Thursday, February 29, 2024

Parshas Ki Sisa 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa

21 Adar I 5784/ March 2, 2024



In a recent edition of her daily WhatsApp, Sivan Rahav-Meir, disseminated the following:

“Kama Hochman is a 7-year-old girl who lives in Bnei Netzarim, a charming little moshav in southern Israel. Her father is presently doing reserve duty in Khan Yunis. This week she decided to write a letter to Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas. It seems to me that this simple and innocent letter is much truer and more to the point than the decisions handed down at the Hague or the UN.

“Listen to 7-year-old Kama:

“To Sinwar

Shalom! I am Kama, I’m in second grade and live in the Gaza periphery. I want to tell you that G-d chose the nation of Israel to be His people and, therefore, even if you try to kill us, we will win. I am wishing that you will be caught, and that the nation of Israel will live with quiet and in peace.””


I am impressed with Kama’s perspective. She was obviously taught that she is part of a special people and that our national ordeal is part of a bigger picture.

It reminded me of an anecdote that my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often relates:

After the Second World War ended, a former SS guard recounted one occasion when he was rounding up Jews and throwing them onto trucks to be taken to be killed. He found a young Jewish boy hiding and pulled him out. The boy looked him in the eye and said, “I’m Yaakov and you’re Eisav. Even though you’re about to kill me, I would still rather be Yaakov than Eisav.”


At this year’s Agudah Convention in December 2023, during the popular Thursday night session entitled, “Asking for a friend” with Rav Aharon Lopiansky and Rav Yosef Elefant, Rav Elefant said the following:

“As far as children are concerned, I think that Jewish history, our tzaros – the Holocaust, Crusades, Tach V’tat (the Cossack massacres of 1648-1649), are all part of the timeline from the Churban; it’s part of the history that dates back to Har Sinai. Our mesorah, our history, is critical to the context of our Avodas Hashem and our mission in the world.

“It’s absolutely critical that we speak to children about the historical context of what’s happening. It’s part of our mesorah, part of our connection to Sinai.

“Someone from a yeshiva in Lakewood called me a few months ago and said they have an hour of General Studies a week. What should they teach?

I told them they should teach Jewish history. The students should have a context of the continuity and the plan. Teaching Jewish history is not about teaching gory details or trauma. Children have to know to be able to connect the dots and understand what happened from the Churban and on, what the Churban caused, why we are what we are, where we were and where we are going. It’s critical for the self-definition of our young generation. To miss the opportunity would be a tremendous shame.”


One additional quote from non-Jewish author, Paul Johnson. In A History of the Jews, he writes:

“No people have ever insisted more firmly than the Jews that history has a purpose, and that humanity has a destiny. At a very early stage in their collective existence they believe they detected a divine scheme for the human race of which their own society was the pilot.... Judaism is not a product, but a program, and the Jews are instruments of its fulfillment.

“Jewish history is a record not only of physical facts but of metaphysical notions. The Jews believe themselves created and commanded to be a light unto the nations of the world. And they have attempted to obey, to the best of their considerable powers, that commandment…

“The Jews have been great truth-tellers. And that is why they have been so hated. A prophet will be feared and sometimes honored, but he will never be loved. A prophet must prophesy. And the Jews, therefore, will persist in pursuing truth as they see it wherever it leads.

“Jewish history teaches, if anything can, that there is indeed a purpose to human existence, and we are not just born to live and die like beasts of the field….”


Being a Jew isn’t easy, but it is an incredible privilege and responsibility. Being chosen and special always comes with a price tag.

When viewed in that light, our national travails, painful as they may be, become purposeful and meaningful. This is certainly true of our current struggle and anguish in Gaza and beyond. These powerful perspectives are vital for us to convey to our progeny.

There is no holiday that celebrates the eternity of our people and our values like Purim. The unbridled joy we feel during Adar is inextricably bound with knowing we are part of something greater than ourselves and that our lives, and our deaths, have meaning and purpose. It is the same joy that has been reflected on the faces of soldiers, and Jews around the world in past months. It is what grants the incredible conviction of families, including those who have lost parents, spouses, children, friends and/or neighbors the conviction and inner strength to carry on.

Despite our collective anguish and personal pain, we have an ethereal inner pride knowing that we are fighting for something divine and eternal, and that every one of us is an essential component of that Master Plan.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Friday, February 23, 2024

Parshas Tetzaveh 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh

14 Adar I 5784/ February 23, 2024

Purim Katan



R’ Benzion Dunner of London was renown as a tremendously charitable philanthropist. He would say that he viewed himself as a ‘gabbai tzedakah’; that G-d had granted him wealth merely so that he could oversee its dissemination to those in need.

On the night of Purim 2008 he distributed more than a million pounds to charity.

        Two weeks later, on March 21, 2008, R’ Benzion was driving with some of his children when he suddenly lost control of his car, and veered off the road. Tragically, R’ Benzion was killed instantly. Miraculously, everyone else in the car survived. 

        Shortly afterwards, a relative of R’ Benzion asked Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, “Doesn’t it say (Mishlei 10:2) “Charity saves from death”? How could a person who dedicated his life to charity, have died so young and so tragically?”

        Rabbi Kanievsky replied, “He was supposed to die twenty years ago!”

         (I asked R’ Zev Dunner, R’ Benzion’s brother and an activist with Torah Umesorah, about the story. I have written it as he told it to me. He added that Rabbi Kanievsky was very emphatic. He did not say, “Perhaps he was supposed to die twenty years ago”.)

R’ Benzion was granted twenty years of life because of his philanthropy.   


This week, 18 Adar I, marks the second yahrtzeit of my father-in-law, Mr. Nathan Mermelstein a”h.

In 2014, my father-in-law was hospitalized. To be honest, at the time we didn’t realize how ill he was. It was only when we went to visit him in the hospital that we were informed that he was fighting Sepsis, a serious complication resulting from infection that can be life threatening. The odds weren’t on his side, but, thankfully, he pulled through. He hosted a seudas hoda’ah when he regained his health.

In 2020 during Covid, he began not feeling well. For a long while the many doctors he went to couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong. They insisted he was fine, even though he was extremely uncomfortable and often in pain.

I will never forget the afternoon when he called to tell me that a tumor was discovered in his pancreas.

He began schlepping into the Bronx weekly for treatment. My incredibly devoted mother-in-law was always at his side. The treatment weakened him, but he seemed to be responding. Then, at the end of January 2022, he fell at home. When Hatzaloh members arrived, he was still communicating with them. Little did anyone know that was the last time he would be in his home and the last time he would speak. His condition deteriorated over the next few weeks, and he was niftar on Shabbos morning, 18 Adar I, surrounded by his wife and three children.


One night during my father-in-law’s shiva, Rabbi Avi Cohen, a dear neighbor of my in-laws, related to us the following story:

22 years earlier “the other side of the lake” in Lakewood had no mikvah. The nearest mikvah was on Madison Ave, a long walk away.

Representatives of three shuls convened to raise funds to purchase a piece of land and renovate the house on it to become a mikvah. Rabbi Cohen and another member of his shul, Ephraim Birnbaum, were the representatives of their shul.

Their first stop was at the home of my father-in-law. When they began explaining the project to him, before they had a chance to explain all the details, he sat down and wrote out a check for $2,000.

They thanked him but then explained that they were looking for 5 founding families to donate $10k each to initiate the campaign. Once they had $50k in commitments they felt the $245k project would gain momentum.

My father-in-law immediately replied that he wanted to be the first donor and pledged an additional $10k.

That indeed helped get the project rolling and a year later the mikvah was completed. My father-in-law forever has a significant share in the mikvah on the corner of Sunset Blvd and Central Ave on the other side of the Lakewood lake.

We were blown away by the story that we knew nothing about. There are undoubtedly many more stories of his chessed and tzadakah of which we are still unaware.

We can never profess to know the calculations of heaven. But I’ve often wondered if he was granted six additional healthy years, and the opportunity to meet 4 more grandchildren, in the merit of his tzedakah and chessed.


My father-in-law came from humble beginnings. His parents were Holocaust survivors and things were challenging in his youth. My father-in-law began his “career” doing menial jobs, including truck deliveries and as a butcher. He slowly saved up money until he could purchase a house and a car. He loved to help people and contribute as much as he was able.

Every Motzei Shabbos/Yom Tov, immediately after havdalah, he would sit down at the dining room table and write out a check for any tzedakah pledges he had made over Shabbos/Yom Tov.


A person sitting in a chair with two babies

Description automatically generatedHe was also a person of impeccable integrity. The afternoon before I became engaged to his daughter, I had a long conversation with my future in-laws. During that discussion my father-in-law told me that if anyone ever called him dishonest it was equivalent to taking a knife and stabbing him in the back. He had a disdain for dishonesty. I don’t know where he developed such fierce honesty from.

He often told me that he didn’t want to be an in-law to me, but more like a father. I personally learned so much from him.

We continue to miss him so much.

May his neshama have an Aliyah.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Parshas Teruma 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah

7 Adar I 5784/ February 16, 2024



When flying, some people prefer aisle seats, so they don’t have to bother anyone else when they want to get up. Other people prefer the window seat so they can enjoy the incredible views outside. But I don’t know anyone who prefers a middle seat. It’s the worst of all worlds. From the middle seat you can’t really see out the window and you don’t have direct access to the aisle. In addition, it seems to be an unwritten rule that the person in the middle doesn’t have dibs over the armrests. He must defer to his seatmates on either side.

In my younger years I was very much a window seater. I was, and am, fascinated by the wonder of flying and love looking out the window. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to prefer aisle seats so I can stretch my legs at will. On my recent trip to Eretz Yisroel however, I apparently booked my seat too late and was designated a middle seat. Although it definitely wasn’t what I would’ve chosen, it was worth the discomfort to get to Eretz Yisroel.

When I boarded the plane and arrived at my seat, there was an elderly man already seated in the aisle seat and an elderly woman in the window seat. The man got up to allow me to go to my seat. Two minutes after I sat down, the man on my left turned to the woman on my right and asked her something, and she replied. A minute later she asked him a question, and he replied. I realized I was seated between a married couple. He wanted the aisle while she wanted the window, and I was stuck in between. They were very pleasant, but it was a bit of an awkward ten hours.

A few days later I saw the same couple on the side of the road in Geulah. They hadn’t seen me yet, so I walked in between them and announced, “This feels familiar”. They looked up with confusion. Then they saw me and laughed.

It brought back memories of the middle seat in the front row of a car. Today, that seat doesn’t exist. But in my youth, I remember many occasions sitting in the middle seat between my parents. I can’t even imagine driving anywhere today with one of my children sitting in the front between my wife and myself. Aside from the discomfort, how would my wife and I discuss anything if a child was sitting between us, instead of trying to eavesdrop from the back?


I am grateful to my younger two siblings who rescued me from being a middle child. Middle children often feel that they get lost in the shuffle and have various gripes that include feeling somewhat forgotten.

In my early days of rabbanus a veteran rabbi explained to me that in most congregations 10% of the congregation will love the rabbi and back him almost regardless of what he says or does. Another 10% of the congregation will disdain the rabbi and challenge him almost regardless of what he says or does. The middle 80% fluctuates.

It’s to them that the rabbi should focus his efforts. The wise rabbi doesn’t waste too much time trying to convince the naysayers; their minds are already made up. Instead, he seeks to maintain a warm and positive relationship with the wavering mass in the middle.

In classrooms there is a constant tension all teachers must contend with - whom to cater their primary efforts towards. Do they focus more on the quicker students of the class or on the students who need added explanation to grasp what is being taught. No matter which the teacher chooses, he/she should always be mindful of the students in the middle who often slide through the system.


Middles get a bad rap. But there is great significance and value of the middle.

The Gemara (Megillah 21b) notes that the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash had three branches on either side of the middle branch. The flames atop each of the branches faced the middle one, while the middle one faced the Holy of Holies, where the Shechinah was. Rabbi Yochanan noted that the middle candle atop the menorah demonstrated that the middle is special.

Beginnings are challenging but they are also exciting. We gear up for new challenges and prepare for them. Endings are also special, fostering feelings of accomplishment and/or closure.

We celebrate book ends. We have Siddur and Chumash parties for our children when they begin davening/learning. We also have graduations to celebrate and mark the completion of their studies. In between there is a long stretch of unremarkable learning and studying. But it is there in the elongated uncelebrated middle that the real learning and growth takes place.

The Mishnah (Avos 3:7) states that if a person is walking on the way and he interrupts his studies and declares, “How beautiful is this tree”, or, “How beautiful is this plowed field”, the Torah considers him as if he is liable for his soul.

What is so pretty about a plowed field? In addition, why is a person liable for his soul for admiring beautiful landscapes?

Rabbi Label Lam suggests that the beauty of a plowed field lies in its potential. Only a farmer who appreciates how much produce and profit can be generated from a yet uncultivated field would see it as beautiful. A plowed field represents potential waiting to be actualized, the coveted initiation of a potentially profitable process. In contrast, a beautiful tree represents actualization and accomplishment. A blooming tree stands regally bearing its luscious fruits, waiting to be picked and enjoyed.

We all travel the paths and roads of life. Rabbi Lam suggests that the subject of the Mishnah is trying to accomplish and grow but feels that his growth is stymied and stagnated. He admires young children, analogous to plowed fields bursting with potential. He recalls when he himself set out on the path of growth wide-eyed and confident before he became burned-out. He also admires those who have accomplished and brought their dreams to fruition, analogous to beautiful fruit producing trees. He sighs, feeling that his own dreams will never be actualized.

The Mishnah warns that such a defeatist attitude destroys the soul. It depletes confidence and squashes dreams.

We are always in the middle of the paths of life. The middle may not feel exciting. But that is where one’s main efforts must be invested. As long as one can stay the course and maintain a sense of mission and direction, that is a success.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum




Thursday, February 8, 2024

Parshas Mishpatim 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro

23 Shevat 5784/ February 2, 2024

Mevorchim Chodesh Adar I




My personal breakfast of champions each morning includes a bowl of Cheerios. Not honey nut, frosted, banana, chocolate or even mayonnaise flavored Cheerios, but good ol’ regular cheerios.

Recently, when I finished a box of Cheerios, I brought the empty box into my ninth grade Shiur room. I asked my students why they thought when I finished the box, I didn’t spike the box and scream “let’s goooooooo” like guys often do when they make a great play in sports. (They actually thought I should have done so…) The consensus was that it was because finishing a box of Cheerios wasn’t a major accomplishment. Only when one accomplishes something arduous or against the odds does he feel the need to celebrate ostentatiously.

In the second quarter of a football game played at Yankees Stadium in 1965, Homer Jones, a speedy Giants wide receiver, caught an 89-yard touchdown pass from QB Earl Morrall. He was on the verge of tossing the ball into the crowd, as his teammates liked to do, but at the last second, he remembered that doing so had been banned by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Not wanting to be fined, Jones stopped short and threw the ball down on the grass instead. The crowd seemed to enjoy it, and it was repeated by other players. Jones later coined what he had just done a “spike” – and the name stuck.

Today, touchdown celebrations have become de rigueur. Players choreograph and rehearse their victory bravado dance in advance for if and when they score a touchdown. The sports ignoramus seeing such a dance would likely think the dancing player was unwell or in need of psychological help. Nevertheless, it has become a coveted part of the game, though it definitely doesn’t add sportsmanship to it. Still the original celebratory gesture remains spiking the football.

I have often thought that there is symbolic meaning to spiking a football. To score a touchdown or win a football game, every player seeks to drive the football downfield into the opposing team’s end zone while defending their own turf. That football - where it is and who has it - dictates what everyone on that field will be doing. When a player scores a touchdown, he throws down the football with conviction, demonstrating that he dominates the football, and not vice versa. He spikes the football subconsciously declaring to it, “I own you! I dictate where you go, and not vice versa!”

Contrast that with our approach to Torah study. No matter how much we learn and how many masechtos we have mastered, we always maintain a sense of humility towards it. The Torah dictates every facet of our lives and always remains our guide.

When we master a game of football, we throw the football down. When we complete studying Torah, we lift ourselves up with song and dance. One is a celebration of mastery of the body; the other, mastery of the spirit and soul.


Chodesh Tov & Gut Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

          R’ Dani and Chani Staum         



Thursday, February 1, 2024

Parshas Yisro 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro

23 Shevat 5784/ February 2, 2024

Mevorchim Chodesh Adar I


There aren’t many people who are able to impact and influence masses of Jews throughout the world. Rav Matisyahu Salomon zt”l, the late Lakewood Mashgiach, was one such rare individual. Aside from being a scholar of note, he was an eloquent and inspiring orator with an English accent to boost.

During his youth Rav Matisyahu learned in the Gateshead yeshiva where he gained mastery of Shas. His proficiency was evident from his shmuessen and speeches, in which he would quote extensively from Chazal, midrashim and mussar.

Many of those who knew him during his formative years thought Rav Matisyahu was destined to become a great rosh yeshivah.

In the late 1960s however, Rav Matisyahu was appointed assistant mashgiach and then mashgiach of Gateshead Yeshivah. After holding the position for almost 3 decades, Rav Matisyahu and his family moved to Lakewood, NJ where he assumed the daunting role of mashgiach of Beis Medrash Govoha.

Originally, Rav Matisyahu was very hesitant to accept the position of mashgiach. During his early years, he periodically traveled to the Steipler Gaon to ask if he could leave his leadership role and return to full-time learning in kollel. The Steipler advised him to retain the position. Rav Matisyahu once quipped, "All of my success in life has been a result of doing things I did not necessarily want to do.”


My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, was a lawyer for nine years after his marriage. One November afternoon as he was preparing to leave the office his old friend, Rabbi Aryeh Rottman, appeared. Rabbi Rottman had been the Rav of a small shul in Miami Beach but was preparing to leave. Rabbi Rottman told Rabbi Wein that he had been sent by their rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth, to tell Rabbi Wein to seek the position. Rabbi Wein’s initial response was incredulous at best. But Rabbi Rottman was persistent and wouldn’t leave until Rabbi Wein agreed to at least apply for the position. The rest is history.

Rabbi Wein was and is a very influential personality in the Torah world. He has taught and inspired tens of thousands as a Rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva, lecturer and author. Yet, in Rabbi Wein’s words, “My wife married a lawyer. I was never going to go into rabbanus. Never say never; you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you never know where the truth really lies until it hits you in the face.”


While I was visiting Eretz Yisroel last week, a friend suggested that I attend a funeral for an IDF soldier on Har Herzl. Unfortunately, there was bound to be at least one such funeral, and attending would help me connect with the harsh and painful reality of the war.

During my week in Eretz Yisroel, Rivka Baruch, a lone female soldier from Holland passed away.

Rivka had immigrated to Israel from Holland, and had enlisted, and served in the IDF as an officer. When the war broke out, Rivka was abroad, but she immediately returned to enlist in the reserves. A few weeks ago she contracted a fatal infection and her family came to Israel to be with her during her hospitalization until her tragic passing.

My son Shalom and I attended her funeral on Har Herzl. Messages had been sent that day asking people to attend the funeral because she was a lone soldier. Amazingly, hundreds of people came to the funeral.

At the funeral, her bereaved father, Robert, recounted the message Rivka had shared a few years earlier at her Bas Mitzvah. She had quoted the pasuk from the haftorah of Parshas Yisro in which the Navi Yeshaya relates, “Then I heard the voice of Hashem ask, ‘Whom can I send and who will go on our behalf? Va’omar hinini shlacheni - I answered, “I am ready; send me!”

As Robert said the words “hinini shlacheni” his voice broke. He shared that his daughter had always lived with that sense of mission, to act on behalf of her people. It wasn’t easy to become a lone soldier in the IDF from the Netherlands, but with incredible resolve she forged ahead.

As he described each of his daughter’s accomplishments during her short life, Robert continually repeated the words of the prophet, “hinini shlacheni - I am ready; send me.”

I will never hear those words the same way again.

The words of the Navi are to be our mantra as well. Throughout our lives we encounter situations that require ‘someone’ to step up. It is as if Hashem is asking us, “Whom can I send and who will go on our behalf?” Those tasks and roles may very well not be what we originally planned. Heaven looks for those who are up for the task and declare, “hinini shlacheni - I am ready; send me!”

The greatest event in the history of the world was Kabbolas HaTorah. The Jewish people uninhibitedly accepted the entirety of the Torah with absolute adherence to G-d’s will. Complete acceptance of G-d’s will includes accepting the path and role He has destined for us.

Life doesn’t always follow our carefully crafted plans. Great people are able to adapt and recalculate. At the end of the day, or more accurately, at the end of our lives, what counts is how much we accomplished with the cards we were dealt.

“Va’omer hinini shlacheni - I answered, “I am ready; send me!”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

          R’ Dani and Chani Staum