Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tazria-Metzora

19th day of the Omer – Avos perek 2

4 Iyar 5781/April 16, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            I wrote and sent out the questions on Pesach. I am now resending together with my response:   


Dad, I have a few questions that have been bothering me recently. I hope you won’t take them personally:


Why is our family different from other families in our neighborhood?

1.       Other families make beautiful extensions on their homes, buy new luxury cars every few years, and have careers and portfolios that are constantly expanding. Why are they growing and expanding while we seem to be stuck, flat like a matzah?

2.       Other families seem to have really exciting lives. I see the Instagram and Facebook feeds of my friends and classmates, and they always seem to be having fun and happy. Even when we do the same things it always seems like they are doing it better. Why are their lives so varied and exciting while our lives seem bland and even bitter like marror?

3.       Why do so many other families seem to get whatever they want so easily? Their kids get in to the best yeshivos and seminaries and then find the best shidduchim, while our family has to settle for whatever we get and even that is only after pulling strings and using connections. Why do they seem to be able to submerge themselves in everything they want while we can barely dip into what we want?

4.       So many other families went to exotic places for Pesach, midwinter and other vacations, including Miami, Cancun and Dubai. It was practically obligatory that we at least go to Orlando this year, and yet we didn’t. Why do those families get to recline in the sun while we have to sit here at home?

I don’t mean any disrespect Dad, but if you and Mom can please answer these questions which really gnaw at me, I would be very appreciative.


A Possible Response[1]


            Since the question was asked using the format utilized in the Haggadah, I will try to reply in the same vein.[2]

            I have to begin with an uncomfortable confession: I’m not coming to answer these questions only for you, my child. I need to answer them for myself as well, (and maybe even more so). Even if I’m not bothered by the things you asked me about, there are invariably other things people have or do that I feel frustrated, jealous or resentful that I don’t have.[3]

            So, my child, the question is legitimate, and the struggle means you are human and have normal emotions. The Torah demands that we not be jealous. However, we have no chance of living up to that standard unless we are honest about our feelings. We need to struggle within ourselves to overcome the natural jealousy we often feel. But we must realize that it’s a process. Our task is to be willing to undergo the arduous process in order to overcome our natural faults.[4]

            In their great wisdom and insight, our Sages teach us that desire and jealousy have no limit.[5] We delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll be happy and satisfied with the next million or the next gadget or vacation. But that’s only until we get what we wanted and realize that we then want the next amenity or luxury and are convinced that then we will really be happy and satisfied - this time for real.

            It’s been said that everyone is trying to find the city of happiness but failing to realize that happiness is actually a state of mind! When we are taught that true wealth belongs to the one who is happy with his portion[6], we think it’s cute, but trite. We fail to realize that those timeless words contain the key to what we are constantly searching for. The more important question then is how we can train ourselves to be happy with what we have.

            A wise mentor taught me that jealousy is the result of being self-focused and focusing on our wants and desires. The way to counter that is by focusing outwards by thinking positively about others. He noted that whenever a feeling of jealousy sets in, he immediately prays that the object of his jealousy should be happy and enjoy what he has, and that G-d help him be happy with what he has.

            He added that even though it feels fake and disingenuous it doesn’t discourage him. Since he truly aspires to feel and think that way, trying to develop that mindset is an integral part of the process.  

            This idea may not ‘cure’ us. But it slowly helps us challenge our automatic emotions so that we can be better and happier people.[7]

            Here’s another important idea: Count your blessings! Write down three things your grateful for today. You’ve likely heard that idea before but may be skeptical. But the reality is that doing so is transformational. Within a few weeks your mood and attitude will begin to change. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back![8]

            Finally, like with every other worthy endeavor in life, we need to daven that G-d help us be happy with what we have and that we be able to overcome our jealousy.


            It’s often been said that it’s far easier to take a Jew out of exile than it is to take exile out of a Jew.

            Each one of us was taken out of Mitzrayim with personal love and a personal mission and direction. If we spend our lives looking at whatever everyone else has, we will have never really left the Egypt within us. Part of faith demands that we believe that G-d provides each of us with what is best for us to have.[9]

            With that in mind, the answer to your contemporary Mah Nishtana really is the same as the answer given to the Mah Nishtana of the Haggadah: “We were slaves (to Pharaoh in Egypt) and G-d took us out.” He took each of us out and each of us has our own direction and purpose.

            We are all locked in our own person Egypts but the door is open for us to leave proudly if we are willing to invest the effort and have the confidence to achieve personal redemption.

            Redemption is a process, especially the redemption from our own constrictions and character flaws. Let’s embark upon and endure the journey together!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] Keeping in mind our limited attention spans (especially of our youth), in order to keep the response at a minimum, I have relegated many important points to footnotes.

[2] The haggadah teaches us that all answers must be tailored to the questioner based on the intellectual, spiritual, and emotional capacity of the questioner, and the manner in which the question is asked. There are four sons at the Seder and four different approaches utilized. Therefore, the approach to answering these difficult questions must be individualized as well. The following ideas should only be understood as possible points for discussion.

[3] I want to normalize and validate the question and laud my child for having the courage to ask it. The reality is that most of us struggle with jealousy. However, we often mask feelings of jealousy with religious zeal or other rationalizations. For example, when attending a posh wedding people may angrily announce to their fellow tablemates, “Why are they wasting so much money on making this fancy wedding? Do you know how many poor people they could support instead of having carving stations and a whole orchestra tonight?”

Who wants to admit the truth about feeling jealous? It’s far easier to make myself feel better by pretending that I am holier than thou - thou being the one who could afford luxuries I can only dream of.

Validating the question also has the important benefit of allowing my child to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable topics with me.

[4] I should add that there’s an approach I do NOT want to take with my child: “You think it’s all glamorous. But really those people aren’t so happy. You don’t know the struggles they face. Their life might look perfect on the outside but really they have major problems.”

I don’t think that is the optimal response. It’s undoubtedly true that we don’t know what is going on behind closed doors, and everyone has their share of challenges.  It’s also important to convey to our children (and ourselves) that the images portrayed on social media don’t reflect the real truth of what’s happening in other people’s lives. Social media doesn’t display reality, but rather the reality that the host wants the viewers to see.

However, to teach my child that the way to deal with jealously is to assume anyone who has more than you has their own issues, is just another unhealthy way of trying to assuage my own feelings of jealousy. It’s essentially mentally putting the other person down in order to make me feel better about my underprivileged situation. There’s gotta be a better way!

[5] Koheles Rabbah 3:12 - “No one dies having ascertained (even) half of his desires”; and the more one has the more one wants (“One who has one maneh wants two”).

[6] Avos 4:1 “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.”

[7] Contemplate the following: Two different people inherit a box containing fifty million dollars. They both go to their backyards and walk twenty paces from their house and dig ten feet down and place the box containing their riches in the ground. The first person has no idea that his neighbor saw him, and a half hour later dug up the box and stole everything. Meanwhile, the second person was a nervous wreck that someone was going to steal it and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. The next night he mistakenly walked ten paces and dug twenty feet down. Obviously, the box wasn’t there. For the rest of his life he never stopped mourning and bemoaning his fate that he had lost his wealth, all the while not realizing that it was right where he put it. Meanwhile, the first fellow was content with the knowledge that his wealth was safe and secure, and he never bothered to check if it was still there.

Who would you rather be – the millionaire who was miserable because he thought he was a pauper, or the pauper who lived his life in blissful happiness thinking he was a millionaire? Who is truly the wealthier and more satisfied person?

[8] Dennis Prager notes that we all suffer from “missing tile syndrome”. If someone is sitting in a room, looking up at a tiled ceiling, and there is one tile missing, that’s where he focuses his vision. He doesn’t notice all the other perfect tiles.

Prager notes that doing so undermines our happiness, because we are always focusing on the missing tiles in our lives. Our choice is whether we focus on the tiles we do have, or on the ones we’re missing that we see others have. The answer to that question largely determines how happy we feel.


[9] The Chofetz Chaim once asked someone who he was doing, the fellow replied that he was doing well but a little more money couldn’t hurt. The Chofetz Chaim replied “how do you know?”

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Parshas Shemini 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemini

Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar  

12th day of the Omer – Avos perek 1

20 Nissan 5781/April 9, 2021


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            As we take leave of Pesach an proceed full-steam ahead towards Kabbolas HaTorah, I would like to take a moment to reflect back on one part of the Seder.

            The third question is: On all other nights we don’t even dip once, but tonight we dip twice - the karpas in salt water and marror in charoses.

            Wait! What??

            On all other nights we don’t dip? Seriously? In America it’s practically an obligation to dip French fries in ketchup! In fact, one who doesn’t squeeze half a bottle of ketchup onto his plate, douse his French fries in them, and then throw out most of the ketchup, hasn’t fulfilled his societal obligation and likely has to eat the fries again! In addition, these days, in restaurants and fast-food joints, after choosing your meal, you then choose from an assortment of dips and sauces to coat your sandwich.

            In 2021, eating challah without a minimum of three or four dips is practically unheard of. (Some would argue that it may be more important than lechem mishna.) In Monsey, Yannai’s dips on Route 59 has become legendary even outside of Monsey. When we go somewhere for Shabbos, we’re often asked to bring Yannai dips. The store primarily sells an assortment and wide variety of dips. The incredible selection includes garlic, onion, babaganush, falafel, pizza, pickle, chummus, techina, tomato, broccoli, pepper, to name just a few.

            In the Staum family, charoses was a big hit throughout Pesach. In contemporary lingo the Staums would ‘pound’ charoses. I should add that I was, and am, the one who makes the charoses. Before I was married, on Erev Pesach, my mother would provide me with quite a few apples which I would hand grind before adding the nuts and wine. I have maintained that practice until today.

            This year I made charoses, not only for the Seder in our home, which included my in-laws, but also for my parents, who were hosting my brother and his family and my sister and her family.

            Being that I was making charoses for so many people I knew I would need a lot of apples and a couple of bags of crushed walnuts. It wasn’t easy hand grating all those apples (No, I wouldn’t use a food processor. Did my great-grandmother use a food processor in the shtetl?) but I made two big containers of charoses.

            I was quite surprised that this year most of the charoses wasn’t eaten. I realized that every year we have more and more dips on our table throughout Pesach. The charoses now has major competition with numerous other kosher-for-Pesach dips. It therefore no longer takes center stage.

            So, if anything the question the child should be asking on Seder night is why are we only dipping twice and why aren’t we dipping the marror into chummus or babaganush?

            The early commentators explain that although we often dip our food throughout the year, we do so during our meal. At the Seder however, we dip twice before the meal even begins. That is what the child is asking - why are we dipping twice before the meal even begins, which we never do at any other time of the year?

            But perhaps there is another dimension to the dipping.

            The reason we dip our food generally is that we want the food to have the taste of the dip we are submerging it into. There’s particular enjoyment eating something with the added taste of the dip. However, when we dip the karpas and marror, we don’t want to overshadow the taste of the marror/karpas, only that it should be mitigated somewhat. In fact, the halacha is that after dipping the marror into charoses, we shake off the excess charoses.

            Marror symbolizes the challenges and pain of exile, and of life. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often notes that we are the only people who recite a beracha on marror. We don’t whitewash our bitter past and we don’t whistle past the graveyard. We confront the reality of difficult times and recognize that they are invariable. At the same time, we also seek to find the silver lining in all our struggles. We remind ourselves that everything G-d does is for the best and with a divine purpose. That may not take away the pain, but it certainly adds a certain dimension of sweetness to it.

            That is the deeper symbolism of dipping on Seder night. The child - and the child within myself - asks why throughout the year we douse our foods with delicious dips to add taste. But at the Seder we seek to maintain the original taste of these bland/butter foods even while dipping it and slightly mitigating its bitterness and blandness without eliminating it. What a strange dipping! Where’s the kosher-for-Pesach caesar dressing?

            We answer by teaching our child that the Jewish people possess a rare combination of realism and optimism. We don’t negate or pretend that our situation is often bitter. Yet, at the same time, we have never stopped dipping that bitterness in the proverbial charoses of G-d’s sweetening of the bitterness. That faith has carried us through the darkest of times. That rare combination is part of the secret to our eternity.

            By the way, if anyone would like some charoses or a few boxes of machine matzah, let me know. Hurry, this offer is only valid while supplies last.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Parshas Tzav - Pesach 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tzav-Erev Pesach

13 Nissan 5781/March 27, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            This week the New York Times published an article by David Leonhardt entitled, “Is bad news the only kind?” In it Leonhardt notes that almost all the news throughout the pandemic was negative.

            “When Covid cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were rising. And when vaccine research began showing positive results, the coverage downplayed it.”

            He continues that US media are outliers in their overwhelming bias towards negative news. Still, he defends the media claiming that they aren’t distorting the news as much as choosing to emphasize the negative over the positive. He adds that the American consumer seems to prefer reading negative news over positive news, so the news outlets are only providing what the consumer is seeking.

            In a lecture given on September 19, 2003, the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey recounted that he’s often asked why newsmen don’t report more good news instead of all of the tragedy, destruction, discord, disaster and dissent they always report about? He explained, “My own network, ABC, once tried broadcasting a program of just good news. You know how long that lasted? Thirteen weeks. Not enough listeners wanted just good news.

            In Sacramento, California, a little tabloid called itself The Good newspaper, printed just good news, lasted 36 months before it went bankrupt. As far as I have been able to ascertain, there's only one newspaper in the USA today printing just good news. It's a little tabloid, comes out once a week in Indiana and they have to give it away, because that good news that you all keep saying you want just won't buy. And that's why you can listen to any broadcast, and records are crashing and it's the worst wind and the worst flood or fire or earthquake or whatever, because noise news makes news, and... sin make news, and one gunshot makes more noise than a thousand prayers. It doesn't mean it's more important, just that it sells more newspapers.”

            By nature, we are more inclined towards negativity than positivity. Dennis Prager noted that we all suffer from “missing tile syndrome”. If someone is sitting in a room, looking up at a tiled ceiling, and there is one tile missing, that’s where he focuses his vision. He doesn’t notice all the other perfect tiles.

            Prager notes that doing so undermines our happiness, because we are always focusing on the missing tiles in our lives. Our choice is whether we focus on the tiles we do have, or on the ones we’re missing? The answer to that question largely determines how happy we feel.

            The night of the Seder is devoted to praising Hashem and expressing gratitude for the myriad miracles He performed throughout the process of Yetzias Mitzrayim.

            The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 6:4) writes that the four cups of wine correspond to four decrees that the nation were subjected to during the exile and were redeemed from.

            The Matnos Kehuna explains that the four decrees were their being forced to perform backbreaking labor, all male babies being cast in the Nile, slaughtering the children so Pharaoh could bathe in their blood, and when the Egyptians stopped providing straw for the bricks.

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon points out that all of those decrees were enacted and stopped well before the nation actually left Egypt. This symbolizes to us that we must not only celebrate and express gratitude when a challenging situation is completely remedied. Rather, we must be thankful for every step and modicum of salvation along the way.

            How poignant is that message for us at the current time! During the last year we have all lived through a traumatic and challenging ordeal. Yet, within the darkness there was noticeable chesed from Hashem.

            It wouldn’t be too difficult to write a dayeinu like paragraph including all the glimmers of light we have experienced during this period of darkness.

            The fact that vaccinations are being disseminated at a dizzying pace with hopes of a return to normalcy sooner than later is itself astounding. That for some reason the virus relatively didn’t affect the youth was also an incredible chesed from Hashem. That we were able to at least communicate remotely via zoom and the like, mitigated somewhat the emotional pain of isolation.

            And the fact that we were able to return to our yeshivos and continue to teach our children in person to the extent possible is something not to be taken lightly.

            After over a year of not having in person classes, public school teachers are still vying to remain remote. Only now are they getting ready to allow 25% capacity in the classroom. Yet, throughout this time, we have done all in our power to ensure the continued education of our children.

            Prior to makkas arov, Moshe warned that Hashem would “place a separation between my nation and your nation.” During the past months those words have come to life. Our children have grown tremendously despite the painful predicament. They saw how much we prioritize their chinuch, even while public schools remained shut. That’s an invaluable lesson.

            The night before the exodus, our ancestors held the first seder with the Korbon Pesach, matzah and marror.

            If marror is eaten as a reminder of the pain of the servitude, why did the Jews have to eat marror at their seder the night before Yetzias Mitzrayim? Did they need a reminder of the painful slavery and body breaking work they had endured for decades?

            Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal explains that the Jewish servitude ended six months before the actual exodus (see Rosh Hashanah 11a). Six months is more than enough time for people to forget how things were. Just look at how quickly the Egyptians “forgot about Yosef” and began to persecute the Jews.  

            Although the pandemic is not over, we have reason to be hopeful for the immediate future. We dare not just return to the way things were before. Unfortunately, human nature is that we quickly forget and move on. But when significant events occur – for good or for better, we must take note of it, learn from it and grow from it.

            The Jewish people not only seek to remember the matzah and the korbon Pesach, but we also seek to remember the marror, and we thank G-d for all of it. But the first step is to recognize the Hand of G-d in every step of the way.          


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Good Yom Tov & Chag Kasher V’someiach

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Parshas Vayikra 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayikra

6 Nissan 5781/March 19, 2021


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

לז״ן אברהם יוסף בן נפתלי הערץ


            My high school students are helping to learn me English. To clarify, I’m actually teaching them English, but they are trying to teach me how to communicate in their world.

            These days the boyz use their own lingo. They tell me that I need to learn it so I don’t get wreckt and be tripping, and so I can get woke. Legit, I don’t wanna spill the tea, but the lingo is usually based on vibez or whatever they are down for. When I don’t say it right they’ll bug out and ask me whachumean? Bro, I’m not capping about this. I try to pull up but I’m not always full send about using these strange terminologies.

            The other day I got a haircut and then went to the butcher to buy meat for Shabbos. When the butcher asked me “fresh cut?” I smiled and said, “yeah dawg!” I don’t want to flex but it was a phat chill. Whatever! I’m out!

            One of those phraseologies that has majorly caught on is “that guy”. These days there’s nothing worse than being labeled “that guy” and everyone tries to distance themself from “that guy”. People may note being in a quandary because they want to do or not do something but are afraid of being classified as “that guy” because of it. Similarly, someone may try to convince another not to do something because “you just don’t want to be that guy!”

            On the other hand, of the biggest compliments one can receive is to be told, “you’re the man!” Being “the man” connotes leadership, charisma and good will.

            That led me to wonder - what’s the difference between being “that guy” and being “the man”? In Hebrew both can be referred to as ״איש״. So, what distinguishes the ultimate compliment from the ultimate insult?

            Perhaps the difference is that being “that guy” sounds more passive and therefore derogatory. “That guy” lives in his own bubble and doesn’t notice how his behavior effects others. “The man” on the other hand, is more direct and therefore complimentary. He leads by example and enhances the lives of others.

            In Megillas Esther, it states that the party of Achashveirosh was designed לעשות כרצון איש ואיש - to fulfill the will of every man. The Gemara explains that the double expression refers to Haman and Mordechai, both of whom were wine butlers at the party.

            According to contemporary lingo, Haman was “that guy”, while Mordechai was “the man”! Haman was so narcissistic that when Achashveirosh asked him what he should do for one to whom he wants to honor, Haman was absolutely convinced that Achashveirosh was referring to himself. Mordechai, on the other hand, was selfless in his focus on the welfare of his people. This was true despite the fact that they violated his directive that they not attend the party.

            The Torah states about Noach after the flood, “And Noach, איש of the earth, profaned himself.” At that point, the righteous Noach who had selflessly maintained the entire world during the flood, shifted his focus and engaged in a selfish pursuit. In a sense, all at once, “the man Noach” became “that guy Noach” with disastrous consequences.

            In parshas Yisro (Shemos 18:7), when Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law, Yisro, the Torah states וישאלו איש לרעהו לשלום - the man inquired about his friend’s welfare. Rashi notes that “the man” refers to Moshe. This is based on the pasuk (Bamidbar 12:3) which states “and the man Moshe was exceedingly humble.” Moshe was “the man” because he put the needs of others before himself and he cared for his people with unparalleled love and devotion.

            The ultimate personification of this idea is regarding the divine Himself. Each day we repeat the words form the Shiras Hayam (song at the sea) ״ה׳ איש מלחמה״ - G-d is the איש of war (Shemos 15:3). Rashi explains that איש is an expression of mastery and dominion; G-d is the ultimate arbiter and adjudicator of war. Rav Hirsch explains that G-d fights every force of humanity that stands in the way of His Master Plan for a better future. G-d concerns Himself with the needs of every being.

            This week (4 Nissan) marks the yahrtzeit of my Sabba, Abe Staum z”l. My Sabba was the epitome of selflessness and warmth. He was a man of chesed, most of which we will probably never know about. He was the co-owner of a toy company and treated all of his employees with dignity and respect. In fact, his employees admiringly hung up a picture of him in their work section. Whoever heard of such a thing? They truly felt that their boss was “the man”. And that is how I remember him as well!

            In life, we are all in the category of איש (at least the men among us). The question is whether we live only for ourselves and indulge in our own selfish desires, or we prioritize others and think how we can enhance the lives of those we interact with.

            Basically, it’s the choice between being “that guy” or being “the man”.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum