Thursday, August 29, 2019



          This week, I went for a routine eye exam. The optometrist asked me the usual questions of “better now” or “still the same”, as he flipped the lenses while I was trying to decipher the letters on the wall. Then, as is the usual practice, he inserted drops to dilate my eye. The purpose of which is so he could shine a light on my pupil and see around it and behind it to make sure everything is functioning properly. Without forcing the eye to remain dilated, the pupil would automatically contract when a light would be shined upon it.
          The drawback of the dilation is that its effect lasts for a few hours. Being that it was a sunny day, it was a particular challenge, especially driving afterwards. When walking through a parking lot a short time later, I had to have one of my children direct me because I couldn’t look up because of the bright sunshine.
          The side benefit of that annoying ordeal was a brief appreciation for the miracle of vision and the fact that the eye regulates itself constantly, automatically dilating and constricting without our even being aware of it.

          “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing: that you hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d that I command you today. And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did not know."[1]
          How can The Torah command us to see a blessing and a curse? One can see a building or a person, but how can one see an abstract concept?
          It is also intriguing that the Torah repeats the word “today” so many times. What message is the Torah trying to convey?
          Prima facie, the Torah here is referring to the concepts of reward and punishment. If one does good, he will receive reward/blessing; if not, he will receive punishment/curse. If so, why doesn’t the Torah refer to it directly as reward and punishment? Why refer to them as blessing and curse?
          The Nesivas Shalom explains that in fact the Torah is not referring to reward and punishment at all. The AriZal relates that every person is in this world to fulfill a unique mission, which no one else can accomplish. As the saying goes, “the day you were born is the day when G-d felt the world couldn’t exist without you in it.”
          When the Torah speaks of blessing and curse, it is regarding fulfilling one’s personal mission. The greatest blessing one can attain in this world is to fulfill his potential and personal mission in this world. Conversely, one who fails to live up to his own mission lives a cursed life.
          Each morning we recite a beracha thanking Hashem “Who has made for me (provided me) with all my needs.” Often, we feel that we would be happier and more satisfied if we had more. Still, we faithfully declare that whatever Hashem has provided us is what we need to fulfill our personal mission.
          It is regarding these talents that the pasuk refers to- “See! Look and analyze your strong points; contemplate your inherent capabilities and utilize them to attain what you are capable of attaining and becoming who you are able to become." Hashem gives those abilities and strength so, "that we hearken to the commandments".
          Nesivas Shalom continues by quoting "the true, righteous ones” who explain that those character traits which a person has the most difficult time with, are the very things one was sent into this world to rectify.
          My Rebbe, Berel Wein, would often relate that when the great chassidic rebbe, Rav Zusha of Anipoli, was on his death bed he was crying. His chassidim asked him why he was weeping; after all, he had lived an exemplary life and a great portion in the World to Come was undoubtedly awaiting him.
          The rebbe replied, “When the celestial court asks me why I wasn't as great as our patriarch Avrohom, I will be able to answer them. When they ask me why I wasn't as great as Moshe Rabbeinu I will also have what to answer. But when they ask me why I wasn’t Zushya; why I hadn’t lived up to my own potential, what will I answer then?!”
          That is essentially the most important question for us to ask ourselves - are we living up to our own capabilities, and if not, how can we do so?
          The Torah repeatedly says the word “today” because the most profound present we have is the present; the gift of today! Every single day has its own potential to be a blessing or a curse, depending how we utilize it.

          I had the privilege of hearing Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l, speak on a few occasions. Most of the time, the main point he conveyed was about the importance of time.
          He noted that we would think that if Moshe Rabbeinu was to request of Hashem one major request, he would ask for the deepest secret of Torah or the mystical explanations of the world. However, Dovid Hamelech tells us otherwise. Tehillim chapter 90, begins “A prayer for Moshe”. In that prayer Moshe requests that G-d help us, “To count our days, so make it known, for then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” The great prayer of Moshe is that he be able to take advantage of his every day.
   Rabbi Scheinberg then added: “When I was a youngster of about nine years old, I would play stickball like every other kid. They used to call me Lefty Schineberg. But one who wants to become great must sacrifice lesiure and take advantage of his time. The world talks about killing time, because they don’t appreciate that time is the most valuable commodity we have.
   “The pathway to success in a spiritual life is to see one's self as a C.P.A. Every moment counts; time is money. One who stares at a watch sees that time is ticking away. Time is the most precious commodity we possess."

          The first of the thirteen blessings recited each morning, thanks Hashem for giving us the ability to differentiate between day and night. The Chiddushei Harim explained that day and night are also metaphors for right and wrong. A Jew thanks G-d each morning for the ability to discern between right and wrong so that he could make proper choices throughout his day.
          Why should we recite that blessing every day? The gift of free choice is granted to a person at the moment he is born and remains throughout his lifetime. Why do we need to thank Hashem for giving us the ability to choose wisely each morning?
          A couple of years ago, we had a neighbor, Roger, who was extremely neat and tidy. Every blade of grass was cut on his perfectly manicured lawn.
          Roger lived on a corner, which meant that his backyard was exposed to the road of the next street. In order to give himself more privacy he decided to plant bamboo shoots which are known to grow very quickly. Indeed, within a short time he had a natural and pleasant looking fence. A short time later, Roger moved away and sold his house.
          What Roger didn’t take into account is that the bamboo shoots don’t stop growing when you want them to. Now, a few years later the shoots are unwieldy and unkempt. Their leaves lean into the street, creating a dangerous blind spot in the intersection. Underneath the leaves is a mess of soda cans and other debris. The entire line of bamboo shoots is a terrible eye sore on that corner.
          The Sefas Emes[2] explains that when a person commits a sin, he has, in effect, compromised his free choice regarding that sin. Human nature is that when we make a mistake, in order to protect our egos, we use all sorts of psychological defenses and rationalisms to justify our actions. That enables a relatively minor infraction to quickly spiral into a series of sins.
          G-d grants us a gift that each morning is a fresh start. In the words of the prophet Yirmiyah, “they are renewed each morning; great is Your faithfulness.”[3] Each morning provides a person with the ability to contemplate his decisions and actions of the day before, and to decide if they need improvement or change. Unquestionably, a person can miss the opportunity and continue to allow himself to be drawn after his poor choices. But, if he takes advantage of the gift presented to him, each morning is a new start upon a renewed journey. 
          That is why this is the first of that series of berachos recite each morning. Life is about what we make of it, and what we make of it depends on how we see it. The Torah exhorts us to see the blessing, the opportunity for growth, and to live a life of daily meaning.
          Sefas Emes adds that this is what the pasuk is teaching us: “See that I have placed before you today blessing and curse.” Each day, each morning is an opportunity to start again and live a day of blessing. But tht blessing is contingent on whether we have the courage to take stock of our actions and ask ourselves if what we did yesterday truly contributed to what I want to become today and tomorrow.

“See that I am giving before you today blessing”
“To count our days, so make it known”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] 11:26-28
[2] Re’eh 5633
[3] Eicha 3:23

Thursday, August 22, 2019



          The Chasam Sofer had a gabbai who would prepare his breakfast every morning - a coffee and a piece of cake.
          One morning the gabbai thought to himself that the Chasam Sofer anyway doesn’t pay much attention to the cake he is eating. He only eats it because he needs to eat breakfast. In fact, he wouldn’t even remember afterwards if he ate it or not. At least if the gabbai himself ate the cake he would enjoy it. So, the gabbai ate the cake and sprinkled some crumbs on the plate which he then placed in front of the Chasam Sofer.
          A few minutes later the Chasam Sofer asked the gabbi why he hadn’t served him his usual piece of cake. The gabbai replied that he had served the cake and the Chasam Sofer had already eaten it, as the crumbs on the plate could attest.
          The Chasam Sofer replied, “it is true that I don’t remember if I ate a piece of cake or not. But when I recite the beracha before and afterwards it excites me, and I don’t remember reciting them, so I know I didn’t eat the cake this morning.

          Moshe Rabbeinu warned Klal Yisroel of the danger of affluence and complacency.[1] "And you will say in your heart, "my strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!" Then you shall remember Hashem, your G-d; that it was He who gave you the strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant that he swore to your forefathers, as this day."
          The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh comments: “This means one must concentrate and contemplate upon all the good he has in his life and that it all comes from Hashem. That feeling will constantly awaken within him the fact that Hashem is constantly watching him. The first tactic of the Yetzer Hora is to make a person forget this, and that causes him to become lost (on his path to spirituality). This is the why the following pasuk continues, “It shall be if you forget Hashem, your G-d I testify against you today that you will surely perish.” The Torah is warning is that if we forget that Hashem is the one who grants all goodness and blessing, the end result will be that we will stray from Hashem and follow other gods.”
          Contemplating and appreciating all Hashem grants us, is not only a nice thing to do, but is key in retaining a connection with Hashem. The Ohr Hachaim goes so far as to say that the quickest tactic of the Evil Inclination is to cause a person to lose perspective of how much gratitude he owes G-d constantly.
          We proclaim in Modim each day: “We thank You and relate your praise for our lives, which are given over in Your Hand and for our souls that are entrusted to you; for your miracles that are with us every day; and for your wonders and favors in every season- evening, morning, and afternoon.”
          One of the aspects in life for which we should be thankful, but generally completely take for granted, is eating and the ample supply of food we enjoy.
          Someone once related to the Chiddushei Harim that the Kotzker Rebbe had quipped that he could not understand how people don't become greater Yirei Shomayim (G-d fearing) from reciting the words of bentching after eating a bread meal. It was through bentching that Avrohom was able to draw many people close to Hashem. When they would thank Avrohom for the delicious food he served them, Avrohom would reply “was it from me that you ate?” He would direct their gratitude towards Hashem, after which guest and host would sing praises to G-d for the food they had eaten and for all His goodness.
          The Chiddushei Harim replied that he could not comprehend why people do not become greater Yirei Shamayim from the food itself; from looking at it and appreciating it! The opening words of bentching begin with us thanking Hashem “Who sustains the whole world with charm, kindness, and with compassion.”
          Today, food presentation has become an entire industry. It is not enough to make delicious food, but it has to be arranged in an appealing and innovative manner.
          G-d could have easily made all food one color and one texture. The variety of fruits and vegetables alone is incredible. If one contemplated the beauty of a mundane salad he would be amazed by the variety. We thank Hashem for that charm which He granted to our food.

          A December 2015 article from the Washington Post entitled, “Why pleasure is an important part of a healthful diet” by Ellie Krieger, explains that mindful eating and enjoying one’s food more, could help a person not eat as much.
          Krieger cites a 2014 study done at INSEAD, a business school founded in France, researchers found that people who were asked to vividly imagine the taste, smell and texture of an indulgent food, such as chocolate cake, before being offered some, ultimately chose smaller portions of that food and enjoyed it as least as much as those who didn’t think about the food before eating it.
          Merely imagining the pleasure of food before eating it could help prevent a person from overindulging. 
          “To get the most pleasure from food, slow down instead of shoveling it in mindlessly. Employ all of your senses to fully experience it and how it makes you feel. Before you eat, take in the food with your eyes, appreciating its colors, textures and presentation, and inhale and enjoy its appealing aroma. When you take a bite, chew well, allowing all the flavors to unfold.
          “Approaching food in this way not only produces more pleasure as you eat, it helps temper your pace and allows you to consume less overall. Studies show that when people eat more slowly, they tend to take in fewer calories and feel just as satisfied.”
          Not only is such mindful eating healthier and help him enjoy his meal, it will help him feel more appreciative of the gift of his food. It is undoubtedly challenging to bentch with concentration when we finish eating a meal. But if we had greater appreciation for the experience of eating it would be easier for us to appreciate the magnanimity of what G-d has bestowed upon us.
          As we anticipate the beginning of the month of Elul, we prepare to redirect our focus upon our priorities and to reconnecting ourselves with G-d and true living. One of the greatest means to do so is by focusing on the blessings that G-d gives us, and which we often fail to appreciate.
          It wasn’t too long ago that many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents endured poverty and starvation, often under the most barbaric conditions. We, on the other hand, have been blessed with an endless array and variety of foods available to us. If we took some more time and thought to enjoy what we are eating, we will want to bless and thank G-d for the blessings He endows us with constantly.

          “You shall remember Hashem, your G-d”
          “You will eat, you will be satisfied, and you will bless Hashem, your G-d”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Devorim 8:17-18

Thursday, August 15, 2019



As you know, my wife is a little behind me when it comes to religious observance. One thing she challenged me on and I didn't have an answer. Last week I forgot to leave the light on in the bathroom before Shabbos. She wanted to turn it on, but I said to leave it.  So she asked, What is the big deal if I switch on a light on Shabbos? It isn't such hard work to flick a switch. Will the day of rest be totally disturbed by by me turning a light on? I wasn't sure what to say....
Here's something I think your wife will relate to:
You are out for a romantic dinner, just the two of you. You make a reservation at a fancy restaurant, a quiet table for two in the corner. Gentle music is playing, lights are dimmed, and the ambiance is just perfect for an evening of romance. 
You resolve not to talk about work, not to talk about the kids, rather to take the time to really connect and enjoy each other's company. You laugh together, chit chat, and give one another complete focus and attention. 
Then suddenly you say, "Oh, I just remembered something." You take out your phone and call your business partner to remind him to send a report you are waiting for. It all took no more than fifteen seconds. You quickly put your phone away and smile at your wife. 
But she's not smiling. You just ruined the moment. You destroyed the atmosphere. Until now it was all about the two of you. As soon as you took out your phone, the ambiance was shattered. You brought the outside world into your intimate space. 
You could try explaining that it was just a little phone call and is really no big deal. Good luck with that. If you think you can make a business call on a date night, you just don't get what it means to create an intimate ambiance. 
The Shabbos laws are all about creating an ambiance of rest, a moment of spiritual intimacy, when we appreciate G-d's creation as it is without trying to change it. The state of the world when Shabbos comes in is the way it remains, and we do not interfere. If the light was off, it stays off. The flick of a switch, as insignificant as it may seem, would change the ambiance and ruin the moment. 
Someone who has never fully kept Shabbos may find this hard to understand. But if you've tasted the profound sense of restfulness that Shabbos can bring, you know how even a slight interruption can make a difference. 
We all need date nights and we all need Shabbos. And we need to protect the intimacy of these sacred moments. 
Rabbi Aaron Moss[1] 

          At the beginning of Parshas Vaeschanan, Moshe Rabbeinu relates how he beseeched Hashem to allow him to enter the Promised Land. “And I davened to Hashem at that time saying: My Master, G-d, You have begun to show your servant Your greatness and Your strong Hand... Please let me cross over and I will see the good land…”[2]
      Rashi explains that the ‘greatness’ of Hashem refers to His goodness. Zohar notes that gadulah (greatness) refers to chesed. What’s the connection between greatness and goodness/kindness?
      Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l[3] explained that real greatness is achieved when natural limitations are traversed. For example, if a thirty-foot giant effortlessly uproots a twenty-five-foot tree we would unquestionably agree that he is strong. But that act is not in the realm of ‘greatness’, because for someone so large such an act is expected. However, if that giant was somehow able to press himself into an ant hole in the ground, that would be an act of greatness. Natural law dictates that something so large cannot conceivably fit into something so miniscule. The ability to do so transcends normal limitations and, therefore, is considered greatness. 
      The incredible world and the miracles of nature do not demonstrate the ‘greatness’ of Hashem, as it were. Rather, it is the fact that despite the fact that Hashem is so great and powerful, He hearkens to our every prayer and notes our every action, despite our relative insignificance. The fact that Hashem loves every one of us and cares for every facet of our lives is tantamount to the giant who sticks himself into an ant-hole. It defies normal limitations and boundaries, and therefore is demonstrative of true greatness.

          In the Mussaf Shemone Esrei on Shabbos, we describe and extol the virtue of Shabbos. One of the clauses we recite is “and those who love its words, have chosen greatness.”
          What does it mean to love the “words of Shabbos” and what does it mean that those who do so have chosen greatness?
          When discussing the reward for observing Shabbos properly, the prophet Yeshaya[4] states: “If you refrain from trampling the Shabbos, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbos a delight, G-d’s holy day an honor, and if you honor it by not doing your routine, or finding your affairs, nor speaking its words, then your delight will be upon Hashem...”
          The Gemara[5] explains that “not speaking it’s words” refers to the law that one’s speech on Shabbos not be like one’s speech during the week. One should not speak about mundane business and weekly affairs during the holy Shabbos.
          Most people don’t give much thought to what they say before saying it. Their speech is commonly “OTM OTM - out the mind; out the mouth”. We all know that words can build and words can destroy. Still, it is the rare person who is careful with his words and thinks carefully before speaking to ensure that no one will be hurt or offended by what he is about to say.
          The world likes to say that “talk is cheap”. It is a great untruth. The reality is that talk is easy, but it’s anything but cheap. Our whole ability to communicate and convey our thoughts and feelings is through the medium of speech.
          A high-ranking politician, or a member of a royal family has to always be wary of public statements he/she makes. One wrong statement, or even one comment taken out of context, can come back to haunt him or even destroy his career.
          On Shabbos one is obligated to think twice before he speaks, to ensure that what he is saying is in tandem with the spirit of the holy day. There are individuals who dutifully adhere to the law, albeit with a sense of annoyance about the halachic restriction. But then there are those who embrace the verbal restrictions of Shabbos. He is like a prince who is proud to be royalty, despite the fact that it entails certain restrictive behaviors. Being that the average person speaks freely without forethought, one who does restrict his speech has chosen a path of greatness. Thus, those who love the words of Shabbos - they love the restrictive speech of Shabbos - because it is “the cost” of regality of Shabbos, have chosen greatness.

          Truthfully, whenever one performs an altruistic act of kindness for another, it is a measure of greatness. By nature, man is self-centered caring primarily for his own interests and gratification. When one is willing to put aside his own agenda in order to care for someone else that transcends normal behavior. Therefore, it is an act of greatness.
      It is such acts of altruistic greatness which serve as a consolation for us in exile, for they remind us that there is hope for our eventual unification under the banner of Moshiach. 

          “You have begun to show your servant Your greatness”
          “Those who love its words, have chosen greatness”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Rabbi Moss is a rabbi in Sydney, Australia. He sends out a weekly question with his shul announcements. I added myself to his mailing list when I came across some of his writings. His replies are always sharp, concise, and on the mark. This article is from March21 2019. To be added to his email list, send him an email at
[2] Devorim 3:24
[3] Tiferes Shimshon
[4] 58:13
[5] Shabbos 113b