Thursday, May 30, 2024

Parshas Bechukosai 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechuksai – Shabbos Chazak

23 Iyar 5784/ May 31, 2024 – 38th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 5 – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan


Last winter while visiting Yerushalayim, I had the opportunity to tour the Old City with Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim.

Ateret Cohanim was founded by Mati Dan in 1979. Its goal and mission was, and is, to redeem and reclaim land and homes in Eastern Yerushalayim from Arabs. In so doing they strengthen Jewish life in the heart of the Old City of Yerushalayim and its environs.

In the mid-late 1800s, there were close to 19,000 Jews living in the Old City of Yerushalayim, out of a population of 28,000. Along with the Jewish majority population, there were 21 shuls and six yeshivos in the area today known as “The Muslim Quarter”. Due to its proximity to Har Habayis, it was the main center of Jewish life.

Throughout my tour with Daniel Luria, he referred to the Muslim Quarter as the “Old Jewish Quarter”. Many other residents of the Old City that I spoke to use the same title. The current four-quarter division of Yerushalayim was created by the British during the years that Eretz Yisroel was a British Mandate. Arab pogroms in 1920, 1928-1929 and 1937-1938 decimated Jewish life in the Old City. At that point the British urged Jews to leave, promising the Jews safe return as refugees. That promise was never fulfilled.

During the Six-Day war in 1967, when Yerushalayim was reconquered and united, the Jews returned to the Jewish Quarter but not to the “Old Jewish Quater”.

During the late 1800s the Chayei Olam Yeshiva had been located in the Old Jewish Quarter. When Mati Dan approached the Arab living in the building to try to retrieve it, the Arab immediately told him that it was a Jewish building, and if they compensated him, he would immediately leave.

One of the most incredible stories Daniel Luria related was that of the Beit HaTzalam - Photographer’s House.

During the mid-1990’s when Mati Dan was giving a tour of the Old City, he arranged for a photographer who lives in the Old City to join to take pictures of the tour. A few weeks later Mati called the photographer. When the call was answered, Moti asked if he was speaking with the photographer from the Old City. The man on the line replied in a deep middle eastern accent, “I live in the Old City but I’m not a photographer. What do you want blease?” Mati immediately realized that the man on the line was an Arab as Arabs don’t pronounce the letter ‘p’. Instead of please the man had said blease.

Half-jokingly, Mati answered that he wanted the man’s house. The Arab hesitated before he replied, “Who told you we sell? Are you Jew or Arab? I cannot discuss details with a Jew on the phone.”

They arranged to meet at a coffee shop. The Arab arrived at the meeting holding official documents showing that he owned 90% of a large property in the Old City. The property had a courtyard and a magnificent rooftop view of the Old City and the Temple Mount. The Arab clandestinely informed Mati that he would be amenable to sell the building if Mati arranged for him and his family to emigrate to the United States, and if they would secure a job for him in America. (The Arab had to leave the country out of fear of an official Arab law called Fatwa that an Arab who sells land to a Jew is killed.)

A poster with a city in the background

Description automatically generatedMati agreed and the deal was secured. Currently, four Jewish families live in that building.

I had the pleasure of going up to the roof of Beit HaTzalam and enjoying the clear view of Har Habayis from there.

A few days later, Mati realized that when trying to dial the photographer’s number, he had mistakenly switched around the last 2 digits. That providential mistake ended up with a reclaimed Jewish property in the Old Jewish Quarter.

As we walked through the streets and congested alleyways of the Old Jewish Quarter, it was heartening to see so many Israeli flags hanging from so many windows and doors. Each flag marks that a Jewish family or yeshiva is now located in that reclaimed building.

As I stood near the Yaffa gate, I was pleasantly surprised to see countless Jews, including young Jewish mothers pushing strollers, yeshiva boys with payos, and even young children, walking fearlessly through the Arab Shuq through the Old Jewish Quarter.

I was told that if a Jew is ever lost while walking in the Old Jewish Quarter, he should just make sure he doesn’t look lost. As long as he walks with confidence through the streets he is not in danger. There are hundreds of security video cameras throughout every road and alleyway in the Old City that are monitored 24/7.

