Thursday, April 18, 2024

Parshas Metzora 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Metzora/Shabbos HaGadol  

11 Nissan 5784/ April 19, 2024


(With the exception of my brief introduction, the ideas in this essay were adapted from a lecture about the Haggadah by Rabbi David Lapin.)


My first position in chinuch was as the Social Worker in Yeshiva Bais HaChinuch. I spent almost a decade in that capacity and learned a great deal from my colleagues and, of course, the students. When I first began Rabbi Yaakov Oppen, a colleague and mentor, encouraged me to create and facilitate a social-emotional curriculum for the entire yeshiva.

In that regard, he often told me that aside for the purpose of imparting life skills to the students, it was important to generate conversation. Social-emotional learning isn’t adequately learned from lectures, but more from the give-and-take of discussion and dialogue. It was important to get the students involved and to hear their perspectives and thoughts. Even if less content was taught, the conversation itself was more valuable and impactful.

In a typical classroom, it can be challenging to have class conversations. Still, a seasoned and skilled rebbe/teacher will try to generate controlled conversation and student feedback as much as possible.


The night of the Seder is the night of chinuch. In their great wisdom and understanding of human psychology, Chazal structured the Seder incorporating ideal ways to teach, impart and convey lessons. One of the most important ideas endemic to the Seder is process. Growth and redemption don’t happen in an instant but requires tenacity and patience.

One of the laws of Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim is that we must begin with the negative/degradation and conclude with the positive/praise (maschil b’gnus umisayem b’shvach). When relating what occurred we must first relate the tragedy and anguish so that we can then appreciate the salvation. In addition, the story must be conveyed in a question-answer format.

There is an important difference between discovery and spoon-fed entertainment. Most vacation attractions today advertise that the vacationer will need to invest minimal effort to enjoy the attractions they are offering. Passive enjoyment allows limited discovery. True discovery requires effort and willingness to explore into uncertainty and beyond what’s known and comfortable. Most people today aren’t willing to proceed into uncertainty and so are limited in what they can discover.

Our initiation into exile was anything but glorious. It was a long journey from the gloom of servitude to the glory of transformation. To appreciate the journey, we need to be willing to put ourselves into that mindset.

Questions also require willingness to forage into the unknown. One who questions honestly doesn’t know where his questions will lead him. On Seder night we mentally transport ourselves into an uncomfortable time an dplace so that we can achieve real discovery of who and why we are.


The halacha states that one must recline during the Seder.

The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 20:18) notes that there is an enigmatic source for this law. After the exodus from Egypt, the Torah states, “Vayasev Elokim es Ha’am – “G-d turned the nation” (Shemos 13:18). He did not lead them through the closer land of Pelishtim, though it was closer. Instead, he led them along the far more circuitous route towards and through the desert.

The Medrash notes a link between the word, Vayasev – “He turned” and the word Vayesev – “He reclined”: “From here we see that even a poor man must recline when he eats at the Seder.”

What is the connection between their circuitous travels and our mitzvah to recline?

Many people do not observe the law of reclining at the Seder properly. Rashi describes it as “the way of free people on a bed at a table.” Reclining is how people eat when they are enjoying their meal in a highly relaxed manner.

When a person eats at a fast-food joint, his objective is to receive his food order as quickly as possible, then to eat and leave so that the next customer can take his place at the table.

When people eat on a cruise or at an upscale restaurant however, the meal takes on a life of its own. Those people remain at the table with nary a care in the world, enjoying the ambiance, company, and conversation.

The difference between the person eating at a fast-food restaurant and the person eating at an upscale restaurant is whether the focus is on the process or the outcome. If a person is going to eat because he’s hungry, he wants his hunger satiated as quickly as possible. He’s not interested in sitting down and having a waiter or waitress take his order while he converses. He’s outcome oriented, and wants to enjoy a good meal, and get back to his daily affairs as quickly as possible.

When eating is a process however, the patron wants to sit at a table with a comfortable chair in a pleasant environment and doesn’t want to feel rushed.

When one’s eating is solely for the outcome, such as eating a meal on a plane, he sits upright. However, when his eating is part of a process, such as when one eats on a cruise, his posture is more like reclining.

After they marched forth from Egypt, Hashem led Klal Yisroel on an elongated circuitous route, not only because the nation would panic at the sight of war and try to flee back into Egypt. It was also because the nation needed to undergo a process of growth that would require time and investment. Change is the result of process. Not only was the outcome/destination important, but so was the journey and the lessons learned along the way.

At the Seder our objective is not only to get to the meal; it’s not a fast-food ordeal. We recline at the Seder to demonstrate that the Seder is a night of transformation, where the process and journey is itself the goal. Reclining sets the tone for discussion, questions, debates, stories, and reflections. We don’t lean merely to remember that we once went free. We lean like free-men who have the ability and desire to ponder, debate and discuss.


This is also why we have a rabbinic obligation to drink four cups of wine at the Seder. Every cup of wine one drinks has a deepening effect upon him. Wine, like freedom, impacts a person in a progressional manner. When one enjoys a steak or a cup of soda, the result is that he isn’t hungry or thirsty anymore. But when one imbibes a few cups of wine, his very thinking and behavior become altered.

Like freedom, wine liberates those who are moral, but can destroy those who are immoral. Wine can be a blessing or a poison, it can elevate or denigrate, it can make a person feel elated or depressed, and it can liberate or enslave. As history demonstrates, those who are liberated without undergoing the process can be destroyed by their freedom.


Through the Seder we hope that drinking the four cups of wine will help us feel mentally and spiritually liberated.

At the Seder we don’t merely teach or recount. Our goal is to reexperience and to internalize the timeless lessons and values that have been passed down from time immemorial, from father to son, Seder table to Seder table.  


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos HaGadol

Chag Kasher V’sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum 



Friday, April 12, 2024

Parshas Tazria 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazria

4 Nissan 5784/ April 12, 2024


This week’s Musings is lovingly dedicated in memory of my Sabbah, Mr. Abe Staum, R’ Avrohom Yosef ben R’ Naftali Herz haLevi z”l, upon his yahrtzeit tonight, 4 Nissan.


There have been some strange and unusual events the last few weeks.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge was opened in March 1977 to carry the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) across the Patapsco River. The bridge bears an estimated 11.5 million vehicles annually.

On March 26, 2024, a cargo vessel leaving the Port of Baltimore had a complete power blackout and collided with one of the main spans of the bridge causing the bridge to collapse into the river below.

A little over a week later, an earthquake rattled the tristate area. There’s a lot of dangers and challenges that we expect living in the tristate area; earthquakes are not one of them. The question everyone was asking afterwards was, “Where were you during the earthquake?” and “Did you feel it?”

Many said that although they felt rumblings or saw walls shaking, they didn’t dream that it was actually an earthquake.

Four days later, there was a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun, obscuring the view of the Sun, partially or completely. Although there should be a solar eclipse every month, because the Moon does not have a perfectly circular orbit, it is unusual. The next solar eclipse will be on August 23, 2044.

Is there any commonality between a bridge collapsing, an earthquake, and a solar eclipse?

We like when things are predictable. When the unexpected occurs, we feel blind-sighted and unprepared to deal with the consequences.

In June 1927, the night before a solar eclipse, the elderly Chofetz Chaim told the crowd that had gathered for maariv, “Hashem has implanted in his creation the phenomenon of a solar eclipse, as a means of refuting those misguided souls, who believe in other immortal powers. The time comes when the sun is eclipsed, so that we all know and internalize - the sun is a creation and not a creator!

“It’s a mitzvah for us all to come and see with our own eyes… it’s only a mortal chunk of creation.”

Every day the sun rises and the sun sets. What was yesterday will be again tomorrow…. until it isn’t. The solar eclipse is a reminder that there is a power above nature, and everything is subject to change on a whim.

Bridges are a testament to human accomplishment. Raging rivers flow through cities, cutting off byways and highways. Human ingenuity and engineering produce mighty bridges that stand majestically atop the river, allowing traffic to continue unimpeded atop the flowing waters. But when a bridge collapses in moments, it reminds us that human accomplishment has its limits.

It hardly needs to be said that an earthquake is the ultimate reminder of human vulnerability and helplessness. The solid bedrock we build our lives upon and trust for stability, are mere plates in the Hands of our Creator.

The events of the past weeks remind us that what was is not necessarily what will be.

On September 11, 2001, at 8 am, no one could have dreamed that by noon the twin towers would be reduced to a pile of smoking rubble.

In March 2020, no one could have dreamed that virtually overnight the world would be subsumed by a pandemic that would disrupt all civilization and claim over a million lives.

On Hoshana Rabbah 2023 no one could have imagined that the following day a nightmare would ensue for the Jewish people that we still don’t know how it will end.


On the night of the Seder, there is a custom to eat round matzos. Round matzah symbolizes the natural order of the world, in that it follows a predictable repetitive pattern. At the Seder, before beginning to relate the details of Yetzias Mitzrayim, we perform Yachatz breaking the middle matzah. Doing so reminds us that at the time of redemption Hashem overrode His own rules of nature and performed numerous miracles to redeem His people. It also reminds us, that as effortlessly as we break the matzah, so can and does Hashem override nature as He sees fit.

Recounting the events of the exodus reminds us that just because it’s been a certain way for so long doesn’t mean it will remain that way.

The pasuk (Iyov 28:3) states, “He made an end to darkness, and He fathoms every end…”

Pesach not only celebrates liberation of long ago, but also reminds us that no matter how unlikely it seems, the future can always be better. The mighty Pharaohs of yesterday will be destroyed by the rising sun of redemption.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum 


Thursday, April 4, 2024

Parshas Shemini 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini/HaChodesh

Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan

26 Adar II 5784/ April 5, 2024



We live in crazy times. I don’t think anyone will argue with that. But I recently realized that I don’t ever remember a period in my life when people didn’t comment that we are living in crazy times.

I clearly recall sitting at a Shabbos table a few years ago when someone said exactly that.

People often say things like: “Things have never been this bad”, “I feel like the end is coming”, “Mashiach has to come; things are so crazy.”

The reality is that this article could have been written five years ago, ten years ago, or twenty years ago, and I’m quite sure it would have been applicable during all those times as well. (For all you, dear reader, know, this article may actually be reprinted from ten years ago….)

When I listen to Torah lectures from past years, this point becomes even clearer. The lecturer will invariably connect his message with the current events of that time. Discussions of antisemitism, terror attacks, political instability in Eretz Yisroel and/or the United States, plethora of personal challenges and tragedies, to name a few, were constants then as well. In varying degrees these have been ongoing challenges that our community has contended with in recent decades.

When I commented to a friend that things have always felt erratic and out of control, he replied that it’s unquestionably worse now. It’s hard to know whether that’s really true. We know how the past played out. Even if things did not turn out well, when viewing events in retrospect, we can hardly recapture the angst and anxiety of the moment. Contrast that with the fact that in the present we don’t know what the future holds so we feel anxiety over our current situation far more acutely.

In May 2020, at the height of the Covid-Pandemic, Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky wrote a seminal article in Mishpacha Magazine, entitled “Sometimes Mashiach is NOT the solution.”

One of the points he addressed in that article is the often-touted sentiment that “things have never been this bad.” Rabbi Lopiansky offers numerous examples to debunk that myth.

He notes that cholera and typhus epidemics ravaged communities in Europe, women commonly died in childbirth, appendicitis was usually deadly, and fires would destroy entire towns in a few hours.

“I often hear that “Never, ever has there been so much anti-Semitism.” This sentiment is astonishing! Even putting aside the Holocaust for a moment, there are people alive today who have lived in countries where the normal legal status of a Jew was second- or third-class citizen. Throwing rocks at Jews in public was the norm rather than the exception.

“And most disconcerting is the claim that “Never, ever has the Jewish Nation experienced such spiritual decline.” Yiddishkeit literally disintegrated from the mid-1700s until World War II, with enormous numbers of Yidden abandoning it completely.

“The postwar renaissance is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, there are some issues that challenge our generation more than previous generations and there is much to improve, but that does not belie the general picture of the state of our Yiddishkeit relative to other generations…

“We need to teach our children history. And that history needs to include much more than dry names and dates and stories of gedolim. They need to have an accurate understanding of the experiences of the Jewish communities of each generation -- the daily life, the hardships, the challenges, the successes, and the wounds.”


The legendary radio commentator Paul Harvey poignantly quipped: “In times like these, it’s helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.”

Koehles, the wisest of men teaches us that, “There is nothing new under the sun.” No matter what comes our way, the Jewish people have been here before. That’s not to say that the tears and anguish are not bitter and painful. But it helps to know that we have emerged in the past and will do so now again.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that we are the only nation that makes a blessing on marror. It’s unpleasant and symbolizes anguish and heartache. But we also know that soon after Marror is Shulchan Oreich, the festive meal, and the celebration of our ultimate redemption and triumph.

Currently, the Jewish people are living through a period of marror. Indeed, it is a crazy time, and we have no way of knowing what will be. But we do know that we have been through worse and just as we have prevailed then, so we will prevail now.

In the end the afikomen will be removed from its hiding place and restored to us; not the afikomen of matzah, but the afikomen of Korbon Pesach.

May every Jew merit ascending to Yerushalayim for Pesach this year from all corners of the globe, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, United States, and Gaza.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum