Thursday, June 29, 2023

Parshas Chukas Balak 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas-Balak

11Tamuz 5783/June 30, 2023


Every summer when our family heads up to camp, every time I get in my car during the first few weeks of the camp season, my smartphone tells me that it’s an hour and thirty-three minutes to get home. No one told my phone that we moved to Camp Dora Golding in the Pocono Mountains for the summer and it still thinks 3 Landau Lane in Spring Valley, NY is our home. Only after a few weeks does it register our address change.

Then, at the end of the summer, for the first few weeks after we return to our house at 3 Landau Lane, my smartphone tells me that it’s an hour and thirty-three minutes to get home. It still continues to register our bungalow in camp as “home”.

What really defines a place as being home?

My mother had a magnet on her fridge that read: “A house is made of brick and stone; a home is made of love alone.”

A house is a geographical location. But a home is a place where one feels embraced, loved and welcomed. A house is a physical structure; a home is a place where one can recharge himself and be authentic.

We hope that our houses are also our homes, but sadly that is not always the case. When one’s residence is a place of constant discord, neglect, or apathy, it may be a house, but it is not a home.

The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that Rebbe Yossi never referred to his wife as ishti, my wife, but rather as beisi, my home.  Chizkuni (Shemos 1:21) notes that battim, or bayis, refers to children.

A home is not merely four walls, a roof, and furniture. It’s a place of family and family values, where everyone in the home feels appreciated and mentally and emotionally secure and confident. A makeshift dwelling can be a home, while a stately mansion can be no more than a large house.

We bless every Chosson and Kallah that they build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel. It is not a blessing that they find a nice house to live in, important as that may be. Rather, it is a blessing that they create a home for each other, in the sense that they are there for each other and cherish each other, and their future children.


When B’nei Yisroel left Mitzrayim, the first place they arrived at was called Succos, alluding to the fact that in the desert they lived in flimsy, impermanent houses.  By living in such provisional and makeshift houses, the nation learned that even in a desert where they didn’t have houses, they could still create homes.


Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik noted that Beis Knesses (Shul) and Beis Medrash (Study Hall) are often translated as Houses of Worship for prayer or Torah study. The more accurate translation, however, is that they are Homes of Worship, where a Jew can feel embraced, elevated and “at home”. (The delicate balance is that while one should feel at home in the sense that he feels he belongs there and he can be genuine and transparent when he davens, he still must have reverence and awe for its holiness.)

The Beis HaMikdash wasn’t meant to merely be a stone building. Rather, it was meant to be a Home for Hashem, as it were. When our ancestors began to view the Beis HaMikdash as a location where they fulfilled their mandated tasks emotionlessly, it lost its purpose.

Hashem does not need a house; His presence fills the world. He desired a Home, where His Presence would be welcomed, so that we could feel connected to Him, as it were. When the Beis HaMikdash became a House of Service, and not a Home of connection, Hashem allowed it to be destroyed.

During the Three Weeks of mourning for the Beis Hamikdash, we do not mourn the physical House that was destroyed. By yearning for the rebuilding of the Home for His Presence, we begin to recreate it even while we are still in exile.


So, can our camp bungalow be considered our home?

During the summer months when camp is filled with wonderful campers and staff members, in a warm atmosphere that fosters smiles, spiritual growth, and fun, it surely can be classified as home. But the day after the camp season ends and campers and staff leave, despite the fact that the campus is still magnificent, it is no longer our home.

If my smartphone tells me my home is still in camp a few weeks after the camp season ended, I guess my smartphone isn’t so smart after all.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     



Friday, June 23, 2023

Parshas Korach 5783


This essay is not addressed to the valedictorian, salutatorian or graduate who received recognition at graduation. It’s geared towards the graduate who spent his/her years in school struggling, often feeling frustrated and not good enough in class. It is to the graduate who often felt he didn’t stand out and was never the source of his teacher’s pride. 

In life, our understanding of anything is based on our perspective. I want to share a perspective on your future and how you view yourself now and going forward. 

We tend to judge the future based on the present. If things are difficult now, we tend to think they will remain that way and life will always be difficult. The reality however, is that things change - life events change, and we change as well. The way something has been and is, is not necessarily the way it will be. 

During our formative years, most of the hours of most of our days are spent in school. In school, students are mostly assessed based on grades. Therefore, if a student does not produce what are judged to be good grades, it’s hard not to feel like a failure. How does an adult feel when working at a job in which he often comes up short and is reminded of that constantly? But the reality is that grades and academic success are not good indicators of the future. 

In the December 8, 2018 edition of the New York Times, there is an article from noted author and psychologist, Adam Grant entitled, “What Straight-A Students Get Wrong: If you always succeed in school, you’re not setting yourself up for success in life”. The name itself is poignant. 

There he makes the following point: “The evidence is clear: Academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Across Industries, research shows that the correlation between grades and job performance is modest in the first year after college and trivial within a handful of years…

“Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve…

“Getting straight A’s requires conformity. Having an influential career demands originality… Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries. They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

To be fair, many highly academic students develop strong study habits and commitment to doing their best. Those are valuable traits in life. On the flip side, students who don’t invest any effort in their school work create negative work habits that will likely negatively impact them in life. But either way, it’s not the grades that matter as much in life, as much it is the effort and commitment. A student who works hard and comes up short grade-wise is more set up for success than a straight-A student who didn’t need to invest effort to get there. 

More significantly, those who struggle but are persistent, become more understanding of the process and patience necessary to accomplish and, therefore, are better suited to follow through on their goals. 

During my early years working in chinuch, when I would speak about life lessons I had learned, I would preface by telling my students that I’m not too much older than they are. During recent years however, I realized that I am triple the age of some of my students. 

I graduated high school over 25 years ago. I can say with conviction that grades are not necessarily the predictor of success. I have friends who didn’t learn much in high school, to say the least, who are today great teachers of Torah, some of whom have been wonderful rebbeim for my own children. Other friends who had stellar grades and were excellent students did not live up to past expectations. 

I also have friends who did very well in school that have also become very successful in life. (This is all bearing in mind that the definition of success is relative and personal. I use the word success in the sense that they defied expectations based on their academic production.) 

So, graduate in the back, who felt unnoticed at graduation and unsuccessful in school, like every other graduate the road is open before you. Recognize your capabilities, respect your deficiencies, and learn to appreciate yourself. Don’t only stay within your comfort zone and don’t limit your future based on your past. Trust that Hashem has a plan for you and ask Him to help guide you to fulfill it. 

Mazal Tov and hatzlocho!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Parshas Shelach 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach

27 Sivan 5783/June 16, 2023

Mevorchim Chodesh Tamuz


“Rebbe, why do we have to learn this?”

Last week my 9th grade bekius Shiur at Heichal HaTorah completed learning Maseches Tamid and Middos. Tamid is the shortest masechta in Shas with only six dafim (folios) and includes a couple of dafim that contain only Mishnayos. However, there is a modicum of challenge in its study in that Tamid and Middos detail the structure of the second Beis HaMikdash, destroyed in the year 70 C.E.

One of my students often asked me why it was relevant or important for us to know what the structure of a building destroyed over 1,950 years ago looked like?

For some time, I was trying to think of an analogy that could resonate with him. Last week I shared the following:

The first time I took my son Avi to a Yankees game he was 6 years old. He was very excited about the game and as we entered the stadium his excitement only grew.

I will never forget his reaction when we walked out of the concession area, and he got his first glimpse of the field. For about thirty seconds his head slowly tilted upwards, from the field to the fabled facade at the top of the stadium, then slowly all the way to the right and then slowly to the left with his mouth open as he tried to grasp the enormity of the stadium. He was absolutely mesmerized.

A few years ago, our family went on an official tour of Yankees stadium during the baseball offseason. Honestly, it was rather disappointing. We were led through Monument Park, where there are tributes to the great Yankees players of the last century. We were also allowed to enter the Broadcast booth where announcers sit and we saw the field from their perspective. But we weren’t allowed to even see the visiting clubhouse where the visiting players’ lockers are, and definitely were not permitted anywhere near the dugout or field.

Contrast that experience with Citi Field, where Mets fans have many more kid-friendly events, at times even being permitted to run the bases.

Why the difference?

The Yankees seek to foster a sense of mystique and awe for their hallowed stadium and its field. The unverbalized message is that non-players are unworthy to touch the field upon which Gehrig, Ruth, DiMaggio and Mantle once played. (Yes, I know they didn’t actually play in this Yankees Stadium. But the new stadium is a continuation of the old one. In yeshivish jargon it has a “chalos shem of the old Yankees Stadium.”)

Part of the experience of attending a Yankees game and being a Yankees fan is connecting with the team’s storied history.

When I think back to Avi’s reaction when seeing the stadium that first time, I feel somewhat sad. If only he, and I, could have that type of experience when peering up at the Beis HaMikdash. Even merely seeing depictions and drawings of the majesty of the Beis HaMikdash evokes a deep emotional feeling in the Jewish faithful. Can we begin to imagine what the feeling will be when we see the real structure?

Of course, Yankees Stadium does not belong in the same sentence with the Beis HaMikdash, but my students were able to relate to the analogy.

Learning about the Beis HaMikdash, its dimensions, chambers and structures evokes within us nostalgia for past greatness and yearning for future glory. It helps make the Beis HaMikdash a reality and recognize that our lives as Jews without it is seriously hampered.

When asked how one could feel the Churban during the Three Weeks, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky would say that one should learn about the Beis HaMikdash and the Korbanos.

The Chofetz Chaim is legendary for having lived every day of his life anticipating Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash. Among his many other invaluable writings, he wrote a pamphlet entitled Torah Ohr in which he extols the value and strongly encourages learning about Korbanos and the Avodah performed in the Beis HaMikdash.

At the end of the first chapter, the Chofetz Chaim writes: “From all this (that I have previously written) one can understand how important it is that one learn Seder Kodashim (about korbanos) with alacrity. In doing so one brings pleasure to Hashem, as it were, because Hashem desires that during times of exile when there is no Beis HaMikdash, His children engage in the study of the laws of the holy offerings and the Beis HaMikdash. In the merit of doing so their sins will be forgiven. Not only does one fulfil the mitzvah of learning Torah when he learns about the korbanos, but in heaven it is considered as if he literally offered the Korban he is learning about.”

In recent years there has been worthy emphasis on creating shiurim about shalom bayis and taharas hamishpacha (family purity) during the winter weeks of Shovavim.

In the same vein, it is appropriate for there to be lectures and shiurim about topics relating to the Beis HaMikdash during the weeks leading up and to and including the Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

There is a broad genre of topics relating to the Beis HaMikdash that can appeal to all levels of learning and interests. The halachos of Korbanos itself is vast and has many different components. There are worthy discussions regarding building the Beis HaMikdash, waiting for Moshiach, archeological discoveries around Har Habayis, and the volatile question about whether a Jew could ascend Har Habayis (halachically, politically and otherwise). There is also worthy discussion among halachic authorities of previous generations whether we could we bring Korban Pesach today even without a mizbeiach, and many other fascinating topics.

The Beis HaMikdash must constantly loom large in the life of a Jew. Aside for our daily prayers for Moshiach, we must also long for that time constantly. The best way to engender those feelings is by learning about it and having a mental image of what we are yearning for.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

          R’ Dani and Chani Staum