The Jews who live in the Old Jewish Quarter walk through the streets with a sense of confidence and pride, exuding a message that this is our home, and we aren’t going anywhere.

To date, there are 1000 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter including four yeshivos.

The holy work of Ateret Cohanim extends beyond the Old City walls as well. Among others, they have reclaimed 130 Jewish homes in the gated and protected area of Maale HaZeitim, located above the graves of Har Hazeisim, and 41 families in Silwan, in what was formerly the Jewish Yemenite Village, and currently a very hostile Arab area, and 10 families in Kidmat Zion, a strategic neighborhood at the eastern municipal border of Yerushalayim.[1]


In Shemoneh Esrei we bless Hashem as the One who is, “Bonei Yerushalayim- building Yerushalayim.” We do not say that He built or will build, but that He builds Yerushalayim. Since the day it was destroyed, Hashem has never ceased to use the merits of Klal Yisroel to slowly build Yerushalayim. But for generations our ancestors were unable to witness the building of Yerushalayim.

Unlike any other time since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in 70 c.e. however, we can witness the ongoing building of Yerushalayim. Our ancestors would have given anything just to walk through Yerushalayim, never mind to see it as the beautiful city that it is today.

The sound of construction is always discernible in Yerushalayim, along with the sight of cranes and closed off construction areas. One must appreciate the significance of the signs hanging by every Jerusalem construction site: “Kan bonim atid Yerushalayim - Here the future of Yerushalayim is being built.”

The city is still far from our ultimate dream, when the Beis Hamikdash will stand in the heart of the city, and we once again have the avodah. But we are remiss and foolish if we fail to appreciate the blessing to have access to the holy city.

This week, 28 Iyar, marks the anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, the day when Har Habayis was recaptured and Yerushalayim was unified under Jewish dominion. We can hardly imagine a world in which we couldn’t visit and live in Yerushalayim. It’s a perfect time to thank Hashem for the incredible gift we take for granted, even as we await its ultimate completion.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


[1] To learn more about Ateret Cohanim and the holy work they do, visit:

Friday, May 24, 2024

Parshas Behar 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar

16 Iyar 5784/ May 24, 2024 – 31st day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 4




A few weeks ago, I was speaking to Shlomo Pomerantz, a devoted firefighter and friend (and fellow talmid of Rabbi Berel Wein). We were discussing the challenge of always being on call. Like all devoted emergency personnel, firefighters must be ready to drop what they are doing, no matter the time of day or night, to do their noble bidding.

Shlomo pointed out that although firefighters indeed will drop what they’re doing on a whim, as a rule they never run. You will never see a firefighter arriving at a fire and immediately running towards the blaze with a hose. When firefighters arrive at the scene, they must make an initial assessment of the situation. Although that means the fire will have a little more time to burn, the firefighters have to contemplate the optimal way and place to begin their efforts. If they have to enter a building on fire they have to first decide where the best and safest point of entry is, and they must know where their point of escape from the blazing inferno will be. Those few extra moments taken to survey the situation are crucial to their success and can be the difference between heroism and tragedy.


Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just), authored by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, a classic and beloved mussar sefer, lays out a framework and path to greatness. It is based on a statement in a beraisa by Rabbi Pinchos Ben Yair (Avodah Zara 20b). The beraisa begins “Torah brings to watchfulness and watchfulness brings to zerizus.”

In his commentary to Mesillas Yesharim, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski notes that the word zerizus is not easily translated. Zerizus connotes an attitude of devotion, enthusiasm, diligence, agility and fervor. It stems from a burning desire and readiness to do what is right and what will help him become a better person.

Zerizus is emotional excitement that fuels achievement. However, it is not necessarily about hurrying. When one acts too quickly, he can become aggressive and not consider how he is affecting others.

In a sense, zerizus is like a fire of passion. When managed and directed properly, that fire can be a source of warmth, light, and joy. But when it is allowed to run rampant that energy and passion can be damaging.

This idea is also applicable to relationships. When issues arise, particularly with our children, we have a natural desire to rectify the situation as quickly as possible so we can get back to our usual routine.

The problem is that “dealing with stuff” properly generally entails patience to understand what’s really happening before we can help the situation.

In Shema we state, “V’avadtem meheirah - And you will be destroyed quickly,” a warning for when we don’t properly adhere to the Torah. The Piacezner Rebbe offered an additional homiletic explanation: Acting and reacting out of feeling “meheira”, rushed and harried, can destroy us.

Lag BaOmer celebrates the fire of passion that burned so strongly within Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that it could not be doused by their detractors. It’s a fire that resulted from deep love and commitment. That fire continues to burn within every one of us, passionate yet controlled, ever eternal.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum 

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Parshas Emor 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor

9 Iyar 5784/ May 17, 2024 – 19th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 3


Sometime during the winter of 2018, I was perusing new titles in one of the local Monsey seforim stores, and noticed a new English Sefer titled, Mind over Man. It contained a collection of lectures from Rabbi Yechiel Perr, a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Far Rockaway, based on Sefer Madreigos Ha’adam of the Alter of Norvadok.

I had always felt somewhat intimidated by the approach of the Norvadok yeshiva, founded by the Alter of Norvadok. I knew that they heavily stressed shiflus ha’adam - the lowliness of human beings. That was in contrast to the famed Solobodka yeshiva where gadlus ha’adam - the greatness of man, was emphasized. The reality is that I didn’t really understand the Norvadok approach but because of that the new Sefer didn’t appeal to me.

A few weeks later, I and my daughter Aviva enjoyed a wonderful Shabbos in Las Vegas, at the home of our friends, Rabbi and Mrs Menachem Moskowitz. While there, I noticed the new book, Mind over Man, on Rabbi Moskowitz’s shelf, and I pulled it out and began reading it. What I read intrigued me and when I returned home, I purchased the Sefer.

I subsequently learned the entire Sefer and loved it. It became and remains one of my favorite mussar works I have ever learned. When the sequel, Faith over Fear, was published, I purchased it immediately. It was just as wonderful as the first.

Rav Perr presents his thoughts with unusual candidness and clarity. He unabashedly speaks his mind, even when it challenges societal norms. His thoughts are refreshingly genuine, insightful, and challenge the reader to grow.

A few years ago, I tracked down Rabbi Perr’s phone number and called him. I was excited when he answered. After briefly introducing myself, I expressed my gratitude to him for his seforim and all that I had learned from him. His humble reply was all the proof I needed (and I didn’t need proof) that he embodied his teaching: “I don’t know what I did to deserve such a phone call. But I very much appreciate the call.”


In the introduction to Mind over Man, Rabbi Perr offers a unique perspective on what mussar is and why it is so important: “I have only one word to describe what mussar means to me: hope. When a person reflects on his flaws, he can grow despondent. He becomes frightened by the natural blackness of his soul, realizing that the simple passage of time will not cleanse it. And time is passing. The days of his life are whizzing by, and the bad middos that accompanied him from his mother's womb are still with him. Once in a while, he works up the courage to ask himself the tough questions: "What am I going to become as a person? The years are passing; when will I ever become a mentsch?" The answer is: hope. Mussar gives me hope that I am not simply shackled to my character flaws; I can improve myself.

“Hope is key. What is life without hope? When people lose hope, they essentially stop living. They stop eating or caring; their life is not worth living. But mussar is a source of tremendous hope.”

While I didn’t have the zechus to know Rav Perr personally, I feel that he personally influenced me through his seforim. The positive spin on mussar being a potentially elevating force in one’s life, and granting him hope, is a beautiful perspective.


In an article he wrote about his rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Kotler at”l, Rav Perr related that one day when he was one of 70 bochurim learning in Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon, summoned him to the office. When he arrived, Rav Aharon informed him that he was sending Rav Perr to St Louis for two weeks to fundraise for the yeshiva. Rav Perr was quite upset, not understanding why he was chosen to undertake such an uncomfortable mission. When Rav Aharon called him back in a few days later to give him a list of homes he was to visit in St. Louis, Rav Perr built up the courage to ask Rav Aharon why he was responsible to go?

Rav Perr relates: “The Rosh Yeshiva paused an instant, gave me a piercing look, and then said in a tone that showed that he referred to far more than this matter: "Do you know why you are responsible? Because you can! That is why you are responsible."

Rav Perr concluded that the poignant message Rav Aharon conveyed was one that Rav Aharon lived by. He was constantly pushing himself to do more for Klal Yisroel. It was clear that he felt that as long as he could, he had a responsibility to do.


Last week Rav Yechiel Perr passed away at the age of 89. Judging from the little I know about Rav Perr from his lectures and the eulogies said about him, it’s quite clear that he internalized Rav Aharon’s message and incorporated them into his own life as well.

He prioritized the mind over the base aspects of man, and somehow remained humble in the process.

He did because he could!


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Parshas Kedoshim 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Kedoshim

2 Iyar 5784/ May 10, 2024 – 17th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 2


It’s a classic and beloved story. A forty-year-old shepherd viewed himself as a complete failure. Completely ignorant of Torah knowledge, Akiva didn’t even know how to read the aleph-beis and practically despaired of ever being able to learn Torah.

But then one day while walking, Akiva noticed a steady drip of water upon a rock. It was only a drip, but it was persistent and relentless. Akiva also observed that the steady drip had made a hole in the rock. He then concluded that if something as agile as water could carve a hole in solid rock with persistence and patience, if he had that same persistence and patience, the words of Torah – which are hard as iron – could eventually make an indelible impression upon his heart. He began to learn and eventually became the great Rabbi Akiva, one of our greatest leaders and key links in the transmission of Torah (Avos d’Rabbi Nosson 6:2).

I have often thought that in our society, if it was anyone other than Rabbi Akiva, such a story is highly unlikely to occur. Who has time or patience to pay attention to a drip on a rock? Who has time to ponder the wonders of nature at all? We are too busy ensuring our apps and social media posts are up to date to notice the world out there.

I realized recently, however, that all hope is not lost. Even though we may not recognize the impact of a drop of water from the mark it leaves on a rock, we can recognize the impact of a drop of water from our water bill. Surprisingly enough, a persistent and consistent leaky faucet can drive up a water bill. Who would think that a small drop could make such a difference? (ask me how I know!) That’s something most of us would indeed notice despite how busy we are.


Rabbi Avrohom Yachnes is one of the esteemed Rebbeim at Camp Dora Golding that I have the pleasure of spending my summers with. I always enjoy his insights and wisdom. A few summers ago, Rabbi Yachnes repeated an idea he heard from Rabbi Yosef Elefant. Rabbi Elefant related the aforementioned story with Rabbi Akiva and the rock, and then added the following observation:

Let’s assume we were somehow able to guesstimate exactly how much water fell on that exact spot of Rabbi Akiva’s rock over the years. If we were to then pour that amount of water on the rock at one time, would it cause a hole? Likely not. It wasn’t the magnitude of water that caused the hole, but rather it was the result of the process. Each individual drop didn’t appear to accomplish anything. But the reality was that it was creating an imperceptible impression all along.

Rabbi Akiva realized that if he too stayed the course and had patience for the process eventually Torah would penetrate within him as well.

Rabbi Yachnes then related that decades earlier he had a classmate who was a grandson of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenstsky. The grandson recounted one occasion when Reb Yaakov came to visit him in yeshiva. When the grandson began leading him towards the Yeshiva, Reb Yaakov asked him where they were going. The grandson replied that he assumed Reb Yaakov wanted to see the Beis Medrash. Reb Yaakov countered that he actually wanted to go to his grandson’s dorm room.

After Reb Yaakov assessed the room and was satisfied with its orderliness, he told his grandson he had a gift for him and handed him a package. The grandson opened it to find a small plant, not a typical gift given to yeshiva students.

Reb Yaakov told his grandson that he wanted them to both stare at the plant. After about 30 seconds, Reb Yaakov asked his grandson if he saw the plant grow. When the grandson replied that he didn’t see anything happen, Reb Yaakov suggested that they watch for a little longer. After a couple of minutes of monotonous watching, Reb Yaakov again asked his grandson if he saw the plant grow. When the grandson admitted that he didn’t, Reb Yaakov remarked that the reality is that it had grown even if they couldn’t see it.

Reb Yaakov then told his grandson that he wanted him to keep the plant on the windowsill above his bed. Reb Yaakov suggested that every night as he was getting into bed, his grandson should look at the plant and remember that it had grown that day even if it didn’t seem that way. Particularly on days when he didn’t feel he had been successful in his learning and was feeling down on himself, looking at the plant would remind him that there’s always growth occurring even when it may not be apparent.

The world celebrates completion and grandiosity. True greatness is borne from consistency and relentless effort that may never receive the adulation it deserves. The path to greatness also requires that one notice and appreciate every drop of growth.



Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Friday, May 3, 2024

Parshas Achrei Mos 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Achrei Mos – Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar   

25 Nissan 5784May 3, 2024 – 10th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 1


On the afternoon of the seventh day of Pesach I realized that in Eretz Yisroel Pesach was over and they were already eating chometz. Far from being envious however, I actually felt badly for them. I was more than happy to have one more day of Yom Tov, to say the Yom Tov Kiddush and enjoy two more meals with my family, and to recite the magnificent words of Hallel and the Yom Tov Shemoneh Esrei in its beloved tune. The pizza could wait another day. I would much rather be enveloped in the ethereal world of Yom Tov than to rush back into my mundane routine.

The Chasam Sofer (Oh’C 145, Derashos 2, p. 272) writes that when Moshiach comes two days of Yom Tov will be observed, not only in the Diaspora, but even in Eretz Yisroel itself, “to remind us that we were in exile, and G-d brought us out and redeemed us from all our woes.” 

In addition, the Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, Pinchos) writes that when a Jew merits to celebrate Yom Tov and observe its endemic mitzvos and halachos, he should celebrate the very fact that he was able to have that celebration. That is why those outside Eretz Yisroel celebrate a second day of Yom Tov. The very fact that we are able to celebrate the holiday outside Eretz Yisroel, and to feel the elevation and spiritual embrace of the holiday even outside our homeland, is cause for another day of Yom Tov.

Those in Eretz Yisroel also celebrate the fact that they merited to observe the holiday by calling the day after Yom Tov Isru Chag (“binding of the holiday”). But outside Eretz Yisroel that celebration is far greater.

Perhaps we can explain this idea of the Chasam Sofer with the following parable:

An Italian businessman had to be overseas for a few months. As the weeks wore on, he increasingly missed his family and his home. But no time was harder than the holidays. Among the other customs, his family had a certain family recipe from generations earlier for a special pasta. The recipe called for many ingredients that were plentiful in Italy, but not where he was. Back home the highlight of the holiday was when the family would gather together and eat the pasta dish.

The businessman had a wealthy friend who saw how sad he was and decided that he would ensure the Italian businessmen had his family dish for the holiday. It was quite challenging, and it took considerable effort and money to gather all the ingredients. He even had to have a special oven constructed so that it would taste just like it did back home. But in the end the wealthy man persevered and was able to have the beloved dish replicated.

On the day of the holiday the wealthy man surprised the Italian businessman by inviting him to enjoy the pasta meal.

Tears flowed from the Italian businessman’s eyes when he smelled and then tasted the nostalgia-evoking dish. “How happy you’ve made me. Though nothing can replace being home, I’m gratified that I am able to enjoy a taste and feeling of connection with home even though I’m so far away.”

In exile we are away from home. The fact that we are able to enjoy and bask in the spirit of Yom Tov despite our not having a Beis Hamikdash or being in Eretz Yisroel, is reason itself for added celebration.


Apiryon (Parshas Re’eh) writes that there is a vast difference between a physical celebration and a spiritual celebration. A person may enjoy a physical celebration, but it is a fleeting experience, over all too soon. A spiritual celebration, however, is not only enjoyed and experienced at the time of the event, but, afterwards, when one reflects upon the experience he is again happy to have had that elevating opportunity.

This is the meaning of Dovid Hamelech’s words in Tehillim (68:4), “and the righteous... will rejoice in their rejoicing.” The righteous rejoice when they reflect upon the spiritual rejoicing they experienced prior.

This is the joy and celebration of Isru Chag. It is the joy of knowing that we have just observed a holiday with its unique, endemic mitzvos and opportunities to serve and draw closer to Hashem on a higher level than one could throughout the year.

By now, the Pesach dishes have been put away for next year, and we have indeed had the customary post-Pesach pizza. But I hope somehow to maintain the spiritual gains of the holiday, even while somehow discarding the physical ones.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum