Thursday, August 31, 2023

Parshas Ki Savo 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo

15 Elul 5783/September 1, 2023



Last Sunday, our family went to Newark airport to see off our oldest child, our son Shalom, as he returns to learn in Yerushalayim. It’s the third year in a row that we have done so. Two days later, on Tuesday afternoon, we went back to Newark Airport to accompany our oldest daughter Aviva as she headed off to seminary.

This is the first time that we have sent two children to Eretz Yisroel for the year at the same time. A friend quipped that it must be so quiet in our home. That’s definitely not the case. We b”H have other children to compensate and then some.

The experience of accompanying a child to the airport before he/she leave for the year, evokes strong emotions. It also helped frame my role as a parent generally.

Throughout the last year, we discussed, contemplated, and explored options regarding which seminary would be best for Aviva. Over the course of the summer, we (“we” means my wife. I basically just tried to stay out of the way….) worked hard to ensure that Aviva had all she needs and feels prepared for the trip and the year abroad.

On the day of her flight, we loaded her luggage into the car and set off. When we arrived at the airport, we helped her bring her luggage inside. We waited on line with her until her luggage was checked in and then walked her to the beginning of the line for security check. Standing at the entrance of the security line was a TSA agent who only allowed the travelers to proceed. It was time to say goodbye.

As can be imagined, it was an emotional farewell. We watched Aviva proceed with anxious confidence, until she was out of view.

As I reflected on that experience afterwards, it dawned on me that it is a microcosmic analogy for parenting generally. During our children’s formative years, we invest incredible amounts of time, thought and energy into trying to direct our children along the proper path of life. There is a great deal of frustration along the way as we juggle available resources while trying to properly steer each child upon the path best suited for his growth.

Education is not merely about compliance. It’s more about helping our children develop their inner strengths and learn to deal with their deficiencies and challenges. The goal is that our children should one day be equipped to “go out into the world” with confidence. We want them to overcome the inevitable hurdles and vicissitudes that life presents along the way.

There’s comes a point, or different points in different ways, in which we parents are no longer able to proceed with our children. We can only stand back and watch them proceed on their own. At that point we can only hope we have helped them pack their luggage well and ensure that they have all the necessary documentation and paperwork to be successful.


On Friday night it is customary to recite the pesukim beginning with the words “v’shamru B’nei Yisroel” just prior to Shemoneh Esrei. The final word of those pesukim is “vayinafash - and He rested”.

The Gemara (Beitzah 16a) states that the word ‘vayinafash’ is a conglomerate of the words “vai avdah nefesh – woe, the soul has been lost.” It is a reference to the loss of the neshamah yesairah - the “added soul” that we are blessed with on Shabbos.

The Ba'al Shem Tov asks why we allude to the loss of the neshamah yesirah on Friday evening, moments after we merited its arrival with the advent of Shabbos?

 He answers that if we are aware when Shabbos arrives that the neshamah yesirah, is only a temporary gift, we will make a special effort to embrace it and take advantage of it throughout the holy day. We declare from the outset that the gift is temporary so we can utilize it properly.  

In a similar vein, wise parents recognize that the mandate, challenge and opportunity to be mechanech their children don’t last forever. Surely the role of a parent is always invaluable, but the role changes with time. If we are aware from the outset that there is a time limit to our mission, it helps us maintain the sense of vision and direction that we so easily became distracted from.

Our prayer, and the prayer of every parent, is that our children be able to eventually leave the secure confines of our home, knowing that we helped them pack their proverbial bags for the journey ahead.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Parshas Ki Seitzei 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei

8 Elul 5783/August 25, 2023


One morning recently, when I walked out of our bungalow in Camp Dora Golding, I noticed that the garbage can that was always there was gone. I called the maintenance director, Effy Lew, to ask if he had perhaps moved it to another location, but he said he knew nothing about it. It was strange for a garbage can to just disappear. Later that day Effy brought us a new garbage can.

A couple of days later, when my wife went to the back of our bungalow near the woods, she noticed our long-lost garbage can. She was about to move it back to its place, when she noticed that there were a few frogs jumping around inside. The mystery was solved. Our almost seven-year-old twins had been searching for a new home in which to sequester the frogs they had pulled out of the camp lake. The garbage can was a perfect place.

When Michoel realized that we knew about his frogs and were letting them go at night, he and his friends found a container where they would hide in different places near the woods.

Before we left camp to return home last week, my wife gave me the noble task of setting the frogs free from their container. In the bustle of packing and loading the cars however, I forgot. I called Effy Lew and asked him if he could do the honors.

He agreed and sent me a video of the touching ceremony. When he opened the cover of the container, most of the frogs (yes, there were a bunch) jumped away immediately. But there was one frog that lingered and just sat at the edge of the container.

It reminded me of the parable from the Medrash (Koheles Rabbah 7), quoted by Rabbeinu Yonah at the beginning of Shaarei Teshuva:

A group of prisoners in jail dug a hole and escaped. When the jail warden came in the morning, he saw one prisoner standing next to the hole and immediately realized that everyone else had escaped. He smacked the lone prisoner with a stick and said to him, “You foolish person. The hole was dug before you. Why didn’t you hurry to save yourself along with everyone else.”

The commentaries wonder why the lone prisoner is depicted as being foolish. Isn’t it possible that he doesn’t want to escape and get himself into bigger trouble? After all, didn’t he originally end up in jail for committing a crime?

Rav Kook (Igros Harayah 135) explains that if the hole in the cell was not immediately filled and there were no consequences imposed on the diggers, that demonstrated that the jail guards were aware of the hole and were instructed not to stop them. It was clear that the king had purposely left them a means to escape, and they would not be penalized for doing so.

Yosef Ometz suggests that it was the king himself who commissioned that the hole be dug. When the one prisoner remained in jail, he brazenly rejected the overture of the king to allow him to escape and reintegrate into society.

The “hole” and escape route of teshuva is provided for by Hashem, as it were. If we do not avail ourselves of the incredible opportunity, we have to do teshuva, it is a more egregious affront to Hashem than the original sin committed.

Sometimes we think that teshuva is b’dieved. We need to do teshuva because we are pathetic, uncontrollable beings. But Chazal (Medrash, Tehillim 90) teach that teshuva preceded creation. Teshuva isn’t plan B, but part of the original plan for creation. The world was created with a built-in system of rectification called teshuva.

Some of the greatest and most inspiring personalities in Jewish history have been ba’alei teshuva of note. Yechoniah, the second to last king of Yehuda before the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash, was a notoriously wicked king. While imprisoned by Nevuchadnezzar, in a moment of potential despair, Yechoniah decided to do teshuva. He outlived Nevuchadnezzar and was eventually freed from prison where he became a leader of the Jewish community in Bavel. Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 7:6) lists Yechoniah haMelech as one of the symbols of the extent of the poignancy of teshuva.

Similarly, Reish Lakish, the great Amora, is legendary for his many intense disputes with his brother-in-law, the great Rav Yochanan. Reish Lakish began his career as the notorious leader of a group of bandits who molested people. When Rav Yochanan first encountered Reish Lakish and suggested that Reish Lakish use his strength for Torah, Reish Lakish responded that Rav Yochanan should use his good looks to court women (Bava Metzia 84a). Yet, Reish Lakish is one of the greatest personalities mentioned in the Gemara. In fact, Reish Lakish himself is the one who teaches us about the transformative power of teshuva (see Yoma 86b).


I’m happy to report that after a few prompts, that last frog did indeed take advantage of his newfound freedom and made a clean getaway. I am also happy to report that none of the escaped frogs have allowed themselves to be re-caught by prowling seven-year-olds since they have been freed. It seems their teshuva is complete, and they have learned from their captivity to be more careful.

That’s at least until those prowling children return, G-d willing, next summer.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

          R’ Dani and Chani Staum         


Thursday, August 17, 2023

Parshas Shoftim 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shoftim

Rosh Chodesh Elul

1 Elul 5783/August 18, 2023


One of the WhatsApp chats I am subscribed to is the daily Torah thoughts of Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir. In her bio, aside from being well known in Israeli media as a reporter, Mrs. Rahav-Meir proudly touts the fact that she is a ba’alas teshuva. She is becoming increasingly popular for her inspirational lessons and perspectives through her lectures and books.

One morning this week she disseminated the following profound thought:

 “Have you ever thought about the hobby of the guy who cleans your street? Or his dreams? The city of Akko, as reported by journalist Yair Kraus, has put up new signs which make its sanitation workers into stars. And so, we discover Sammy's love for his grandchildren and for swimming, and learn that Victor goes fishing at least once a week. “Behind every clean neighborhood, there is a story" is the motto of this delightful campaign.”

It reminded me of a story I read about students in a graduate program who were about to take their final exam.

Until that point the exams had been challenging but manageable and students were anticipating the same for the final. Pay attention in class, study your notes and you should be fine. When they saw the final question on the final however, their eyes widened in surprise: "What is the name of the custodian who cleans the school building every day?" The question was worth 25% of the final grade.

The students were stunned. How could they be expected to know the name of the school janitor? When was that ever discussed in class? When the students questioned the professor if the question was really worth a quarter of their grade, he replied that it was indeed.

He explained that in life one encounters many people, some daily, but hardly stops to notice or pay attention to them. He told his students they if wanted to achieve effective leadership positions, they had to train themselves to recognize and value the contribution of every person they encounter. How could they not know the name of the custodian who cleaned their building every day? How could they not occasionally thank him and wish him a personal good day?


In January 2020 at the dinner of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, made a surprise award presentation to Mr. Everett Fortune, the Yeshiva’s veteran chief of security.

Mr. Fortune, a non-Jew, had been the yeshiva’s security guard for 30 years and earned the trust and friendship of the Yeshiva’s students, staff, and parent body. Visibly surprised and moved, Mr. Fortune was at a loss for words. He thanked the Rosh Yeshiva and the Yeshiva for being so special to him.


During my days in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, the yeshiva cook, Chris, was very appreciated among the Rebbeim and bochurim. Aside from the fact that he knew halachos of kashrus better than most of the bochurim, the culture of the yeshiva was to value and appreciate its workers. It trickled down to the students because that is how they saw the Rosh Yeshiva and Rebbeim interact with him and the other workers.

Aside from the extremely important aspect of creating kiddush Hashem, noticing and valuing others helps make us better people.

Mrs. Rahav-Meir continued, “This week's Torah portion lodges a protest against the idea of "invisible" people. A situation is described in which the body of a murder victim is discovered without any clue as to the circumstances of his death. In such a case, the leaders of the nearest town break the neck of a calf (the egla arufa ceremony) where the corpse was found. Why? The animal's sacrifice is meant to atone for the negligence of the townspeople in not providing the victim with hospitality, in not being concerned for his welfare. This is public negligence of the worst kind.

“Our commentators explain that such a tragic end is preventable. They cry out to us to pay closer attention to those around us, to find out who they really are and the story behind them. So, what's the name of your street cleaner?”

One of the common traits I noticed about the great people I have had the good fortune to know is that they don’t take things or people for granted. In addition, they value others and see them for who they are, not merely for what they do.

As the month of Elul begins it’s a perfect time to be more mindful of those around us, especially those whom we take for granted. We can lift someone’s spirits and brighten his day just by noticing and valuing him, particularly when we are the beneficiaries of his contribution.


Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Parshas Re'eh 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Re’eh

23 Menachem Av 5783/August 11, 2023


Our family has the wonderful opportunity to spend our summers at Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA.

Among its many outstanding features and qualities, Camp Dora Golding has an unparalleled learning program that it is immensely proud of. Directed by its indefatigable learning director, Rabbi Noach Sauber, who is also a personal rebbe and mentor to our family, there is an unbelievable amount of learning that takes place here.

A half hour before Mincha on Erev Shabbos, hundreds of campers pack into the camp Shul to usher in Shabbos with optional Torah learning.

Then on Shabbos itself, well over 75% of our campers and staff, learn in the camp Shul for 3 hours. It’s a magnificent sight to behold with campers learning Gemara, Mishna, Chumash, The Little Medrash Says, and books about Gedolim. (The camp Shul is well stocked with hundreds of donated books geared for our campers.) They learn alone, with a fellow camper, counselor or other staff member, or they attend a Shiur offered by one of the Rebbeim. Last session, during those hours, 185 campers completed a masechta of Mishnayos. It was celebrated with a unique special Shabbos party for those campers. Most incredible, is that all the learning is completely optional!

In addition, daily learning groups have almost perfect attendance throughout the summer.

There are many campers who share that the CDG summer learning program gave them their first positive connection to Torah learning. They were able to be “top level learners,” despite struggling in school throughout the year.

What’s the secret to the success of the program?

Campers want to earn “Max Miles”. Aside for a gala barbecue celebration, there is a prize auction at the end of every camp session with very expensive and coveted prizes. Every hour or learning group that a camper attends is counted as a thousand miles into his “account”. Every thousand miles grants him another ticket at the auction. Only campers who have earned the maximum number of miles can enter tickets for the top prizes. If they aren’t max miles, they can enter tickets into the lower tier of prizes. (Those lower tier prizes are not too shabby either.)

The auction itself is a sight to behold. At the recent auction two weeks ago, the total value of all prizes awarded exceeded $12k. Most prizes are donated by staff members and camp alumni, who themselves benefited from the program when they were campers.

The direct impetus for the optional learning may be because of the prizes. However, when campers leave camp knowing that they were “max miles”, that experience leaves a deep impression upon them and gives them a feeling of positive connection to Torah learning. That alone makes the whole thing worth it.

The morning before the auction, each camper receives tickets from his rebbe commensurate with how many hours/miles he earned. After writing his name and bunk number on each ticket, he drops his tickets in the bucket in front of the prizes he chooses.

During the auction the entire camp packs into the camp theater to watch the exciting proceedings. As the winning ticket for each prize is drawn, the winner is called onto the stage amidst great fanfare and cheering. The prize is handed to the beaming winner, and a picture is taken of him standing next to his learning rebbe.

The energy and hype of the auction itself can hardly be captured in words and it’s one of the main highlights of the summer. Just getting called on stage is itself a thrill. It should be noted that there are many campers who have been in camp for many years that have never won a prize. With so many campers entering so many tickets into each prize, the odds of a camper winning a top-level prize is pretty low, so each ticket is very previous and winning is a big deal.

One of the prizes at the recent auction was an autographed jersey of New York Jets wide-receiver Garrett Wilson. When the winning ticket was picked, Rabbi Sauber announced that the winner was from bunk 16 and he told all the campers from bunk 16 to come up on stage.

When Rabbi Sauber announced that the winner was Noah L., Noah was immediately lifted up by his excited bunkmates who were clapping and cheering his name.

What happened next blew us all away.

As the entire camp - well over 700 people - watched from the crowd, Rabbi Sauber asked Noah if he was a Jets fan. It was almost a rhetorical question. Why would he have entered any of his hard-earned tickets into a prize he didn’t care for? To everyone’s surprise, Noah emphatically answered that he was not a Jets fan at all.

Rabbi Sauber looked at him in disbelief and asked him if he wanted to give the jersey back. When Noah replied that he wanted the jersey, Rabbi Sauber asked him what he planned to do with it?

The JC of bunk 16 - Nachi - had not been feeling well on Tisha B’Av afternoon, just a few days earlier. After being examined by the camp doctor, Nachi left camp to ensure that everything was okay. (Thankfully, he returned to camp for the second session a week later). Nachi is an avid Jets fan. Noah announced that he had entered the ticket so that, if he won, he could present the jersey to his JC, Nachi.

The assistant head-counselor FaceTimed Nachi and, as everyone watched, was informed about the prize won on his behalf. A picture was taken with Noah, his rebbe, and the staff members who had donated the prize, one of whom was holding a phone with Nachi’s smiling face on its screen. It was a very touching moment.

It should be noted that Nachi himself donated towards one of the prizes for the auction, albeit not the one he was given.

Winning and receiving is always exciting and it’s always fun to receive new things. But more gratifying and satisfying than receiving is giving to others, especially when one gives away what’s personally meaningful and dear.

The final pasuk of Parshas Re’eh states, “Every man, according to the gifts of his hands…”

Rav Menachem BenZion Sacks noted that the value of a man is ascertained according to how much he is or is not willing to give. What he gives from and of himself defines what kind of a person he is.

The autographed jersey of wide-receiver Gerrit Wilson was given as a gift by 12-year-old ‘wide-giver’ Noah.

It’s not often that an autographed NFL jersey becomes holy.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     



Thursday, August 3, 2023

Parshas Eikev 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Eikev

17 Menachem Av 5783/August 4, 2023


There are certain sayings and mantras that are as part of baseball as the game itself. One of those sayings is “good eye”.

In Judaism, having a good eye is something to aspire for. When Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai asked his students to “go out and seek the proper path one should choose?” Rabbi Eliezer replied that it’s to have a good eye.

It’s notable that in baseball one is said to have a good eye specifically when he holds himself back from swinging at a bad pitch. The truth is that even if a batter has a “good eye”, if the umpire erroneously calls it a strike, the batter’s good eye won’t help much. So, essentially, it’s the umpire who needs to have a good eye.

Over two decades ago, at an Erev Shabbos baseball game in camp, I came to bat in the bottom of the last inning, with two outs and two men on base, our team down by a run. The umpire, who I was and am close with, called a close pitch strike three to end the game. It’s a good thing I’m so easy going that I forgot about it right after and never thought about it again.

The idea of having a good eye and knowing when to restrain and not follow one’s instinct “to swing” is invaluable in life.

The Gemara (Yoma 69b) states: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Why were they called Anshei Knesses Hagedolah (the Men of the Great Assembly)? Because they restored the crown to where it used to be. (When referring to G-d) Moshe had stated “G-d Who is great, mighty and awesome.” Yirmiyahu came and declared that foreigners are lingering in His sanctuary, where is His awesomeness? So he did not say “Awesome” (when referring to G-d). Daniel came and declared that foreigners are enslaving His sons, where are His acts of strength? So he did not say “Mighty”. They (the Men of the Great Assembly) then came and declared, “On the contrary! This is His strength, that He restrains Himself and is patient with the wicked. This is His awesomeness, for were it not for His awe, how could one nation survive among the other nations (i.e., how could the pursued and persecuted Jewish people survive despite being pursued by so many enemies?)”

The Men of the Great Assembly comprised 120 of our greatest leaders and prophets. They led the nation back to Eretz Yisroel to rebuild the second Beis HaMikdash, they established the foundations for the study of the Oral Torah, they established the set order of our daily prayers, and they nullified the overpowering inclination to serve idolatry. Yet, the Gemara says that they merited their august title specifically because they restored the vernacular that Moshe Rabbeinu used when praising G-d.

In the opening Mishna of Pirkei Avos one of the quoted teachings of the Men of the Great Assembly is, “Be very patient when deliberating”. The simple meaning is that a judge must be patient and deliberate when adjudicating. He must not be hasty in passing judgement before he is aware of all the minute details.

However, beyond that, it is also an attitude a Jew must always have. Jewish history must be viewed with a long-term perspective. Much of our history is filled with inexplicably painful events. Yet, in the broader scope, it is clear that we are an eternal people.

Having a good eye entails having the patience to restrain one’s natural desire for immediate answers and not become discouraged.

At the conclusion of Chumash Bamidbar, the Torah details the 42 encampments that the nation traveled during their 40-year sojourn through the desert. The route they traveled was circuitous and arduous. But that path eventually led them to their ultimate destination.

Shem Mishmuel notes that every individual must traverse 42 journeys throughout his life. That road too is often circuitous and arduous, but it is the predestined path for us to arrive at our destination.

Success in life requires having a good eye. That unquestionably means that one must have a positive perspective and attitude. But it also means that one must have patience to face the challenges of life and stay the course with faith and vitality.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum