Saturday, January 27, 2024

Parshas Beshalach 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach/Shabbos Shirah

16 Shevat 5784/ January 26, 2024


I just returned from a wonderful week in Eretz Yisroel. The main purpose of my trip was to visit our two children who are learning there this year.
However, due to the war and that fact that it is a time of significant challenge and difficulty for Klal Yisroel, I wanted to contribute in whatever small way I could.

Based on the suggestion of friends, I joined a bunch of WhatsApp chats. One is dedicated to posting opportunities in fields and on various kibbutzim to pick fruits or help with basic farming. With so many soldiers at war, there is a need for volunteers to help maintain livelihoods and the Israeli economy.

There is another WhatsApp group for making sandwiches or meals for soldiers, tying tzitzis for soldiers, delivering food, etc. Another group posts opportunities to help families that have been relocated to hotels in Yerushalayim because their communities are too close to the war front. There are posts for babysitters to help overwhelmed mothers and setting up activities for the children. They also post sad information about funerals and Shiva visits for soldiers killed at war.

Every morning and throughout the day my phone would buzz nonstop with holy Jews on these groups looking to contribute in any way they could.
I rhetorically asked a few people if in Ukraine there are similar WhatsApp groups set up for people eagerly looking for opportunities to help fellow Ukrainians suffering from the effects of war.

What a people we are!

A large pile of rusty cars

Description automatically generatedOne of the things I personally did was to join a day trip close to the southern Gaza border, arranged by a wonderful volunteer named Yossi Hoffman.

On the day of the trip, our bus left Yerushalayim and made its first stop outside Kibbutz Takuma, where the vehicles burned on October 7th have been moved to. It’s a frightening and horrendous site. Tens of burned-out skeletons of cars and vans are piled up in a mass junkyard.


A house with a broken roof

Description automatically generatedFrom there we continued to the site of the Nova music festival, one of the main targets of the October 7th massacre. There are rows of pictures of and messages to the victims and hostages. It is absolutely heartbreaking.

Our next stop was at Kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the hardest hit areas. The Kibbutz is located along the Gaza border. On October 7th, the terrorists entered the Kibbutz before 7 am and went from house to house unimpeded until the army finally arrived at 1:30 pm. Aside for six, every house on the Kibbutz was destroyed or sustained terrible damage. A third of the population of the Kibbutz was murdered or taken hostage. Even now, over three months later, the smell of incineration hovers above the Kibbutz. In between the burned-out homes, beautiful fruit trees grow as birds chirp peacefully above. It is the cruel contrast of life.

A group of men standing in front of a tent

Description automatically generatedWe were led through the Kibbutz by a resident of the Kibbutz who lived through the horrors of that day. He recounted what happened to each home, relating the name of the family and what happened to every member of the family. This included the home of Kfir Bibas, the cute redhead who recently “celebrated” his first birthday in Hamas captivity. While walking through the Kibbutz we heard powerful explosions nearby in Gaza.

Our final stop was the main objective of our trip, a barbecue for over 200 IDF reserve soldiers on the Magen army base. Everyone who attended the trip paid 400 Shekel to cover the cost of the barbecue. The total cost of the barbecue exceeded 35,000 Shekel. All the extra food was delivered across the border into Gaza later that night. After we ate, there was also a DJ and spirited dancing with the soldiers.

I had the opportunity to speak to a few of the soldiers, including the Rabbi on the base. It was a very enriching and enlightening experience.

I should add, that two of the soldiers from that base were of the 21 soldiers tragically killed this week in Gaza. The battalion is entering Gaza for 12 days at the end of the month.[1]

It was a very special and moving day.


I asked Yossi Hoffman why he invests so much time and effort to arrange these trips when he doesn’t make a penny from it. He replied that as a volunteer for Zaka he witnessed terribly traumatic things on and since October 7th. He feels an overwhelming need to continually contribute to Klal Yisroel to maintain his own sanity and this is part of how he does so.

Yossi also delivers food packages for 4500 soldiers every Shabbos, with most of the food being delivered into Gaza. Each package contains food for two Shabbos meals and costs $36 each. That means Yossi must raise $162,000 EVERY WEEK to maintain his incredible chesed campaign to help our soldiers and enhance their Shabbos while stationed in a most miserable place. Since the beginning of the war, he has raised over $1 million.[2]


During the first plague in Mitzrayim - blood, the Torah relates that Pharaoh turned towards his home and didn’t hearken to the message of the plague. Commentaries explain that Pharaoh had his servants purchase more than adequate amounts of water for the palace. Despite the fact that his country was suffering miserably, he was able to go back into the palace and hardly feel the effects of the plague.

Hamas and our enemies are worthy students of Pharaoh, lacking care or concern even for their own people. What matters most is their evil agenda.
Contrast Pharoah with Moshe who grew up in the palace in the lap of luxury. Yet he left the comforts of the palace to seek out the pain of his brethren and to help them in any way he could.

Moshe, our greatest leader, taught by example the way of the Jewish people. When others are in pain, we don’t close our doors and slink back into the comforts of our own homes. We worry for each other and concern ourselves with the collective pain of our people. This is especially true as the world hypocritically demonstrates indifference to our suffering.

As the signs and messages on the busses say throughout Eretz Yisroel, ביחד ננצח - Together we will be victorious.[3]


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

         R’ Dani and Chani Staum      







[1] The following video is about the two soldiers who were killed this week (please note that the background music has Kol Isha):

As the battalion prepares to enter Gaza, the Rabbi of the battalion who I met sent me the following information for those who wish to donate to their security:

The campaign for fundraising for the Meler Battalion has launched! Together we will reach the goal to equip all our soldiers with protective equipment:
For donations:

[2] The following video explains more about the incredible Shabbos package given to the soldiers each week:

The following is the link for Yossi’s ongoing campaign to bring meals for the IDF for Shabbos:

In addition, I can give Yossi’s WhatsApp number to anyone who would like to contact him directly for more information.

[3] Please note that I am happy to directly share the links or further discuss these important causes with anyone who would like. Please email me at:

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Parshas Bo 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo

9 Shevat 5784/ January 19, 2024


It’s been said that the only one who hears both sides of an argument is the next door neighbor.

When I was a social work student at Fordham University, I mostly kept my opinions to myself. More than one professor wrote on one of my papers that they wanted to hear my voice.

Part of the reason they were curious to hear my take was that I was the only Orthodox Jew in many of my classes. I didn’t feel I had much to gain by arguing with the extreme liberal views of my professors and colleagues. But I also noticed that the quieter I was the more people around me wanted to hear what I had to say. I’ve often thought that if I had spoken up and debated with them, within a short amount of time, they wouldn’t want to hear my opinion anymore. As President Lincoln quipped, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”.

One of the most important components of maintaining good relationships is the ability to listen well. For most of us that is particularly challenging. Even when we remain quiet while listening to someone else, we are often mentally formulating a response. The result is that we aren’t truly present and tuned in to what the other person is saying.

Our son Dovid shared the following beautiful thought at our Shabbos table this week:

At the beginning of parshas Va’era when Hashem informed Moshe of the imminent redemption from Egypt, He stated, “And I have also heard the cries of the B’nei Yisroel” (Shemos 3:9). Why does Hashem say that He also heard the cries of B’nei Yisroel? Who else besides Hashem had heard their cries?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Hashem was saying that He had seen how the tortured Jewish slaves heard and cared for each other’s pain. Therefore, because they empathized and cared for each other, He would do the same.

At the beginning of parshas Yisro, when the Torah relates about Yisro’s journey to join Klal Yisroel, it begins, “And Yisro heard.” The commentators note that Yisro didn’t hear anything different than everyone else. But Yisro heard and hearkened to the message, while everyone else heard and then went on with their daily routine.

Whenever the Gemara wants to prove a point, it introduces it by saying, “ta shema – come and listen.” There is great wisdom in that terminology. So often when we argue with someone, we are so entrenched in our opinion that we don’t really hear what he is saying. The first step is to enter the other person’s thought process and actively listen to understand what he is saying.

One of the things that frustrates me to no end is when I am saying a story or joke, and someone calls out the punch line. For some reason, when we know something we are being told, we feel the need to stop the person so we don’t have to hear it again. 

The Orchos Tzaddikim (Sha’ar Hashesikah) writes: “If someone tells you something that you already know, be quiet until he finishes, for he may tell you something that you have never heard before. He also derives enjoyment from telling you something, and even if you know he will not tell you anything new, be quiet until he finishes.”

I often tell my students that if they want to work on their middos, when someone begins telling them a d’var Torah, story, joke, or piece of news that they already know, they should pretend like they never heard it before. They should listen attentively and smile, nod or laugh afterwards as if they just heard something fascinating for the first time. It may sound like a simple thing to do. But the reality is that most people – including this author – have a very hard time doing it. People enjoy sharing novel ideas with others. Why can’t we give them satisfaction even if we already know it?

Rabbi Daniel Kalish is the beloved menahel of the Waterbury Mesivta. He relates that in his early years as an educator whenever a student who was down or upset approached him, he felt it was his duty to cheer the student up. He would tell the student a joke, story or something light to distract him from his grief. With time, however, he realized that doing so denied his student what he truly wanted and needed in the moment. His job as a rebbe was to enter his student’s world to understand and subsequently empathize with his student. That is far more time-consuming and challenging and requires greater emotional investment. 

Most people are too busy to listen, and even if they do listen, they don’t really hear. Being able to listen and hear requires understanding, caring and patience. Greater even than the song of silence, is listening and hearing someone else’s song.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum      





Thursday, January 11, 2024

Parshas Vaeira 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaera

2 Shevat 5784/ January 12, 2024


Recently, I attended a Sheva Berachos at which the mother of the Kallah spoke. She expressed her tremendous feelings of gratitude to her family and friends and extolled the virtues of her daughter the Kallah and new son-in-law. Then, before concluding she noted that during the weeks before the wedding it had felt strange to be so focused on her simcha when there was and is so much ongoing heartbreak and anguish in Klal Yisroel. As she said that she choked up. Then she looked down and said, “I’m sorry” and began to cry. After a moment, through tears she continued by noting the pain of hostages, broken and displaced families, and wounded soldiers. She apologized for her tears twice more.

I found it intriguing that she apologized for her tears three times. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear someone apologize for being overtaken by emotion.

Our society views demonstrating emotion, and particularly tears, as weakness. People like to present themselves as being strong, confident, and like they have everything in life together. Crying is a profoundly vulnerable and intimate expression of one’s inner self. It’s an admission that things are not perfect, and one doesn’t feel completely in control.

Women cry out of a feeling of guilt that they overburdened another with their emotions. They apologize for causing an emotional imposition on the other person. The feeling is that dealing with real emotions and feelings of loneliness and pain are too intrusive and overburdening to push onto another. Most people would rather just use counterfeit intimacy, perpetuated by a quick emoji showing care, albeit from a distance.

Men cry out of a feeling of shame that they appeared weak and unmanly by allowing themselves to appear vulnerable. The message absorbed from early on is that men don’t show emotions. They have to be tough and deal with everything “like a man”.

Although in our world crying is viewed as showing weakness, the Torah has the opposite perspective. We are encouraged to feel the pain of others and to empathize to the extent that we are able. Shedding a tear for the pain of another is virtuous.

The Ponovezher Rav once entered the home of the Chofetz Chaim and became alarmed when he heard piercing cries. The Chofetz Chaim’s wife reassured the Ponovezher Rav that it was nothing out of the ordinary. A woman had been there a few minutes earlier and had shared with the Chofetz Chaim painful details about her life. After she left the Chofetz Chaim was davening and crying for her.

The beauty of this story isn’t just about the incredible empathy and care that the Chofetz Chaim felt for a Jew he hardly knew. It’s also that we share the story as a value to aspire for.

At the beginning of Parashas Shemos, the Torah describes the development of Moshe Rabbeinu into the future leader. Moshe left the comforts of the palace to seek the welfare of his people. When he saw the bitter servitude they were subjected to, he was crestfallen. The Medrash (Shemos 1:27) writes: “Moshe would see their burdens and would cry and say, “Woe is me on account of you! If only I could die for your sake”.” Part of the development of our greatest leader was that he cried for his brethren.

We could fill volumes of stories of Jews who cried for each other, and thereby offered a modicum of comfort. If nothing else, those suffering didn’t feel alone.

At the Sheva Berachos I attended, the Kallah’s mother’s message was the most memorable and meaningful part of the Sheva Berachos for me. It was genuine and heartfelt, and it was inspiring how deeply she connected to the pain of Am Yisroel. It was apparent that many others in the room were likewise moved by her words. Her apology was not only unnecessary, but it was also out of place. At most, she could have said “excuse me” for taking a moment to compose herself. But to remind us of the need to feel each other’s pain, especially that of Am Yisroel, an apology is never in order.

I can only say I’m sorry that anyone would feel the need to apologize for demonstrating empathy with tears.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum     




Thursday, January 4, 2024

Parshas Shemos 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos – Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat

24 Teves 5784/ January 5, 2024


On a Shabbos morning in 1990, I was walking to shul with my father and a neighbor. My father and my neighbor were discussing how comprehensive the newly published Artscroll Mishnayos were. At that time, Artscroll had published quite a few volumes of Mishnayos but they still had ways to go before finishing all of it. What they had already published was well received. My father commented to our neighbor that he had read that Artscroll was working on a Gemara that due to be published in the coming months. The neighbor was incredulous that Artscroll would publish the translation of an entire masechta of Gemara with insights and footnotes. But a few months later, Artscroll indeed released its first masechta, Makkos.

Until then, the only available English translation of the Gemara was the Soncino Talmud. Those gemaras were published by Rabbi Yechezkel Epstein, a talmid chochom of note who had learned in the yeshiva of the Chasam Sofer and was reputed to know all of Shas by heart. The Soncino project of translating the entire Talmud began in 1936 and was completed in 1948.

The challenge of using the Soncino Gemara is that the translation was in the King’s English, and not the more familiar American vernacular. In addition, although the Soncino Talmud has footnotes, they are concise and without much elaboration. Unlike the Artscroll Gemara which spoon-feeds the Gemara to the reader, the Soncino Gemara simply gives the reader a head start with some background knowledge. But the reader still needs to invest effort to fully comprehend the text.

One of my rebbeim in yeshiva was very witty and innovative. As a major test on a few dafim (pages) of Gemara, he gave us a list of 20 footnotes copied from the Soncino Gemara. Our task was to figure out what daf Gemara the quote was from. One really had to know the Gemara well to figure out where a Soncino footnote would have been said.

In the pre-Artscroll world, the only other option to decipher ancient Talmudic Aramaic aside from Soncino, was the Jastrow dictionary. Although the author, Marcus Jastrow, was a great scholar, he had a tarnished reputation. Yeshiva students would therefore often keep their Jastrow dictionaries hidden under the table. That was no small feat considering that it was a small but thick volume. In addition, when using the Jastrow Dictionary one had to search one word at a time.

Since they have completed their monumental 73-volume project, Artscroll has literally created a Torah revolution particularly by making Gemara accessible to the masses.

In the yeshiva world however, the Artscroll Gemara is viewed differently. Rebbeim engrain in their students that using an Artscroll to learn Gemara hampers their ability to learn how to learn properly. During one’s formative years when he has time and guidance of rebbeim for in depth study, he has the opportunity to learn how to decipher and plumb the depths of Gemara. Doing so is tedious and difficult but is the only true road to becoming a talmid chochom. A student who chooses the easy and quick route of perusing through the Gemara with an Artscroll, is cheating himself. He may be able to ace a Gemara test, but he likely will not be able to develop into the scholar he has potential to become.

It’s a valid and important point, and I have conveyed that message to my students as well. However, at times I hear yeshiva students speak disparagingly about Artscroll generally. It’s as if anything published by Artscroll is to be treated like an allergen. The fact that it is less than ideal for the yeshiva student to use an Artscroll Gemara during his yeshiva years does not diminish the value of what Artscroll has accomplished. The letters of approbation from many great Torah leaders in the front of every Artscroll Gemara attests to how valuable Artscroll’s contribution has been and is.

A yeshiva student once told me he wouldn’t use an Artscroll Siddur because his rebbe told his class that they shouldn’t use Artscroll. I explained to him that he seemed to misunderstand his Rebbe’s point. I don’t know anyone who would argue that using a Siddur with translation and comments isn’t a great way to enhance one’s tefillos.

This is an important idea because it goes far beyond a Yeshiva student’s attitude towards Artscroll. In general, people often have a hard time parsing ideas and seeing the full picture. We like it when things are black and white and don’t deal well with blurred lines. But life isn’t so clear cut. There are always nuances and factors that need to be taken into account.

Life often needs elucidation and annotation, kinda like what Artscroll did for the Gemara. Maybe Artscroll should publish a book about who should use their Gemaras and who shouldn’t and when. The only problem is that those who could benefit from the book may not want to read it if it is published by Artscroll.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum