Thursday, March 30, 2023

Parshas Tzav Shabbos Hagadol 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tzav/Shabbos HaGadol

9 Nissan Adar 5783/March 31, 2023


לזכר נשמת נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר ז"ל


The first time I flew somewhere on a plane I was 8 years old. I went to Eretz Yisroel with my Aunt Miriam at the end of the summer. At the time, I remember thinking how spacious and comfortable the seats were.

When I flew again a few years later I couldn’t get over how much the seats seemed to have shrunk. That has only gotten worse with time.

Before that first trip, people advised me to make sure I had gum for the flight. Although I was very excited that I was being encouraged to bring gum along but wasn’t quite sure why. When my plane took off and my ear started hurting, my aunt told me that I should chew gum and make sure to swallow. I think I stuffed half the package in my mouth.

Airplane ear, also known as ear barotrauma, occurs when the pressure in the middle ear is different than the pressure in the surrounding air. As a plane rapidly ascends after takeoff or descends as it prepares for landing, the air pressure changes very quickly causing the discomfort of airplane ear. Swallowing helps open the tubes within the ear, allowing it to adjust to the outside pressure.

In recent years, after lengthy flights, my ears hurt a lot during landing. Then I have a hard time hearing for 24 hours. Everything said to me sounds hazy, as if I’m being spoken to in a tunnel. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient and definitely makes it harder to hear and concentrate on what is being said to me.

As Jews, one of our supreme values is education. We prioritize the chinuch of our children above almost all else, expending unimaginable amounts of our hard-earned money and resources so our children can attend private schools that espouse and educate Torah values.

The challenge is that some of our children have a hard time sitting at a desk and listening to lectures all day. Therein lies the great struggle and question of how to motivate the seemingly unmotivated. Every parent and educator is aware of how difficult it is to find the right balance and means to educate such children.

The first step in doing so must be to pinpoint why the child is “unmotivated”. Every child inherently wants to do well and bring nachas to his/her parents. The lack of production may be the result of inability to focus, lack of comprehension, dyslexia, or a slew of other intellectual or emotional issues.

There are those who feel that children who aren’t producing need to be pressured more. The logic is that if we could just make them feel more accountable than they would stop slackening.

In fact, the inverse is often true. Like airplane ear, the more pressure increases the less the student is able to hear. We are able to learn new things when we feel settled and calm. But when we feel distracted, edgy, or anxious, it becomes extremely difficult to focus, comprehend and retain new information. When the level of external pressure rapidly changes the ability to learn diminishes as well.[1]

The night of Pesach, the regal night of faith, inner freedom, and hope, is also the night of education. “And you shall tell your son on that day saying…”

The pasuk also instructs us to tell over the story “in the ears of your sons and your son’s sons” (Shemos 10:2) The vernacular of the pasuk is that it must be taught in a way that resonates in the ears of each child. One cannot teach faith in a generic manner. It must be tailored toward each child, spoken into his own ear. In that way, the son will want to convey that emotional excitement to the next generation.

The Four Sons of the Haggadah remind us of the vital importance of addressing each of our children according to his/her unique abilities and weaknesses. We have to teach them and speak to them in a way that they can hear and internalize our timeless values.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] This does not mean that there aren’t students who need added pressure because they do lack a feeling of accountability. But with students who struggle with any of the aforementioned conditions and beyond, added pressure is not the solution. It’s likely that the existing pressure is part of the problem.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Parshas Vayikra 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei – Parshas HaChodesh

Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan – Shabbos Chazak!

24 Adar 5783/March 17, 2023


לזכר נשמת נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר ז"ל

אברהם יוסף בן נפתלי הערץ ז"ל


This week’s Musings is dedicated in loving memory of my Sabbah, Mr. Abe Staum a”h, whose yahrtzeit is this week, 4 Nissan. Among his many other noble attributes, Sabbah was very conscientious about time. He was always early to shul and never kept anyone waiting. He was reliable and dependable, respected as a man of his word and extreme integrity. May his memory be a blessing for his family and the many who admired and respected him.


This year, Hashem has blessed me that I was able to publish a Haggadah with my own thoughts and insights, entitled the Striving Higher Haggadah. Masterfully produced by Mosaica Publishers, like many Jewish books, it was published in Eretz Yisroel and sent to the United States via boat. The Haggadah appeared in stores in Eretz Yisroel a couple of weeks ago. However, the bulk of the books were delayed in arriving in the United States.

As the weeks slipped by and Pesach continued drawing closer, I became more anxious about the arrival of the Haggados. Once it gets too close to Pesach the market for the Haggadah for this year will close and they would have to wait for next year, when they would no longer be “hot off the press”.

I realized that my concern about my Haggados is actually a lesson to be gleaned from the Haggadah itself.

Allow me to explain:

The fast-food industry is quite popular these days. People are busy, and have little patience to wait for anything. The average consumer doesn’t think about the calories and unhealthy saturated fats the fast-food they are eating contains. They want their food to be tasty, and ready quickly, so they could enjoy eating and get back to their day. Eat now; worry later!

Studies show, however, that it is far better to eat slowly and mindfully. In doing so, not only does one enjoy their food more, but he ends up eating healthier as well.

There are times of course when we have no choice but to “eat and run” but we should try to ensure that those times are infrequent.

How strange it is then, that at the Seder we make a big deal, and purposely recount, the haste in which our ancestors conducted their Seder on the night before their exodus from Egypt. In addition, Matzah reminds us of the haste in which they actually left Egypt, not even having a chance to bake bread.

Why is it so important to recall the hurriedness of the redemption?

When someone feels pressured and we want them to relax, we tell them to take their time. When one has time on his side, he has more control. He can pace himself and fulfill his task in the manner he wants. Not having time means not having control. He is forced to work at someone else’s demand and has little say or control over the proceedings.

The redemption from Mitzrayim happened at a frenzied pace to symbolize that it was completely divinely orchestrated. True, we had to have incredible faith to follow Moshe’s lead into the vast desert. But the events of the exodus were clearly supernatural.

The holiday of Pesach has a great emphasis on time to symbolize the complete divinity of what occurred. Although Pesach celebrates freedom, freedom doesn’t translate into anarchy. Rather it’s freedom of the spirit to be able to allow our souls to become elevated. Such freedom requires physical boundaries and limitations.

The other message to be learned from the pressure of time limits is that life is composed of moments that have to be taken advantage of.

On one occasion, someone asked my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, if he could convey an ethical message in the style of the rabbinic teachings of Pirkei Avos. Rabbi Wein replied: “When opportunity knocks, open the door.” (Rabbi Wein added that the challenge is to determine what is truly an opportunity to take advantage of and what is not.)

In Megillas Esther, when Mordechai instructs Esther to unlawfully appear before the king to plead their case, Esther was understandably hesitant. Nonetheless, Mordechai tells her that this is very likely her moment and she dare not miss it. His words to her must ring in our ears constantly: “Who knows if for a moment like this you came into royalty.”

The Haggadah symbolizes this message as well. The redemption happened in G-d’s time, not ours. Our ancestors waited a long time for the exodus. With each plague they were disappointed when they thought the time had come, and then Pharaoh repeatedly reneged. But when the time finally did arrive, it happened with incredible haste.

Seder night and the story of our exodus remind us that when the moment arrives, we have to embrace it. If we wait too long, as quickly as dough becomes leavened, so does the moment and opportunity become leavened and lost.

I am grateful that my Haggados have finally arrived and did not become “chometz” on the boat. In addition, I’m grateful that I thought of how to connect my experience waiting for the Haggados to arrive with a Pesach lesson that I could write about. In this way, I also had the opportunity to get some free advertising for the Haggadah.

Although this brilliant essay is not in the Haggadah, there are many other wonderful and inspirational ideas in it. So, make sure to obtain your copy now. Like redemption itself, don’t delay or you may miss the moment to transform your Seder and continue striving higher with the Striving Higher Haggadah.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum