Thursday, June 27, 2024

Parshas Shelach 5784

Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW






A businessman found himself in some serious financial trouble. His business was in the red and his investments were failing miserably. He was in tremendous debt and saw no way out of his misery. In desperation he sought the council of his Rabbi.

The Rabbi listened quietly. He thought for a moment and then replied: “I have an idea for you. It may sound a little erratic but at this point you have nothing to lose. I want you to take a beach chair and a Chumash (Bible) and drive down to the beach. Take the chair and the Chumash to the water’s edge, open the chair, sit down, and open the Chumash on your lap. The wind will immediately rifle the pages. Wait until the pages stop turning and then look down at the open page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer and you will know what to do.”

A year later, the businessman returned to the Rabbi. He was driving a Mercedes and wearing a custom made suit. His wife was wearing a mink coat. He pulled out a wad of big bills and handed them to the Rabbi as a ‘token’ of his appreciation. The Rabbi was taken aback, “You did as I told you?” The man smugly replied, “I sure did.”

“You went down to the beach with a Chumash?”


“You waited for the wind to stop blowing the pages?”


“Well, what were the first words you saw?”

The man smiled, “Chapter 11”.


The debacle with the spies who went to scout out Eretz Yisroel is one of the most tragic events in our history.[1] To Moshe’s dismay, the spies returned and offered a shockingly negative report.

G-d informed Moshe that because the nation had failed to appreciate the greatness of the Land that He had promised them, no one from that generation would live to enter it[2]. The nation would spend the next forty years wandering through the desert, in compensation for the forty days the spies spent in Eretz Yisroel developing their negative report.

When the nation was informed of their punishment, they mourned exceedingly. “They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop saying, ‘We are ready, and we shall ascend to the place of which G-d has spoken, for we have sinned’. Moshe said, “Why do you transgress the Word of G-d? It will not succeed. Do not ascend for G-d is not in your midst! And do not be smitten before your enemies….” But they defiantly ascended to the mountaintop, while the Ark of G-d’s covenant and Moshe did not move from the midst of the camp. The Amalakite and the Canaanite who dwelled on that mountain descended; they struck them and pounded them until Chormah.”[3]    

It would seem that the actions of the ‘ascenders’ was an attempt to repent. Why did G-d not allow them to rectify their iniquity by demonstrating their complete devotion to the Land? G-d always assists the contrite penitent, so why here did G-d reject their efforts?

Ba’alei Mussar explain that the ascenders did not comprehend the process of repentance. They were under the impression that repentance means to simply alter one’s actions. “Until now I engaged in these sins and from now on I commit myself to abstain from these sins”. That is an insufficient approach to repentance. Gemara[4] states that no one sins unless ‘a spirit of craziness’ envelops him. Therefore, before one can repent he must analyze and consider what led him to sin? What was the impetus that prompted him to act with folly against his conscience? Only once he has realized and is willing to confront the root of his sin has he truly begun the process of repentance.  

 It may have been true that from an external perspective the ascenders were acting in a manner that countered their behavior when they sinned, however they failed to address the root of their sin. The spies had offered compelling arguments about the drawbacks of entering the Land. Nevertheless, G-d had promised them the Land and had stated that it was a great and special Land. The fact that they were able to cry upon hearing the report of the spies demonstrated weakness in their faith. Their ascent up the mountain was the greatest proof that they had failed to rectify that mistake. Their original sin was a lack of subjugation to G-d and the ‘follow-up sin’ was no different. Moshe had told them that G-d’s Presence would not be with them, and yet, they proceeded anyway.


This same idea manifests itself in the fallacy of the spies. At the conclusion of Parshas Beha’aloscha, the Torah relates that Miriam was struck with tzara’as for speaking loshon hora about her brother Moshe. Despite the fact that Miriam loved Moshe and was speaking out of genuine concern for him to their other brother Aharon, and despite the fact that the humble Moshe took no umbrage from her words, G-d was upset with her. “In my entire House he is the trusted one. Mouth to Mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision, and not in riddles, at the image of G-d does he gaze. Why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?”[5]

If G-d wanted to chastise Miriam for speaking evilly about Moshe, why didn’t He simply say so? What is the point of the whole introduction about the greatness of Moshe?

After relating the event with Miriam, the Torah commences Parshas Shelach and the debacle of the spies. Rashi explains, “Why did the Torah juxtapose the narrative of the spies with the narrative of Miriam? Because she was afflicted on account of her speaking about her brother and these wicked ones (i.e. the spies) saw but did not take mussar[6]?

What is the connection between Miriam and the spies? Is it merely that they both spoke negatively?

Shlomo Hamelech states in Mishlei “ומוציא דבה הוא כסיל – He who utters slander is a fool.”[7] Harav Michel Barenbaum zt’l[8] explained that gossip and negative speech result from a lack of appreciation of the greatness of the individual slandered. Therefore, one who gossips is not necessarily wicked. Rather he has not sufficiently recognized the greatness of the person or group to whom he harbors negative thoughts and feelings.

Miriam’s sin stemmed from a subtle lack of appreciation for the greatness of her brother. Although she may have had a justifiable argument, if she would have properly recognized the extent of Moshe’s devotion as a servant of G-d, she never would have questioned his actions to Aharon.

The spies had the same failing. Their iniquity was not necessarily that they reported back negatively about the land, for that was their candid assessment of it. The problem lay in the fact that they saw the Land in such a negative light after G-d Himself had related its merit and greatness.


Repentance is not merely about declaring that “I will no longer do what I have done until now.” One who comes before G-d and files chapter 11, as it were, declaring himself spiritually bankrupt so that he can begin anew, is sure to fail[9]. In order to change, one must contemplate what motivates him to act sinfully. Each sin requires its own scrutiny.

One cannot properly eradicate Loshon Hora from his speech, unless he commits himself to seek out the good in people.[10]


Parshas Shelach reminds us that there can be no true rectification without serious contemplation. You have to know why you did what you did to figure out how not to do it again.


“Why did you not fear to speak against my servant Moshe?”

“A good land, a Land with streams of water”


[1] 23 Sivan is the yahrtzeit of my friend and chavrusa) Ephraim Mordechai Yarmush a’h.

A few years ago, Ephraim’s family published a beautiful sefer (Torah compendium) in his memory. The first part of the following thought is based on a paragraph in the sefer which commences with the words, “These were words that were frequently repeated by the deceased. They were written by one of the family members:”


[2] With the exception of Yehoshua and Kalev, the two spies who spoke positively about the Land

[3] 14:40-45

[4] Sota 3a

[5] Bamidbar 12:7-8

[6] i.e. they did not learn the lesson for they too spoke evilly - about the Holy Land

[7] Proverbs 10:18

[8] the late Mashgiach of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, Sichos Mussar

[9] That is one of the main reasons for the common annual frustration after the High Holy Days when, within a short time, most people give up on New Year’s resolutions and settle back into their daily morass.

[10] Surely, even one who holds himself back from gossiping without that proper step will receive reward beyond human comprehension. However, he will be unable to truly remove such speech completely without understanding its root.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Parshas Behaloscha 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha

15 Sivan 5784/ June 21, 2024

Pirkei Avos – Perek 2


People take their food very seriously. We are blessed to live in a society of plenty and we expect our plenty to tantalize our taste buds exactly how we like it. Who isn’t a food critic these days? Debates about which restaurant is better or what is the best dish in a particular eatery can be surprisingly passionate.

In the United States one of our national pastime foods is the hotdog. It’s estimated that Americans consume about 7 billion hotdogs each summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (As no one is counting, anyone can make up whatever number he wants. The bottom line is Americans eat a lot of hotdogs.) Various places have different practices about which toppings they like on their hotdogs.

Chicagoans classic hotdog has mustard, neon-green relish, raw onions, a full pickle, tomatoes, a bit of celery salt on a poppy seed bun. But there’s one thing you won’t find anywhere near a Chicago hotdog - ketchup! Former President Obama once quipped that it’s not acceptable to put ketchup on a hotdog once a person is older than 8 years old. There are many hotdog vendors in Chicago that won’t even carry ketchup and will become annoyed if a customer dares to ask for ketchup for their hotdog. In fact, there is even a book entitled, “Never put ketchup on a hotdog.”

Why the ketchup hate? And why is it okay for children?

Ketchup is sweet and kids like when their food is sweet. To appreciate the taste of meat one must have some modicum of culinary sophistication. Even a hot dog, the basest of meats, has a distinct meaty taste. Children like to douse their food in ketchup to make it sweet. But not every food is meant to be sweet.

It’s been said (by me) that if someone is dousing steak in ketchup, it may be a better idea to just eat a candy. He’s anyway not appreciating the taste of the steak and it’s a lot cheaper.

Ketchup may be okay with french fries, because they don’t have much taste anyway and are more eaten for their texture. But food that has “culinary depth” is wasted when its taste is overwhelmed with the taste of ketchup.

For a young child who prioritizes sweet over all other tastes, we can give him a ketchup pass. But for someone who should have more of an appreciation, ketchup obscures the taste of the hotdog and is insulting to the meat.


Chumash Bamidbar begins with great anticipation. The nation of former slaves were elevated to greatness when they accepted the Torah at Sinai. They began to travel through the desert in regal formation preparing for imminent entry into the Holy Land.

But then disaster struck. And then disaster struck again, and again, and again.

It’s not pleasant to read about the nation’s repeated foibles. The people that had so recently been compared to angels was soon complaining about the lack of pickles. Then they denigrated the Holy Land, joined the rebellion of Korach, and caused Moshe to strike the rock, etc.

In the writings of other religions their saints are portrayed as perfect and infallible. Why does the Torah include these unflattering stories?

The Torah is the book of life and ultimate truth. Therefore, by definition, it must teach us about dealing with struggles and failures in that they are an integral part of the human experience. Nothing is whitewashed in the Torah and no one, even our greatest leaders, gets a free pass.

In our lives, we make mistakes, both on a personal and a national level. Instead of erasing the past, our mistakes and our sins can become “Torah” If we learn from them. They then become transformed into steppingstones towards growth.

Perhaps that is why the Torah relates about the loshon hara Miriam said about her brother Moshe. I’ve often wondered why the Torah telling us about that ordeal isn’t itself loshon hora about Miriam?

Very often successful people relate times of struggle early on in their career. They share how they grew from a foolish mistake, an embarrassing moment, feelings of inadequacy, or the like. Now that the experience has become part of their growth and path to success, it is no longer embarrassing for them to share it. In fact, it becomes a dramatic part of their story and subsequent success.

Miriam undoubtedly internalized the message of her exacting punishment. What greater honor could she have then to have the Jewish people eternally learn from her mishap!

The Torah doesn’t sugarcoat challenges, struggles or foibles. That is a lesson for us on a personal level as well. If we can grow from our mistakes they can become “delicious” in their own right, but it requires a level of sophistication to appreciate its taste.

And they don’t need ketchup to taint their elite taste.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Shavuos 5784




Erev Shavuos  

5 Sivan 5784/ June 11, 2024

49th day of the Omer


As I get older it seems to only be getting worse. I’m really bad at recognizing names and faces. In this regard my wife and I are opposites. She doesn’t forget a face, or a name and I don’t remember them. We’ll go shopping together and she’ll say hi to someone who looks at her confusedly. My wife will then tell her that they were in preschool together. Meanwhile I have embarrassing encounters with people I know that I don’t recognize or have totally forgotten their name.

My generation also takes longer to come to terms with new technology than my children’s generation. It took me a while to get the hang of using Siri in my car and Alexa on our device at home.

One afternoon I came home and was annoyed that our new voice command device wasn’t working. My wife and children found it hysterically funny as they watched me shout “Hey Siri” to our Alexa device and then become frustrated that I wasn’t getting any response. My children explained to me that if I didn’t address the device by her correct name she won’t reply. Silly Abba!

We state in davening each morning, “He counts a number for the stars. For each He calls by name.”

From our perspective on earth, the greatness of the stars lies in their multitudes. One star in the sky isn’t too impressive. But when we look up at night and see endless stars in every direction we are awed.

To Hashem however, each individual star is precious. He calls each by name to demonstrate their significance and uniqueness.

Dovid Hamelech tells us about the stars because they serve as a metaphor for ourselves. Hashem told Avrohom Avinu that his children would be like the stars in the heavens. That refers not only to our collective light that shines even in the darkest of times, but also to the light and value of each individual.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks related that he once asked Paul Johnson, the catholic author of A History of the Jews, what had impressed him the most about Judaism?

Johnson replied that historically there have been societies that emphasized the individual, such as the contemporary Western world. There have also been societies that overemphasized and prioritized the collective, such as communist Russia or China.

Judaism, however, was successful at maintaining the delicate balance between giving equal weight to individual and collective value and responsibility. Judaism was a religion of both strong individuals and strong communities. That balance is rare and difficult. Johnson suggested that it is one of our greatest achievements.

In Parshas Bamidbar, Klal Yisroel is counted and Rashi notes that the count was an expression of Hashem’s everlasting love for His nation. At first glance it may seem that the purpose of the count was only to ascertain the final tally. However, Ramban writes that each individual felt personally valued by the count. When donating towards the census, each individual Jew appeared before Moshe and Aharon and introduced themselves to the venerable leaders. “One who came before the father of the prophets and his brother, the holy one of Hashem, and introduced himself (to them) by name, it would be for him a merit and boost of vitality” (Ramban 1:45). As each individual was counted, he also was made to feel special and valued.

This week we witnessed the incredibly daring raid that brought home 4 of the hostages from Gaza. We are fighting a nation that glorifies and celebrates murder and hate, while we glorify and prioritize life.

The IDF invests incredible energy, manpower, resources and the ultimate sacrifice of heroic soldiers killed in battle to save every individual of our people.

It’s a reminder to us of how invaluable every Jew is and how vital we are all in Kabbolas HaTorah.

Each Jew has a name, a purpose, and a mission. We need to remember that about our fellow Jew and we need to remember it about ourselves.

May we all merit to reaccept upon ourselves the Torah with awe, love and joy.


Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum 



Thursday, June 6, 2024

Parshas Bamidbar 5784




Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar

Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5784/ June 7, 2024 – 45th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 6


Shortly after I became engaged to my future wife, I attended a b’ris in Lakewood. Being that it wasn’t far from my kallah’s home, she met me there. When I saw her, I asked her if I could get her anything to eat. She smiled and politely declined.

A few minutes later, I met a rebbe of mine. When I told him that my kallah was at the b’ris he asked me if I brought her anything to eat. I proudly explained that I had offered her some food as soon as she walked in, but she didn’t want anything. My rebbe pointed towards the food and instructed, “Bring her a bagel, cream cheese, some eggs, vegetables and lox.” I did as I was told and was surprised when my kallah indeed enjoyed some of the food. When I saw my rebbe a few minutes later and told him what happened, he put his hand on my shoulder and quipped, “And there’s your first lesson about marriage.”


People communicate with words. However, we also communicate without words, such as with nonverbal communication. To really understand another, one must also hear the non-verbalized message. In fact, one’s tone of voice and body language can give a very different message than what is actually being verbalized.

As a simple example, if someone tells his friend that he really cares about him while he is mindlessly scrolling and typing, the non-verbalized message that he doesn’t really care, will be louder than what he is saying.

In addition, at times, there is also a strong message conveyed by what is not being said, more than what is being said.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once went to visit a young student who was sitting shiva for his parent. When Rabbi Yisroel sat down, there was silence in the room. After a couple of minutes Rabbi Yisroel initiated a conversation with his bereaved student.

After he left the house of mourning, Rabbi Yisroel’s students asked him why he began the conversation when halacha states that one may not speak until the mourner speaks first. Rabbi Yisroel replied incredulously, “Did you not hear his heart? He was practically screaming in pain.”

Rabbi Yisroel heard the cry of his student, despite the fact that his student had not said anything.

In all relationships it is important that we be keen listeners to hear what is being said and what is not being said or being said in other ways. Very often the real message one wishes to or needs to convey is the hidden one, beyond the words being said.


There is a poignant example of this concept in Megillah Rus. After their husband’s deaths, Rus and Oprah decided to remain with their (former) mother-in-law Naomi. At that point Naomi tells them that they have nothing to stay for. “Return, my daughters, why should you come with me? … Return my daughters, go, for I am too old to have a husband… no, my daughters, I am very embittered on account of you…” (Rus 1:11-12).

Orpah hearkened to Naomi’s message and indeed returned, but Rus stubbornly persisted and returned to Eretz Yisroel with Naomi.

How could Noami’s message have had such a different effect on her two daughters-in-law?

The Minchas Yosef explains that Rus and Oroah heard different messages in what Naomi said. On the surface, it seems that Orpah listened to Naomi by leaving, while Rus defied her by remaining with her. But Chazal relate that the opposite was true: “Orpah turned her back (oref) to Naomi, whereas Rus saw (ra'asah, i.e. heeded) her words" (Rus Rabbah 2:9).

Rus listened to Naomi on a deeper level. When Naomi entreated Rus and Orpah to leave her, Rus recognized that Naomi had addressed them as "my daughters" twice (instead of "my daughters-in-law"). A mother, protests notwithstanding, does not abandon a child. Orpah heard the words alone, and they were clearly telling her to leave. Rus, however, heard the inner emotion behind those words. Rus heard the expression of a mother who desperately wants to hold onto her children. It was the tune, not the lyrics, that expressed Naomi's true intent.

Hearing the emotion behind the words and non-verbalized messages goes one step further.

The Torah is referred to as a “Shirah - song”. “And now write for yourself this song; teach it to B’nei Yisroel, place it in their mouths.” Perhaps part of the idea behind the song of Torah, is to recognize that Torah is not only about the actual words. The Torah wants to teach us ethics and values. Being a good Jew entails not only fulfilling the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law.

Ramban writes that one can be a disgusting person without violating any laws. The Torah therefore instructs us to be holy. We must be noble and distinguished so that it is apparent that we are a divine people. Being holy entails living according to the values of the Torah, beyond the actual words. It means hearing the underlying message and direction that Torah instills in its adherents.

The Torah teaches us how to see beneath the surface and dig deeper to understand and decipher the implications and hidden messages.

Such knowledge is invaluable not only for Torah study but in all relationships as well.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum