Thursday, February 23, 2023

Parshas Terumah 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Terumah

3 Adar 5783/February 24, 2023


לזכר נשמת נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר ז"ל




By now the world has moved on from the news of the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. But a few weeks ago, it was all everyone could talk about. There were endless articles, tributes and anecdotes about the Queen and her lengthy reign.

At that time, the Jewish Press featured an article, entitled “My Mother and Queen Elizabeth”. Written by Mrs. Naomi Klass-Mauer, the author recounted that during the late 1950s her mother, Irene Klass, the Women’s Editor of a newspaper, received an invitation to meet Queen Elizabeth during the Queen’s official visit to the United States.

The guest list included many other prominent women, and it was a great honor to have been invited. For weeks before her mother debated what she should wear to the event. In addition, her mother realized that she would likely only have a brief encounter with the queen, and she ruminated over what she would say and how she would say it.

Then on the big day, the author came down with a high fever. She begged her mother to stay home with her, despite the fact that it meant missing the opportunity she had so anticipated.

Her mother decided to remain home with her feverish daughter. Afterwards when the author recovered, she tearfully apologized to her mother. Her mother was quiet for a moment before replying that nothing in the world was as important to her as the welfare of her family and she would never regret her decision.

That was my favorite article about the queen. It was the story of someone who never met the queen because she put her child first.

A few days ago, someone m shared with me the following text that he received from a friend of his. I have no idea who wrote it, but I thought he made a point worth sharing:

"Last night, I was learning in my home, when I realized that there was an important email I needed to respond to. I briefly closed my Gemara and went to the computer. Like most people that open the computer for an email, once I was on the computer, I went to check the news.

“When I opened the news website, it mentioned that Lebron James was 6 points away from breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record to become the NBA's All-time leading scorer. Being that I grew up an avid basketball fan, I figured it wouldn't hurt to take a few minutes to see the historic moment. After watching for a few minutes, Lebron was just 2 points away from breaking the record.

“A timeout was called and as the commercials began, I started rationalizing that although this was the time that I was supposed to be learning, when else would I have the opportunity to watch this seminal moment in basketball history? But then another thought came up... when else would I have the opportunity to not watch Lebron James break the historic record in order to learn for 5 extra minutes?!

“This was indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, I closed the computer and opened my Gemara and learned while Lebron broke the record.”

This week 113 million people tuned in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. At the same time there were a handful of Jews who used the opportunity to learn Torah while not watching the Super Bowl.

Our son Dovid attended a beautiful siyum learning Mishnayos with my father during the Super Bowl. In addition, 110 of our students at Heichal HaTorah attended “Super Seder”, voluntarily learning in the yeshiva Bais Medrash during the big game.

Anyone in one knows that good relationships are not only fostered by the things one does to invest in the relationship, but also by the things one sacrifices for the sake of the relationship. Flowers, cards, gifts, and vacations are all important in a marriage. But equally important, and in some ways more important, are the things one doesn’t do in honor of one’s spouse.

The same is true regarding our Avodas Hashem. When we perform a mitzvah, we recognize that we have done a good deed and invested in our spiritual growth. The blessing we say when performing a mitzvah makes this clear - “Blessed are you Hashem… Who has sanctified us through (performing) His mitzvos and commanded us…”

Refraining from doing something because we know it will be spiritually damaging however, may not make us feel as holy and spiritual. But we need to realize the value and significance of such actions. What we sacrifice for spiritual growth can be even greater than what we invest for spiritual growth.

There are worse things one can do than watch a football game. But one who decides to give it up for a higher ideal demonstrates a desire to connect with and prioritize something greater.

A mother who gives up a meeting with the queen to care for her ill daughter, a person who gives up the chance to watch sports history for spiritual growth, and any other sacrifice one makes for higher ideals, makes a deep lasting impression.

That’s true royalty!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, February 16, 2023

Parshas Mishpatim 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Mishpatim

Shabbos Shekalim – Mevorchim Chodesh Adar

27 Shevat 5783/February 17, 2023


לזכר נשמת נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר ז"ל


On one occasion, after my wife and I had gone out for breakfast together (an occasion that doesn’t happen enough), we went to one of the local Jewish groceries. As we were entering, we saw the rebbe of one of our sons holding a few bags about to exit. We began schmoozing (not about our son. No teacher appreciates improv PTAs…) and the Rebbe shared with us the following personal story:

Some time ago, he was driving on the FDR Drive in Manhattan and was pulled over by a cop for speeding. After scanning his license, the cop came back to the car and told the rebbe he was being arrested for driving with a suspended license because of an unpaid ticket. Without giving him a chance to defend himself, the cop handcuffed the rebbe and put him in the back of his cruiser. Thankfully, the Rebbe’s wife was with him and, although quite concerned, she was able to follow the cruiser in their car to the police station.

When they arrived at the station, the rebbe took a receipt out of his wallet that proved he had paid the ticket two years earlier. I asked the rebbe if he always keeps receipts, and he replied that he never does. For some inexplicable reason the day he paid the ticket he placed the receipt in his wallet, and it stayed there.

The officer took the receipt and told him they would investigate. They took a mug shot of the rebbe and placed him in a jail cell.

The common refrain among those in jail is “So, what are you in for?” His driving without a license seemed rather petty compared to what some of his fellow jail-mates were in for.

After two hours the police told him that the receipt proved that he had indeed paid the ticket. However, there was a $30 surcharge that hadn’t been paid and that was why his license had been revoked. He was released and told that he should go to the DMV the following day and pay $260, and the matter would be dropped.

This particular rebbe is an excellent storyteller and speaker. But he admitted that this is one story he doesn’t share publicly.

I was amazed by the story. He himself couldn’t explain why he put that receipt in his wallet and why he never threw it out? But that little piece of paper saved him from far greater aggravation.

As I was marveling over the story, I realized that something similar occurred to me. Though thankfully, I’ve never been in jail, I did have an experience where something that seemed so insignificant ended up being crucial.

When I graduated Fordham University with a master’s in social work, I began seeking employment. At that point we had two children, and I would soon have to start paying back student loans. I was considering rabbanus but didn’t know how to go about it. As far as counseling was concerned, I wanted to work in the orthodox community but it’s not easy to break in and start building a reputation. I had no idea where to turn.

My wife and I met with Rabbi Moshe Possik, director of personnel resources for Torah Umesorah and lived in my in-laws’ neighborhood. He was gracious with his time, and we discussed different options for rabbanus and the possibility of visiting out-of-town communities for Shabbos.

I was too nervous to start looking into such ideas without any support system and I began to feel more despondent. I left the meeting feeling very dejected. I quipped to my wife that I had no idea why we wasted his time and our time.

That summer I worked in Camp Elyon, a local day camp. To date, that was the only summer since I was 10 years old that I didn’t attend overnight camp. It was hard for me to adjust to day camp after so many years in sleepaway camp.

One summer night I received a phone call from Rabbi Naftali Eisgrau asking me if I would be interested in becoming the social worker in Yeshiva Bais HaChinuch, a warm and vibrant Yeshiva for students who struggle academically. Rabbi Eisgrau had recently become the menahel of the yeshiva. He heard that I was working in Camp Elyon, where he had worked a few summers prior, and had spoken to the camp director about me.

Bais HaChinuch seemed like a great fit for me, and after one meeting in Rabbi Eisgrau’s home, I accepted the position. I was the social worker in Bais HaChinuch for 9 wonderful years.

It was only several years into my employment in Bais HaChinuch, when I was schmoozing with Rabbi Eisgrau, that I found out the rest of the story about how I was hired.

The summer after I graduated Fordham, Rabbi Eisgrau attended a Torah Umesorah employment event. While there he was speaking with Rabbi Possik and Rabbi Possik asked him what positions he needed to fill at Bais HaChinuch. Rabbi Eisgrau replied that what he needed was not in Rabbi Possik’s line of expertise. When Rabbi Possik retorted, “why don’t you try me?”, Rabbi Eisgrau replied “I’m looking for a social worker for my Yeshiva.” It was very shortly after I had met with him, and Rabbi Possik immediately replied, “I have someone for you.”

At first Rabbi Eisgrau brushed him off because he thought Rabbi Possick was referring to a particular individual that Rabbi Eisgrau didn’t think would be a good fit for the yeshiva. But when Rabbi Possik said Rabbi Eisgrau should meet this person who is, “young and excited...” Rabbi Eisgrau realized it wasn’t who he thought. That was when Rabbi Eisgrau called me, and I was hired.

My years at Bais HaChinuch served as my foundation and introduction into the world of chinuch. During those years, I gained a great deal of experience, and forged many important connections. More significantly, I developed a wonderful friendship with Rabbi Eisgrau. Not everyone is privileged to call his (former) employer a dear friend and mentor.

It was amazing to me that a meeting I thought was pointless ended up being vital for my future.

We have no way of knowing why and how a quick decision we make will have significant implications later on. I’m sure my son’s rebbe would rather not have gotten handcuffed and jailed. But that was no less divinely ordained than the receipt he had in his wallet that served as his way out of jail.

The third chapter of Megillas Esther relates about Haman being elevated to a position of authority and orchestrating the heinous decree of genocide of the Jewish people. The chapter begins, “After these matters”. The Gemara asks what matters the Megillah refers to, and explains that it was after the future salvation was set in place with Esther becoming queen. Regarding the Jewish people Hashem ensure that the healing is present before the affliction takes effect.

What is the difference whether the remedy/salvation is arranged before the tragedy arises or afterwards if in the end the salvation occurs?

A loving parent would never put their child through an ordeal without planning it thoroughly first. A parent ensures they will have the best care possible for their child and will make sure everything is in place beforehand.

Hashem is our loving parent. Although things often don’t turn out how we would like or expect, we know there is a reason for all that occurs. We also are strengthened by the knowledge that the salvation we need has already been arranged before the difficult situation arose.

Our relationship with Hashem is always one of preconceived love.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, February 9, 2023

Parshas Yisro 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Yisro

19 Shevat 5783/February 10, 2023


לזכר נשמת נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר ז"ל


It was the morning of the first day of the camp season at Camp Dora Golding a number of summers ago. I was a division head and was davening next to my campers and counselors. The chazzan was finishing his recitation of Chazaras Hashatz when one of my counselors rushed over to me and quizzically said “Birchat Kohanim!” I smiled and motioned that it was okay.

After davening I asked him if this was his first time outside of Eretz Yisroel. He replied that it was. In Eretz Yisroel, the Kohanim bless the congregation every morning during Chazaras Hashatz. Outside of Eretz Yisroel the custom of Ashkenazim is that the Kohanim only bless the congregation during major holidays. Because the Israeli counselor had never been outside Eretz Yisroel, the omission of Birchas Kohanim was foreign to him.

Whenever I have the opportunity to be in Eretz Yisroel I get excited for the opportunity to be blessed by the Kohanim every morning. The fact that I am a Levi and have the privilege to wash the kohanim’s hands prior, only adds to the experience.

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz once quipped that a Jew outside of Eretz Yisroel is like a polar bear in the Bronx Zoo. The bear may eat, sleep, and have its needs taken care of in comfort. But it’s not in its natural habitat.

When Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner was in Eretz Yisroel, a student asked him if there was anything he missed about chutz la’aretz (living outside the Land)? Rabbi Hutner replied that he missed the feeling of yearning to be in Eretz Yisroel.

The Chida famously writes, “Ein davar ha’omeid bifnei haratzon — nothing stands in the way of desire.” This statement (which is mistakenly quoted as a teaching of Chazal) is often understood to mean that if a person has a strong enough desire to do something, nothing will prevent him from succeeding. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

However, that is patently not true. Many people fail to achieve their hopes and aspirations, despite their most arduous and dedicated efforts. 

The Imrei Emes of Ger explained that the Chida is conveying a different idea. Although we are not always capable of bringing our aspirations to fruition, nothing can stop us from desiring them and thereby investing effort to attain them. We can always pine, hope and aspire. What we dream about and yearn for is very telling about our values and priorities. Even if a person doesn’t actually hope for something, just wanting to yearn for something has an effect and can slowly help him develop greater connection with the object of his wished-for-longing.

In exile, there are many mitzvos we are unable to fulfill. However, we can develop a sense of longing to be able to perform those mitzvos.

There is much worthy discussion and revitalized interest in fulfilling the mitzvah of having techelis on one’s tzitzis strings.

A friend of mine (who does not wear techeiles) noted that every morning when he dons his tzitzis and tallis and when he kisses his tzitzis during Shema he yearns for the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah of techeiles.

This friend also said he makes it a point to recite the passage about the offering of the Korban Tamid each morning and, when doing so, he tries to think about the Bais Hamikdash. He tries to generate within himself a feeling of longing for the return of the Avodah. (It’s worth noting that Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky writes that reciting the Korban Tamid is “close to obligatory”.)

When a person is away for some time, he wants to know that that his absence was noticed and that he was missed. The Bais Hamikdash has been in ruins for over 1900 years. There is something glaringly missing from our lives.

When we have the merit to visit the Kosel, we should remember what an incredible opportunity it is. On the other hand, as we watch the Muslims enter any gate they desire in order to ascend Har Habayis, it should cause a painful emotional flutter within our hearts and a longing to return to where we belong.

The power of role models too cannot be understated. The people we look up to can mold our behaviors and even our ways of thinking.

I have often told my students that if they admire a professional sports player, they can aspire to play the game the way that player does and perhaps imitate his moves and mannerisms while playing that sport. But they should remember that those players aren’t our role models for life. We have incredible people to look to to and aspire to be like. Our heroes aren’t lauded for natural, physical talents, but rather for spiritual accomplishment through constant and relentless internal focus and effort.

Rabbi Yaakov Bender related that on one occasion he was in attendance at a Torah Umesorah meeting for Roshei Yeshiva in an upscale hotel in Manhattan. When the meeting was over, one of the Roshei Yeshiva asked Rabbi Bender if he could stay behind so he could speak with him after another meeting he had then.

Rabbi Bender related:I went downstairs and was waiting for the Rosh Yeshiva by the entrance to the hotel. I noticed that there was a big commotion in the lobby. Standing next to me was a fellow with a beer-belly wearing a baseball cap, holding a pad and a pen. Every few minutes a limousine pulled up outside the hotel and the man excitedly rushed down to see who was coming out of the limousine. Each time he would come back up the steps, muttering dejectedly.

After watching this happen a few times I asked the man what was happening and who he was waiting for. He replied that the Major League Baseball awards were being given out in that hotel that evening. The best players were arriving at the hotel for the event. He then explained that he only cared to meet and get the autograph of one player, his hero, Yankees pitcher Roger “the Rocket” Clemens.

When Clemens finally arrived, he was so excited to get his autograph that he looked like a starstruck child. I suddenly had an idea. I always carry a small pad with me so I could record any ideas or thoughts I think of during the day. I decided that I was going to get Clemens’s autograph.

I waited to meet him and told him I was the head of a major educational institution, and I asked him to personalize his message: “To Rabbi Bender and the students of Darchei Torah (he needed help with the spelling). Best of luck, Roger Clemens”.

This happened on a Monday. I waited excitedly until it was time to give my weekly schmooze to the entire Yeshiva on Erev Shabbos. Then I took out the autograph and showed it to them. I asked them who was interested in buying it. Almost every hand shot up. I told them we would start the bidding at two dollars. In a very short amount of time, it was up to twenty dollars. I told them to stop. I then took out the paper and, in front of them, tore it to shreds.

“Listen to me,” I told them, “You are willing to pay money for the autograph of this lowly person because he can throw a ball really fast. But you learn Torah! You are princes! He should get your autograph! You are truly great people because you work on growing constantly. A person like Roger Clemens may pitch well, but he isn’t a great person worth having his signature. Appreciate who you are!”

When I related this story to my children, we agreed that if we were there, we would have gathered up the ripped-up pieces of paper and taped them back together. Roger Clemens autograph torn to shreds by Rabbi Bender! Now, that’s worth keeping.

The things a lesson yearns for, dreams about, and aspires for help define his values and priorities. In addition, they give a person direction, because he lives his life trying to connect in any way with his ultimate dreams.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       




Friday, February 3, 2023

Parshas Beshalach 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beshalach - Shabbos Shirah

12 Shevat 5783/February 3, 2023


In a commencement address to the Eagle Hill School Class of 2013, noted educator, Rick Lavoie, spoke about the importance of education.

Towards the end of his lecture, he related the following:  

“I don’t happen to be Jewish, it’s not my faith. However, my teaching philosophy matches closely with the Jewish philosophy and 20% of my speeches are delivered in front of Jewish organizations. Many times, I am the first non-Jew asked to speak at their organizations. I have fallen under the spell of these rabbis; they are just so brilliant and scholarly. One time I lectured to a group of 400 rabbis. Do you know what it’s like to be in a room with 400 people and know you’re the dumbest person in the room?

“One time I asked a rabbi why the Jewish people are so focused on education? He replied that it’s because education is portable; you take it with you wherever you go. As a people, the Jews have been driven out of their land numerous times. They have been stripped of their money, homes, and wealth. But no one could take away their knowledge and education.”


Rabbi Jonathan Sacks related: “Imagine you are the leader of a people that has suffered exile for more than two centuries and has been enslaved and oppressed. Now, after a series of miracles, it is about to go free. You assemble them and rise to address them. They are waiting expectantly for your words. This is a defining moment they will never forget. What will you speak about?

“Most people answer: freedom. That was Abraham Lincoln's decision in the Gettysburg Address when he invoked the memory of "a new nation, conceived in liberty," and looked forward to "a new birth of freedom."

“Some suggest that they would inspire the people by talking about the destination that lay ahead, the "land flowing with milk and honey." Yet others say they would warn the people of the dangers and challenges that they would encounter on what Nelson Mandela called "the long walk to freedom."

“Any of these would have been the great speech of a great leader. Guided by G-d, Moses did none of these things. That is what made him a unique leader. If you examine the text in parshat Bo you will see that three times he reverted to the same theme: children, education and the distant future…

“Jews became the only people in history to predicate their very survival on education. The most sacred duty of parents was to teach their children. Pesach itself became an ongoing seminar in the handing on of memory. Judaism became the religion whose heroes were teachers and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools. That is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors' vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.

“Moses' insight was profound. He knew that you cannot change the world by externalities alone, by monumental architecture, or armies and empires, or the use of force and power. How many empires have come and gone while the human condition remains untransformed and unredeemed?

“There is only one way to change the world, and that is by education. You have to teach children the importance of justice, righteousness, kindness and compassion. You have to teach them that freedom can only be sustained by the laws and habits of self-restraint.”


The late Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits, had a warm relationship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The first time they met, Thatcher was recently appointed Minister of Education. Rabbi Jakobowits greeted her and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Minister of Defense.” She replied that he was mistaken because she was the minister of education, not defends.

Rabbi Jakobovits replied, “In our tradition the security of a country and the defense of its values and ways of life lie in the hands of those who educate our children. There is nothing more important than education!” 


An administrator in an Israeli yeshiva recounted his experience as a child living in a dormitory Yeshiva many decades ago.

The food served in the institution was fairly meager and the young boy was always hungry. One day the institution served chocolate pudding and the boy took his portion and wolfed it down, and then got back in line and asked for another portion. The server refused his request with a nasty remark. Frustrated and angered the boy turned over the entire chocolate pudding pot and spilled its contents on the ground.

The boy was beaten for the act and the head of the institution publicly reprimanded and humiliated the child. The following day Rabbi Aryeh Levin was coming to visit the Yeshiva. The child was told that his eventual fate as to whether he would be expelled from the institution would be decided by Rabbi Aryeh.

The child spent a sleepless night crying over his fate. The next morning, he met Rabbi Aryeh who asked him to sit next to him and then asked him if he really spilled out the entire pot? When the boy admitted his guilt, Rabbi Aryeh asked him if he would do such a thing again. The boy shamefacedly said that he would never do such a thing again. Rabbi Aryeh then asked him, "Do you really like chocolate pudding?” When the boy answered that he did, Rabbi Aryeh told the boy that he too loves chocolate pudding. He then took out two containers of chocolate pudding and told the boys they would enjoy eating it together.

At that moment, the educator said, I realized what it means to be a Torah Jew.


In a similar vein, Rabbi Chanina Herzberg, the late beloved menahel of the yeshiva of South Shore for over 40 years, was a devoted student of the legendary mechanech, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld.

Rabbi Herzberg related that on one occasion when he was a high school student in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, he was thrown out of class. Rabbi Freifeld, the menahel of the Yeshiva, saw him in the hall and asked him, “Chanina, do you want to go for a cup of coffee and a danish?” They went together to a bakery near the Yeshiva and schmoozed.

Rabbi Herzberg would muse that Rabbi Freifeld became his lifelong and foremost rebbe with a coffee and a danish.


I have the great fortune to have a close relationship with Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, the Mashgiach of Ohr HaChaim in Queens and a beloved mechanech, from the years he spent in Camp Dora Golding. Anyone who came to speak with him in his camp office cannot forget the poignant words on the sign hanging behind his desk: “Children need our love most when they least deserve it.”


As Torah observant Jews we invest incredible amounts of money, resources and effort upon the education of our children. We prioritize it almost above all else. That has been the secret of our continuity and remains the source of our eternity. But Torah education can never be fully accomplished institutionally. It must be individualized and tailored to the unique personality and soul of every child. Sometimes a bowl of chocolate pudding or a visit to a bakery can accomplish more than hours of lectures. True chinuch requires patience, love, and a vision beyond the behaviors being displayed in the moment.

We were liberated from Egyptian tyranny so we can be free to educate and guide our children to follow the path of Torah. Such freedom is challenging and demanding. But the returns are eternal.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum