Thursday, October 26, 2023

Parshas Lech Lecha 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

12 MarCheshvan 5783/October 27, 2023


לז"ן זקנתי מרתי שפרינצע בת אברהם יצחק

This Musings is dedicated in memory of my beloved Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, whose yahrtzeit is 17 Cheshvan


When I think about my Bubby, Rebbetzin Fruma Kohn a”h, my mental image is of her reciting Tehillim. Until her last years, she would read the entire Tehillim every week. No doubt, I and my family have benefited tremendously from those repeated recitations.

Someone once presented the Chofetz Chaim with the Tehillim of his mother. The Chofetz Chaim caressed its pages and with tears in his eyes remarked, “Who knows how many tears my mother shed over this Tehillim that I be a faithful Jew.”


The gemara (Sanhedrin 92b) relates that when Nevuchadnezzar witnessed Michael, Chananyah, and Azariah emerge unscathed from the furnace he had them cast into, he was overwhelmed. At that moment, he began to recite beautiful words of praise to Hashem. His words were so magnificent that if an angel had not slapped him, his praises would have put to shame the praises and songs of Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim.

If Nevuchadnezzar uttered beautiful praises, why was it fair that he be silenced just because he was going to upend the praises of Tehillim?

The Kotzker Rebbe explained that the greatness of Tehillim is not due to its ornate prose and distinct vernacular. In that regard, it’s very possible that Nevuchadnezzar was more eloquent than Dovid Hamelech. The greatness of Tehillim and the reason Dovid is called, “sweet singer of Yisrael”, is because he never stopped calling out to and praising Hashem. Even during difficult times of persecution and challenge, and even when Dovid suffered personal adversity and national defeat, he never stopped calling out to Hashem.

The only way to measure whether Nevuchadnezzar’s praises were greater than Dovid’s would be by seeing what happened when Nevuchadnezzar received a slap. When Dovid suffered the “slaps of life” he never ceased calling out to Hashem. Therefore, the angel slapped Nevuchadnezzar to see how he would react. When that happened, he immediately stopped praising and he began blaspheming. That was a clear demonstration that the praises of Nevuchadnezzar didn’t compare to the praises of Dovid Hamelech. 


During the early 1970s, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, directed the Orthodox Union’s kashrus department. On one occasion, he was aboard a small plane together with a shochet flying to inspect a slaughtering house. There was terrible turbulence, and the plane was shaking violently. Rabbi Wein admitted that even for a seasoned flyer as he was, it was unnerving. Still, he tried to appear calm so as not to make the shochet nervous. The shochet, who was holding on for dear life and feverishly reciting Tehillim looked at Rabbi Wein and quipped, “You know, even a rabbi can say Tehillim sometimes!”


Rav Shimshon Pincus explained the power of reciting Tehillim with a parable:

There was once a great and powerful king, who was beloved by his subjects for his benevolence and leadership. There was a high-ranking general in the king’s army with whom the king spent a great deal of time. Over time the king and the general developed a close-knit friendship. From security issues they began to discuss philosophical and theological matters. They sought each other’s advice and confided with each other, and their friendship deepened.

They began to meet every day, and no one was allowed to disturb them during that time.

One day the king was informed that a rebellion had broken out at the edge of his kingdom. Fearing that the rebellion could gain traction, the king needed someone he could trust to be absolutely loyal to him to immediately squash the rebellion. It was a painful decision, but the king realized there was no one better for the job than his beloved friend.

The general did not hesitate, and he and the king tearfully bid each other farewell. The general was able to crush the rebellion quickly, but he had to remain there to ensure that it would not erupt again.

As time passed, the king missed his friend terribly. Then one day a letter arrived in the mail from the general for the king. The king excitedly read the letter in which the general expressed how deeply he missed the king. The general wrote about how he thought of their daily meetings, and longed to see the king again.

Each week after that another letter arrived in the mail and reading them became the highlight of the king’s week. But then after a few months the letters stopped coming. At first the king thought a letter or two had gotten lost in the mail. But after a month, the king nervously sent a delegation to find out what had occurred.

The delegation returned looking somber. From the look on their faces the king understood that his dear friend had died. The king was crestfallen and inconsolable. He returned to his daily affairs, but everyone around him could see that he was not himself.

A few days later, one of the king’s ministers approached his majesty clutching a box. He explained to the king that the box contained all of the 150 letters the general had sent him. The minister asked the king’s permission for him to read one of the letters. The king agreed. As the minister passionately read the letter, eliciting the emotions from within its words, tears streaked down the king’s face. It evoked deep nostalgia from within him. At the same time, it gave the king a measure of comfort enabling him to again feel the deep connection with his late friend.

Each week afterwards the minister would again return to read another one of the 150 letters.

Hashem had a dear friend, as it were. Dovid Hamelech was unyieldingly devoted to Hashem throughout his difficult life. Dovid constantly spoke about yearning to be close to Hashem and feeling His presence.

When Dovid left this world, no one could ever fill his shoes and relate the praises of Hashem in the same passionate manner. But Dovid left behind 150 “letters”; the 150 chapters of Tehillim.

We begin pesukei d’zimrah each morning by declaring, “With the songs of Dovid Hamelech we will praise you”. In addition, there is a beautiful tefillah customarily said before reciting Tehillim in which we ask that Hashem, “turn mercifully towards the words of Tehillim that I will read, (and consider them) as if Dovid Hamelech, peace upon him, himself uttered them…” When we recite chapters of Tehillim we are not only reciting the words of Dovid Hamelech, but we are also hoping that in heaven Hashem hears the words we utter as if/when Dovid himself recited them. 


There is an old Jewish joke about a Jew running away in despair from a potentially disastrous occurrence shouting: "We can no longer rely on miracles. Therefore, let us now begin to recite Tehillim!" The truth however is that Jews see the recitation of Tehillim as a natural reaction to a troubled time and not only as an appeal for miracles. 

The timeless words of Tehillim symbolize that no matter what the situation, one can and must always look to Hashem for guidance and salvation. The words of Tehillim reverberated joyously in the Beis Hamikdash. They were recited tearfully by our ancestors during times of persecution and pain. They are recited during times of joy and times of challenge. There is no emotion in the world not expressed in the timeless words of Dovid Hamelech. We find expression of our innermost hopes, longings and prayers. They grant us solace, hope and comfort as no other words ever written can. And it is with the words of Tehillim that we will greet Moshiach very soon.    


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, October 19, 2023

Parshas Noach 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach

5 MarCheshvan 5783/October 20, 2023



Like everyone else, after the unspeakable atrocities that occurred in Eretz Yisroel on Simchas Torah, I was and am looking for all the chizuk I can get. I have listened to quite a few lectures from various rabbonim to hear their reflections and thoughts.

I find it incredible that each speaker cites a different Torah source to relate to the tragedy and serve as a source of chizuk.

Some pointed to tragedies that occurred to Dovid Hamelech and how Dovid responded. Others quoted the ominous predictions in Shiras Ha’azinu.

One speaker drew a parallel between the snakes that unexpectedly attacked Klal Yisroel in the desert, mentioned in Parshas Chukas.

Many quoted from the Rambam about the need to be part of the tzibbur during times of challenge, or various other passages from the Rambam.

There were those who quoted the opening words of the Torah when primordial darkness was overwhelmed by celestial light. In Eretz Yisroel too, a horrific and sinister darkness descended upon our people. Yet, the Jewish response was by generating heavenly light through acts of selfless kindness, love, giving and generating feelings of national unity.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, noted how after Kayin murdered Hevel, Kayin seemed to be in pretty good shape. The first murderer was given a seven-generation reprieve and enjoyed seeing generations of descendants. They populated the world, and the murder seems to have been forgotten. Meanwhile Hevel and the forces of good seem to have been obliterated.

But that’s because we have a narrow-minded and impatient view of life and world events. In the bigger picture, Kayin was eventually killed by one of his descendants and all his descendants were destroyed in the flood. Meanwhile the legacy of Hevel lives on in Avrohom and his children.

In the short term, evil can indeed prosper. But the broader view of world history demonstrates that evil does not endure and eventually dissipates into the ashbin of history.

So will be the fate of our current enemies as well. But the road is long, painful and bitter and we need to have patience, fortitude and faith.

One of our greatest sources of chizuk is one that we unfortunately do not take advantage of. The Gemara relates that during the era of prophecy there were hundreds of prophets. However, only prophecies that have eternal meaning were recorded for posterity. The Prophets didn’t only speak to their generation. The words of the prophets, particularly those in the weekly haftorah, contain timeless words that continue to reverberate. Sadly, we often fail to pay attention to them.

In the haftorah of Bereishis (incidentally, we didn’t read that haftorah this year, because it was Erev Rosh Chodesh), Yeshaya HaNavi tells us that we are to be a light for the nations. He acknowledges that in exile we are a downtrodden and plundered nation. He reassures us, however, that in the future Hashem will mete retribution out upon our enemies.

One can close his eyes and listen as the Navi declares to us: “But now, so says Hashem, your Creator, Yaakov, and your maker, Yisrael, do not fear for I will redeem you. I called you by your name to be Mine. Even if you pass through waters, I am with you, and through the rivers they will not drown you. Even in a raging fire you will not be singed, and flames will not burn you… Since you are precious in My eyes, and honored, and I love you… All b’nei Yisroel are called by My Name, created for My honor… You are my witnesses, says Hashem, and my Navi, whom I have chosen…”

The haftorah of Parshas Noach contains similar themes, discussing Hashem’s eternal love for His people, and the glory that awaits us.

I find it incredible that despite the fact that we are speechless about the tragedy that occurred, we are able to draw comfort and chizuk from numerous sources throughout the Torah. The Hamas attacks occurred on the day when we celebrate our eternal and inextricable connection to the Torah. These days we are reminded of how true the following is: While we dance and physically carry the Torah, it is the Torah that spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically carries and guides us.

And just as the Torah is eternal, so are its people who uphold it and are upholden by it.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, October 12, 2023

Parshas Beraishis 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis

Mevorchim Chodesh Cheshvan

21 Tishrei 5783/October 13, 2023


I don’t remember the last time I was able to so relate to a powerful story I heard, in a manner I never could have imagined.

I was asked to share divrei Torah in my neighborhood Shul before hakafos on Simchas Torah evening.

As I was walking to the bimah to begin speaking, I was told that we would be saying Tehillim first. At the time I had no idea why.

The wife of one of the Shul’s board members is a Physician’s Assistant and keeps her phone on in case she is called with a medical emergency. On Shmini Atzeres afternoon, her phone had been buzzing incessantly. Although they couldn’t see anything more than flashing headlines, it was enough for them to realize that there was a serious terrorist attack in Eretz Yisroel. After we said Tehillim, he informed me of the developments.

With two of our children in Yerushalayim, it was quite unnerving to say the least. We also have many family members living in various communities throughout the country, and many students and friends in various yeshivos there. That’s aside for the fact that, like every Jew, my heart is with Klal Yisroel, particularly in Eretz Yisroel.

As I stood by the bimah and the assemblage waited for me to begin speaking, I had a strong urge to apologize and say that I was unable to proceed. But I knew that would be demoralizing and disheartening. So instead, I said a silent prayer asking Hashem for the strength and guidance to say the right thing.

I also thought about the story I had heard a day earlier.

As I have done the last few years, during Chol Hamoed Succos, I had the great zechus to facilitate a beautiful learning program called Greater Adventure. Each Chol Hamoed morning, after a 45-minute learning session, we heard divrei chizuk from an esteemed Rav in our community. That was followed by an exciting raffle with many great prizes.

On Hoshanah Rabbah morning, the grand finale, our speaker was Rabbi Daniel Coren, a noted lecturer in the Monsey community (who also has many shiurim posted on Torahanytime). He related the following story:

“About thirty years ago I was the mashgiach in a Jewish owned old-age home in Riverdale.

“One year on Simchas Torah I was together with ten elderly men in wheelchairs from the home, helping facilitate hakafos “dancing”. They took turns holding a Sefer of Nevi’im (used to read haftorah) because it’s smaller and lighter than a Sefer Torah.

“One of the residents, Mendel Steinberg, was an Auschwitz survivor. At one point during the dancing, Mendel shared a recollection from his days in Auschwitz. “One miserable day, they were sitting together in the barracks, when suddenly one of their fellow inmates got up and started dancing. They looked at him like he fell off the moon, but he told them that it was Simchas Torah. When they retorted that even on Simchas Torah, one cannot dance in Auschwitz, he ignored their rationalizations and continued dancing. “Eventually, people started joining in, until a large circle had formed. They sang together the famous niggun to the words, “Utzu eitzah v’sufar dabru davar v’lo yakum ki imanu e-l - They (our enemies) make plans that are annulled, they speak words that never come to fruition, because G-d is with us.”[1]

“The Nazi guards heard the spirited singing and burst in. But when they saw what was happening, they didn’t know what to make of the inmates’ unbreakable devotion and they turned around and left. Mendel said it was the most emotional Simchas Torah he ever had.

“My friend, Rav Shmuel Stauber z”l, worked with me at that old aged home. After I was no longer employed in that nursing home, Rabbi Stauber related to me that when he was informed that Mendel was very ill he went to visit him. When he arrived at Mendel’s room, the attending nurse told him that Mendel was in a coma, and it was clear that he didn’t have much time left. It was a waste of time to even visit.

“Despite her words, Rabbi Stauber walked over to Mendel, leaned close to Mendel’s ear and began to sing, “Utzu eitzah v’sufar dabru davar v’lo yakum ki imanu e-l”. As he sang, Rabbi Stauber saw a tear trickle down Mendel’s cheek. Mendel passed away a few minutes later.

“I often think about Mendel on Simchas Torah and that helps me dance more enthusiastically.”

Rabbi Coren concluded by quoting the Satmar Rebbe who noted that the word rikud - dance has the same letters as the word meraked - to sift (one of the 39 forbidden melachos on Shabbos). When one dances with energy and excitement, he sifts negativity from within himself. By exuberantly demonstrating his desire for spiritual connection and growth he breaks through spiritual blockages within himself.

As I stood at the bimah on Simchas Torah, I was encouraged by the thought of a Mendel’s fellow inmate in Auschwitz dancing despite his surroundings.

After I proceeded to share some thoughts about the significance of Simchas Torah, I noted that we were about to dance for the honor of Hashem and His Torah. Therefore, it was incumbent upon us to display joy, even if we weren’t feeling it.

Like many others, this past Simchas Torah was by far the most difficult Simchas Torah of my life. But I tried to bear my own words in mind, and I continued to dance in the circle. I ignored the deep pit in my stomach and pushed myself to keep dancing, knowing it was a zechus for Klal Yisroel, particularly at that time. We don’t dance for our own gratification, but for the honor of the heart and soul of our people.

During our hakafos on Simchas Torah we made sure to sing Utzu eitzah as well.

Mendel’s message, eloquently shared by Rabbi Coren, must resound loudly in our ears and souls. Our enemies hurt us terribly and caused us untold anguish and pain. Yet, we know we will ultimately prevail, “Ki imanu e-l - For G-d is with us.”

        May Hashem comfort Klal Yisroel. May all our captives and soldiers return home in peace and serenity and may we merit great salvations for our holy people.  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, October 5, 2023

2nd Days Succos 5784




Hoshanah Rabbah - Erev Shabbos Kodesh Shemini Atzeres

21 Tishrei 5783/October 6, 2023


A few weeks ago, our family joined our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, for a “yeshiva Shabbos” on the grounds of Camp Nageela in Fallsburg, NY. After a beautiful Shabbos, we headed to the nearby pizza shop for melava malka before heading home.

While we were there, the store was relatively quiet with only a handful of other customers coming in to pick up orders. I struck up a conversation with the frum worker who was managing the store. He noted that only a few weeks earlier the store was packed on Motzei Shabbos. But now that the summer season had come to an end, most of the summer frequenters had returned to their communities, and business was much slower. Although there were occasional holiday weekends during the coming months when business picked up, for the most part it remained relatively quiet during the winter. Essentially, the store generated sufficient revenue during the summer months to make it worth staying open all year.

When I asked the manager if it was worth it, he replied “we’ll see!” He added that this is the fourth year that they have remained open, so it seems that it has been worth it so far.

Every Yom Tov we daven, “Vhasiainu Hashem Elokainu es birchas moadecha - Load us up Hashem, our G-d, with the blessing of Your festival (lit. set meeting).” Every Yom Tov has its own spiritual focus and blessing. Yom Tov is not merely a break from our regular routines. Rather, it is meant to be a time of investment when we can “stock up” on the endemic blessing of the holiday so that its spiritual revenue remains with us all year.

Rav Yechezkel Sarna zt”l would say that when reciting Aleinu at the end of davening daily, he would mentally connect with the sanctity of the Yomim Noraim, when Aleinu is recited during the sublime moments of Mussaf.

A friend related that throughout the year, whenever the Torah is being taken out, as he recites the words “Ki miZion tetzei Torah” in his mind he sings the words in the tune jubilantly sung on Simchas Torah. He does the same with the pesukim recited as the Torah is being returned. It gives him a momentary throwback to the intense joy of Simchas Torah.

In addition, throughout the year, whenever we reference the mitzvah of remembering Yetzias Mitzrayim at the end of Shema, it should spark within us a feeling of connection to the august nostalgia of Seder night.

Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l was legendary for his incredible ma’amarim, deep and penetrating constructs of Torah outlook and thought, masterfully developed and elucidated. The ma’amarim were long and deep, and required constant focus and understanding. (They have been recorded for posterity in the seforim, Pachad Yitzchak.) Each ma’amar provides its own foray into a nuanced explanation of the meaning, essence and depth of one component of each Yom Tov. If one was able to comprehend the profundity of a ma’amar, his understanding of the holiday was revolutionized and galvanized forever.

Rav Hutner would convey those fundamental thoughts specifically during the Yomim Tovim of the year. He felt that such depth of thought could only be appreciated and internalized when one is in a heightened state of spiritual joy, romimus hanefesh. That state could only be achieved on Yom Tov, including Chanukah and Purim.

Our Yomim Tovim themselves demonstrate the greatness and uniqueness of Klal Yisroel and the Torah. I convey to my students that there will never be a Pachad Yitzchak about Thanksgiving or Labor Day. One can relate the history of turkey on Thanksgiving, but there isn’t much to say about the deeper symbolic meaning of how eating turkey connects Americans to their ultimate mission and purpose.

In short, secular holidays are days off; Yomim Tovim are days on!

We ask Hashem to please help us lock in the blessings of the beautiful Chag. We hope we can maintain a spark of the spiritual elevation we feel, so that it continues to inspire us and elevate us throughout the year.


Piska Tava & Git Kvitel

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Gut Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

         R’ Dani and Chani Staum