Thursday, November 30, 2023

Parshas Vayishlach 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach

18 Kislev 5784/ December 1, 2023


Not far from our home in Monsey/Spring Valley is the Jewish cemetery where many great tzaddikim are buried. There is an enclosed area, where, most notably, is the kever of the Ribnitzer Rebbe. In the vicinity are the kevarim of the previous two Skulener Rebbes and the late Viznitzer Rebbe. There is another section of the cemetery outside the wall where Rav Mordechai Schwab, the tzaddik of Monsey, is buried. There are many other great people buried throughout both sections of the cemetery.

On one occasion, I was davening at the kever of Rav Schwab, when I noticed some people davening at a kever nearby. The cemetery was virtually empty, and it didn’t seem like the other people had come together. Ever curious, I asked one of the people leaving if it was the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik I was unfamiliar with. He explained that he had come to daven at the kever of Rav Moshe New Yorker. When I asked him who Rav Moshe was, the man shrugged and said he had no idea, except that he knew that great things have occurred for people who davened there.

I was intrigued that I had never heard of Rav Moshe New Yorker. When I walked over to his kever it was abundantly clear that many people frequented it. There were many rocks piled atop the matzeivah, and numerous kvitlach spread across it. There was also a place to light candles. The glowing epitaph showed that he was a holy man.

I wanted to know more about the mysterious tzaddik I had never heard of. I knew he had lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But when I asked some former residents of the Lower East Side, including my parents, if they knew of him, they all said that they had never heard of him.

It took some research and inquires before I connected with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Steinberg, currently of Boro Park, NY, who remembers him well. Rabbi Steinberg shared some fascinating anecdotes and memories he had of Rav Moshe.

Back in the day, Rav Moshe was indeed a familiar figure on the Lower East Side. He would walk from shul to shul to daven and learn in all of them. When asked why he explained that he was fulfilling the words of the Mishna, “One should be exiled to a place of Torah.”

Following Kristallnacht, he escaped Berlin and came to New York. Beyond that he never spoke about himself or his experiences.

Those close to him knew that he was brilliant and fluent in many languages.

He learned Tanach, Bavli and Yerushalmi by heart and the entire Zohar on the parsha every week. He was well versed in all Medrashim, the seforim of the Shelah Hakadosh, Maharal, and classic Chassidishe seforim. But the average person had no idea he even knew how to learn.

He was cordial and pleasant but also a recluse and kept very much to himself. He had little connection with this world. He didn’t own a telephone and he learned by the light of a candle and wouldn’t use electricity. In fact, nobody knew his last name.

For years he ate the Shabbos day seudah in the home of the Kapishnitzer Rebbe, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Heschel zt”l. The Rebbe would refer to him as “Moshe foon Henry Street”.

Others referred to him as Moshe der royter because of his red beard, or Moshe der porish because he separated himself from anything connected to the physical world.

On one occasion he was davening in the back of the Satmar Beis Medrash. Uncharacteristically, the Rebbe, Rav Yoylish zt”l walked across the Beis Medrash to greet him. When the Rebbe asked him his name he just replied “Moshe”. When the Rebbe asked him where he only replied, “New York”. From then on people would refer to him as Moshe New Yorker.

In the rare occasion that he had a dollar bill he would look at the code on the bill and share a gematriah or attribute spiritual meaning to the numbers. Any money he had he immediately gave away to tzedakah.

He was always the first in the shul every morning. He would prepare the candles in shul, and he would hang up hand-drawn signs to remind people about the special insertions in davening (mashiv hurach, tal umatar, etc.). He wouldn’t speak at all until after he davened shachris.

Rabbi Steinberg relates that when he invited Rav Moshe to come to his wedding, Rav Moshe apologized and said he couldn’t attend because, “I am from the galus yidden so I can’t go to weddings.”

For many years Rav Moshe lived in a small room under the Boyan shul. Until his later years no one was allowed to enter. In later years when he needed assistance, those who came into his room saw many frayed and well used sifrei Kabbalah strewn around.

Over time, the Boyaner gabbai noticed mail arriving for Max Feil. That’s how they eventually found out that his real name was Moshe Feilschuss.

On one occasion during his later years, Rav Moshe was hospitalized. He refused to accept the IV the hospital wanted to administer, and the hospital was going to restrain him. Rabbi Steinberg came to the hospital and found one of the leading doctors in Beth Israel Hospital at Rav Moshe’s bedside. The doctor pulled Rabbi Steinberg aside and asked him if he knew Rav Moshe personally. When Rabbi Steinberg said he did, the doctor asked him if he thinks Rav Moshe is crazy. When Ravbi Steinberg replied that he knew Rav Moshe to be highly intelligent, the doctor told him he is convinced that Rav Moshe is a genius. He showed Rabbi Steinberg that on the IV bag were listed all the contents in the IV. He then explained, “Almost no doctor in this hospital is familiar with these contents. I am because this is an area of my expertise. When they wanted to hook up the IV to the patient, the patient pointed to one of the contents in the fine print on the bag. I realized that it’s the only ingredient that has pig fat mixed into it. That’s why he refused to allow us to administer it to him.”

Rav Moshe would feed birds every day. Hundreds of birds would flock around him as he threw crumbs towards them. While feeding them he would recite pesukim.

He never said anything negative about anyone. On one occasion, someone physically assaulted Rav Moshe, throwing him to the floor. Rabbi Steinberg was present when it happened and when he rushed to help Rav Moshe up, he told Rav Moshe that the assaulter was crazy. Rav Moshe became upset and immediately countered that the man often helped him.

Most people thought Rav Moshe was eccentric and strange. They didn’t know that he spoke in riddles and the strange comments he made always had hidden depth and meaning. For example, when walking past tall buildings in the city he would comment that he built them.

When asked afterwards what he meant he replied that it was Maseches Shabbos or Maseches Bava Basra. He referred to his accomplishments in learning as great buildings.

He would often speak about things that were going to happen. When asked how he knew he replied that the feigelach - birds told him. His predictions always came true.

At the end of his life, Rav Moshe moved to Monsey where he frequented the shul of the Nikolsburger Rebbe and was a familiar face there.

On one occasion, Rav Moshe passed out on the floor of the Nikolsburg shul during davening. He lay on the floor unconscious. When the Paramedics arrived, a female paramedic was about to grab Rav Moshe’s hand when he stood up and began shouting that she shouldn’t touch him.

Rav Moshe was niftar on Shabbos Hagadol. On Motzei Shabbos the Nikolsburg Beis Medrash was packed for the levayah. The Nikolsburger Rebbe was the only one who spoke. He quoted the pasuk והאיש משה לא ידענו מה היה לו referring to the fact that no one really knew the greatness of Rav Moshe New Yorker.

Even those who saw him constantly were not aware of Rav Moshe New Yorker’s hidden greatness and piety.


Chanukah is a celebration of the revelation of light in darkness. It’s a time to also remember that there is much greatness in others that we often don’t recognize. The light is shining, whether we recognize it or not.

May Rav Moshe New Yorker be a maylitz yosher for all Klal Yisroel.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Friday, November 24, 2023

Parshas Vayeitzei 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei

11 Kislev 5784/November 24, 2023



It’s part of the paradox of our times. The more comfort, amenities, and conveniences we have, the more anxious and depressed we seem to become. Despite all our technological advancements, we are unable to predict or control the future and, despite what we have today, we have absolutely no guarantees about tomorrow.

Many people invest great energy to dull or escape feelings of emotional angst and pain. The danger is that escaping pain requires increasing effort and doesn’t make the emotions go away. By not dealing with the cause of one’s emotions, the issues become compounded.

Feeling negative emotions is often quite unpleasant and that’s why most people desperately seek to avoid it. But perhaps there’s another perspective to feeling one’s feelings that can make them more tolerable.

I recently shared the following analogy with a client who over time had developed negative habits to escape his emotional pain and was trying to get himself back on track:

During the winter months my hands become chapped very quickly. I have to put hand cream on my hands most nights during the winter. If I don’t do so for a few nights, the back of my hands becomes very red and extremely irritated.

At that point, when I finally put on hand cream, the back of my hands immediately feels like they are burning. But in a strange way, that pain actually feels good because I know it’s part of the healing process. The stinging sensation means that it’s getting better.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J Twerski related that on one occasion while making rounds in the hospital, a patient told him that he was feeling a lot of pain in his legs. Rabbi Dr. Twerski told the patient that he would immediately call for additional pain medication. The patient replied that this was the first time in ten years that he felt anything in his legs. He wanted to feel every bit of the pain; it was the most beautiful feeling he ever felt because it demonstrated that his feet were still “alive” and hadn’t atrophied.

Feeling one’s pain is uncomfortable but when one can recognize and acknowledge his pain and mental anguish and can forge on despite the pain, it demonstrates maturity and is an integral part of living.

In his powerful memoir, Out of the Depths, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau recounts an experience he had a few months after World War II ended. A 25-year-old acquaintance named Aaron Feldberg addressed an assemblage and said the following:

"If you will allow me, I would like to say a few words on behalf of my friends. We would like to thank you. Not to thank you for coming, because we did not want this visit. Not to thank you for the gifts, because we do not want them. We want to thank you for the greatest gift of all, which we received from you just a few minutes ago, and that is the ability to cry. When they took my father and mother, my eyes were dry. When they beat me mercilessly with their clubs, I bit my lips, but I didn't cry. I haven't cried for years, nor have I laughed. We starved, froze, and bled, but we didn't cry. For the past few months, before and since the liberation, I have had the feeling that I am not a normal person, nor will I ever be. That I have no heart. That if I can't cry when I am supposed to, I must have a stone in my chest instead of a human heart. But not any more. Just now I cried freely. And I say to you, that whoever can cry today, can laugh tomorrow, and he is a mentsch, a human being. For this I thank you.”

Feelings are very much a part of the human experience.

We say that emotions are felt in the heart even though emotions are actually processed in the brain. Intense emotions are felt throughout the body. When we feel happy, our entire body feels elevated, and we have a bounce in our step. Conversely, when we feel sad, we feel a lack of energy and like we want to crawl up and be by ourselves. Being that the heart pumps blood throughout the body, we say that emotions come from the heart because they encompass our entire being.

Part of being human entails dealing with all the different emotions we invariably feel. We can try to bury them and hide from them, but they are still there beneath the surface and will subconsciously gnaw at us. That doesn’t mean that we are subservient to our emotions and cannot persevere despite them. But we still need to acknowledge them and allow ourselves to feel them, because they are part of our reality.

As we pray, mourn and are deeply pained by the plight of our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisroel, and particularly in Gaza, we take comfort in knowing that the emotional pain we feel is itself part of the comfort. The mere fact that our brethren’s pain hurts us so deeply demonstrates that we are part of the most incredible nation on earth. That deep collective emotion reminds us that we will prevail.  


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum      


Thursday, November 16, 2023

Parshas Toldos 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos

4 Kislev 5784/November 17, 2023



During a Tuesday evening a few weeks ago, one of our younger sons asked me to turn the shower on for him. Being that the first burst of water is cold water, he wanted the water to be nice and warm when he went in. Being the incredible father that I am, I went to do so. Standing on the outside of the shower fully dressed I unsuspectingly turned the nozzle full blast. I was totally unprepared for the rush of cold water that sprayed me in the face and drenched the bathroom. It took me a few seconds before I realized that the shower head had been facing outwards. I was wet and annoyed as I cleaned the water from all over the bathroom.

When I came downstairs a few minutes later, my wife asked me what I thought of the new cleaning lady. I replied that although she did a decent job cleaning, she needed to learn to turn the shower head back towards the shower when she was finished cleaning it.

It’s famously said that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. A wise friend noted that although the line is true, there is an important addendum to the quote. Although you can’t make a horse drink, you can make it thirsty. Once the horse is thirsty then it will want to drink on its own.

In a sense, that quote encapsulates the essence of chinuch. Our objective is to make our children and students thirsty for greatness. In the words of Dovid Hamelech, “My soul thirsts for You, my flesh pines for You, in a parched and tired land, without water.” If we can evoke that thirst and spark an inner desire for growth in Avodas Hashem and Torah study, our children will want to drink the water on their own.

The challenge is that the proverbial shower head is turned in other directions. There are so many other forces competing for our and our children’s attention. It is therefore a formidable struggle to keep our children thirsty for the spiritual waters that we want to shower upon them. It entails ensuring that our observance is dynamic and passionate. We may not be able to be overly enthusiastic every single day. But we have to find ways to celebrate and demonstrate our excitement to serve Hashem and to be part of the eternal people. Shabbos and Yomim Tovim are particularly important in this regard.

The haftorah of Parshas Toldos is from the first chapter of Malachi. Sefer Malachi contains the final words of prophecy uttered until the arrival of Moshiach.

The prophet begins by encouragingly stating, “I love you, says Hashem!” He continues, however, by chastising the nation, “If I am a father, where is My honor?”

He then questions why the nation fulfils mitzvos and brings offerings in the cheapest manner possible. He bemoans the fact that the nation seeks to fulfil its responsibilities in a heartless manner, just to be done with it. If their connection with Hashem was of a loving relationship, they would seek to perform mitzvos in an ideal manner, not trying to cut corners. If we seek to serve Hashem passionately, it will invariably affect our children as well.


Currently, there is a wave of Jewish pride and unity sweeping the Jewish world. It’s been said that virtually every Israeli soldier who has gone into Gaza is wearing tzitzis and has a Tehillim. The goal is for us to maintain that excitement and pride after Hashem blesses us with victory and life returns to some level of normalcy.

At that point it will become more challenging to keep the shower head facing in the right direction.

As the lights of Chanukah begin to appear on the horizon, we should feel and convey our excitement for the holiday and its timeless message.

I must add in conclusion that the following Tuesday evening when I again went to turn the shower on for my son, I was rudely reminded that that the new cleaning lady comes on Tuesdays. I guess we are both slow to learn.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

         R’ Dani and Chani Staum      


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Parshas Chayei Sara 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah

26 MarCheshvan 5784/November 10, 2023

Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev


The month of Cheshvan is the only month on the Jewish calendar that has no unique endemic avodah. Even months that contain a fast day have special focus and significance.

For me personally, when our Succah and its decorations are put away and Cheshvan begins, I pull out my grandfather’s notes.

My mother’s father, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn, was the Rabbi of the renown Slonimer Shul on the Lower East Side. Aside from being a noted talmid chochom, he was an excellent speaker. From his pleasant personality, charisma, and sense of humor, one would never know the extreme difficulties of his youth.

As his yahrtzeit is 27 Cheshvan, I think a lot about him and the profound effect he continues to have on me during Cheshvan.

I have a few pages of my grandfather’s notes and some taped recordings of derashos he gave in Yiddish that are very precious to me. His writing is very hard to read and every year I try to decipher a little more of his writings.

My grandfather’s father, the Rav of the town of Selz, Russia, along with his mother and sister were brutally murdered by the Nazis. He had no idea what happened to his ten years younger brother, Zusha.

My grandfather spent the war years on the run, including some time with partisans in the forest. Alone in the world, he used his excellent social skills and sharp mind to survive. Most of the stories of how he survived will never be known as he hardly spoke about his war experiences.

My grandfather’s family name was really Wilamowsky. At one point during the war his passport was confiscated. Somehow, he found a passport on the ground that bore the name Kohn. As the passports then had no pictures attached, from then on, he became Yaakov Kohn.

Sometime later, he met my grandmother in Tashkent where they married. They eventually arrived in America and began life anew on the Lower East Side. Once he came to America, it was easier to leave his name as Kohn. He would say that he was Rabbi Kohn who wasn’t a Kohain.

One day, someone was speaking to my grandfather and heard that his original name was Wilamowsky and that he had had a younger brother named Zusha. The man informed my grandfather that his younger brother Zusha was alive and well. Zusha had survived the war, also having spent the war years with partisans. After the war, Zusha became extremely close with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In fact, for the rest of his life, the Rebbe would refer to Zushe as “my partisan” and Zusha became a beloved and noted personality in Lubavitch circles.

As soon as he was able to, my grandfather rushed to Crown Heights where he was reunited with his brother. Unbeknownst to them, during the war years they had not been far from each other.

That reunion must have been incredibly joyous and emotional. For the rest of their lives, the two brothers remained close. The fact that they lived in two different worlds made no difference whatsoever. My grandfather was a Lithuanian Rabbi, while Reb Zusha was a heartfelt devotee of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As the only survivors of their family, they had time no or energy to waste on the difference in the way they lead their lives.

On a national level, the Jewish people’s collective heart is shattered over the recent tragedies, and we feel continued angst over the plight of our captives and soldiers.

Yet, at the same time, we are also awed by ourselves and the incredible unity we all feel now. The added focus on Hashem, the renewed recognized primacy of Torah study, the dedication to performance of mitzvos like tzitzis and Shabbos observance, the increased emphasis on prayer and Tehillim, and the selfless chesed being performed, is heartwarming and encouraging.

In a sense, many Jews didn’t know they had a brother who was still alive. They felt that the Jews who were not like them were almost a different people, alienated and cutoff, and lost in the past. But then on Simchas Torah, Hamas took away our passports that bore our names and affiliations. The only thing Hamas saw was that we were Jews. We suddenly realized that we are all brothers and sisters, and that we need to be there for each other. We now see pictures of Jews of different backgrounds helping each other, hugging each other, and giving chizuk to each other.


Rav Chaim Marcus, one of the esteemed Rebbeim in Heichal HaTorah, and Rav of Congregation Israel of Springfield, NJ related to the Heichal students some of his experiences from when he joined a rabbinic mission to Eretz Yisroel last week.

During their trip one of the people they met was Dana Cohen. On Simchas Torah, her religious yishuv, Shlomit, was not attacked. But the nearby yishuv of Pri-Gan was attacked and needed assistance. Dana’s husband, Aviad, and others from Shlomit’s security team rushed to help Pri-Gan. Arriving there even before the army, they saved Pri-Gan from eight terrorists who were trying to infiltrate. However, in doing so, two members of Shlomit security, including Aviad, were killed.

Dana, now the mother of four orphans, told the assemblage, “We have to work on maintaining and growing the incredible emunah and achdus we all feel now. If that happens then my husband’s death will have been worth it.”

Unbelievable words!

At the conclusion of the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln noted that they could not consecrate the land upon which the battles were fought. The soldiers who gave their lives fighting had already done so. The only thing left for them was to ensure that they did not die in vain.

That is now our task as well. It’s up to us to ensure that they did not suffer or die in vain!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Friday, November 3, 2023

Parshas Vayeira 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera

19 MarCheshvan 5784/November 3, 2023


Shortly before I married, I spent a Succos in a yeshiva for Russian boys in Copenhagen, Denmark. After Succos ended, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of nearby countries in Europe. One of the places we visited was Amsterdam. While there, we saw Anne Frank’s house, including the annex where she and her family lived until they were discovered and deported to Auschwitz in 1944.

In the gift shop afterwards (yes, there is a gift shop) there was a quote on the wall which said something to the effect of “The only reason we can go about our day is because there’s only one museum depicting the life of one cute girl. But if there were six million such museums and six million such diaries, we wouldn’t be able to function.”

Joseph Stalin quipped that if one person dies it’s a tragedy. But if a million people die it’s just a statistic.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, noted that the Nazis didn’t kill six million Jews. Six million becomes one terrible, albeit digestible number. Rather, the Nazis killed one plus one plus one, six million times. Each one was a child, spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, etc. Each one was an entire world snuffed out. When one begins reflecting on the Holocaust with that perspective, the tragedy becomes far more magnified and impossible to deal with.

When the calamitous accident occurred in Meron on Lag BaOmer in April 2021, our hearts broke for every one of the families of the 45 people who died there. The flyer that circulated bearing the pictures of all 45 faces and the knowledge that so many families were broken and in pain, shattered us. We didn’t see it as one collective tragedy, but as 45 individual and painful tragedies.


In the Shir Shel Yom recited on Wednesday (Tehillim 94) Dovid Hamelech cries out to Hashem asking how long He will allow the wicked to prosper and gloat. “Your people, Hashem, they crush, and they afflict Your heritage. The widow and the stranger they kill, and they murder orphans. And they say that G-d will not see, and the G-d of Yaakov will not understand.”

It is noteworthy that Dovid Hamelech does not say our enemies create orphans and widows through murder. Rather, he says that they murder orphans and widows. In light of the horrors of the massacres that took place on Simchas Torah, we can suggest that these individuals became orphans and widows at the behest of our savage enemies. Moments later, the enemies murdered the orphans and widows as well.


In 2011, one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was returned from captivity by Hamas in exchange for 1,027 terrorists who had been in Israeli jails. Leaving aside all political and theological questions regarding the exchange, it was and is an incredible testament to the value we have for every single Jewish life. Our enemies are well aware of that and exploit it mercilessly.

The war being fought now is between two completely different worlds. Our enemies dance joyously and hand out candies when a Jew is murdered. We danced and gave out candies when Ori Megidish, an Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas, was rescued and returned home. They celebrate murder and death, while we celebrate life.


In the Al Hanisim recited on Chanukah we thank Hashem Who, “Gave the strong into the hand of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the malicious into the hands of those who engage in Your Torah study.”

Many note the discrepancy between the first two contrasts - the strong and the many into the hands of the few and weak, and the other three. Why is the fact that righteous, pure, Torah scholars overcame wicked impure and malicious enemies part of the miracle?

These days, the answer to that question is painfully apparent! The righteous and pure supremely value life. Those who engage in its study internalize the Torah’s lessons about sensitivity, compassion, and love. For people of such noble character, it is challenging for them to seek the obliteration of their evil enemies without hesitation. Our enemies, however, glorify murder and death and therefore have no compunction to terrorize and murder. The fact that the forces of good overcame wantonly evil people is indeed part of the miracle.


The Torah teaches us about the inestimable value of human life. Other than certain circumstances of Kiddush Hashem, nothing - even observance of Shabbos Kodesh - takes precedence over saving or preserving life. It is often noted that as great as it is for one to give up his own life for Kiddush Hashem, it is far greater to live a life of Kiddush Hashem.

Every soldier, every captive, every victim, every survivor, and every Jew is precious and beloved.

May Hashem protect each one. May our soldiers return home healthy and strong. May Hashem raise the pride of our nation, and may we merit to witness great days and salvation that is coming.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum