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