Friday, December 29, 2023

Parshas Vayechi 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi – Shabbos Chazak!

17 Teves 5784/ December 29, 2023



Winter means different things to different people. For those living further south, it’s time to enjoy the sun without it being too hot. But for the majority of us living further north, winter weather ranges from cold to freezing with unpredictable snow and ice storms. Around here you can’t be outside too long without a coat.

Years ago, I had a neighbor who had predictable lines. Whenever someone said he was getting his coat because it’s cold outside, this neighbor would quip, “and if you get your coat, it’ll become warm outside?”

The truth is that unless it has a built-in heating device, a coat cannot make a person warm. The body is constantly emitting heat. When exposed to cold, much of that heat is lost. A coat preserves our natural body heat, much the same way that closing doors and windows preserves heat in a house. A coat can keep a person warm, but the source of the warmth must come from the person himself.

Our incredible Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs invest tremendous thought and effort to create guidelines vis-à-vis technology use by their students. The same is true about their respective dress codes. In Bais Yaakovs tzenius guidelines are defined as well.

The rules about technology and modesty are analogous to a coat that keeps a person warm. Even if a person walks out of a building hot and sweaty, during a cold winter day, without proper attire, he will soon be consumed by the cold. In a similar vein, no matter how much a student has grown in his/her learning and how well he/she is performing, external pressures and influences can quickly compromise that growth leaving the student exposed to negative influences.

However, at the same time, it’s important to remember that those guidelines do not create the warmth. They are there to preserve the inherent warmth that’s already there. That is no small feat, and it is quite important. But the inner fire must first be ignited so that it can radiate inner warmth that then needs to be preserved. That inner fire is created through feeling worthy of connection with Hashem and actually connecting with Hashem (those are two different, vital qualifications). We connect to Hashem through fulfilling His will, by engaging in Torah, Tefillah, mitzvos, and all forms of avodas Hashem.

Parshas Tetzaveh contains the instructions for how the special vestments of the Kohanim and the Kohain Gadol were to be made. During the week when Tetzaveh is read, many Rabbonim and Roshei Yeshiva speak about the Torah outlook on clothing.

Interestingly, the parsha begins with what seems to be a complete non-sequitur - the procedure for how the Kohain lit the Menorah each day in the Mishkan.

Perhaps it is a reminder that as important as the vestments of the Kohain Gadol were, the initial step was to light the fire. The candles of the Menorah symbolize the wisdom of Torah practically. Flames also symbolize our soul within.

The vestments of the Kohanim gave pride and honor to those worthy of performing the Divine Service. But the ultimate honor is to recognize that our souls comprise the flames of Hashem’s menorah, as it were.

The most important task of every parent and educator is to light the inner fire of our children (and ourselves). Without that, all other efforts are somewhat futile. Once the fire is lit there is an additional, vital need to preserve that flame and ensure that it isn’t dampened or extinguished by external factors.

It is important to realize that when the inner fire is lacking, the protective measures can feel overbearing. Sometimes when a young man or woman doesn’t feel connected or worthy of connection, he/she can become resentful for being denied ulterior avenues of connection. In such situations it’s important to remember that we have to find the way to flame the inner spark so that he/she will recognize the need and value to insulate and protect their own beautiful and unique inner fire.

The coat can keep us warm, only if we provide the body heat for it to preserve.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     


Thursday, December 21, 2023

Parshas Vayigash 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash – Asarah b’Teves

10 Teves 5784/ December 22, 2023


One of the great techniques of drama is to use a cliffhanger. When the power of suspense is harnessed, it ensures that the reader/viewer will stay tuned to find out what happens next. All good serials - books, magazines or shows use a cliffhanger to ensure interest in the next segment.

While the holy Torah is not a history book, it does relate stories. Those stories are meant to guide us and teach us about contemporary living.

There is no greater cliffhanger in the Torah than between the parshios of Miketz and Vayigash. At the end of Parshas Miketz, the chalice of the Egyptian vizier has been found in Binyamin’s sack. The vizier tells the brothers that they are all free to go, save for the culprit himself. And then?

We wait a week before we read about the dramatic crescendo of the story wherein Yehuda poignantly addresses the vizier, before Yosef reveals his true identity to his brothers.

Every year when the ba’al korei completes Parshas Miketz by reading the words Yosef says to the brothers, “And you, go up in peace to your father,” I feel like an elementary school child who begs his teacher not to stop reading.

The parshios that detail the saga and journeys of Yosef, provide us with incredible lessons of faith, resilience, reconciliation and patience. We want life to be clear and easy but, more often than not, it’s anything but that.

In the words of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, “Life is like a piece of chewing gum. There’s a little bit of flavor but most of the time it’s just chew, chew, chew.”

It’s surely not by chance that Parshas Miketz concludes at such a dramatic moment. Much of life is spent in cliffhanger moments: A young man or woman waiting for his/her shidduch, one who is ill and hoping to regain his health, a person looking for a job or waiting for his big break to become successful, a young couple hoping and waiting to have a child, parents struggling with the chinuch of their children, spouses and children who live in broken homes, etc.

At present, the entire Jewish people are collectively in a cliffhanger state. While we mourn the past and current losses, we are also anxious and unsure about the future. Thousands of families are displaced, living for months in hotels far from their homes. Families and friends of soldiers and captives live in a state of constant anxiety.

At times the tension can feel unbearable. Being able to plunge ahead is a mark of true greatness.

Part of the challenge is that such greatness is not recognized by others. Others don’t see it but for those whose lives are at a cliffhanger juncture it can be heroic for them just to get through their day. That’s why it is vital that those in such situations recognize how valuable their own efforts are.

In the Torah, from when they arrive in Egypt to procure food, Yosef’s brothers lives are like a cliffhanger. They do not understand what is happening to them and do not know how things will proceed.

Yosef is given the title of hatzaddik, because he maintained his integrity despite all the travails he endured. If there was ever someone living a ‘cliffhanger life’, it was Yosef.

The test of greatness is how one handles such moments, even more than how he conducts himself when life is smooth sailing.


Easy & Meaningful Fast

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Parshas Mikeitz 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz – Zos Chanukah

3 Teves 5784/ December 15, 2023


On Thursday mornings I have a weekly phone conversation with our older son Shalom, who is learning in Eretz Yisroel. Often our conversation centers on the parsha. Recently he asked me why the Matriarchs named their children after their own experiences? “She called him Reuven because Hashem saw my pain.” “She called him Shimon because Hashem heard that I was hated…” “She said this time my husband will accompany me because I gave birth to three sons. Therefore, she called him Levi” “This time I thank Hashem. Therefore, she called him Yehuda…” 

Does it make sense that for their entire lives the tribes bore a name based on how their mother felt when they were born?

It was an intriguing question that I had never thought about. (There are many things like that, particularly in the stories in Tanach. We learn the stories when we are young and therefore often take the details for granted.) I told Shalom I wanted to think about it.

The following week I came across the Medrash that states that when Shimon and Levi went to rescue their sister Dinah from Shechem, Dinah refused to leave until Shimon promised to marry her.

From when she was abducted by Shechem, Dinah had been objectified and she was afraid to leave after all that happened to her. By promising to marry her, Shimon demonstrated that he did not see her as debased. He recognized her shame and restored her dignity.

After seeing that Medrash, it struck me that when Leah named him Shimon it wasn’t merely because she felt Hashem had heard her own prayers at the time of his birth. Rather, because Leah felt so uplifted and encouraged when Hashem heard her cries, she wanted her child to live his life as one who hears the pain of others. She wanted her child to ensure that others would benefit from being heard, as she did. In other words, she didn’t name him Shimon simply to remember what occurred to her. His name was to become his mission for life - he was to be a listener who heard the pain of others.

That same idea can be applied to all the Shevatim. Leah named her oldest son Reuven, not only because Hashem saw her pain but so that he should live his whole life with a mission to recognize the pain of others and be sensitive to it. It was Reuven who stood up (albeit inappropriately) for the honor of his mother and moved Yaakov’s bed into her tent, and it was Reuven who saved Yosef when the brothers wanted to kill him.

Leah named her third son Levi because being her third son, Yaakov would need to accompany her and help her more. The mission of Shevet Levi are to be those who accompany Klal Yisroel as their spiritual guides and represent the nation in performing the Avodah.

Yehuda was named as an expression of Leah’s gratitude. Monarchy can only be granted to one who can admit to his own mishaps and has sufficient humility that allows him to be grateful to others.

Yissochor was named because Leah felt Hashem granted her reward for her efforts. Yissochor would live his life earning reward for engaging in Torah study.

Zevulon was named because Leah felt Yaakov would now make his main lodging with her since she bore six sons for him. Zevulon provided homes for Yissochor so that Yissochor could learn Torah.

The same can be applied to all the sons of Yaakov. It will also explain the names of Perez and Zorach, the later sons of Yehuda, and Menashe and Ephraim, the sons of Yosef.

When Rochel finally merited the birth of a son, she called him Yosef because Hashem has gathered her disgrace. Rashi explains that she would no longer be shamed for being barren. In addition, from then on when there would be a misdeed in the home, they would attribute it to the infant Yosef, and not to Rochel.

Yosef lived his life always assuaging the guilt of others. Even after the brothers had treated him so harshly and caused him so much pain, years later Yosef repeatedly comforted them and reassured them that he bore no ill feelings. He was always “gathering the guilt of others.”

The pasuk states that she also named him Yosef as a prayer that Hashem add another son.

Yosef also lived his life seeking to add to the welfare of others and increase the betterment of their lives. He was always focused on others and that is what made him worthy of leadership. He was trustworthy in the home of Potiphar, he concerned himself with the anguished appearance of his fellow prisoners - the chief butler and baker, and he offered unsolicited advice to Pharaoh about how to preserve his economy in the face of the impending famine.

Each day of Chanukah we state in Hallel, “Yosef Hashem - may Hashem add upon you and upon your children. Blessed are you to Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.” We pray that Hashem adds blessings to us, as Yosef did for others.

On Chanukah we follow the practice of being mosef v’holech - adding one candle each night.

As we read the parshios that contain the saga of Yosef we remind ourselves that like Yosef, our task too is to always add blessing to others.

We read the parshios of the story of Yosef on Chanukah and seek to follow his example.

In addition, we seek to live up to the names/mandates/missions of all the tribes as well. We seek to see and hear the pain of others. We try to be there for others spiritually and physically. We seek to admit to our failures and to be grateful to others and to Hashem, to name a few.

We are called b’nei Yisroel. Yisroel refers to Yaakov’s relentless struggle to overcome his challenges. Our greatness lies in our ability to never give up and always maintain our struggle for greatness.

We are also called Jews, Judahs, leaders of the world. Like Yehuda we are worthy of leadership because we are willing to accept responsibility, despite the high cost of doing so, and we are always expressing our gratitude and unwavering allegiance to Hashem.

May we always live up to the example of our lofty ancestors.


Chanukah Sameiach & Freilichen & Lichtig Chanukah

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

         R’ Dani and Chani Staum      



Thursday, December 7, 2023

Parshas Vayeishev, Shabbos Chanukah, Shabbos Mevorchim 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev

25 Kislev 5784/ December 8, 2023

Mevorchim Chodesh Teves


A former colleague who is a wonderful educator would address his students each day before the students began afternoon classes. For a while he would end each day’s announcements by bidding the students that they “be matzliach (successful) and make us proud”.

One day he announced to the students that upon further reflection he decided to reword his daily signature closing. He explained that he felt it was not correct to bless the students that they make us proud, for that should not be a student’s true objective. A student’s goal in school is to do the best he can and develop his skills and actualize his potential. True hatzlocho isn’t based on the standards or expectations of others, but upon being true to oneself. Although we likely would have tremendous nachas from their accomplishments that should never be their primary motivation. The goal was for them to be matzliach in their own way. From that point on he would simply wish the students that they “be matzliach”.

I suggested to my colleague that the new closing was somewhat lacking as well. There are many students, and adults, who are matzliach yet do not recognize it. Despite the fact that everyone around them feels that they are performing well, they feel deflated and discouraged.

The flip side is equally a problem. There are those who do not recognize that they are not performing at their optimal level but feel they are doing perfectly fine. Such students cheat themselves out of far greater accomplishment.

Therefore, I suggested, the blessing be reworded that “you should be matzliach and you should feel matzliach.”

This is especially true regarding Avodas Hashem.

Recently, while reciting Tehillim in Yeshiva after davening, I noticed one of my students heading for the door. Later in the day, I asked that student if he heard what recently happened in Gaza. I told him that an Israeli soldier in combat was running towards an enemy position without any ammunition. When a fellow soldier asked him where his gun was, he waved him off and said that his few bullets weren’t going to make much of a difference anyway. The other soldier screamed at him that he better get his gun quickly if he valued his life.

The student looked at me quizzically. Why was I telling him such an outlandish tale? I admitted to him that the story hadn’t happened in Gaza. But in a sense, it happened that morning after shachris.

If I had chastised him for being callous toward the situation in Eretz Yisroel, it would have been a harsh and false indictment. More accurately he has the same misperception many of us have. We often don’t realize or believe in the poignancy of our own prayers. If we realized that our tefillos and the merit of our Torah learning and chessed truly protects our soldiers and makes a difference in the ongoing outcome of the war, we would perform them with greater concentration. 

Yerushalmi (Chagigah 2:2) relates that the Greeks forced every Jew to write on the horns of their oxen, “I have no portion in the G-d of Israel.” The Greeks denied the idea that there is holiness and that a person can spread holiness. That concept impinged on their epicurean philosophy.

The victory of Chanukah celebrates not only the eternity of Torah but also our personal connection with the G-d of Israel.

As a rebbe and as a therapist, I can attest that there are many students in our Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs who excel in their learning and are viewed as stellar students. Yet in their hearts they feel like failures, bitterly and utterly disappointed with themselves.

It’s not enough to be successful, one must recognize and feel successful as well.    

Rav Nachman of Breslev (and others) note that when we light Chanukah candles and for the first half hour afterwards, our homes are elevated and attain the kedusha of the Beis Hamikdash and we have the kedusha of the Kohain Gadol.

It is not just on Chanukah when we light the Menorah that our Avodas Hashem is precious. That is how we must view ourselves constantly. We should not serve Hashem primarily out of feelings of guilt and inadequacy. True Avodas Hashem is performed with simcha in knowing our value and how precious our tefillah, Torah and avodah is to Hashem.   


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen & Lichtig Chanukah,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum