Friday, March 29, 2024

Parshas Tzav 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav/Parah

19 Adar II 5784/ March 29, 2024



Recently, one of our neighbors joined us for a Shabbos Seudah. The neighbor appreciates fine wine and gave us a bottle as a gift. It’s always a bit uncomfortable for me when I’m gifted with a bottle of wine, as the extent of my appreciation of wine doesn’t go much beyond Cream Malaga, Bartenura, and Asti. I do not understand when people swoosh their wine in their glasses or any other ‘wine etiquette’.

Of course, I thanked my neighbor for the bottle but admitted that I didn’t have much of a taste for it. He poured me a bit and insisted that it went down very smoothly, and I should try a bit. I humored him and drank a bit of the wine. It tasted very much like all the other expensive dry wines I have ever drank. Please pass the soda.

My neighbor and I began discussing the intricacies of producing wine. He noted that not only do wines produced from different locations have a different taste, but even wines produced by grapes in the same vineyard can have different tastes. The exact amount of water, sunlight and climate all impact the taste of the wine.

My neighbor pointed to the indentation on the bottom of the wine bottle and asked me if I knew why it was there. When I replied that I assumed it was because the wine companies were cheap and wanted to save money, he almost gagged. His annoyance with my naive response was noticeable. It was as if he felt he had to defend the honor of fine wines throughout the world.

He explained that the indentation, called a punt, serves an important purpose. True wine connoisseurs are extremely sensitive to anything that can alter the taste of the wine. When a person grasps a bottle of wine, the body heat in the fingers can subtly affect the taste of the wine. To prevent that, the server places his thumb in the punt under the bottle and grasps the bottle with his other fingers wrapped in a cloth. Then he pours the wine without his fingers coming into direct contact with the bottle.


When one drinks alcohol, it heightens whatever emotions he was feeling beforehand. If he is happy, his happiness will become more extreme, and he may begin to sing and dance. But if he is sad, his sadness will likely deepen as well.

The celebrations of Purim and Pesach are both inextricably connected to wine. Aside from the more basic connections, these two holidays are particularly emotional celebrations of our national pride.

They are also both celebrations of our uniqueness as a people. When Achashveirosh invited all citizens of Shushan to his party, many Jews attended feeling that they - Jew and gentile alike – were all equal subjects of the king. But Haman starkly reminded them that the Jew is not the same. We are special, whether we want to be or not.

Pesach celebrates when a band of hapless slaves were redeemed from amidst the immoral world superpower. It became clear then that the formerly enslaved nation was a nation of royalty.

On Seder night, we commemorate the four levels of freedom by drinking four cups of wine. Meshech Chochma explains that it is particularly on wine that we commemorate these expressions because, more than any other food or drink, wine symbolizes the uniqueness of the Jewish People. The Gemara (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman maligned the Jews by telling Achashveirosh that if a fly would fall into a Jew's cup of wine, the Jew would fish out the fly and drink the wine. However, if the king would touch the Jew’s cup, the Jew would spill out the wine.

To enjoy wine, it’s not only about the taste and texture of the wine itself, but also how it’s handled.

It seems that our enemies, and even some of our “friends”, just don’t get it. Those who mishandle the Jewish people, or tamper with the Jewish people may initially be successful and may hurt us badly. But, rest assured, they’ll end up where all our previous enemies have ended up.

At the same time, the Jewish people will continue to raise their glasses of wine at the Seder and proclaim in v’hee sheamdah, “In every generation they have stood upon us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed is He, saved us from their hands.”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, March 22, 2024

Parshas Vayikra 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra-Zachor

12 Adar II 5784/ March 22, 2024




A friend who is a dentist gives mishloach manos full of huge cavity-inducing candies… and a business card. 

In truth, there is more of a connection between rotted teeth and Purim than you may realize. 


One of the beloved parts of the Purim story is when Haman paraded Mordechai upon the king’s horse through the streets of Shushan. As the procession passed Haman’s home, Haman’s daughter, confident that her father was atop the horse with Mordechai being forced to lead it, cast the family chamber-pot upon her father’s head. When Haman looked up to see who had so shamed him, she recognized that it was her father, and she jumped to her death.

If Haman was repeatedly calling out “Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor”, how did his daughter not recognize her father’s voice? 

Earlier in the story, after Haman conveyed to Achashveirosh his idea for how the king should bestow honor upon a worthy dignitary, Achashveirosh instructed Haman to implement his own plan by bestowing that honor upon Mordechai. Achashveirosh told him, “Take the royal clothing and the royal horse as you have spoken, and do so to Mordechai the Jew who sits at the king’s gate. Do not leave out anything from all that you have spoken.”

What was added with the final words of instruction not to leave out “anything from all that you have spoken”?

The Ben Ish Chai explains that Haman had suggested to the king that the dignitary whom the king wishes to honor should be honored in three ways – by wearing royal clothes, riding the royal steed, and having another dignitary proclaim before him, “Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor”.

Achashveirosh did not want Haman to be like the vendors in the shuq (marketplace) who periodically call out their products to inform every new wave of passersbys of what they are selling. Rather, he wanted Haman to keep repeating the refrain over and over. As soon as Haman completed saying it, he was to begin again. In this way, Mordechai would be honored in all three ways throughout the entire procession.

This is why Achashveirosh added, “Do not leave out anything from all that you have spoken”? If Haman would only call out the refrain periodically, during lapses, Mordechai would not be receiving the full tripartite honor that Haman had suggested.

Shushan was a large city with many streets. If Haman was forced to keep repeating the same refrain loudly without stopping, with time his voice invariably became strained. When the parade neared Haman’s home, his daughter indeed did not recognize the tired, strained voice of the person leading the horse. That was how she unwittingly dumped the family refuse upon her father’s head.

         So, it turns out that Haman was thrown off his metaphoric high horse to lead an actual royal horse before he himself became a little hoarse.


The Ben Ish Chai offers an additional explanation as to why Achashveirosh added the final words of instruction, “Do not leave out anything from all that you have spoken”.

Haman was an old man. [In Ta’ama d’Kra, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, notes that Haman and Mordechai were both 95 years old.] At that age, he was undoubtedly missing many or most of his teeth. Without teeth, it’s challenging to enunciate certain letters, particularly the letters ז, ס, ש, ר,צ.

Achashveirosh understood that when Haman would call out the words “Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor” being that he lacked teeth, it would sound slurred and unclear. No doubt that Haman would make sure to make it sound even more unclear by purposely mumbling the words.[1]

There is one way to ensure that the words will be clear, even without teeth. If one says the words slowly and loudly, the words will be clear and understood.

Achashveirosh, therefore, warned Haman to make sure that the words, literally, did not fall out of his mouth. Rather, he should ensure to say each word slowly and clearly so everyone will understand exactly what he is saying.

So Haman was not only smelly like a horse and a little hoarse (or perhaps very hoarse), he was also toothless.


Perhaps it’s in commemoration of Haman’s rotting teeth that children the world over have adopted the custom to eat endless amounts of candy and sugar on Purim.

Still, we should remind our children that as soon as Purim is over, they should make sure to brush their teeth. After all, they definitely don’t want to end up as the wicked son at the Seder whose teeth get blunted.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Purim Sameiach & Freilichen Purim,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum

[1] I have said this thought over at the Purim seudah. It is a lot of fun to demonstrate this idea by covering your teeth with your lips and calling out “Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor.” It’s especially fun after a few cups of wine.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Parshas Pekudei 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pekudei

5 Adar II 5784/ March 15, 2024




        Is it possible that our English teacher was right (or correct)? Could it be that punctuation really does make a difference in life and, in fact, could save lives?

        Many are familiar with the difference between “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.” The first is a grotesque form of cannibalism while the second depicts a lovely outing. So, it seems commas indeed save lives.       

What if I told you that the Jewish people were in fact saved by one comma? What if I told you that the whole Purim salvation was based on one comma? And, no, it’s not because I’m in a state of ad d’lo yada.


The Megillah relates that King Achashveirosh allowed Haman to dispatch letters to all his provinces allowing the nations “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all the Jews” (Esther 3:13). Further in the Megillah, however, after Haman was killed, Achashveirosh told Mordechai and Esther to “write concerning the Jews whatever is favorable in your eyes…” (ibid. 8:8). Mordechai and Esther were enjoined to draft second letters to send to the provinces, permitting the Jews to defend themselves.

        How were Mordechai and Esther able to overwrite the first edict issued by Achashveirosh if the law was that a decree could not be rescinded?

        A yeshiva bochur on his way to his best friend’s wedding realizes that, as usual, he is running late. His best friend’s chuppah is about to begin and he still must find parking in that notoriously difficult parking area. He says a silent prayer and pulls onto the block of the hall. To his utter delight, a spot is available right in front of the wedding hall.

        He quickly pulls in, grabs his hat, and, while simultaneously making his tie, rushes towards the front entrance. As he is opening the front door, he notices in the corner of his eye that a cop standing next to his car issuing him a parking ticket. He turns around and runs back. “Officer, why are you giving me a ticket?” The cop hardly looks up. “Son, are you blind? Didn’t you see the sign right there that says, ‘No Parking’?”

 The bochur laughs and shakes his head. “Officer, let me explain. At first, I made the same mistake as you did. When I first pulled up and saw this perfect spot, I thought to myself there’s absolutely no way that I can park right here. But then I noticed the sign here that says, ‘No!’ don’t think you can’t park her. Rather, ‘Parking!’ The sign was actually informing me that I can park here. But you obviously misread the sign too, Officer.”

        What a difference a comma can make!

Here are some other examples of potential tragedies that could be averted with the insertion of a comma or two:

·         Jacob likes cooking his family and his dog.

·         Throw my wife out the window the keys.

·         Throw my husband in the oven a slice of pizza.

(Yes, I am aware that the last two sentences are not grammatically correct anyway.)


 In a similar vein, the Vilna Gaon explains that Mordechai and Esther did not change the wording of the previous edict, “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all the Jews.” Instead, they merely inserted a comma, so that it now read, “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all, the Jews.” That one little comma completely changed the meaning of the decree. Instead of the Jews being the targeted subjects of the murderous decree, the Jews were now going to be the promulgators of it.

        The Shalmei Todah further explains that this is what Achashveirosh meant when he told Mordechai and Esther, “write concerning haYehudim, the Jews whatever is favorable in your eyes.” They were to write what they found favorable about the word Yehudim – the Jews mentioned in the original decree. They did exactly that by adding that fateful comma.

        It is not coincidental that punctuation plays another vital role during this time of year. In Parshas Zachor, read immediately prior to Purim, we recall what Amalek did to the Jewish people. We restate our mission to “wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven” (Devarim 25:19). As prescribed by halacha, due to the question of how to pronounce the Hebrew word for memory – Zecher – in the Torah, we read the word in two ways. The word is pronounced with both a tzeirei and segol to cover all possibilities.

        It is most apropos that the question of one nekudah arises regarding the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek. It is one nekudah, one dot, that differentiates the pronunciation between these two words. But that is exactly what Amalek wishes to destroy. One small dot, symbolizing that one inner spark, the pintele yid, the pristine Jew, within every Jewish soul. That one nekudah is what Amalek wishes to extinguish.


Inky Johnson was a top prospect during a successful college career on the path to stardom in the NFL. In his junior year of college, he was projected as a top thirty draft pick. On September 9th, 2006, he sustained a life threatening, career-ending injury that paralyzed his right arm and hand. Since then, Inky has dedicated his life to motivational speaking and encouragement to always pursue greater goals and never allow the setbacks of life to impede.

The following is one of Inky’s messages:

“A comma means there is a pause. The sentence isn’t over, but there is a need for a space before going on. A period on the other hand, tells you that the sentence is over.

“Many times in life, we place a period where G-d intends for us to place a comma.

“When I had my career ending injury and was told that I was paralyzed on one side and would never play football again, many people placed a period on my life. They said that I had worked toward that dream from when I was 8 years old, and now it was shattered, so there was nothing else for me.

“But I knew that it was a comma and there was more to come. I knew G-d would not have put me through all that if there wasn’t something bigger for me in the future. I didn’t know what it was then, but I knew that the ordeal was a comma and not a period!”


At the time of the Purim story, the Jewish people feared that their situation was going to be a period, bringing about the frightening end of their story. In truth, however, the Purim story became a glorious comma, in the long history of the eternal people. But it was not just another ordinary comma. Purim reminds us that no matter what challenges, frustrations, anguish and setbacks we suffer, collectively or individually, they are commas, and not periods.   

During our present time of pain and challenge for Klal Yisroel, Purim reminds us that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran will be a comma in the history of our people.

Just as back then, there will be no permanent parking for the Jewish people. We will proceed and we will prevail.

“To make known that all those who hope in You will not be ashamed and all who trust in You will never be humiliated.”


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum




Thursday, March 7, 2024

Parshas Vayakhel 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel

28 Adar I 5784/ March 9, 2024

Mevorchim Chodesh Adar II – Shekalim



Doing construction is exciting and simultaneously exceedingly frustrating and trying on one’s patience. One of the things I remember most about when we did construction was myriad wires everywhere. Eventually, all those wires were hidden within the walls. But before the walls were erected, and new outlets were created, there were numerous wires crisscrossing each other. Those wires were plugged into extension cords that themselves were plugged into other extension cords, with all those cords competing for the same few outlets.

One day during construction, I realized that our freezer had been unplugged. I had to trace the wires until I figured out which plug should be pulled out so I could ensure the freezer was plugged in.

The maze of extension cords is a poignant analogy. At times we may say or do something that brings a surprisingly strong reaction or response from another, be it a spouse, friend, child, student, parent, employee, neighbor, etc. We have no way of knowing that at some earlier point, someone else may have said similar words which, at that time, caused him tremendous pain, shame, or aggravation. What we said or did caused a proverbial extension cord to plug into to that past experience causing a painful emotional jolt or shock.

This dynamic happens within us as well. At times we may be surprised by our own emotional reaction to a comment or situation. It is more than likely that our reaction wasn’t so much caused by actual words that were said but the significance or meaning we subconsciously attached to it. A seemingly nonchalant comment may have plugged into a metaphoric extension cord connecting us way back to our past.

The most extreme example I experienced of this phenomenon was with a client I visited weekly when I was a social worker intern. Antschel was a retired Holocaust survivor. He had recently suffered a few mini strokes and it was hard for him to speak. He was also attached to a feeding tube.

One blustery rainy November afternoon, I was sitting next to him discussing something when he motioned that he wanted to say something. I stopped and waited. It took a minute before he got the words out: “They made us walk”. At first, I had absolutely no idea what he was referring to. But then his wife explained that at the end of WWII, Antschel had been on the Nazi death march during the month of November when it was often blustery and rainy.

It was amazing to me, that sixty years later, in his home in New York, when seeing the same weather out his window, it triggered a painful and traumatic memory. The weather had caused a mental extension cord to be plugged in, triggering a visceral reaction.

The analogy can be helpful in putting things in perspective in our daily lives as well. A client with whom I shared the analogy reported that he recently became upset at something relatively trivial that happened at home. When he thought about the situation, he realized that his harsher reaction was because the incident triggered an earlier memory. Once he was able to identify that, he was able to work on “unplugging” that extension cord. In fact, he was able to apologize for his reaction to his wife and to explain that what happened triggered plugging in an extension cord.


The Mishnah (Avos 2:4) states, “Do not judge your friend until you are in his place.” The Mishnah is essentially saying that one cannot judge his friend until he has “walked a mile in his friend’s shoes”.

The Sefas Emes notes that even if someone finds himself in the exact same predicament as his friend and all conditions are equal, he still cannot judge his friend. Although the external situation may be the same, every person has vastly different internal emotions, sensitivities, feelings, dispositions, inclinations, fears, life experiences, family upbringing, values, goals, and sense of morality.

To say it more succinctly, every person has different extension cords plugged into different outlets. Therefore, even if one is in the same situation as another, he cannot adequately judge his friend’s actions in the same situation.

Essentially the Sefas Emes is saying that one can never properly judge another. Even if he is in his friend’s shoes, he still doesn’t have his friend’s feet.

There’s a lot of mental extension cords running from the present into way back in our lives. The more we can identify them, the more we can unplug ourselves from them. Instead, we can find more positive extension cords and outlets that help us connect with healthier thoughts and reactions.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum