Friday, November 27, 2020







Dedicated l’refuah shelimah for נטע יצחק בן רחל


          One beautiful summer morning, two friends decided to go on a fishing trip together. They rented a small boat and enjoyed the breeze as the boat floated gently through the sea. All at once, the sky grew dark and the duo realized that a violent tempest was about to envelop them. They hastily pulled in their fishing lines and headed for shore.

          To their dismay, the storm broke out before they were able to get back. They held on for dear life as waves crashed against their little boat and showered them with torrents of water. One of the men was washed overboard. The man remaining on the boat quickly leaned over the boat and called out to his friend, “Give me your hand!” To his dismay the man in the water just stared at him with bewilderment. As he began to drift further away, the man on the boat called out to him again with more urgency, “Just give me your hand and I’LL pull you in." But the man continued to stare at him like he was from another planet. With one last surge, he reached out as far as he could and cried out in panic, “Give me your hand or we are going to lose you!" But the man continued to stare with a glazed look as he drifted into oblivion.

          Sadly, the survivor returned to shore and went to inform the new widow of the bizarre events with her husband. She was beside herself and asked what exactly had happened. When he explained how he had asked her husband three times to give him his hand, she began to cry. “Of course he didn’t give you his hand. My husband was so stingy that he never gave anybody anything in his life."


          Yaakov Avinu was forced to flee the wrath of Eisav, seeking refuge in the home of his devious uncle, Lavan. There Yaakov met Rachel and was overwhelmed by her purity. When he asked Lavan if he could marry her, Lavan agreed on condition that Yaakov worked for him for seven years. Yaakov worked faithfully under challenging conditions for seven years.

          Regarding those seven years, the pasuk says, “Yaakov worked for seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him as a few days because of his love for her.[2]” Normally, when a person anticipates and is awaiting for something extraordinary, he can hardly contain his excitement. The days seem to pass extremely slowly, and even the minutes drag on unnervingly. This is certainly true about a Chosson and Kallah who eagerly await their wedding. If so, how can the pasuk state that the seven years passed quickly because of Yaakov’s vast love for Rachel? If anything, it should have felt like it dragged on for eternity?

          Rabbi Elya Lopian explains that our definition of love is distorted. That’s why it is difficult for us to relate to the love Yaakov felt for Rochel. He relates a parable about a man who sat down at a table in a restaurant. When the waiter asked him what he would like to eat, the man replied, “I love fish.” The waiter nodded knowingly and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with a cooked fish on a plate. The waiter watched as the man skewered the fish and devoured it hungrily. When the man finished the waiter said, "My friend, is this how you treat something you love? You take it and cut it into little bits and roast it on a fire and douse it in sauce?”

          Rabbi Lopian explains that in truth we don’t actually ‘love’ foods. Rather, we love ourselves, and when we eat those foods, our taste buds are tantalized, and we enjoy the experience. We say we love the food, but truthfully it is ourselves that we love. The same holds true about a car. Can one honestly feel a genuine love to a compilation of metal, plastic, and oils? He may think he does, but, in reality, he loves himself and it makes him feel distinguished, or “cool” when he drives that car.

          True unadulterated love is completely selfless. It’s a soulful desire for attachment to the inner essence of what is loved. When one performs a mitzvah out of love of G-d, he does not love the actual object of the mitzvah, but rather what it represents. When one shakes a lulav and esrog he doesn’t actually love the lulav and esrog, but he loves and yearns to connect with G-d, whom he is serving with the performance of this mitzvah.

          Rabbi Lopian explain that the love Yaakov possessed for Rochel was completely spiritual. When he first met her at the well, he kissed her as one would kiss a siddur or a pair of tefillin. He recognized her inner greatness and yearned to connect with it.

          The pasuk says Yaakov cried after he kissed her[3]. Rashi explains that Yaakov was afraid people would misunderstand his kissing a complete stranger, and think it was not based on completely pure motives.

          The seven-year period of Yaakov’s waiting for Rochel was a completely spiritual experience. The preparation for an untainted spiritual love does not cause anxiety and impatience. Rabbi Lopian compares it to one who manufactures and produces his own tefillin. Although he anxiously awaits its completion so that he can perform the mitzvah, every moment that he is working to create the tefillin is also dear to him, and he enjoys the entire experience.

          To be perfectly honest, when I learned this explanation from Rabbi Lopian, I did not really understand what he was saying. In fact, even after I asked one of my Rabbeim to explain it again, I still had a hard time understanding it. My Rebbe noted that the idea is so foreign to us that we can hardly relate to it. It is difficult for us to relate to completely spiritual love. In his words: One must be wary of the difference between true love and what is labeled love, especially by society.

          Rabbi Akiva Tatz [4]expounds on this idea: “Romance is certainly one of the major elements in the culture that surrounds us. Much, if not most, of its literature and entertainment revolves around this experience. What is it exactly?

          “The heady swirl of emotion experienced at the beginning of a relationship is the hallmark of romance. There is no Hebrew word for this idea: Hebrew certainly has a word for love, ahava, which at its core denotes giving.

          “What is the difference between love and romance? Love is the result of genuine giving (not of taking, as is the mistaken belief in modern society). Real giving, giving of the self, generates love, and that love is real. You love where you give, not where you take. When you give - and particularly when you give yourself - you love. When you give yourself to someone intensely, totally, you will love that person.

          “Parents always love their children more than children love their parents; the reason is that parents give to their children, they give life itself, and that is how their love comes to be. That is the direction of the giving, and that is the direction of love.

          “This is one of the most important things to understand, particularly in an age of self-gratification where love is confused with the good feeling of receiving. When you receive from someone and that makes you feel good, you do not necessarily love that person. On the contrary, if you think about it you will see that what you really love in those situations is yourself! You love what the person does for you, you love the good feeling, in fact, you love yourself! No; real love is where you give, not where you receive.

          “But romance has nothing to do with giving. It is the experience of newness, the quick infatuation which is generated by superficial appearance, and it is illusory. It lasts only long enough to convince you that it will last forever; in fact, that is exactly when it collapses! Of course, it has a purpose, and that purpose is to inspire, to begin a relationship with energy and hope. In that sense it is a gift; but relative to genuine love it has no name.

          “Modern society confuses love with romance. Romance is advertised and sold as love, and of course, when romance dies, as it must, there is nothing left but pain and disillusionment. No one has taught this generation that real relationships are built by the very hard work of giving, and therefore when the taking begins to wear thin, the relationship dies.

          “Romance comes at the beginning of a relationship; love comes later. And the height of the romantic notion is, "Love at first sight", the clearest contradiction imaginable. Love is not possible at first sight; there has not yet been any giving. First sight only reveals the superficial, and only a superficial illusion of love can result.”


          The love Yaakov possessed for Rochel was pure and his motives were pure. Though we can hardly fathom such greatness - never mind trying to imitate it - we can understand the meaning of real love that is rooted in giving and genuine caring.      President Kennedy had the right idea in mind when he stated, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."

          All relationships must be built on that premise: Ask not what is in the relationship for you to gain, but rather ask what you can devote to the relationship, for that will ensure its success.


          “They seemed to him as a few days because of his love for her”

          Rather ask what you can devote to the relationship”



Rabbi Dani Staum


[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Bereishis 29:20

[3] Bereishis 29:11

[4] “The thinking teenager’s guide to life”

Thursday, November 19, 2020







          Peleh Yoetz relates a frightening story about a Jewish comedian who spent his life on stage telling inappropriate, vulgar, and crude jokes.

          When he was in his final illness, he lay in a coma with the Chevra Kadisha[2] awaiting the inevitable. Suddenly, the dying comedian sat up and began screaming wildly, “Get away from me!” He then turned to his family and continued screaming, “Can’t you see them coming to drag me away? They are going to tear me to pieces! Their running and waving pockets of fire at me, they want to destroy me for all the terrible things I’ve said!” The Chevra Kadisha tried to calm him but he was completely out of control. Finally, after a few minutes, he sank back into his comatose state, immobile as before.

          During the next three days, as people came to visit him, he would suddeny sit up and scream at them, “Don’t think you are going to get away from it! They’ll punish you too; you should have stopped me from saying all those jokes.” To others he screamed, “You paid to come hear me say all those sinful jokes, they’ll get you too.” On the third day, he finally died, and was buried.[3]


          Rivkah dressed Yaakov in Eisav’s special skins and sent him to Yitzchak with a specially prepared meal. Yaakov approached Yitzchak and with tremendous respect and reverence said that he had come to receive the blessings. Yitzchak heard the respectful tone and was confused. He drew Yaakov close and felt the roughness of his hands and declared, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Eisav.”[4]

          Why did Yaakov not speak in the manner of Eisav?

          Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l explains that Yaakov could not bring himself to speak with the gruffness of Eisav, even for a few moments. Even with the threat of receiving a curse instead of a blessing, Yaakov felt he could not sully his mouth to speak in the disparaging and harsh way in which Eisav spoke.

          The statement of Yitzchak was more than a comment of confusion. Yitzchak was also relating the secret to the descendants of Yaakov to defeat the descendants of Eisav in all future generations. The word "Hakol" is written without the letter ‘vov’ so that it can also be read as "Hakal-it is light". The pasuk can be read, "If the voice of Yaakov is light/weak, then the hands of Eisav will be strong".

          As long as Klal Yisroel turn to Hashem to seeks His assistance in all facets of life, we are protected. But when we become lax in prayer, Hashem grants the hands of Eisav power to oppress us, to remind us that we have forgotten our role and purpose.


          At times we wonder why our prayers are not as potent as we might hope.[5] Years ago, in Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman[6] related the following parable to the campers: 

          A woman was preparing for a Kiddush she was hosting in her home that Shabbos following davening. Among the other delicacies she was preparing, she wanted to make a truffle. The only problem was that making a truffle requires a certain type of round bowl, and she could not find one. She frantically called her neighbors and friends, but no one had the bowl she needed.

          That Shabbos at the Kiddush, her neighbor was pleasantly surprised to see a delicious truffle cake in the middle of the cake table. While eating a piece, she walked over to the hostess and asked how she was able to procure the necessary bowl. The hostess laughed and explained, "At first, I was really dejected that I wasn’t going to be able to make the truffle. But while moping around my house, I spotted my three-year-old’s “training seat” on the bathroom floor. I realized it was the perfect size and shape in which to prepare a truffle cake. I washed it out, and with some effort, presto! I had my truffle." The neighbor’s smile faded quickly. She spit out what was in her mouth and ran out of the house in horror.

          It isn’t enough for us to daven with emotion and concentration. We also have to make sure that the tool we are using to utter our prayers – our mouths – are pure and free of forbidden and vulgar speech. We don’t want to present a beautiful ‘truffle of prayer’ to Hashem, while using sullied mouths.

          When Klal Yisroel were finally leaving Egypt during the exodus, the pasuk states, "Ul’chol B’nei Yisroel lo yecheratz kelev l’shono- And to all of the B’nai Yisroel a dog did not bark with its tongue."[7]

          The Kotzker Rebbe explained the pasuk homiletically by reading the word "kelev" as "kileiv-like the heart". In other words, the tongue barks what the heart is feeling. The topics one speaks about and the words he uses reflect his inner world.

          A Jew must be wary that his mouth is his key to the greatest spiritual treasures. Our ultimate weapon is the power of our mouths, for good and for better. Like a soldier heading out to war, we have to sharpen our weapon so that it is potent and suited for combat.


          “To all of the B’nai Yisroel – like the heart is the tongue.”

          “The voice is the voice of Yaakov; the hands are the hands of Eisav”


Rabbi Dani Staum


[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] The holy group of individuals that tend to the needs of the dead

[3] I heard this story from Rabbi Finkelman. I am not sure where in the Peleh Yoetz it is quoted.

[4] Bereishis 27:22

[5] Though no prayer goes unanswered, certain prayers have greater potency than others depending.

[6] Rabbi Finkelman, a personal rebbe, is the Mashgiach on Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY. For a number of years he was manhig ruchani (spiritual director) in Camp Dora Golding, where I had the opportunity and privilege to develop a close relationship with him.

[7] Shemos 11:7