Thursday, April 27, 2023

Parshas Achrei Mos - Kedoshim 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim

Avos perek 3 – 22nd day of Omer

7 Iyar 5783/April 28, 2023


Our children are often told that growing up entails becoming more mature. I occasionally ask my students and children how they define maturity and what it means to them. Their answers are varied and sometimes they can’t really pinpoint what it means to them.

A colleague of mine who is a seasoned educator recounts a personal story to new incoming students at the beginning of each school year.

A while back, he was the dean in an out-of-town school. One evening, the local township placed a stop sign outside the school. The next morning a police officer sat outside in his cruiser waiting for the first person to run the new, unexpected stop sign. Obviously, it didn’t take long.

One student on her way into class was pulled over on school property. The dean saw the flashing lights, heard how gruff the cop was speaking to his student and saw that his student looked crestfallen. He walked over to her to offer moral support. The officer immediately lashed out at him to get away, but he replied that he just wanted to make sure his student was okay. When the officer repeated that the dean had to immediately leave, he replied that he would do so as soon as he knew the officer’s badge number. That, he admits, was a big mistake.

A moment later he found himself being thrown against the police cruiser, arm raised and handcuffed. He was then thrown into the back of the cruiser. Meanwhile students and parents were pulling into the school parking lot trying to figure out why in the world their school dean was being arrested like a criminal.

He was driven to the police station where he was put into a large jail cell with many other inmates. Late that night he was finally released, and the overly aggressive cop was reassigned desk duty.

When he was first led into the cell, the other inmates asked him the classic number one jail question - “what are you in for?”

When he explained that he was interfering with a traffic ticket they hardly believed him. But the part that amazed him, and that he would share with his students, is that he seemed to be the only one who did anything wrong. Every other inmate in the cell, after noting what they were accused of, would insist that they were completely innocent, and were mistakenly arrested or framed. Even the guy with clear blood stains on his shirt accused of murder insisted he hadn’t done anything, and they arrested the wrong guy.

After sharing this story, my colleague looks out at the students and notes that they have not come to school that year simply to learn academics, but also to grow as people. An important part of that growth entails taking responsibility. Even when one falls short of his expectations, he must be able to admit to it and assume responsibility, so that he can grow from the experience.

This is the point I convey to my students and children as well. An integral component of maturity is taking responsibility and not looking to shift the blame.


Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the Jewish idea of viduy - confession, does not entail confessing to another person, or even to G-d. Rather, it is an admission to oneself that he has come up short in his responsibilities. In order to say viduy one must first get past his natural defenses and excuses. “Only if we have the courage to censure ourselves, to consider our blemished past with the same attribute of honesty with which it is viewed by G-d, only then is there hope that we will realize our resolutions and fulfill our duty in the future.”

It is not shameful for one to sin. In fact, to err is as natural as being human. The Torah and Gemara are replete with statements and stories that demonstrate this. What is shameful is when one cannot fess up to what he has done and refuses to take responsibility for his actions or their consequences. That is a telltale sign of immaturity. Leadership begins with maturity and the courage to assume responsibility and not shy away from it, even when there are challenging consequences.


On February 1, 2001, during the second Arab intifada, Dr. Shmuel Gillis, 42, a prominent hematologist and father of five, was shot and killed while driving home from work. Ten days later, Tsachi Sasson, 35, father of two, was also shot and killed while driving home on the bridge between Yerushalayim and Gush Etzion. Both were murdered by Arab terrorists.

In their memory, their widows founded Pina Chama - The Soldier’s Corner (literally - The Warm Corner). It is a place where soldiers can rest and relax and enjoy some free refreshments, and a cold or hot drink, provided with a smile.

Pina Chama is maintained by volunteers and supported by donations.

In April 2010, I had the great fortune to join an Orthodox Union Rabbinical Mission to Israel together with 25 rabbis from across America.

One of the places we visited was Gush Etzion, which included a stop at Pina Chama. While there I noticed a small, printed card with a picture of an Israeli soldier and a Hebrew message. The picture was of Tsachi Sasson and the message was a letter he had sent to his younger brother Gabi on the day of his induction into the IDF in 1989.

I was very inspired by the message, and I kept the card.

The following is my loose translation of the letter. (I hope it’s accurate.)


To Gabi,

It’s true that the following message is somewhat ideological. But we have to strive for high ideals. I wholeheartedly wish you success during your army service.

To be a religious soldier –

To daven Shachris after a white night[1]; to daven ma’ariv after a journey

During free time to learn Mishnayos, even when you feel tired

To reply to anyone who asks questions or wants clarification, to become strengthened from it and not, G-d forbid, to feel broken

At times to forgo a hot meal in order to adhere to the laws forbidding mixtures of meat and milk

To seek out time for prayer every day, because the commanders often forget how much time prayers require

To bear the shame of those who make the rules, and to explain that you don’t throw rocks

To be particular not to use foul language - because wearing a kippah on your head demands that you speak pleasantly

At times to forgo watching a movie or attending a party to maintain greater values

Not to try to change everyone around you and not to allow everyone around you to change you

To bear the title “Religious Zionist” with pride, to live up to it and not allow it to be just a theoretical concept


Place this card in your wallet and read it periodically to refocus yourself.

The main thing is to demand the most from yourself.

You are capable of great things,



Tsachi’s sense of mission and dedication to his values is exemplary. The army itself commands discipline. But a religious soldier has the added responsibility to be dedicated to his values and the demands of halacha.

His words remind me that I too must have that level of dedication and sense of responsibility. I too need to view myself as a soldier with a mandate to be uncompromisingly loyal. I too must strive to be a mature person despite living in a world of immaturity, always casting blame and aspersions. I too must be able to bear responsibility for my mishaps and shortcomings, so that I can be a leader within my own family and community.

It is this attitude and mindset that has maintained the Jewish people throughout history. It is through the tireless contributions of great individuals who have undertaken the responsibility to preserve and perpetuate the Torah. It is how we have returned to Eretz Yisroel after centuries in exile and how we continue to thrive there despite the odds and daily challenges. It is how the Torah world has rebuilt from the ashes and restored the crown of Torah in Eretz Yisroel.

We view ourselves as soldiers, proud members of the army that cannot, and will not ever be defeated.




Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] I assume that means a night without sleep

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Parshas Tazria Metzora 5783


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tazria-Metzora – Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Iyar

Avos perek 2 – 15th day of Omer

30 Nisan 5783/April 21, 2023


It’s incredible to think that it’s been over three years since the onset of the pandemic. It’s already becoming hard to remember just how difficult and anxiety-provoking that time period was.

Yet, there were also some blessings of that period that I remember fondly. One of them was having the opportunity to go for a walk every morning with my wife. After shachris and breakfast, we had time to take a stroll around our neighborhood, before all the zoom and phone call-ins began.

It was this time of the year, and it was a real opportunity for me to watch the dormant trees come to life. I learned the names of many of the trees and recognized the differences between them. I was well aware of the resplendent colors of the leaves in autumn, just before the leaves fall off the trees and die. But I had never realized how stunning and vivacious the trees were at the beginning of spring.

One morning, as we walked down Tioken Road, about a ten-minute walk from our home, we were surprised to see a small cemetery in between two houses. Were it not for the sign on the edge of the property that read “DeRonde Cemetery: In memory of the veterans interred at this cemetery,” it would be hard to realize that it was anything more than empty land in middle of a residential neighborhood.

We walked through the old cemetery and tried to make out the worn-out names and dates. Many of the headstones had fallen over and their writing was hardly legible.

I searched online for some information about the cemetery. I learned that there are 48 plots in the cemetery. The first to be buried there was seven-year-old Jane Von Houten on November 2, 1777. The last to be buried there was Margaret DeRonde Bird on December 16, 1893.

I found an email address for a descendant of the De-Ronde family. I contacted him and he replied that the family cemetery is on what at one time was the farm of his ancestor, Jacob De Ronde. The De Ronde family was prominent in Rockland County. There were four brothers who served in the nascent army of the colonists during the American Revolution, including Jacob. All those buried there are members of the original DeRonde family.

I wonder what would happen if one day while walking past the cemetery, I suddenly hear rumbling. A moment later I see some groggy looking individuals wearing antiquated clothing looking around in confusion. Unbelievably, the dead have been resurrected. They dust off their clothes and begin walking out of the cemetery trying to digest the vast changes that have occurred since they were last there.

While that may seem like a fantastical story, it’s actually somewhat true, albeit not in the cemetery itself.

Anything extraordinary that occurs only excites us and is considered noteworthy until it is given a scientific name and explanation. Once the “experts” tell us that what occurred has a rational natural explanation we are no longer impressed, as though now it’s expected.

The advent of spring is no less a miracle than the resurrection of the dead. We fail to appreciate it as such because it’s a natural occurrence with a rational natural explanation.

If I stand in the same spot where I stood just one month ago, the landscape I see is completely different. Barren branches and bare lawns have transformed into a verdant paradise of stunning pink, red, white and green.

Someone once commented to Rav Aharon Soloveitchik that he felt the most beautiful beracha recited during the year, is the beracha recited at the conclusion of Maggid at the Seder on Pesach. In that beracha we thank Hashem for having granted us the unique mitzvos of the night to eat matzah and marror. Then we passionately pray for the day when we will have the opportunity to offer the Korban Pesach and sing a new song of gratitude to Hashem for the miracles of the future redemption.

Rav Aharon replied that while he agreed that it is a special and moving beracha, in his opinion there is an even more beautiful beracha - the beracha of Asher Yatzar recited after each time one goes to the bathroom.

Most of us don’t recognize the beauty of that beracha because we fail to recognize the ongoing natural miracle of our bodily functions.

Miracles surround us constantly, but we have to be in tune to recognize them. One should not whistle past the graveyard, nor should one whittle away abounding miracles, particularly during the spring revival.


Chodesh Tov & Gut Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Friday, April 14, 2023

Parshas Shemini 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemini – Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar

Isru Chag Pesach

23 Nissan 5783/April 14, 2023


Yes, my Pesach was beautiful. Thank you for asking.

However, trying to take a lesson from the Haggadah, I was thinking that the blanket statement that “Pesach was really nice”, is insufficient.

Obviously, when someone else asks how your Pesach was, they don’t want to hear too many details. As I once heard someone say, hardly anyone asks another where he will be for Pesach or how his Pesach was, and actually pays attention to the reply. It’s more of a formality.

In personal reflection however, the format of “dayeinu” in the Haggadah teaches us that proper gratitude consists of focus on details.

By nature, we kvetch with details and express gratitude (if at all) with mere generalities. But the wise and happier person does the opposite. He notes and is grateful for all the little often overlooked gifts of life and is thereby able to contend with the inevitable hiccups and frustrations along the way.

There are a lot of details and components to preparing for this most glorious holiday. Just being able to observe it according to halacha requires a lot of planning, exertion, and money.

With that in mind I have composed a dayeinu like list of my gratitude for how Pesach was. I have tried to keep my points more general, so that others can relate to the general approach:

·         If we were able to clean our homes for Pesach, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to kasher our kitchens and dining rooms  so that they are completely chometz-free, dayeinu.

·         If we live in communities where we had garbage pickup before Pesach, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to obtain all the different foods and wine necessary for Pesach, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to prepare many delicious meals for all of Yom Tov, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to enjoy Yom Tov attire, including some new clothes for ourselves and/or our children, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to prepare the beautiful Seder table, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to purchase a new Haggadah - preferably the Striving Higher Haggadah - and share, or hear, insights during the Seder, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to see and hear our children/grandchildren recite mah nishtanah, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to enjoy a lofty Seder together with our families, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to maintain our composure and not lose our patience (at least not totally) during the Seder, dayeinu.

·         If the heat was working in our homes, and we were able to be comfortable in our homes during Yom Tov, dayeinu.

·         If we live or were guests in an environment/community that enhanced our Yom Tov, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to enjoy wonderful Chol Hamoed outings with our families, dayeinu (each outing deserves its own line here).

·         If we were able to learn with our children during the holiday, dayeinu.

·         If our car didn’t stall or break down in heavy traffic to and from Chol HaMoed trips, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to witness the miracle of spring seeing dormant trees and flowers begin to bloom, dayeinu.

·         If we had more than enough matzah for all of Yom Tov despite its prohibitive cost, dayeinu.

·         If we enjoyed wonderful last days of Yom Tov with family, friends or neighbors, dayeinu.

·         If we turned on the air conditioners in our homes for the last days (thanking Hashem for stunning weather) and the air conditioning worked, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to do laundry on Motzei Yom Tov and our washers and dryers worked, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to put away our Pesach dishes with a prayer that we be able to retrieve them next year before Pesach in good health, dayeinu.

·         If we were able to enjoy fresh chometz after Pesach, dayeinu.

·         If we are able to take the inspiration of Pesach with us as we return to our normal routines, dayeinu.

·         If I had a chance to write this brilliant article despite it being a hectic time (while I’m waiting at the mechanic), dayeinu.

All this is not to say that everything was perfect over Pesach. If I wanted to gripe, there is plenty I could kvetch about. But Pesach teaches us that one can say dayeinu and be effusive with gratitude, even though we also consume marror and recall frustrations, annoyances and challenges at the same meal.

In this world, dayeinu and marror are not mutually exclusive. We eat the marror and note its symbolic message, and then move on. At the Seder our main focus is on dayeinu and gratitude.

I’m grateful to have recognized this message during Pesach and I’m even more grateful to be able to share it with you.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum