May 19, 2024
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May 19, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As I was preparing the wicks and oil for the menorah during one of the mornings of Chanukah, our 4-year-old son, Dovid, commented that he would like to light with oil too. I replied that when he becomes an Abba he’ll light with oil. He replied emphatically, “I don’t want to be an Abba; I want to be a superhero!” I asked him why he was so sure that I wasn’t a superhero besides being an Abba. He looked at me quizzically, and then wisely decided not to reply.

That conversation led me to think about what makes someone a superhero. Is it about wearing clothing that’s three sizes too small and seems to be glued onto the superhero’s body? After eight days of consuming latkes and doughnuts, my pants are definitely starting to feel that way.

If a superhero is defined by having superhuman and unnatural abilities, then I would venture to say that not only am I not a superhero, but that genre of superheroes is about as real as the tooth fairy. (If you still believe in the tooth fairy, then don’t discard your delusions of Superman being able to fly and having X-ray vision either).

But perhaps a superhero isn’t about having unnatural abilities as much as it is about pushing one’s self beyond normal limits. Maybe it’s not about being born gifted as much as it is about living one’s life as if he’s a gift for others!

If that’s the case, then, although there aren’t many, we do have some superheroes around whom we can emulate and aspire to be like.

Last week, the Jewish people lost a superhero. Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, zt”l, lived a physically meager yet highly spiritually enriched life. He sought no honor or accolades, in fact he disparaged them, and requested in his will that none be accorded him after his passing. He had no desire for money or physical comfort, yet found immense joy in Torah study and serving Hashem. His door was open to the hundreds and thousands who sought his advice and blessing, and he never took a penny for that selfless service.

He may not have flown over the city fighting crime by beating up bad guys, but he sure soared above the world, spreading light and love, by building thousands of good guys.

The truth is that we don’t have to be Rav Shteinman to be heroes. The more selflessly we act for the betterment of others, the more we became a greater superhero.

The Torah relates that performing the mitzvah of caring for the dead (ritually purifying the body and ensuring proper burial according to Halacha) is called “kindness of truth.” This is because it is an absolutely thankless job. When it’s completed, the recipients of this arduous mitzvah are unable to express their immense gratitude for the kindness performed for them. The members of this holy group (aptly called the “chevra kadisha”) are on call at all times and perform their holy work modestly and completely out of the limelight.

Are they not true superheroes?!

Those who build others selflessly are the ones who keep our world going. This includes our educators and, in fact, every parent who is there for his/her children at all hours of the day or night, for anything they might need. The fact that parents are partially responsible for their children coming into the world does not minimize the heroics they display in caring and loving them constantly.

So, Dovid, aside for the fact that at the present moment I am wearing clothing that may be too tight (let the post-Chanukah diet begin!), I strive to be your superhero (second only to your super-mommy), and you are one of my super Chanukah gifts!

I daven, and am confident, that when the time comes that you are an Abba and lighting Chanukah candles with oil, you too will be the superhero for your children.

This Shabbos, our community is paying tribute to Team Shabbos, a division of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha. It is an organization dedicated to raising and promoting awareness of end-of-life matters according to Halacha.

It is such awareness that reminds us that because death is sacred and has meaning, our entire lives are sacred and has meaning.

Although we hope to not need their services, it is reassuring to know they are always there for us.

By Rabbi Dani Staum

 Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead as well as a rebbe and the guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is [email protected].

 His website is



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