Thursday, September 28, 2023

Succos 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Succos

14 Tishrei 5783/September 29, 2023



A couple of hours after I broke my fast following the end of Yom Kippur, ignoring my fatigue and aching feet, I ventured out to the Motzei Yom Kippur tisch of the Nikolsburg Rebbe. It has become a yearly ritual for me. I enjoy the spirited singing and dancing, celebrating our efforts during the previous holy day.

As I pulled next to the curb outside the Nikolsburg Beis Medrash, I heard a pop. The tire air pressure alert immediately appeared on my dashboard. The front passenger tire on my car looked like it had been slashed with a knife and was clearly unsalvageable. I called Chaverim, and within minutes two righteous members pulled up and got to work. It should have been a five-minute job for for them to replace the popped tire with the donut from my trunk. But one of the screws was rusty and wouldn’t come off. They had to call for backup from a more experienced member. Still in his Yom Kippur garb (minus kittel and bekeshe) he began sawing off the screw with some sort of sophisticated electric tool. Sparks flew in all directions until the screw finally snapped and he was able to pry off the old tire.

By then it was past midnight. I went into the tisch for a few minutes before heading home. The following day my car went to visit our mechanic, helping to fulfil the mechanic’s prayers on Yom Kippur that he merits good parnasah this year.

On Yom Kippur we resolve to change our negative habits. The problem is that those habits become second nature to us. Despite our best intentions to change them, we often find ourselves reverting back to those negative traits.

Changing requires not only firm commitment but also a plan of action and a great deal of patience. But it begins with a willingness to go out if his comfort zone to develop new habits and behaviors.

Part of the challenge is that when trying to progress and improve in any endeavor, there is a delay between expectations and actualization. We work tirelessly and then become frustrated and confused when results don’t align with our expectations. The reality is that progress isn’t linear and desired results are often delayed. 

A stonecutter hits away at a rock 100 times without making a dent. And then, on the 101st hit, the rock splits in half. Everyone celebrates the 101st hit because it’s the moment of breakthrough, but it was the 100 prior hits that caused the rock to eventually break.

In his New York Times Bestseller, Atomic Habits, James Clear, refers to the delay between expectations and results as the Plateau of Latent Potential, or Valley of Disappointment.

Great accomplishments result from humble beginnings.

Clear writes that, “Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from 25 to 31 degrees. All the action happens at 32 degrees…”

He adds that, “You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

The Valley of Disappointment could be reframed as the Valley of Vision or the Canyon of Resolve because it takes vision to stay the course pre-breakthrough, and it requires resolve to maintain consistent effort when the desired result takes its time to mature.

Avos D'Rebbe Nosson relates the poignant story of Rabbi Akiva, the 40-year-old shepherd, who was an ignorant and frustrated spiritual failure.

One day, while sitting by a stream, he noticed a steady drip of water against a rock. It was only a drip, but it was constant and relentless. When Rabbi Akiva noticed a hole beneath the spot where the water dripped, he concluded that if water can slowly erode solid rock, undoubtedly the iron-like words of Torah could affect an indelible impression upon his heart.

That marked a turning point in Rabbi Akiva's life. He recommitted himself to Torah study, and eventually became the greatest sage of his generation, and one of the most prominent teachers of Torah of all time.

How apropos it is that the Yom Tov of Succos requires us to leave the familiar surroundings of our homes. We have to literally leave our comfort zones and embrace a new life, devoid of the amenities we enjoy throughout the year. Beyond that, we are charged to rejoice in our unfamiliar surroundings.

Change is a slow process. The proverbial screws of our past become wedged in place and don’t come off easily. More often than not, we have to work hard before we can extract the screw. But it holds the key to eventual progress and growth.

Part of the extreme joy of living in the succah is the knowledge and recognition that one is not enslaved by past habits. He can traverse them and grow beyond the previous confines of his lives. The sky above - the knowledge that G-d will bless his efforts - is limitless.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Gut Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, September 21, 2023

Parshas Haazinu 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Hashanah

29 Elul 5783/September 15, 2023


On the late afternoon of Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was in my kitchen busily taking care of last-minute things before Yom Tov. It was then that I glanced out the kitchen window and saw something that filled me with anxiety. I saw on the patio of the neighbor who lives behind us that the walls of his Succah were completely assembled.

I wanted to sue him for emotional damage. There I was trying to get ready for the imminent holiday, and he was already prepared for the holiday two weeks later.


I’ve noticed, mostly from personal experience, that umbrellas and raincoats are most likely to be forgotten when it stops raining after a person arrives at a temporary destination. Since it is no longer raining, he forgets that he brought the rain gear earlier, and leaves without it. It’s usually not until the next rainstorm that he realizes where he left it. At that point he’ll need to use spare rain gear to go out in the rain to retrieve his original rain gear. Hopefully it won’t stop raining while he’s at the place where he left the rain gear the first time.


There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon depicting Calvin declaring, “G-d put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die!”

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein notes that our lives are more like a basketball game than a baseball game. We don’t get three strikes before being called out. Our life clocks are constantly running. No one knows how much time is left, but everyone knows that there is a time limit.


On September 13, 2023, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Rosh Hashanah can change your life (even if you’re not Jewish).” The article references the unnerving words of Unesaneh Tokef in which we recount the tense awe of the day as we stand in judgement. We state unequivocally that on this day no one knows whether he will be slated to live or die in the coming year, or circumstances surrounding his life or death.

“You might think this morbid prospect would further decrease contentment, but it ends up having the opposite effect. Why? Because it forces us to focus on the things in life that actually bring us more happiness. Research by the Stanford psychologist Laura Carstensen has shown that as we age, we move from caring most about our careers, status and material possessions to caring most about connecting with those we love, finding meaning in life and performing service to others.

“… But the particular brilliance of Rosh Hashana is that it combines thoughts of death with a new year’s focus on a fresh start. As work by the behavioral scientist Katy Milkman and her colleagues has shown, temporal landmarks like New Year’s Day offer an effective opportunity for a psychological reset. They allow us to separate ourselves from past failures and imperfections — a break that not only prods us to consider new directions in life but also helps us make any changes more effectively.”


Perhaps that’s part of the reason why it’s customary to daven at the graves of ancestors and righteous individuals before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Not only are we trying to invoke the merits of the departed, but we are also reminding ourselves of the finitude of life and the need to live up to our mission.


In hilchos Teshuvah (2:7) Rambam writes: “Yom Kippur is the time of teshuvah for all, both individuals and the community at large. It is the end of forgiveness and pardon for Yisroel. Accordingly, everyone is obligated to repent and confess on Yom Kippur.”

Rambam himself writes that a person can always do teshuva. What does he mean that Yom Kippur is the end of forgiveness and pardon?

On a simple level, Rambam is referring to the conclusion of the particularly auspicious time when all of Klal Yisroel is focused and engaged in teshuvah. It is the conclusion of “the season of teshuvah” when heaven grants added assistance to those who seek to rectify their past misdeeds.

Perhaps the Rambam is also helping us recognize the urgency of doing teshuvah. Often when something can be done tomorrow it keeps getting delayed. There is nothing that galvanizes people to act more than impending deadlines and imminent need.

Rambam wants us to feel that there is no time like the present to engage in personal teshuvah. Yom Kippur is a deadline of sorts, and we would be wise to take advantage of it.

We may not have to have our Succah up before Rosh Hashanah and we may not need an umbrella when the storm passes. But we can and should always live with a sense of mission, knowing how valuable every day is.

We don’t have to master all our shortcomings before the “Yom Kippur deadline”. We only have to make an earnest effort to begin the process.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Gut Yom Tov & G’mar Vachasima Tova,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Rosh Hashana 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Hashanah

29 Elul 5783/September 15, 2023



A couple of weeks ago, shortly before our son Shalom left to return to learn in Yerushalayim, he and I learned an essay from Alei Shur (Vol 2, p 415) together.

In that essay, Rav Wolbe discusses the punctilious individual judgement of Rosh Hashanah, when the fate of every being in creation for the coming year is decided.

Rav Wolbe notes that if a person would be asked why he does what he does he may answer that it’s what everyone else was doing or he just did what he was taught without giving it much thought. He observed Shabbos, put on tefillin each morning, and learned Torah each day because that’s what he always did and that’s what everyone around him does.

Rav Wolbe poignantly notes that a person must recognize his individuality, by pondering and recognizing his uniqueness. He needs to realize that Hashem judges him based on who he is, not based on what everyone else is doing.

Rav Wolbe then writes that it is vital for a person to spend time alone with his thoughts in order to “meet himself”. He adds that this is the greatest deficiency of Yeshiva students. They may have spent years learning at high levels, yet never had a moment alone with their own thoughts. The result is that they unwittingly forfeit their uniqueness and never realize personal development. “How shameful it is to see precious b’nei Torah who have no individuality, literally people without a history, where others dictate the trajectory of their entire lives. Hashem should protect us from such a path of life.”

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski is reunion for having made invaluable contributions to the Jewish community regarding mental health. Aside from being a popular lecturer, he authored 90 books.

He would note that he didn’t write 90 books but wrote one overarching message in 90 different ways. That message was about the importance of developing healthy self-esteem.

He relates that he first realized he was deficient in self-esteem when he was 38 years old.

“For three years, I had been director of a huge, 300 bed psychiatric facility with a very busy emergency room. If a nurse could not reach an attending doctor, I was called. Every other night I was on call to the emergency room. On a good night, I was awoken only five times; on a bad night, ten or more times.

“I had a vacation coming, and was desirous of getting away from an impossibly hectic situation. I sought a vacation spot that would allow me to do nothing other than vegetate. I wanted no sightseeing or activities. I finally decided on Hot Springs, Arkansas, which promised to allow me total rest.

“Having had low-back pain for years, I thought I would take advantage of the mineral-water baths, which were touted as producing miraculous results. I was taken into a tiny cubicle, and an attendant gave me two glasses of hot mineral water which was naturally heated deep in the earth. Then I was put into a tub of these magic waters, and the whirlpool was turned on.

“I felt I was in Paradise! No one could reach me - no patient, no nurse, no doctor, no family member, no social worker, no probation officer. And in this paradisical situation, I was bathing in nature's own hot-water. Who could ask for more?

“After about five minutes, I got up and said to the attendant, "That was wonderful! Just what I'd been hoping for."

“The attendant said, "Where are you going, sir?" I said, "Wherever the next part of the treatment is." The attendant said, "First you must stay in the whirlpool for 25 minutes."

“I returned to the bath, and after five minutes I said, "Look, I have to get out of here." The attendant said, "As you wish, but you cannot go on with the rest of the treatment."

“I did not wish to forego the treatment, so I returned to the tub for 15 minutes of purgatory. The hands on the clock on the wall did not seem to be moving.

“Later that day, I realized that I had a rude awakening. I had taken three years of constant stress without difficulty, but I could not take ten minutes of Paradise! Something was wrong.

“On return home I consulted a psychologist. He pointed out that if you asked people how they relaxed, one would say, "I read a good book," or "I listen to music," or "I do needlework," or "I play golf." Everyone tells you what they do to relax. However, relaxation is an absence of effort. One does not do anything to relax. What most people describe as relaxation is actually diversion. You divert you attention to the book, needlework or golf ball.

“Diversions are perfectly OK, but they are actually escapist techniques. Work and diversion are fairly healthy techniques. Unfortunately, some people escape into alcohol, drugs, food or gambling.

“In the cubicle at Hot Springs, I had no diversions: nothing to read, nothing to look at, nothing to listen to, no one to talk to, nothing to do. In absence of all diversions, I was left in immediate contact with myself. I could not remain there long because I didn't like the person I was with!”


My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips, “I make sure to talk to myself every day. Often, it’s the only intelligent conversation I have all day.”

We often think teshuva requires taking on new resolutions and doing things we’ve never done before. But there’s a vital component of teshuva that requires one to search inward and take stock of how he has been conducting his life.

During the early 2000s during the second Arab intifada there was a spate of suicide bombings in Eretz Yisroel. Many Jewish communities in America, wanting to help in any way possible, began reciting a few chapters of Tehillim after davening each morning.

One American Rabbi recounted that his initial facetious thought was that we often daven three times a day without proper concentration. Now they began saying added chapters of Tehillim also without concentration. Perhaps it would be more ideal to work on improving something we already do - such as having more concentration when saying berachos, or working on our interpersonal relationships by making a more concerted effort to not speak loshon hora.

Parshas Netzovim is always read the Shabbos before Rosh Hashanah. Most years it is coupled with Parshas Vayelech. Netzovim means to stand; Vayelech means to go. Both are integral components of teshuva. Improvement requires moving forward from where we have been. But it also entails “standing still”, pausing from the bustle of life to think about where one stands regarding his own aspirations, morals and responsibilities.

On Rosh Hashanah we are judged as individuals. It behooves us to get to know ourselves better so that we can appreciate our individuality and continue growing from within.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Shana Tova & Kesiva Vachasima Tova,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, September 7, 2023

Parshas Nitzavim Vayeilech 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Nitzavim-Vayelech

22 Elul 5783/September 8, 2023



I have been blessed to learn from many wonderful rebbeim in my life, each of whom has left an indelible impression upon me.

One of those rebbeim was my eleventh grade rebbe, Rabbi N. Aryeh Feuer. I loved his shiur. Aside from being engaging and challenging, Rabbi Feuer was somewhat unpredictable in shiur, saying funny or unexpected comments at any time. He once explained that he did that to keep our attention by keeping us on edge. I recently told Rabbi Feuer that I try to emulate that component of his teaching style with my own students.

But far more significantly, Rabbi Feuer is a quintessential student of Mesivta Chaim Berlin, a deep thinker who expresses lofty ideas with clarity.

The late Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Yitzchak Hunter, instilled in his students a sense of regality and pride in being one who studies Torah. For that reason, students of Rav Hutner are recognizably distinguished.

Rav Hutner was also known for his unparalleled ability to plumb the depths of any topic in Torah, and to mentally transport the listeners of his lectures into a different world. Particularly during or before Yomim Tovim, Rav Hunter shared deep ma’amarim (as the lectures were called) about the essence and depth of the Yom Tov and its endemic mitzvos.

His successor, who passed away last week, Rav Aharon Schechter, conducted the yeshiva in the same vein. The ma’amarim that Rav Aharon said before each Yom Tov were built upon the foundational concepts Rav Hutner taught.

Rabbi Feuer is a full-fledged student of Rav Aharon Schechter and Mesivta Chaim Berlin. His Gemara shiurim were methodically structured and detailed. But it was his Friday morning Chumash shiurim that really opened me up to the world of machshava. When Rabbi Feuer would frequently quote “the Rosh Yeshiva” he was referring to Rav Hutner, while “my rebbe”referred to Rav Aharon Schechter.

Rabbi Feuer introduced me to the writings of the Maharal, the seminal Torah thinker upon whom Rav Hutner’s approach is based. He also demonstrated how to view the lives of each of the Avos and Imahos, particularly the “worlds” of Rochel and Leah, as different but necessary components containing the building blocks of the Jewish People.


I only met Rav Aharon Schechter on a few occasions. But whenever I did, I was able to see the similarity between Rabbi Feuer’s presentation of Torah thoughts and that of his rebbe.

However, I did have one encounter with Rav Aharon Schechter a few years before I was a student of Rabbi Feuer.

When I was in eighth grade, I and a few classmates decided to publish a yearbook for our graduating class. I looked at some old yearbooks to view their content and get some ideas. I noticed that some yearbooks contained letters from Gedolim to the graduates. So, I wrote letters to a few of the Gedolim requesting written berachos for our class and mailed them to the addresses printed on top of their stationery.

A letter with writing on it

Description automatically generatedA few months later, I received a letter in the mail from Rav Aharon Schechter. It was written in Hebrew, and I had no idea what it said until my father translated it for me. I must admit that at the time I was disappointed with the letter because Rav Schechter addressed it to me personally, and therefore I couldn’t include it in our yearbook.

Over the years, however, it has become a treasured possession. In fact, I can recount the entire letter from memory, not because I tried to memorize it, but because I’ve read it so many times. With the rav Shechter’s passing last week, the letter is now invaluable.

In typical style, the letter contains an innovative idea, befitting a person of depth.

The following is my loose translation:

“26 Shevat 5754

To the precious young man, Doniel Alexander Staum,

From in between the lines of the letter that you wrote to me at the beginning of the winter, has risen the reiach (smell) of love for Torah that is absorbed in the soul of a precious young man.

The law is that on a beautiful smell that has a root one is obligated to recite a beracha. Therefore, it was hidden in my heart from then to send you alone my blessing that you continue in your ways, to proceed from loving Torah to toiling in it, so that it will be fulfilled in you (the words of the Gemara): “you have toiled and you have found (succeeded)”, to bring joy to your parents and the souls of all your friends. And along with you all your classmates will be blessed as well.

Aharon Moshe Schechter”

It is superfluous to write about how busy Rav Schechter was and how valuable his time was. The fact that he took the time to write a beautifully thought-out letter in his impeccable handwriting, to some kid from Monsey that he never met, who wanted a written blessing for his class for his yearbook, says a great deal about his greatness.

Whenever a tzaddik passes away it is a national loss and tragedy. Through Rabbi Feuer, Rav Aharon Schechter was also my “grand-rebbe”, my Rebbe’s Rebbe, and therefore the loss is more personal.

One of the many lifelong messages he personified was that understanding Torah requires depth and thought. We shouldn’t be satisfied with superficial knowledge or cursory understanding.

If only our society would heed that message.

May Hashem comfort all of Rav Schechter’s students and all of Klal Yisroel.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum