple instructions.

Let’s just say that it was a two-and-a-half-week project. Every step of the way became complicated for the Staum amateurs. I borrowed a heavy drill from my neighbor Meir, who is always gracious with helping our family with handy matters. I felt very good doing the drilling myself but afterwards I was still unable to get the mailbox stand into the ground. Meir drove by, got out of his car, and whacked it in in three minutes. I appreciate that he kept his comments to himself and pretended that it had nothing to do with my glaring incompetence.

When it came to the next step - drilling, my wife ran out of patience waiting for me. As she was drilling in the screws, another neighbor walked by and said she wanted to bring her daughters over so they could see that a woman could use power tools. I told my wife that our neighbor should be happy that her husband knows how to use such tools, so she doesn’t have to.

It’s not like I didn’t do anything. I did give my wife a hand. When she was done, I applauded.

Thankfully our new mailbox is up and hopefully will remain that way. Now all our bills will have a comfortable place to rest, and the mailman can deliver them without being grumpy with us.


The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) states that having Fear of Heaven is analogous to a treasurer who was handed the keys to the inner doors of the treasury, but was not given the keys to the outer door. If he can’t get through the outer door, how will he gain access to the inner door?

The Gemara explains that Torah is the inner key to opening the gates of our inner connection with Hashem. Fear of Heaven and living with a sense of constant awareness of Hashem, is the key to the outer gates. Without Fear of Heaven, one cannot gain access to the gateways opened by Torah study and Torah living.

The Gemara states that even if a person masters all 6 Orders of the Mishnah, “the fear of the Lord is his treasure”. If he does not have Fear of Heaven, he has nothing! It is analogous to a person who said to his friend, "I have a thousand measures of grain, I have a thousand measures of oil and a thousand measures of wine." His friend said to him, "Do you have storehouses to put them into? If you have, everything is yours; if not, essentially you have nothing!" So too, a person who has Fear of Heaven has everything. But one who lacks Fear of Heaven ultimately has nothing.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, illustrates this idea with a personal anecdote. In the 1950s while visiting the fledgling country of Eretz Yisroel he went shopping in a makolet (small market) one morning. He gathered a few items and placed them in front of the cashier, who rung up his bill. After Rabbi Wein paid, like a good American he waited for the cashier to bag his items. After a minute of awkward silence, the cashier looked at him with Israeli gracefulness and said, “nu!”

Rabbi Wein realized that no bags were being provided. He would have to carry everything home. He placed yogurt and whatever else could fit in each pocket and did his best to waddle down the street balancing the rest of his groceries in his arms.

Rabbi Wein muses that that incident drove home the meaning of the aforementioned Gemara. If one has Fear of Heaven, he has a sense of perspective and direction in his life. The Torah he learns and the mitzvos he performs draw him closer to G-d and to living a G-dly life. Fear of Heaven is the vessel that allows us to internalize all of our Avodas Hashem. But one who lacks Fear of Heaven doesn’t have the container to grant him that perspective and balance. He may observe mitzvos and study Torah but he remains unbalanced and unable to internalize it.

In a similar vein, the Mishna (Uktzin 3:12) states, “The Holy One, blessed is He, found no vessel to bear blessing other than peace.” One who is at peace with others and within himself can appreciate and enjoy all the other blessings in his life. But one who is not at peace lacks equilibrium in his life and no matter how much blessing he has he won’t be able to appreciate it.

Our new mailbox allows our invitations, USPS orders, and school mailings to be safely delivered. Now we just have to figure out how to get the mailman to not deliver our many bills, solicitations and junk mail.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum