Thursday, September 22, 2016

PARSHAS KI SAVO 5776

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo    
20 Elul Av 5776/ September 23, 2016
Motzei Shabbos – Haschalas Selichos
Pirkei Avos – Perakim 3-4

It’s something we probably don’t appreciate enough. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of a community that is so eager to perform acts of chesed for each other. In times of celebration, and G-d forbid, times of tragedy, it is extremely heartwarming when friends and neighbors are eager to help share the burden and make things easier.
Our family is in the midst of being the beneficiaries of that chesed as we begin to adjust to the blessed new reality of living with our twins – Gavriel Yehuda and Michoel Binyamin, b’h. Neighbors and friends have offered to make us meals, help with carpool, invite our other children, etc.
So many friends have offered to help. “Please let me know what I can do for you. I really mean it.” “We want to help; what can we do?” How great it is to be part of Klal Yisroel - a nation built on chesed and caring.
But there is even a step above. There are those who don’t ask what they can do, rather they try to anticipate how they can be helpful and just do it.
This week iy’h we celebrate the upsherin of our dear son Shimshon Dovid. Although his English birthday was a few weeks ago, because this year was a Jewish leap year, his Hebrew birthday is this Friday. When he was born three years ago, it was during the days of teacher meetings, just prior to the beginning of the new school year. As can be imagined, between the new baby and running back and forth to the hospital I hardly had any time, and surely not to work on any new school-related programs.
On the day before the schoolyear began, as I was walking towards my classroom, my dear friend and fellow Ashar rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Bendrihem, told me that he wanted to show me something in the room. He explained that instead of getting me an outfit for our new son, he decided to give me a more unique present. He then walked over to the closet in my classroom and opened it up to reveal shelves stocked with sodas, taffies, and all sorts of nosh. He then handed me a stack of “Ashar dollars”, i.e. photocopied one dollar bills with the Ashar logo in the middle.
I was speechless. I had mentioned to Rabbi Bendrihem at the end of the previous year that I had wanted to initiate this new incentive program for my class, which included creating “Ashar dollars”. He realized that I would not have the chance to create it, so he did it for me, including creating a template for the dollars, which definitely took some time which he could have used to prepare his own classes.
It was the greatest gift I personally received then, because it was something that I really wanted/needed and was not able to take care of myself. Had he asked me if he should do it for me, I undoubtedly would have told him not to, not wanting to bother him so much. But he didn’t ask. He knew it’s what I wanted and he took the initiative and did it for me.    
It’s one thing to offer another to “tell me whatever you need”. It’s another thing to offer specific help. “When can I take your kids?” “I am going to get haircuts for my sons, should I take yours too?” “I am going shopping now. What am I getting for you?” etc.
We all seek G-d’s favor and kindness during the Days of Judgement. One of the greatest ways to curry that favor is to demonstrate it ourselves. When we live beyond ourselves than we are truly living a worthy life, and then we are justified in asking G-d to continue to grant us life, so that we can fulfill His Will, and help others. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PARSHAS KI SEITZEI 5776

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei    
13 Elul Av 5776/ September 16, 2016
Pirkei Avos – Perakim 1-2

The following is an addendum to last week’s Musings. I am including (in italics) last week’s Musings, followed by the addition:
It’s fascinating how new words are constantly being added to our lingo, based on the advancements of technology. People casually speak about doing things that would have made no sense just a few years ago, such as sending tweets and whatsapping pictures.
One of the greatest technological advancements in regards to travel has been the creation of Waze. These days before driving somewhere we ‘put the destination into Waze’ and within seconds we are informed of the ideal route to take as well as the predicted time of arrival.
It’s not that infrequent that I will be driving somewhere and Waze will lead me along a route I have never gone before. At first glance I am often skeptical of the unfamiliar route, but I remind myself that Waze takes into account traffic, and calculates the ideal way to get to the destination in the least amount of time. Waze is also great because if the driver makes a mistake and misses a turn, within seconds Waze recalculates a new route.  
It struck me how intriguing it is that we place so much faith in an electronic app, especially in traveling to places and along routes that are completely foreign to us. The reason we are willing to do so is because we have had sufficient past experiences using Waze to know that the app is reliable. It’s a good feeling when you can bypass heavy traffic by driving along a quiet side road that you didn’t know existed. At times experience has also taught us that when ignoring Waze’s route, we encounter traffic we could never have known existed.
We often speak about having emunah peshutah – ‘simple faith’, or some might say blind faith, in G-d. The truth is that we are not charged to merely believe. We are charged to develop faith that stems from knowing the truth in our hearts. Based on numerous past experiences – both our own, others, and of Klal Yisroel generally, we are to recognize that Hashem is running the world based on a divine plan. Faith begins where knowledge ends.
We rely on an app based on previous experiences, and blindly follow its direction into the unknown with confidence that it will lead us to our destination, and that it will take into account the things that could impede us that we have no way of knowing beforehand. Should our faith in the Omnipresent be any less?
Very often we find the roads of our lives proverbially being recalculated. We suddenly find ourselves and in areas and heading in a direction that is totally unfamiliar to us. At times it’s our own fault that we ended up there, based on our own erroneous decisions. At other times, it’s the result of events beyond our control. But we are always charged with the mission of forging ahead with faith that the Ways (waze) of our lives are not random or haphazard. We believe that there is a destination we are working towards, even when we can’t see it.              
One of the noted allusions to the month of Elul is in the pasuk regarding one who murders inadvertently and has to flee to one of the ordained Cities of Refuge. The pasuk (Shemos 21:13) states “אנה לידו ושמתי לך – (But for one who has not lain in ambush and G-d has) caused it to come to his hand, I shall provide for you a place (to which he shall flee).” The first letters of the middle words contain an acronym of the word Elul.
The message from this verse is that even when the unimagined and unexpected occurs, G-d prepares a place for us. The truth is wherever we find ourselves – literally and figuratively – is exactly where we are meant to be. That is part of our focus during the month of Elul, to remind ourselves that we have a mission that is unique to us and we are directed towards its fulfillment. Beyond that, it’s all up to us.  

Part of the challenge of living in this world is never knowing when our paths will change, and when our ‘divine Waze’ will recalculate. As my rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, told us years ago, our mission in this world is to follow the Divine Clouds wherever they may lead us, just as our forefathers did in the desert after leaving Egypt.
In fact, next to my desk at home, I hung up the pasuk that my rebbe quoted to us: “Hashem went before them during the day in a pillar of cloud to guide them along the way, and at night in a pillar of fire to be a light for them, so they could travel during the day and night” (Shemos 13:21).
The last few months have been a time of challenge for us, but throughout we have felt Hashem’s guidance. We often had to remind ourselves that the Divine Clouds were directing us, and that our mission was to follow faithfully, in the best way we could.
When we found out that Chani was expecting twins, it came as a complete shock. The twins were identical, which means that having them had no basis on family history. Medically, identical twins are a fluke that can happen to anyone. Of course as Torah Jews we believe otherwise, though we have no idea why this blessing was bestowed upon us. Our Waze was recalculating and we prepared to adjust.
When we found out that the twins were suffering from a condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome) our Waze was again recalculating. [In oversimplified terms, TTTS is a condition where the babies share an attached placenta causing them not to receive equal amounts of nourishment from the mother. One receives too much, causing the other receive too little. If left untreated, it can be extremely dangerous for both twins, r”l.]
Due to the condition, Chani had to switch to Columbia Hospital in Manhattan, where they have the most specialized treatments and doctors to monitor and treat her. After making the agonizing decision to proceed with the suggested laser treatment to correct the TTTS, (based on the guidance of her doctor and da’as Torah), Chani underwent the arduous procedure. On the day prior to the treatment, I went to daven at the kevarim of tzaddikim buried in Monsey, and I asked my brother and sister in Yerushalayim to daven at the kever of our Zaydei on Har Tamir (next to Har Menuchos) and at the nearby kever of Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l.
The treatment was followed with weeks of highly stressful waiting before we could know if it was successful. There were numerous bumps in the road, when our doctor was concerned. More than once he conveyed to us that he’s just not sure why something had occurred, but that they would have to monitor it closely. Each time, in the end, after a tense waiting period, the situation stabilized. The doctor again conveyed that he wasn’t sure why it occurred. We attributed it to tefillos and tzedakah. 
  For the remainder of the pregnancy, she had to go for weekly, and often bi-weekly, appointments. Each included lengthy sonograms to monitor the babies.
Every appointment every week was anxiety provoking. It was like having Yom Kippur constantly. We learned to daven and say Tehillim in a manner we never knew. There were arrangements to be made for our other children, and our parents/in laws were an invaluable help.
Throughout, the doctor told us that prematurity was our greatest enemy. Our goal was to get to 28 weeks. At that point, if there were any issues, the babies could be delivered and dealt with in a safer manner outside than inside. But 28 weeks became 30 weeks, and then 32 weeks, and then 34 weeks.
When she was 36 weeks, the doctor informed us that he was pleased with how things had progressed and, for the safety of the babies, they should deliver the babies in the near future.
We held our breath in the hope that all would be okay. Although the labor was prolonged and tense, the actual delivery was incredibly quick, and ironically easier than any prior delivery. They were born Erev Shabbos in the afternoon – 1:09 pm and 1:10 pm respectively.
I arrived home a mere two hours before Shabbos and with the help of our parents, and special neighbors and friends arranged the Shalom Zachor in our home. On Sunday afternoon Chani and both babies arrived home!
The road of this pregnancy has been challenging to say the least. And yet we have also seen so many lights along the way. We still have much to daven for, but the lessons of emunah that we have learned from others, and ourselves, are invaluable.
Hashem has implanted within every one of us a natural, or perhaps supernatural, navigation system. Our goal is to follow the destination, despite the fact that the route is often recalculating. At times the road becomes lengthier and more circuitous, at other times shorter and more pleasant. At times we are directed into traffic without understanding why, at times the traffic is suddenly lifted.   
Our responsibility is to remain on the road and never divert our attention from our destination. May Hashem help and guide every one of us to always do so, to fulfill His Will.  
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, September 8, 2016

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5776

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim    
6 Elul Av 5776/ September 9, 2016
Pirkei Avos – Perek 6

It’s fascinating how new words are constantly being added to our lingo, based on the advancements of technology. People casually speak about doing things that would have made no sense just a few years ago, such as sending tweets and whatsapping pictures.
One of the greatest technological advancements in regards to travel has been the creation of Waze. These days before driving somewhere we ‘put the destination into Waze’ and within seconds we are informed of the ideal route to take as well as the predicted time of arrival.
It’s not that infrequent that I will be driving somewhere and Waze will lead me along a route I have never gone before. At first glance I am often skeptical of the unfamiliar route, but I remind myself that Waze takes into account traffic, and calculates the ideal way to get to the destination in the least amount of time. Waze is also great because if the driver makes a mistake and misses a turn, within seconds Waze recalculates a new route.  
It struck me how intriguing it is that we place so much faith in an electronic app, especially in traveling to places and along routes that are completely foreign to us. The reason we are willing to do so is because we have had sufficient past experiences using Waze to know that the app is reliable. It’s a good feeling when you can bypass heavy traffic by driving along a quiet side road that you didn’t know existed. At times experience has also taught us that when ignoring Waze’s route, we encounter traffic we could never have known existed.
We often speak about having emunah peshutah – ‘simple faith’, or some might say blind faith, in G-d. The truth is that we are not charged to merely believe. We are charged to develop faith that stems from knowing the truth in our hearts. Based on numerous past experiences – both our own, others, and of Klal Yisroel generally, we are to recognize that Hashem is running the world based on a divine plan. Faith begins where knowledge ends.
We rely on an app based on previous experiences, and blindly follow its direction into the unknown with confidence that it will lead us to our destination, and that it will take into account the things that could impede us that we have no way of knowing beforehand. Should our faith in the Omnipresent be any less?
Very often we find the roads of our lives proverbially being recalculated. We suddenly find ourselves and in areas and heading in a direction that is totally unfamiliar to us. At times it’s our own fault that we ended up there, based on our own erroneous decisions. At other times, it’s the result of events beyond our control. But we are always charged with the mission of forging ahead with faith that the Ways (waze) of our lives are not random or haphazard. We believe that there is a destination we are working towards, even when we can’t see it.              
One of the noted allusions to the month of Elul is in the pasuk regarding one who murders inadvertently and has to flee to one of the ordained Cities of Refuge. The pasuk (Shemos 21:13) states “אנה לידו ושמתי לך – (But for one who has not lain in ambush and G-d has) caused it to come to his hand, I shall provide for you a place (to which he shall flee).” The first letters of the middle words contain an acronym of the word Elul.
The message from this verse is that even when the unimagined and unexpected occurs, G-d prepares a place for us. The truth is wherever we find ourselves – literally and figuratively – is exactly where we are meant to be. That is part of our focus during the month of Elul, to remind ourselves that we have a mission that is unique to us and we are directed towards its fulfillment. Beyond that, it’s all up to us.    

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, September 1, 2016

PARSHAS RE’EH 5776



“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh    
Erev Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Elul
29 Menachem Av 5776/ September 2, 2016
Pirkei Avos – Perek 5

On a Sunday afternoon a number of years ago, my in laws were visiting us from Lakewood, and we went to a local pizza shop here in Monsey for lunch. As soon as we walked in I detected an uncharacteristically excited expression upon my father-in-law’s face that I had never seen before. Before I could say anything, my father-in-law motioned to a sole fellow who was quietly eating his lunch, and asked me if I knew who he was. When I replied that he didn’t look familiar, my father-in-law told me almost giddily that it was Steven Hill.
My father-in-law was a big fan of the famed actor from the 90s hit TV show, “Law and Order”. Despite Mr. Hill’s chassidishe garb, my father-in-law recognized him immediately. During the late 1960s Mr. Hill decided to become shomer Shabbos and a Skverer Chassid. After a two-decade hiatus, he returned to act in “Law and Order” but only on his terms, which included strict adherence to halacha.
Seeing how excited my father-in-law was, a few minutes later I presented him with a paper plate, upon which was hastily written: “To Nate, All the best, S. Hill”. My father-in-law was far more thrilled with the note than I thought he would be. In fact, if I had realized how excited he would be with it, I never would have written it. He was pretty annoyed at me when he found out.
Last week, Steven Hill passed away at the age of 94. The truth is that there is a great deal to admire about him. He was a person who had “made it” in the celebrity world, with all the endemic glitz and glamour. Yet he was willing to put it all aside to pursue a life of deeper meaning and fulfillment.
In an interview in 1969 with Irene Klass, the late publisher of The Jewish Press, (and republished in this week’s Jewish Press), Hill explained why he left acting to pursue a life of Torah:
“I used to ask myself ‘Was I just born to memorize lines?’ I knew there had to be more to life than that… I was feeling depressed because I seemed to be leading an aimless existence… My life seemed empty - meaningless…”
My father-in-law related that, on a different occasion, he met Steven Hill at a wedding, clad in his chassidishe garb and holding a sefer. I don’t think he gave my father-in-law an autographed paper plate, but my father-in-law was deeply impressed by Mr. Hill’s sincerity and apparent pride in being an observant Jew.  
Those of us who grew up and live a Torah life within the confines of our communities, often hear about how Torah and mitzvos afford us to live meaningful lives, in contrast to the glitz and wealth of Hollywood, which although externally alluring, is in reality vapid and devoid of meaning. Yet, on some level, we remain skeptical and don’t really believe it. We maintain this inner feeling that we would be different. If only we “made it big” and “had it all” we would defy the statistics of high rates of depression, empty lives, and broken homes.  
Iconic personalities like Steven Hill inspire us to realize that we would be wise to appreciate the gift we were granted of being born into a life of potential meaning and purpose. I say potential meaning and purpose, because it’s up to us to develop this incredible gift at our disposal. Unfortunately, there are many people who live a Torah lifestyle, but do so without feeling. That’s kind of like acting out the script like an actor without really embracing the role. And that’s exactly the type of life Steven Hill left behind.
It’s not enough to keep the mitzvos, we have to live it, for that is true living.          

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Chodesh,

           R’ Dani and Chani Staum