Friday, July 28, 2023

Parshas Vaeschanan 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan – Shabbos Nachamu

10 Menachem Av 5783/July 28, 2023


For the last few years, I have been working on producing and publishing a new Siddur. It’s been a long, arduous and fulfilling process. The Siddur is being thoroughly edited and will hopefully be available in the coming months.

The Siddur was written with the contemporary teenager in mind, with the hope that it can be appreciated by adults as well. In one word, the goal of the siddur is to inspire.

The gemara (Berachos 6b) states that prayer “stands at the height of the world but people disparage it”. Most people fail to recognize the incredible poignancy and greatness of prayer. Part of the challenge of prayer is that the words are unfamiliar.

The Siddur I am working on has a new translation written in a more familiar vernacular. Whenever I had the choice between using a literal translation or being more general so as to emphasize the point being expressed, I chose the latter.

The Siddur also includes a commentary with insights, anecdotes and contemporary perspectives to help its reader connect with the prayers.

One of the phrases that I had a hard time translating were the words recited in the second Hallelukah, “azamrah lElokai b’odi”. The Artscroll Siddur translates those words as, “I will sing to Hashem while I am still alive”, while the Metsudah Siddur translates it as, “I will sing to Hashem while I exist”.

I felt that there was a nuance lacking in both of those translations. However, I couldn’t think of how to better express what I felt was lacking. (In general, it is virtually impossible to truly capture a full translation of any verses or prayers written in lashon hakodesh. There are so many hidden nuances and meanings that cannot be captured in any translation.)

Recently, I thought of the following idea:

It’s well known that during his final days, the Vilna Gaon was crying. When asked what was particularly troubling him, the Gaon explained that he was sad to leave a world where for a small amount of money one can purchase a pair of tzitzis. The merit of wearing tzitzis is akin to performing all the other mitzvos in the Torah (see Nedarim 25a). In this world, with a relatively small investment one can purchase eternity. In the world of truth, however, one doesn’t have such an opportunity. The Gaon was crying that he was imminently leaving a world of so much opportunity.

At the beginning of Ashrei we state, “עוד יהללוך סלה - we will continue to praise you forever.” The word עוד means more.

Great people live their lives always seeking personal growth. They view every day as providing added opportunities to accrue merits by doing mitzvos, studying Torah and performing acts of chesed for others.

Perhaps that is what Dovid Hamelech was referring to when he said “azamrah lElokai b’odi”. I will sing to Hashem as long as I am blessed with עוד, the opportunity do and accomplish more.

This is a particularly poignant message after Tisha b’Av.

In his incredible memoir, Out of The Depths, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau recounts:

“At the beginning of the 1980s, Ed Koch, mayor of New York City, invited me to his office. He is a warm Jew, sensitive and emotional, a great lover of Israel and the Jewish people.

“At our first meeting, he introduced himself to me and declared that he was also a Holocaust survivor. Out of politeness, I refrained from asking him what exactly he survived and where he had been during the Second World War. I wanted to give him a chance to tell his story himself. He said that he had been born in the Bronx and had lived his whole life in New York, but insisted that he was a real survivor. Smiling, I dared to ask how that could be- and Ed Koch began to explain.

“Years earlier, he had traveled to Germany for an educational trip. At one of the stops, the guide showed the group the globe that had sat on Hitler’s desk. “It reminded me of Charlie Chaplain’s movie about the great dictator. But unlike the one in Chaplain’s movie,” Koch recounted, “that big globe had lots of numbers written on it in black marker. When the guide spun the globe, Europe blackened with numbers. Other continents had far fewer black marks. The guide explained that when World War II broke out, Hitler recorded the Jewish population of each country. After all, they represented his life’s goal. Albania, for example, bore the number “1” for the single Jew living there. Our enemy decided that he would not rest as long as that one Jew from Albania, a total stranger to him, remained alive. The territory of the United States bore the number six million. [The population statistics are slightly inaccurate]

“That includes me,” said Ed Koch with undisguised anger. “So I am also a Holocaust survivor-if the Allies hadn’t stopped the Nazi beast, no doubt I would have been destroyed.”

“I shook his hand warmly and said, “Today I have learned an important lesson from you, and I will carry it home with me to Israel. I’ve heard that not all Jewish communities feel a connection to Holocaust Day. From now on, I’ll tell them about the Jew born in New York who lived all his life in an American city, but who feels like a Holocaust survivor…””

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, expresses a similar sentiment. He notes that he was of age during the Holocaust and Hitler wanted to kill him too. Just because he was in Chicago and not in Europe didn’t make him any less of a target for Hitler. But if he wasn’t one of the six-million victims then he was preserved by G-d for a reason. That is why, Rabbi Wein adds, he feels an ongoing sense of mission and responsibility to the Jewish People.

On Tisha B’Av we read and recount the endless travails and anguish that have beset our people throughout the exile. Yet, despite it all we are still here. In that sense every Jew is a survivor, preserved by G-d with a mission to spread G-dliness.

We all have reason to live our lives with an attitude of בעודי, always seeking to accomplish more. When one views his life with that perspective, he sees every day as a gift with unique opportunities for growth. Despite all the staggering losses of the past, we take comfort in knowing that every day we are בעודי and can accomplish great things and become greater people.

That is undoubtedly a source of comfort and strength.

Nachamu Nachamu Ami!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     



Thursday, July 20, 2023

Parshas Devorim, Shabbos Chazon 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Devorim – Shabbos Chazon

3 Menachem Av 5783/July 21, 2023


On Thursday evening June 12, 2014, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach were at the junction of Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion, just outside their yeshiva. Like many do, they were hitching a ride so they could spend Shabbos at home. A car with an Israeli license plate pulled over. The driver and front seat passenger were wearing classic Jewish garb and there was well-known Jewish music playing. The unsuspecting boys got in.

Within a few minutes they were driven into an Arab village. After trying to call the police for help, they were immediately shot and killed. At the time however, the Jewish world was yet unaware that they were dead.

As soon as word went out that the three boys were missing, a massive campaign to “Bring back our boys”, seized the Jewish community, the world over. For three weeks there were tears, prayers and an incredible wave of unity. When the horrible truth was realized, there was tremendous grief and sorrow. The three murdered boys became the son and brother of every Jew in the world.

About ten months later, as the Shaer family was beginning to prepare for their son’s first yahrtzeit, they received a visit to their home from a police delegation. The police explained that they had retrieved some of Gilad’s belongings, including the burnt remains of his talis bag, a backpack, and some other articles. But it was the last item that was the most meaningful. The police presented them with a notebook with a red cover that was scorched along the edges. There was water damage as well. The notebook clearly contained Gilad’s handwriting. His mother began flipping through the delicate pages. Her heart skipped a beat when she read the words, “I love Ima. Very much.”

Gilad’s mother related that seeing those words and receiving a message from her deceased son whom she never thought she would hear from again, was a true miracle.

After they had murdered the boys, the terrorists transferred the bodies to another vehicle and torched the original car. When the fire was extinguished, the materials found in and around the car ended up in the basement of the Palestinian police. Somehow months later the materials were discovered and returned to the families.

Deciphering the badly damaged writing of the notebook was painstaking and required the extensive efforts of experts. But every line deciphered was another treasure to the Shaer family.

In his mother’s words, “Reconnecting to my son in this way helped me overcome my overwhelming sense of loss in those first months and years. Yes, it opened wounds and caused even more pain, but I ended up feeling closer to him.”

It’s an extraordinary, painful, and touching story.

I want to add a hypothetical supplement to the story:

A few months later there is a family wedding in the Shaer family. A cousin decides to bring along a picture of Gilad and the found diary. While family pictures are being taken, the cousin hands the picture and diary to Gilad’s mother to hold in the family picture. When his mother’s eyes well up with tears, the cousin asks her why she is sad. “You have the diary and a picture. What else do you need?”

Of course, this ridiculous situation never happened. Although the diary was a tremendous comfort to the family, allowing them to feel a deeper connection with their beloved Gilad, it doesn’t nearly replace having Gilad there in person.

In 1967, Hashem granted the Jewish People a previously unimaginable gift. The famous declaration of Commander Moti Gur: “Har Habayit b’yadeinu” announced to the world that the Temple Mount was under Israeli control for the first time since the Chashmonai Kings. A little more than two decades earlier, our nation had limped away from the fires of the crematorium, shattered and humiliated. The reclamation of Yerushalayim was also a restoration of our national pride.

At that time, Rav Aryeh Levin purportedly quipped that he only hopes the Jewish people would not take the gift of being able to daven at the Kosel for granted. It’s hard for us to realize how privileged and blessed we are to be able to visit and daven at the Kosel, something virtually unimaginable to our ancestors.

At the same time, it behooves us to remember that the Kosel is merely the outer wall of the courtyard that surrounded the Beis HaMikdash. Today, behind the Kosel, Muslims roam freely upon our holiest site.

Hashem has blessed us and infused us with hope that greater days are coming. But we aren’t there yet.

Like Gilad’s diary, the Kosel is a tremendous chizuk for our people and helps us feel a more profound sense of connection to the source of our yearning and hopes. But like Gilad’s diary, it is no replacement for his family being able to embrace him and see his beautiful smile. For us too, true redemption can only be achieved with the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash and the restoration of the Avodah.

Until then, Tisha B’Av remains a day of anguish and sorrow and we continue to pray, “Nachem Hashem - May Hashem comfort the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim.”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, July 13, 2023

Parshas Matos-Masei 5773



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei

25 Tamuz 5783/July 14, 2023

Shabbos ChazaK – Mevorchim Chodesh Menachem Av


Some time ago, someone close to my family was involved in a serious car accident.

Being that I was in close vicinity to where the accident occurred, the family requested that I go to the junkyard where the car was temporarily being held to retrieve any items still in the car. When I arrived at the yard, I had to walk through rows and rows of badly damaged, mangled cars.

When I finally located the car from the accident, it was a frightening sight. There were shards of glass everywhere, deployed airbags hanging down, and significant body damage to the car. It was quite challenging to carefully climb through the trunk to remove the items from the car.

One of the workers in the yard noted that every car in that yard had a story to tell. He then proceeded to point to a few of the cars and relate their stories. One was more horrific and tragic than the next. I told him I had heard enough and that I just wanted to get out of there. As we walked toward the exit, he looked at the rows of cars, shook his head and again muttered that every car has a story to tell.

On Tisha b’Av morning we recite Kinnos relating many of the tragedies that befell our people during the millennia of exile. Every Kinnah tells a story, each more heartbreaking than the next. They are stories of destruction, loss and anguish. Many of the accounts are so horrendous that we want to put our hands on our ears and scream “Stop!” But on Tisha b’Av we do not run away from those painful stories. We confront them and recall them; despite the anguish and heartache they generate.


During the six years that I was principal in Mesivta Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor, NY, my drive to the yeshiva each afternoon was up Palisades Parkway North to Route 9W. On my way to New Windsor, I would frequently stop at Fort Montgomery State Historic Site, right near the Bear Mountain Bridge. The site offers stunning views of the Hudson River and the nearby bridge. In the middle of the day there were hardly any other people in the park and I videoed weekly divrei Torah from there. I often received compliments about the picturesque backdrop behind me. Often viewers asked me if it was real. (Every now and then I received compliments about the divrei Torah too…)

The beautiful site has added status because it’s a Revolutionary War Memorial site. Throughout the site there are markers and signs stating what occurred at that spot during the Revolutionary War.

Why does it matter that the war was fought there 250 years ago?

When people invest and sacrifice in any endeavor, that investment remains significant as long as it is remembered and honored. The land upon which revolutionaries gave their lives so that we can have the freedoms we enjoy, became hallowed through their sacrifice. However, that is only true as long as the sacrifices are remembered and respected. As soon as they are forgotten, the sacrifice tragically loses its meaning.

In America, we remember those people and places that were significant in helping us attain the comfortable lifestyle we live today. Doing so helps us be appreciative for what we have and not take it for granted.

The earth of Europe is saturated with Jewish blood. There aren’t enough memorials to commemorate all the Jewish victims throughout the generations. Through the painful recollections of Tisha b’Av we recognize that we - the entire Jewish nation - are hallowed and special. Our ancestors were tortured and died for their faith, yet the Jewish People live on.

As a people, we bear many scars. We have survived despite them all and will continue to do so. But we must understand each scar, because each has a story to tell - a story which is an intricate and vital component of our identity and destiny.


Thankfully, the car I went to find in the junk yard, has a happy ending to its story. Its driver made a complete recovery and I merited to attend the seudas hoda’ah a few months later.

Our national tragic story also has a happy ending, but we haven’t merited to witness it yet. Still, we are wholly confident that we will yet be part of the incredible national seudas hoda’ah that will be celebrated.

Until then, however, it is our responsibility to continue relating the stories and recalling each of our battle scars, so that we can continue to honor those who gave all for their religion and continue to be inspired by their legacy.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum