May 21, 2024
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May 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I was privileged to be part of the final graduating class from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah when Rabbi Berel Wein was its rosh yeshiva. It must have been that, only once our class graduated in 1997, that Rabbi Wein felt he could fulfill his lifelong dream of aliyah. The many Torah and lifelong lessons he imparted to us during those years, and in the years since, remain very much ingrained in my heart.

On one occasion while addressing the students of the yeshiva, Rabbi Wein noted that if after he delivers a speech the audience tells him how wonderful it was, he knows that it didn’t make much of an impression. But when people approach him afterwards and tell him what a terrible speech it was, then he knows he struck a chord, and he considers it a good speech.

After he concluded that speech, my older brother, Reb Yitzie, who was then a student of the yeshiva, approached Rabbi Wein. In true Staum form he told Rabbi Wein that that was the absolute greatest speech he had ever heard in his life. Rabbi Wein wittily replied, “Who is that kid? Take down his phone number!”

It’s been said that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything!

A few years ago, one of my students had an excellent British therapist. Even if she did not have such a distinct accent, I would have known she wasn’t American by virtue of the fact that she was willing to speak her mind, even when it ruffled some feathers. She wasn’t rude or aggressive, but she was firm and uncompromising. She had the boldness to tell my student’s mother what she needed to do in order to help her son, even though the mother was somewhat resistant to hearing it.

When I noted how impressed I was with her directness, she replied that she has a hard time with the American mentality to constantly patronize everyone. She argued that in America, no one is able to speak their mind, so people relate to each other superficially. The result is that no one tells anyone what they are really thinking or feeling.

Why is it that Americans have such a hard time standing up for our beliefs and speaking our mind? I surely don’t mean that people should be rude and obnoxious. There are other nationalities that seem to have that challenge. But there is a talent in knowing how to be honest and forthright in a pleasant and respectful manner.

Is it that we have no self-esteem? Are we afraid of not being accepted if we cause others to be annoyed with us? Are we afraid that no one can handle the truth? Or are we perhaps not firm enough in our beliefs to state our feelings with conviction? Perhaps it’s a combination of all those reasons.

It is well known that the Torah was given on Har Sinai because it was the humblest of all the mountains. But Har Sinai was still a mountain. One must be humble, but he must also have a sense of self.

It is a challenge to be assertive without being aggressive, and at times it may entail turning people off along the way. But that may be the price for being genuine, sincere and real.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, and an experienced therapist, recently returning to seeing clients in private practice, as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments Rabbi Staum can be reached at 914-295-0115. Looking for an inspirational and motivating speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience. Rabbi Staum can be reached at [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info

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