Thursday, October 25, 2018



Dedicated in loving memory of my father’s mother, my dear Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, whose yahrtzeit is this Friday, 17 Cheshvan.

It was an ordinary day in Judge Mindy Glazer’s Miami-Dade courtroom when forty-nine-year-old Arthur Booth appeared before her for his bond hearing. He had been arrested the previous day for breaking into a home, stealing a car, and running from police. He caused two accidents before crashing the stolen car and being arrested.
What happened next was incredible. As she shuffled papers on her desk, Judge Glazer turned to Booth and said, “I have a question for you — did you go to Nautilus (middle school)?” Booth looked up at her and immediately recognized her. He then proceeded to cover his face with both hands and, overwhelmed with emotion, cried “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” seven times.
The judge then said to him, “I’m sorry to see you here. I always wondered what happened to you.“ She turned to the court and continued, “This was the nicest kid in middle school. He was the best kid. I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened.”
Glazer set his bond at $43,000 and closed the hearing by saying, “Good luck to you sir,” she said. “I hope you are able to come out of this okay and just lead a lawful life.”
Booth’s cousin was interviewed by the news right after the hearing and was asked why she thought he was so emotional. She answered, “He probably was thinking, ‘Wow, I had those opportunities and those abilities. That should have been me up there… He was overwhelmed with emotion because he was filled with remorse and the thoughts of what could have been.”[2]
On Rosh Hashanah morning 2015 (5776), Rabbi Efrem Goldberg[3] recounted the above story and added: ““Ha’yom haras olam, ha’yom ya’amid ba’mishpat kol yetzurei olamim… Today is the birthday of the world. Today all creatures of the world stand in judgment.” This morning, like Booth, we appear before the Judge who recognizes us, who knows us since our childhood and beyond. Like Booth, as we appear before the Judge of Judges, we are overwhelmed with a sense of what could have been.
“This morning, as we confront the reality of the many mistakes we have made, the poor judgment we have shown, the self-destructive behavior we have engaged in, the opportunities we have wasted and the potential we have not realized, we are filled with a profound sense of remorse, an intense regret, and an acute awareness of who we could be.
“Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, once said, “Everybody wants to change this world; nobody wants to change themselves.” I disagree. I think we do want to change. We want to become the people we were meant to be, the people we are capable of being. Many of just don’t know how.”

There is an extraordinary theme that appears in many of the events of parshas Vayera. It seems that almost everything Avrohom set out to accomplish was either an abject failure and disappointment, or a missed opportunity.
At the beginning of the parsha, the Torah describes in great detail the tremendous effort that Avrohom invested in preparing a delectable and expensive meal for three bedouins. He involved his wife and son, and all of them were hurrying to ensure that every nuance was being catered to.
The truth was that they were angels who didn’t need the food at all. Rashi explains that when the Torah says “they ate”[4] it means that it only seemed like they ate, because angels don’t eat physical food[5].
When Hashem revealed to Avrohom that Sodom and its neighboring cities were to be destroyed because of their extreme evil, Avrohom began to pray for the cities to be spared. The Torah details the entire lengthy conversation with Avrohom imploring Hashem not to destroy the city in the merit of fifty righteous people – ten in each city. He then begs for them to be spared if there are only forty-five, or thirty, or twenty, or even ten righteous people. Each time Avrohom asks Hashem to not be angry with his request.  
In the end however, the cities were overturned and destroyed[6].
At the end of the parsha, the Torah relates the events of the akeidah – the binding of Yitzchak. Hashem commanded Avrohom to bring Yitzchak as an Olah sacrifice, which Avrohom did with alacrity and complete dedication. At the last moment, before Avrohom lowered the blade onto the neck of Yitzchak, Hashem called out to him to stay his hand.
Shemen HaTov[7] notes that in all three of these events, Avrohom’s actions seem to have been meaningless. He ended up preparing an incredible meal… for angels, he failed in his bid to save Sodom, and he wasn’t able to complete his mission of offering his son as a sacrifice to G-d.
We can add that Avrohom surely invested great energy into being mechanech Yishmael. When Avrohom was preparing the meal for the angels the pasuk says “And to the cattle Avrohom ran, and he took young cattle, soft and good, and he gave it to the youth, and he hurried to do it.” Rashi explains that the youth was Yishmael, and Avrohom was trying to train him to do mitzvos.   
Later in the parsha Avrohom is compelled to banish Yishmael from his home, because of his negative influence upon Yitzchok.
Here too, something Avrohom had invested greatly in seems to be a complete failure.
Yet, not only do we not view Avrohom as a failure, we view him as of the most faithful and accomplished devotees to G-d who ever lived. It is a stark reminder that life is not about accomplishment. In this world we are charged to put our best foot forward, to seek to make the right choices, to try to serve Hashem faithfully, and to enhance the lives of those around us.
Our task is to further the glory of G-d in this world through our actions and words. That is all we can do, and all we can be held accountable for. Whether our actions will bear fruit and whether we will actually accomplish is wholly in G-d’s hands.
We learn laws of tefilla from Avrohom’s prayer to Hashem for the people of Sodom[8]. Even if those prayers may not have accomplished their directly desired result, there is no such thing as a wasted prayer. Who knows what incredible benefits resulted from those prayers at a different juncture?!
Our responsibility is to do our best. Beyond that, results are in the Hands of Hashem.

“It looked like they ate”
“To educate him in mitzvos”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera 5778.
[2] Postscript: On April 19, 2016, Booth was released from jail after 10 months. Judge Glazer stood by waiting - along with his family to greet Booth as he walked out of jail.
"Take care of your family. Try to get a job. Stay clean," Glazer told Booth. "You're going to do something good for somebody else." Booth replied, “You better believe it! You better believe it!”
[3] Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida
[4] Bereishis 18:8
[5] Rashi notes that the angel’s actions teach us a moral lesson – that one should not deviate from the custom of the place he is in.
[6] My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that in the end Sodom wasn’t destroyed because of all the evildoers and their malicious iniquitous behavior. Sodom was destroyed because they didn’t have ten good men. Such is the power and influence of a few righteous individuals.
[7] Rabbi Dov Zev Weinberger zt’l; the rabbi emeritus of Young Israel of Brooklyn and the author of numerous volumes of his beautiful seforim, Shemen HaTov,, Rabbi Weinberger was niftar in May 2018.
[8] Specifically, the law that one should preferably have a makom kevu’a – set place where he davens.

Thursday, October 18, 2018



The former Soviet officer who trusted his gut — and averted a global nuclear catastrophe
September 18, 2017
“Just past midnight on Sept. 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov was on overnight duty inside Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker southwest of Moscow where the Soviet Union monitored its early-warning satellites positioned over the United States.
“The 44-year-old lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces was sitting on the commander’s chair when sirens began blaring. A red button on the panel in front of him flashed the word “Start.” On a computer screen was the word “Launch,” in red, bold letters.
“The message appeared clear: The United States had just launched a nuclear missile attack against the Soviet Union. And Petrov had to immediately warn his commanders so that the Soviet government could plan a counterattack.
“A second missile was launched. Then another, and another, and another.
“Petrov and his staff were in shock, but they had only minutes, if not seconds, to act. The decision rested heavily on Petrov, the officer in charge of Serpukhov-15. And he had two choices: He could follow military protocol and tell his commanders that computer readouts were saying that five intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched by the United States. Or he could go with his gut.
“Less than five minutes after the alarms began blaring, Petrov, working the intercom with one hand with lights flashing around him, picked up the phone with his other hand. He told his commanders that the computer warnings were false. If he was wrong, his mistake would be catastrophic and irreversible. The government’s military would have no time to respond, leaving his country vulnerable in the face of a nuclear attack.
“A mistake would be especially critical at a time of heightened distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union. Soviet leader Yuri Andropov had sent instructions to his spies to look for evidence that the West was plotting a nuclear attack. And just weeks earlier, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, a commercial airliner carrying 269 passengers, including 63 Americans.
But if Petrov was right, a nuclear holocaust in the middle of the Cold War would be averted.
“And he was.
“Petrov died May 19 at age 77….
“Petrov’s split-second and arguably life-changing decision has been hailed as a heroic act by Western media, though he has repeatedly said he’s not a hero. He was called “The Man Who Saved the World” by a 2014 documentary narrated by actor Kevin Costner…
Over the years, Petrov talked candidly about those harrowing seconds and minutes in that bunker.
“I felt like I was being led to an execution. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes stretched for eternity,” he said in the 2014 documentary.
His decision was based largely on a guess, he said, but he did have doubts about the accuracy of the computer warnings. First, why just five missiles? A country seeking to start a nuclear war would’ve fired more, he told The Post. Second, the ground-based radar installations, which detected missiles, showed no evidence of an attack.
“I had a funny feeling in my gut,” Petrov said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”
He also made clear that he understood the full weight of his decision.
“I refused to be guilty of starting World War III … If I made the wrong decision, a lot of people will die. A lot of people will die,” he said in the documentary.

The gemara at the beginning of Kesubos[2] has a discussion in which it tries to prove a point by quoting a beraisa. The gemara then proceeds to immediately reject that attempted proof due to the fact that the beraisa quoted doesn’t explain the reason for the point it makes. In its effort to express how poor the attempted explanation was, the gemara employs very forceful and unusual vernacular: “Lord (Master) of Avrohom! Will you base a teaching that was taught on a teaching that was not taught?”
The expression “Lord of Avrohom” is an expression of surprise, as if to say, ‘how can you even think of saying such an explanation?’ Why is that explanation specifically used in this context?
The Medrash[3] relates that the greatness of Avrohom Avinu was in his ‘discovering’ Hashem through his own cognitive deductive reasoning. “Rabbi Yitzchok said: This is analogous to someone one who was passing from place to place and saw a certain palace ablaze. He said to himself ‘Can it be that this palace is without a supervisor?’ The owner of the palace peered out at him and said to him ‘I am the master of the place’.
“So too, because our forefather Avrohom (upon seeing the constant destruction in the world, said to himself -) ‘Can it be that this world is without a supervisor?’ The Holy One, blessed is He, peered out at him and said to him ‘I am the Master of the world’.”
The greatness of Avrohom was that he didn’t allow life to pass him by listlessly. He focused on what was happening around him, he pondered, he contemplated, and eventually he recognized the truth. Once he did, Hashem drew him closer and helped him recognize that he was on the right path.
Avrohom’s faith was rooted in a clear understanding and knowledge of the truth. He came to a level wherein he intrinsically knew with conviction that there was a G-d who was in full control of the world and orchestrated everything that occurred. Once he recognized that absolute truth he was able to place his full belief in that G-d, even when he could not comprehend why events were occurring.
When the gemara seeks to prove how illogical a statement is it uses an expression of “Lord of Avrohom”. The greatness of Avrohom was rooted in his clarity of thought. Logic which lacks clarity defies what enabled Avrohom to recognize Hashem, the ‘Lord of Avrohom’.

On 27 Iyar 5761, I was privileged to attend a hesped (eulogy) that Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita delivered about Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l[4]. During that hesped, Rabbi Matisyahu related the following poignant thought:
Towards the end of pesukei d’zimrah each morning, we recite the prayer of Vayivarech Dovid. The prayer begins by enumerating the praises of G-d, in which we make reference to G-d’s strength, splendor, triumph, glory etc. We continue by speaking about the accomplishments of G-d, including the creation of the world and granting life to all living things.
We conclude with a statement that seems to be completely out of place: “It is You, Hashem the G-d, who selected Avrom, brought him out of Ur Kasdim and made his name Avrohom. And You found his heart faithful before You.”
What connection does Avrohom have to the previous paragraph which details the greatness of Hashem?
          Rabbi Elya Lopian zt’l explained this idea with the following analogy: If a drunken peasant is staggering down the street and he suddenly stops and bends down to pick up something from the gutter, does anyone care to know what he found? Most likely no one would even bat an eyelash. It was probably a piece of trash that the drunk found some use for.
          But what if the same scenario happened with the king? The king, escorted by a royal entourage, is being paraded through the capital with great fanfare and pomp. The streets are lined with people who are pushing to get a glimpse of his majesty. Bands play music, and everyone cheers as the smiling king waves jovially at his subjects. Then suddenly, the king looks towards the street, and immediately alights from the carriage He motions for the driver to stop the horses. In a moment, the music ceases, the entourage stops, and there is dead silence. The king descends from the carriage and bends down to pick something up from the gutter. Then he re-ascends the steps, and motions to the driver to carry on. 
There is no doubt that everyone would be clamoring to know what it was that the king found so important as to stop the procession and bend down himself to pick up. It would be the topic discussed on every talk show and written about in every paper the following day.
          We enumerate the great praises of Hashem to stress how special the ordeal with Avrohom had been. G-d Himself, as it were, stopped everything to focus on Avrom and to transform and elevate him into Avrohom.
The whole prelude of the prayer of ‘Vayivarech Dovid’ is only to bring out the idea of how great it was for Avrohom to be uplifted to such a degree.
Why was Avrohom found worthy of being accorded such prestige and honor? The prayer continues, “You found his heart faithful before You.”
Avrohom was a ‘ne’eman.’ A ne’eman is many things - reliable, trustworthy, faithful, loyal, and firm. These are rare traits in a world of fraudulence and deceit.      
Every morning we recite this prayer to impress upon ourselves the importance of striving to be a ne’eman. For one to be steadfast in his convictions, to be truthful to his word, is not easy.
Avrohom was able to traverse all the tests he faced and remain undaunted in his steadfast faith despite the fact that he was a spiritual loner. That is what defines a ne’eman.[5]
The first of our patriarchs recognized G-d by being open-mindedly seeking the truth. His search was not impeded by his ego or personal agenda and that is why he was able to fulfill his quest. He was then able to become the greater believer who sought to fulfill his mission of spreading the word of G-d faithfully.
It’s often said that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The truth is that it’s not enough for one to use his mind. He must also do so unobjectively and without allowing his ego to color what he sees. That is a key component of being a ne’eman.  
May we be worthy of this lofty title.

“Lord of Avrohom!”
“You found his heart faithful before You”

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

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha 5778.
[2] 2a
[3] Bereishis Rabbah 39:1
[4] The hesped was given in Yeshivas Ohr Sameiach in Monsey, NY
[5] Rabbi Salomon noted that Rav Avigdor Miller was the Avrohom Avinu of our generation. He was a ne’eman in every sense. He served Hashem with every fiber of his being and was never abashed to speak up for what he felt was the truth and would bring kavod shomayim.

Thursday, October 11, 2018



Chayn Miller is a teacher in Mishmar Hasharon[2]. At a seminar for teachers in Tel Aviv in 2016 she related the following personal anecdote:
“During my first year working in the educational system I was a teaching intern. I walked into the first-grade classroom on the first day and saw in the middle of the room was a little boy with big eyes sitting on a chair spitting, cursing, and screaming. He looked at me and I looked back at him. Then I walked over to him and whispered in his ear, “I know you have a big heart, I know you’re a smart kid, and I know that you want to be a good boy.”
“The little boy laughed at me disdainfully. In front of the entire class he announced, “You’re a dumb teacher! You don’t know anything! Everyone says that I’m a disturbance, including my teachers and the principal. Even my parents say that I’m a pain in the neck!”
“I gently repeated the same words again, “I know you have a big heart, I know you’re a smart kid, and I know that you want to be a good boy.”
“Every day I would repeat this same message to him, and every day he seemed to mock me and the message. But then after three weeks, I walked in one day to find a small chair next to my chair and the little boy with big eyes was sitting on it quietly. That day he accepted me as his teacher.
“On the last day of the year, he approached me and asked me how I know that children are good. I replied that I had a secret to share with him:
 “I told him that when I was a student in school, I felt lost. The first day of first grade was the hardest day of my life. Until fifth grade I couldn’t read or write, and most of the time I sat in class and just stared mindlessly at the teacher.
“Before I went to sleep each night I would ask myself why I came into the world? I thought I was an idiot with a defective brain, and I was sure that I would never amount to anything. Whatever I know about education, is not from what I was taught in University, but rather what I learned from the tears that rolled down my cheeks each night. That’s how I was sure that even though you may not have seemed to be, and even though you yourself didn’t believe me, I knew that you are a really good boy with a good heart.”
Chayn Miller then continued to address the assemblage:
“Often people ask me why I became a teacher. This is my greatest pride. I, Chayn Miller, the special education student who the system wanted to give up on, has joined that system as a teacher in the hope that I can change and improve it.
“Teachers, Principals, esteemed members of educational system, realize that your words matter, as do your attitudes and hopes for each child. At some point your encouragement and positive approach will be internalized by the student. There is no child that cannot; there are only children that can! Working in education is an opportunity to save souls.”

One of the beloved Shabbos zemiros sung on Shabbos morning has as its refrain a reference to the dove of Noach. “Yonah matzah vo manoach… – The dove found on it rest, and there will rest those who are weary of strength.” 
What is the connection between the dove and Shabbos?

After the conclusion of the flood, Noach wanted to ascertain whether the floodwaters had adequately subsided. He first dispatched the raven, but it flew around the ark, refusing to venture further. Noach then dispatched the dove. It flew three missions before it found dry land and didn’t return.
If the purpose of sending the birds was to find out if the land had dried, why would the relatively docile dove be a better emissary than the raven, which is a bird of prey?
The Torah also uses different phraseology when it describes each time Noach sent the dove. The first time Noach sent the dove the pasuk states: “He sent off the dove, away from himself.” The second time it states: “He sent off the dove, away from the ark.” The final time it says “He sent off the dove” without specifying any further detail.
What message is the Torah conveying by relating about each mission in detail?
Rav Dovid Hofstedter[3] explains that the animals were very apprehensive to leave the ark. During the year they were there, they had all of their food and needs provided for them. Leaving the ark meant that they would be entering an entirely different world than the one they had last seen before they entered the ark. This was why the raven refused to leave the general area of the ark.
Targum states that the dove Noach sent was his own personal pet[4]. Noach concluded that the only animal that would be willing to venture off into the unknown was his own dove. This was not despite the fact that Noach had a personal relationship with it, but because of it! The dove was comfortable to fly even an extremely long distance from the ark because it knew that Noach would accept it back at any time.
The wording of the pasuk reflects the reason why Noach chose the dove. The first time, “he sent the dove, away from himself”. He sent the dove that he had a personal affinity for, away from himself. The dove returned, but after another week, “Noach sent off the dove, away from the ark”. This time he sent it even further, into the unknown where it could no longer see the ark. The final time, he didn’t send it from himself or from the ark; he merely sent it off on its own.
Because the dove knew that it was lovingly reaccepted by Noach both times despite its failed mission, it was willing to venture forth again, and each time it went even further, until it didn’t return.
This contains a very practical message for us as parents (and educators). Our ultimate dream and hope for our children is that they leave our homes to go out into the world on their own. But the world is a scary and unnerving place, full of challenges and unknowns. The more confidence we invest in our children, and the more love and encouragement we show them during their formative years, the more willing and confident they will be to venture forth into the vagaries of life.

Based on this approach we can add the following: Shabbos each week affords us the opportunity to bask in the knowledge that Hashem loves us and cherishes our efforts. We state in the Shabbos Kiddush “And grant us a heritage, Hashem our G-d, with love and favor Your holy Shabbos.” The love and elevation we feel on Shabbos is meant to carry us throughout the week. As we head out of the spiritually elevated and comfortable confines of the holy Shabbos, its boost of inspiration is meant to help us navigate the spiritual challenges of the workweek and workplace.
On Shabbos we sing about the rest that the dove found on Shabbos because it is symbolic of our experience. The dove was able to leave the protection of the ark and go into a vast and ominous world because it was sure of the love of Noach which it had experienced for so many years. “And there will rest all those weary of strength”, i.e. in the Shabbos we become rejuvenated and reenergized to face the outside world.
In the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah[5], we state: “And also Noach You remembered with love.” In the Torah there is no mention of G-d remembering Noach with love. How can we state with such conviction that it was with love?
Perhaps it’s because Noach could only have accomplished the incredible feat he did – to save and sustain the surviving world – because he felt and knew he was loved by Hashem. How else could he have spent one hundred and twenty years building the ark, a year on the ark, and then having the confidence to emerge from the ark into the frightening emptiness that awaited him?
The love we feel from others encourages us and fills us with confidence to accomplish and venture beyond our comfort zones. The love we give to others infuses them with those same capabilities. There is hardly a greater gift we can be given, or give others.

“Grant us a heritage with love and favor Your holy Shabbos”
“There will rest those who are weary of strength.” 

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

[1] The following is the lecture I was privileged to deliver in Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach 5777.
[2] A kibbutz in Central Israel
[3] Dorash Dovid
[4] See also Ha’amek Davar who explains that both the raven and the dove were Noach’s personal pets, and that was why he had the right to send them out of the ark. If they were not his personal pets and they were the only male remaining of that bird, jeopardizing their lives would have been jeopardizing the entire future of that species.
[5] In the introductory paragraph of the Zichronos section