Thursday, December 30, 2010

VA’ERA 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era

24 Teves 5771/December 31, 2010

“Okay kids, bedtime…” Time for the nightly routine of whisking our children into bed.

I turn to our three-year-old, “Avi, what CD do you want to listen to tonight?”

I know the answer but I ask anyway to humor myself. He wants to listen to the same CD he listened to last night, and the night before, and the night before that. Some nights I’ll try to sneak in a different volume of the same singer (e.g. Uncle Moishy V’ instead of ‘Uncle Moishy IV’ just for the sake of variety). Invariably within two minutes the jig is up and I am angrily summoned back to rectify my ‘mistake’.

Is it normal for a child to want to listen to the same thing repeatedly, seven nights a week? [What’s that you say? Six nights a week because of Shabbos? Well actually, to our vexation, for the last two Shabbosos we have come upstairs after the seudah to hear the usual CD blaring because the alarm went off…]

The answer is a resounding yes; it is indeed normal. In his fascinating bestseller, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the profound psychology invested into children’s television programs and why certain shows are more popular among children than others.

He quotes Daniel Anderson, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, who explains: “If you think about the world of a preschooler they are surrounded by stuff they don’t understand, things that are novel. So the driving force for a preschooler is not a search for novelty, like it is with older kids. It’s a search for understanding and predictability. For younger kids repetition is really valuable. They demand it. When they see a show over and over again, they not only are understanding it better, which is a form of power, but just by predicting what is going to happen, they feel a real sense of affirmation and self-worth.”

In other words, for young children who are struggling to make sense of the vast and unpredictable ‘adult world’, predictability breeds a feeling of comfort and security. Therefore, give a young child the choice between something new and exciting or something he is familiar with, he will generally pick the familiar.

One of the best ways to grant a child a sense of predictability is with consistency. Families that have structure, boundaries, and routines usually have children who feel safe and secure.

On the other hand, children who lack structure and consistency in their lives often feel vulnerable and insecure, both with themselves and their surroundings. In the world of education this is a truth that tragically asserts itself too often.

So, believe it or not, listening to that same CD again is indeed healthy for my child. However, I do feel that certain children’s tapes should come with a “Parental General Warning” which reads, “Hearing this tape too many times can endanger parent’s already fragile sanity (or whatever is left of it)”. If you have children, or younger siblings, you know exactly what I mean.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, December 24, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos

17 Teves 5771/December 24, 2010

It is with great parental pride that we announce and wish congratulations to our oldest son Shalom upon losing his second tooth.

It brings back memories to when I was about his age and my friend’s and classmate’s teeth were falling out. But my teeth loved me so much that they simply wouldn’t budge. Eventually my dentist decided that he had no recourse but to begin extracting my teeth. During a two year period I had two teeth pulled every month or so. The only exception was on one occasion I had my four front teeth extracted at once. To this day I don’t like looking at pictures from that period in my life when I had no front teeth. [I liked to tell people that my parents did it to me…]

By the time I entered fifth grade only one of my four front adult teeth had descended. At that time when we finished davening in yeshiva we would wait outside our classrooms until a rebbe came around to open the classroom doors.

One winter morning I was sitting outside my classroom sucking on the zipper of my coat which was resting on my lap. I was nonchalantly fastening the hole on the zipper piece around my one front tooth and then sliding it off with my tongue. Then at one point the zipper wouldn’t slide off. After a minute of trying to dislodge the zipper, I mortifyingly realized that the zipper was stuck on my tooth.

A few minutes later when ‘a staff member from the yeshiva’ (I will leave it at that) walked by, my amused classmates told him that ‘a kid got his zipper stuck on his tooth’. The staff member - G-d bless him - proceeded to lift the coat over my head so that he could bring me to the yeshiva’s office. I still remember the feeling of ‘trying to play it cool’ as everyone we passed glared at me with a befuddled look. I trailed the rapidly-walking staff member, with my mouth open hooked to my moving coat, like a fish being reeled in.

I sat in the office for some time while the secretary tried explaining the situation to my mother. “Yes, Mrs. Staum you heard me correctly… his zipper… on his tooth… I don’t know how; he’s your son!”

My mother proceeded to call my dentist who then called me in the yeshiva office. “Hi Dani, how are you?” “Fine I gueth. But what thoud I do?” There was a pause before he replied while laughing, “I guess you should zip it up.” Suffice it to say at that moment I didn’t think it was very funny.

The strangest part of the story was that after I sat in the office for an hour the zipper suddenly became dislodged and fell out on its own. I stood up, thanked the secretary, and marched into class, as my classmates eyed me disbelievingly.

Over the last few weeks there has been much discussion about Wikileaks and the severe damage that has been caused by the publicizing of confidential facts to the public.

There is an old adage which states, “Not everything that is thought must be said; not everything said must be written; not everything written must be read; not every thing read must be thought about.”

The Mishnah (Avos 3:17) states “Seyag lachachma shesika- a fence for wisdom is silence.” The Kotzker Rebbe quipped that the “seyag- fence” around wisdom is when one has nothing to say and therefore remains silent; while “Chachma-wisdom” itself is when one has something to say and remains quiet anyway!

Of course there are many instances when one cannot remain silent, but more often than not it is an invaluable piece of advice to remember that in life it’s usually best to ‘zip it up’.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi

10 Teves 5771/December 17, 2010

Your browser may not support display of this image. A number of years ago I was attending a meeting with the director of an organization I was working for along with the other heads of the program. The meeting was repeatedly interrupted by the incessant ringing of the director’s cell-phone which he answered each time. After some time of this repeated annoyance I called the director from my cell-phone and asked him when he might be available to meet with us.

In a similar vein, a friend of mine told me that he was once in a popular home improvement store waiting to have a piece of wood to be cut. After waiting at the proper place for about twenty minutes, he called the store and asked to be connected to the lumber department. He asked them how long it would take for them to cut a piece of wood. The receptionist amicably replied that it would only take a minute and that he could come in at any time and they would be happy to help him. My friend then explained that he had been waiting for quite some time. A minute later an attendant arrived to cut the wood.

It’s a funny world that we live in. People often seem to have no qualms about making people wait endless amounts of time for them. But when their phone starts ringing, after one ring (or vibration/chime/note from some popular song) they answer their phone and launch into conversation.

It seems that nothing takes precedence over a phone call - nothing that is except for another phone call. With call waiting, suddenly the first phone call, which was so important a moment ago, is put on hold for the next phone call.

It was a big enough challenge when phones were attached to the wall, and even with cordless phones to follow us around the house. But today we have the ubiquitous cell phone. The head-counselor of a large camp refers to his cell-phone as his leash that connects him to his master. [His master is whoever is demanding his attention at the moment they decide to call him.] With cell-phones we have the ability disturb and disrupt anyone/anything no matter what we are doing.

What is it about phone calls that create a sense of urgency? Why do people feel the need to answer their phone even in the most inopportune places and at the most inappropriate times (e.g. during davening, or during a speech)?

I surmise that it is connected to our insatiable curiosity and fascination with the unknown. When the phone rings it could be anybody, and even if it is known who is calling, the caller can be calling about anything. A ringing phone is like reaching the dramatic climax of a suspense mystery. [If that is true it follows that most phone calls leave us with some level of disappointment.]

If that is true then not answering the phone immediately whenever it rings is an exercise in self-control, and we can all use improvement in that area.

Cell-phones also remind us to thank G-d for Shabbos - the one day when we cannot answer our phones. I must confess that my cell phone has become such a part of me that every time someone moves a chair next to me on Shabbos causing a faint vibration I reach for my cell phone. Still Shabbos provides a twenty-five hour reprieve, when we can actually talk to the people we are with, instead of talking to everyone besides the people we are with. Imagine that - in our day and age talking to someone live!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, December 10, 2010


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash

3 Teves 5771/December 10, 2010

A noted therapist once quipped that the best psychologists are not doing private consultations or helping people on an individual basis. Rather, they are involved in advertising, helping to guide and advise mega-million dollar companies how to best promulgate and publicize their product to the public. There is an incredible amount of psychology that is involved in advertising, and it is truly fascinating just how much discussion and thought goes in to every commercial, billboard, and advertisement. It is an extremely lucrative field, hence the involvement of many of the wittiest and most innovative minds.

As much as we hate to admit it, our culture has been somewhat shaped by mass advertising. We are inundated by mass advertising and it unquestionably manipulates our attitudes and thinking. With slogans like “you deserve it” and “if you don’t have it someone else will”, we are lured into believing that the latest cultures and styles are de rigueur. Those ads that we breeze by on the highway, or glance at in public places, have a profound effect on our attitude and way of thinking.

Every individual who owns a car has a little space where he can do his own advertising, i.e. on the car’s rear bumper. We have full authority to announce to the world (or at least to the car behind us when we’re stuck in traffic) whatever we desire in that space.

Some use that space to broadcast their child’s accomplishments as an Honor Student. Others use it to preach their personal religious or political beliefs. Still others feel the need to tell everybody that the car they are driving drove up Mount Washington. It is in fact a profound accomplishment and why should they not boost their car’s ego (especially after they burned out its engine getting to the top).

When Chani and I went to visit Mount Washington in New Hampshire a number of years ago, I asked the cashier in the souvenir shop if they had a bumper sticker which read, “Aint no way this car could make it up Mount Washington”. At the time the car that I drove looked like it fell off the top of Mount Washington (driving that car was like experiencing the Chanukah miracle all year round). The cashier replied that although she did not have such a bumper sticker, she was confident that everyone would realize the car didn’t have much of a chance up Mount Washington, even without the bumper sticker.

What do billboards and advertising have to do with Chanukah, you ask? More than you think. The Medrash relates that aside for all of their other nefarious decrees barring the Jews from observing Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Milah, the Greeks also insisted that the Jews engrave on the horns of their oxen the words, “I have no portion in the G-d of Israel”.

It seems that the ancient Greeks were very privy to understanding the effect of advertised messages. As the Jews plowed their fields, goading their oxen from behind, the Greeks wanted them to stare at that message all day long. It is inevitable that staring at something for so many hours consecutively will have a profound effect on one’s thinking.

The holiday of Chanukah affords us the opportunity to battle the media’s relentless advertising campaign. For eight nights we light our small candles facing the outside world. How strange! It is the only time throughout the year that we seek to perform a mitzvah ostentatiously, for the outside world to see. I love to drive through the streets of Jewish neighborhoods in the early evenings on Chanukah with my children and look at all the candles in the windows.

The message is that if something one sees repeatedly has an effect on him in a negative fashion, it can do so in a positive fashion as well.

As we place our menorahs back on the shelves until next year we have to hold onto the message of the candles we lit for the last eight nights. There is a profound message contained in the candles. Those candles remind us that there is holy light everywhere. But to find it we have to stop looking at all the advertisements in bright, jarring, neon lights. The Chanukah candles are lit relatively low (preferably between 3-10 tefachim). We have to look more humbly, more inwards and introspectively, to find that real light. Those candles are our bumper stickers which read “I/we have a portion in the G-d of Israel.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz

2nd day of Chanukah

26 Kislev 5771/December 3, 2010

Not far from our home is a lush and beautiful golf course. Every Shabbos morning as I make my way to shul it is still relatively early for most of the world on a weekend morning. Aside for an occasional early jogger the roads are virtually empty. That is until I arrive at the golf course. Even now as the weather is rapidly getting colder, as long as it’s not too cold and raining there will be figures on the golf course, standing in their windbreakers, swinging their golf clubs.

Truthfully those golfers make me feel somewhat uneasy. It’s Saturday morning, their day off, and it’s chilly. Why are they out there? Obviously it’s because they love the game and are excited by the opportunity to play. I make my way up to shul on Shabbos Kodesh morning wondering if I feel the same way about davening.

In this country the day after Thanksgiving has become sanctioned as a holy day, now known as Black Friday. People literally stand on line all night in order to save a few bucks and fight for a few good deals. I asked one such friend why and how he maintained his sanity all night long. He shrugged and smiled. “We brought stuff to keep busy; it was an experience.”

Chazal say that in the World of Truth we are judged based on our own actions and the actions of those around us. If when asked why we did not accomplish more during our lives we will say that we were too overburdened and emotionally maxed out, the celestial courts will ask us how we had energy and strength to do other things that we wanted to do.

I sometimes wonder if the “Black Fridayers” and the “early Saturday morning golfers” are going to get us into trouble in the heavenly courts. ‘You see they did it because they wanted it badly enough.’ Hmmmm!

Rabbi Rafi Perl, a beloved MTA (and Camp Dora Golding) rebbe, related to me that he had a friend named Mark Rosenberg a’h. [Mark worked with Canton Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the Twin Towers, and tragically died in the 9/11 attacks]. Rabbi Perl and Mark were high-school teammates on a Young Israel basketball team.

Once during a semi-final playoff game Mark fell asleep on the bench during halftime. When Rabbi Perl woke him up Mark told him that he was very happy that he fell asleep. He explained, “When I get up to heaven and they ask me why I sometimes lacked passion and energy for learning Torah and davening, I will be able to respond that it’s not because I lacked value for those things. You see I also fell asleep during a playoff game!”

The holiday of Chanukah reminds us that we can accomplish far more than we give ourselves credit for, albeit if we put our minds to it. Chanukah is about defeating the odds and knowing that G-d helps those who help themselves. It is a holiday that celebrates the victory of quality over quantity, and mind over matter.

The ethereal light of our Chanukah candles contains a glimmer of the inner spark within us, waiting to be fueled.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

A Lichtige Chanukah & Orot Sameach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, November 26, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev

19 Kislev 5771/November 26, 2010

Our family enjoyed this past Shabbos at my parent’s home. Now that our children are getting older they enjoy rummaging through my things that are still in my old room (there’s a reason most of that stuff is still there). Among his other finds, our oldest son Shalom was most intrigued by a trophy which had a depiction of a man in karate-kick position with the words “Second place Kokoshi Dojo contest” attached to the marble base.

“Abba, you know how to do karate?”

“Um, not really.”

“So where did you get the trophy from?”

“Shalom, I think Bubby is calling you downstairs.”

I must admit that I actually have no idea what Kokoshi Dojo is. [I enjoy Kokush cake, but I don’t think there is any connection.] The story behind that trophy dates back to when I was in tenth grade. During that year, for our once a week physical education period, we had a gym teacher who wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Other than the fact that his father’s name was Jim, I am not really sure what his qualifications were to teach gym. To keep us in line he promised us that if we behaved and “did well in gym” (whatever that means) we would get trophies.

After a few months of badgering, he actually delivered on his word and brought in a few trophies. I must admit that I wasn’t all that proud of the trophy. [At first I thought Kokoshi Dojo must mean ‘good at gym’, until I realized that there must have been a box of them left in a dumpster somewhere.] But I did think it was a funny thing to have, so I brought it home.

Chazal relate that the purpose of our descent into this world is to afford us the opportunity to earn our rightful share in the eternal world. When we achieve something through arduous effort and exertion we are proud of our accomplishment and can appreciate it. Receiving a free gift without earning it however, breeds a certain level of embarrassment. We only feel accomplished and fulfilled when we earn our keep.

If G-d would merely place us in the eternal world without our earning it we would be unable to appreciate it. The Zohar terms that feeling נהמא דכיסופא" – the bread of shame”. Our journey through this world grants us the opportunity to earn our rightful share in the World to Come and be able to appreciate the eternal good that awaits us.

In that sense, the World to Come is a trophy that we can only enjoy if we have earned it.

For all these years the Kokoshi Dojo trophy was proudly on display upon the shelf in my room. And now (sniff) the trophy has been passed on to the next generation, so that my son can always remember that his father received a trophy that was completely unwarranted.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach

12 Kislev 5771/November 19, 2010

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This week we celebrated the upsherin (first haircut at three years old) of our dear son Avi. After three years of bewildered comments, “She’s a boy?” Avi undeniably looks like a boy.

The transformation is simply incredible. For the past few days I still have to do a double take when I see him. After seeing him with long hair for so long, it takes some time before it registers that Avi looks different.

It brought to mind the old question of who we truly are. In our superficial society we very much associate people, not only with their external appearance, but also with their physical looks. But is that what truly defines us?

In May 2005 Isabelle Diniore was mauled by her dog when she passed out after consuming to many sleeping pills. Diniore sustained severe facial injuries and had to wear a facial mask on her lower face to conceal her gruesome injuries.

On November 27, 2005 French doctors performed the first partial face transplant surgery on Diniore. Since then there has been a change in her appearance. She admitted that she sometimes struggles to accept her appearance. In her words, “It takes an awful lot of time to get used to someone else’s face.”

So who are we really? Although in our hearts we know the answer, we have a hard time accepting it. Our Sages compare our bodies to the clothing of the soul. When one leaves the world the soul merely shed its external cloak as it returns home.

In our world, things – and people – are often vastly different from how they appear. The true person is not how his/her body appears but how his/her soul looks. It is our values, passions, loves, and feelings that compose our true essence. And that component is eternal.

Despite the change of his external appearance Avi’s wonderful personality has remained the same. So don’t judge a book by its cover and don’t judge all children by how long their hair is. But do judge people by their character and conduct.

I conclude by stating in passing that Avi is, thank G-d, at a stage when ‘loss of hair’ is cause for joy…

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei

5 Kislev 5771/November 12, 2010

There is an ongoing raging debate whether our contemporary educational system is adequately preparing our children for life. Many of the skills necessary for success in school are simply not so important in life, and vice-versa. The question thus becomes how can we best utilize our children’s formative years to give them practical tools and knowledge that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

Personally I have a few propositions for topics and classes that I believe our yeshivos should be adopting. I, for one, would have had an easier time if I was better trained in these areas. Following are just a few of my suggestions:

“Jewelry and Shaitels 101” –Fifty bucks just doesn’t cut it! And, as ancient wisdom teaches, if you want to remember your anniversary, just forget it once! My mother once quipped to me that she could buy four women’s hats for the price of one of my hats. I responded that I could buy five expensive hats for the price of her cheapest shaitel. Part of the class should include a field trip to a local jewelry store. The students should look at all of the various types of jewelry and at the price tags. Then, when they get back from the store their Rabbeim should convince them that they still must get married.

“Vegetables and Grocery Shopping 101” Have you ever seen a man shopping without holding a cell-phone? Yes, women talk on their phones too while they are shopping, but their conversations are about everything and anything under the sun. A man’s shopping conversation however, is centered around trying to figure out: which brand, which aisle, and how many?

Truthfully, how is a former yeshiva bochur supposed to know what a parsnip looks like? The first time Chani told me to bring home parsnip I brought home horseradish. [I was wondering why she was putting fresh marror in the chicken soup…] Now when I shop I often ask a passing female shopper about certain vegetables. When the woman invariably laughs at the question I reply that the gemara doesn’t discuss what a scallion looks like, or that a sweet potato is called a southern yam.

“Flowers 101” – Before getting married yeshiva guys have to realize that flour is not only the stuff that goes into cake and kugel. The first time I walked into a florist after I got married (which incidentally was the first time I walked into a florist in my life) and the florist asked me what I wanted, I replied that I wanted to buy flowers. When she asked me what kind, I told her the ones that go in a vase and die a week later. Boy would it have saved me some embarrassment if I knew the difference between a rose, a hydrangea, and a cactus.

Last week I went to my usual florist to purchase Shabbos flowers. She asked me if I wanted Baby’s Breath as filler, but I replied that, thank G-d, we now have our own source of baby’s breath (and baby crying) at home.

If our yeshivos gave these three classes it would help our young men tremendously. Good luck finding male teachers to teach the classes...

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos

28 Cheshvan 5771/November 5, 2010

In my office in Bais Hachinuch (where I serve as the yeshiva’s Social Worker) there is a sign on my wall which reads “Hurt people hurt people”. It is a very true and powerful statement. When we feel confident and comfortable with ourselves we generally will not be critical and negative towards others. It is when we are feeling lowly about ourselves that we look to ‘even the score’ by making negative or nasty comments about others. Thus, it is a hurting person that will hurt the feelings of others.

I try to teach this idea both to the aggressor who hurts someone else’s feelings and to the victim whose feelings were hurt. The aggressor must realize that if he feels the need to make such comments to others there is something about himself that he is unhappy with. The victim too must understand that the insult is not as much a reflection of his own deficiency as it is that of the one who uttered it. If one is able to realize the source of an insult he is far better prepared to deal with it.

Along the same lines, an insightful friend noted that if we truly want to eradicate loshon hora (evil speech) from our speech we have to analyze the root of the problem. More often than not we speak loshon hora out of feelings of jealousy or inferiority. If we want to train ourselves to speak positively about others we have to realize the source of the problem and work on improving the way we view others.

The old adage states that, ‘Misery loves company’. When we are feeling blue it is comforting when we are able to share our misery with someone else who can commiserate and empathize with us. It gives us a sense of validation and makes us feel better about our pain.

But the truth is that it is not merely misery which loves company, but all emotions love company. We love to share all our feelings with others. Thus when we are angry about something we seek the company of others who share our gripes, and when we want to kvetch about something we look for fellow kvetchers.

On a more positive note when we are happy and full of good will we look to share those feelings as well. There is a beautiful line which is often printed on response cards of wedding/bar mitzvah invitations: “An event becomes a simcha when shared with family and friends.” How eloquent and true!

All emotions are somewhat contagious and when we are able to share feelings of happiness it increases our own joy and helps us appreciate the celebration that much more.

It is with this in mind that we humbly express our appreciation to all our friends and family for the good wishes and blessings of mazal tov that we received since the birth of our daughter, Chaya Tzippora. By displaying your genuine happiness for us you have increased our joy, simply by sharing this simcha with us. May Hashem grant us many opportunities to reciprocate.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah

22 Cheshvan 5771/October 29, 2010

It is with utmost gratitude to Hashem Yisborach that we announce and celebrate the birth of our daughter this past Monday, 17 Cheshvan 5771.

When we were discussing the baby with our children a few weeks ago, our five year old daughter Aviva Rochel – paraphrasing the well known refrain with an addition of her own - declared that, “it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s a healthy girl!”

More recently when we asked our three year old son Avi what he would do when he sees the baby he emphatically announced that he was going to give it a potch. When we asked him why he explained, “Because it kicks Mommy.”

The gemara relates that during the months before a soul descends into the world an angel teaches it the entire Torah. Then, just before it is born, the angel taps the baby on its lip causing it to forget all it learned. When we arrived in the hospital prior to the birth of each of our children I told Chani that in heaven they were reciting the hadran (the declaration recited at the completion of a tractate of gemara or an Order of mishnayos) at the celestial seudas pereidah (farewell meal ) for our soon-to-be-born child.

This past Monday morning we drove through a dense fog and arrived in the hospital at about 6 A.M. The baby was born at 8:41 A.M. However, as we did not know in advance how long the delivery would take, I felt that I should daven shacharis in the hospital.

I left the room where Chani was hooked up to the monitors recording her and the baby’s heartbeat and the intravenous. I went to a secluded corner and donned my tallis and tefillin.

Standing there clad in my “prayer uniform” it struck me. In our daily lives we are exposed to many spiritual poisons. I too was “hooked up”, receiving an injection through an intravenous, i.e. a spiritual injection through a spiritual intravenous. Each morning we connect ourselves to receive a spiritual anti-biotic to ward off those pernicious forces, as we monitor our spiritual heart rate.

In our technologically advanced world we busy ourselves with many electronic devices including phones, bluetooths, blackberries, cameras, and laptops. All those devices have a limited amount of available energy, and need to be charged periodically. So every night we connect our contraptions to long black cords that plug into the wall. Metaphorically every morning we connect our soul to “black cords” that plug us in to our spiritual source to bolster our spirit.

As a side point, when going to the hospital it’s a good idea to remember to take those black cords so that phones, cameras, and laptops don’t die during the day. I learned that lesson this week…

[Interestingly enough, in the October 2002 edition of Journal of Chinese Medicine there was an article entitled “Tefillin: An ancient acupuncture point prescription for mental clarity.” The article makes the case that the parts of the body on which the tefillin rest creates an outline much like an acupuncture pattern that would enhance mental clarity. The article adds that it is surprising that such a pattern can be found in a non-Chinese procedure dating back thousands of years.]

As we thank G-d for the past blessings and kindness He has bestowed upon us, we pray that He continue to shower us with blessings and help our newborn daughter - and her siblings - always feel connected to her true source.

May we always share Simchos!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera

15 Cheshvan 5771/October 22, 2010

Two years ago we erected our succah on our porch for the first time. Our porch, which is off our kitchen, is very high off the ground. It is also quite open, so that the wind is felt very acutely up there. When we arrived home during Chol Hamoed the s’chach of the succah had blown off, but as there had been a strong storm during Yom Tov I fixed it and wasn’t all that concerned.

That year we had four guests for Shemini Atzeres. The night meal was beautiful and we anticipated the same for the next morning. However, to our chagrin, when we arrived home from shul the s’chach had blown off the succah and was resting comfortably on the roof of the house.

We had no choice but to trek to our closest neighbor (our friends the Duskis family), a five minute walk away, and ‘borrow their succah’. [As this is not a halachic forum, if such a situation ever arises one should ask their Rabbi if, and how, the succah can be fixed.] With three strollers laden with food, including a crock pot full of cholent (it was also Shabbos) we made our way to their succah, where they graciously welcomed us in. They had already finished their meal and allowed us to make ourselves comfortable in their succah.

I remember thinking how strange it felt throughout the meal. It was our food, our family, and our company. My wife served the food and I conducted the meal. However, it was someone else’s table and someone else’s home.

Upon later reflection I realized that the feeling I had is actually the feeling we are supposed to feel every Shabbos. On Shabbos we enter a world of spiritual bliss wherein our entire lives are elevated. More specifically our dining room tables are transformed into G-d’s table, as it were. In that metaphysical sense, on Shabbos we are guests at our own table.

This idea is expressed clearly in the lengthy prayer recited by many after singing ‘Shalom Aleichem’ on Friday night. “And I have come to Your home to plead my supplication before You…” Even though we are still in our own homes, when the sun sets ushering in the sanctity of Shabbos on Friday evening, we have come to His house.

Based on this idea, Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that even if one is alone for Shabbos he/she should dress in his finest, set the table royally, and eat delicacies on Shabbos, for the honor of G-d. No matter where one is in the world on Shabbos he is in the Home of G-d sitting at His table.

Still, it is a lot easier to be a guest at your own table, in your own home, as opposed to that of your neighbor.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, October 15, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

7 Cheshvan 5771/October 15, 2010

They descended together, knowing where they were going, but understanding that this is where they needed to be. Still they never expected what occurred to happen. Trapped hundreds of miles below with nowhere to turn but the suffocated area they found themselves in blocked from every side, for there was no one to help them. Amazingly they gave each other encouragement in the worst of conditions and were able to maintain their hope, although it was so long.

Meanwhile well above the surface they were working feverishly to get them out. It would be an arduous and challenging undertaking but they would find a way.

When the escape plan was set into place everyone held their breath. Suddenly the world tuned in to this small, previously unimportant group and waited to hear what would become of them, and whether they could be rescued.

One by one they were lifted out of the murky, dingy and cramped world they had been stuck in. The ascension itself was fraught with difficulty and there was fear whether they would be able to make it out safely. But when they did the world was watching gleefully.

As each one emerged the assemblage cheered, and the dignitaries present embraced them. Their loved ones ran into their arms in a most emotionally moving manner. Throngs of journalists from all over the world, and every major media outlet were gathered there to witness the event. As they broke the story the emotion they themselves were feeling was discernible in their voices. “We feared that this would be a story of tragedy, but here we are celebrating success.” “Imagine what kind of place they are coming from, and now hastily thrust into the open arms of friends and admirers, as the world looks on.” “It’s just an astounding sight. The leader of the group insisted that he would be the last to ascend. He has now finally been brought up and now the mission is complete.” “It’s an overwhelming sight. We didn’t think this would truly happen. But it did!” “Suddenly the former captives are celebrities the world over.”

It’s an amazing and touching story. The world is riveted by the tale of a small group saved from tragedy after enduring so much. It’s a story that touches us so deeply because it connects with the universal human need to maintain hope and never give up.

In fact, the story is a classic example of foreshadowing. For in a deeper sense the above story has not yet taken place! Reread the story carefully and you will realize that the story is about us and our people. We will capture the world’s attention, at the time when we will finally be rescued from the spiritual, psychological, (and often physical) morass in which the world has trapped us.

“It’s an overwhelming sight. We didn’t think this would truly happen. But it did!”

“Then your light will break out the morning, and your healing will soon grow.” (Yeshaya 58:8)

Soon. Very soon.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NOACH 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach

1Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan 5771/October 8, 2010

Anyone who lives in Monsey (or Rockland County) is familiar with the challenge of driving on the Palisades Parkway at night. During the day the parkway boasts beautiful scenery of passing trees, especially during the fall foliage season. But at night there is nothing to see but passing white lines, making the trip arduous and monotonous.

A friend of mine related that he was once driving down the Palisades very late one evening (to be more precise it was quite early the following morning). He was tired and eager to get home after a long day, and his hasty driving reflected it. Somewhere along the way, to his utter chagrin he noticed blaring lights in his rearview mirror, and he reluctantly pulled over.

After the cop asked him for his license and registration, my friend tried to bargain, “But officer I was only going with the traffic.” The cop laughed heartily and replied, “Son, at this hour of the night, you are the traffic!”

In one of his classic addresses in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, my Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, once quipped to a Study Hall full of teenage yeshiva boys, “Don’t go with the flow, you may go over the falls.”

The Mishna in Avos (2:5) advises that, “In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man!” In a situation where no one is willing to grab the reins and steer the horse forward, someone must be willing to bear the yoke of responsibility and goad the chariot ahead.

At the same time there are many situations when one should opt for a passive ‘back-seat’ role. When there is sufficient leadership there is a vital need for followers who are willing to subjugate themselves to the direction and leadership of others.

As of everything in life, the key is to understand this balance and to have the wisdom to know when to lead and when to follow. Following blindly at the wrong time may land you at the bottom of the falls, but leading blindly can earn you a hefty ticket.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Erev Yom Tov Succos

14 Tishrei 5771/September 22, 2010

One of the stressors about flying is the need to have an updated passport. A number of months ago when I decided to travel to Eretz Yisroel I realized that my passport had expired. It was a cumbersome process to get an appointment at the post-office for a rush order. I also needed to have an updated picture of myself to send out with the passport application. I went to a studio where they take passport pictures and posed. They were very accommodating and allowed me to take the picture a number of times. I happen to be a relatively photogenic person and it was incredible that no matter how many times he took the picture it still was a rather lousy portrait. After two or three times, I agreed to take the best of the bunch and just be done with it.

It is something that always intrigued me. I don’t think I ever saw a passport photo that truly bore a resemblance to its bearer. To be truthful, it does look like its bearer, albeit after he stuck his finger in a socket and was struck by lightning.

The same holds true for driver’s license pictures. Why can’t anyone look half decent in those pictures? I once read a story about a woman who was pulled over by a cop and then said that she did not have her license with her. When the cop informed her that she was going to get an extra hefty ticket the woman admitted that she indeed had her license with her. She agreed to show it to the cop… if he promised not to look at the picture.

I am happy to state that I now know that answer to my inquiry. Your passport picture is exactly what you look like - after a ten hour flight replete with airline meals and turbulence, passing through security, and waiting for your luggage at the carousel.

One of the focal points of the holiday of Succos is eating and living in the succah. The gemara cites a dispute as to the source of this beloved mitzvah. The noted opinion (Rabbi Eliezer) is that the succah reminds us of the Clouds of Glory which enveloped and protected our forefathers in the desert. There is a second opinion however (Rabbi Akiva) who opines that our succos remind us of the succos (literal huts) that our forefathers lived in while they traveled through the desert.

The second opinion is quite puzzling. What made their huts so fascinating that we seek to mimic them by building our own huts and living in them during the week-long holiday?

Traveling undoubtedly takes its toll on any sane person. When one is in the midst of getting bumped off his flight, is pursuing a flight, or arguing with security about the potential danger of your tefillin, he is hardly able to concentrate and study with serenity. Throughout their sojourns in the desert, our forefathers were charged with accepting and studying the Torah, and transmitting it to their children as the initial progenitors of G-d’s Word. That hardly seems feasible when you are always traveling.

That was the greatness of those huts. Despite the fact that they were nothing but flimsy huts in a parched vulnerable desert, our ancestors were able to feel at home in those huts, so much so that they were able to learn and understand the depths of the Torah which they learned firsthand from Moshe. To be able to feel at home and in the embrace of G-d, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances, to never look as bad as your passport picture even while traveling - that is the celebration of Succos.

In conclusion I am happy to report that I now understand the answer to my second question. License pictures are taken to resemble what you look like… just when you notice the blaring lights in your rearview mirror.

Good Yom Tov & Chag Samayach

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, September 17, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh/Yom Kippur

9 Tishrei 5771/September 17, 2010

“Yom Kippur… does not atone for sins between people… until he asks his (friend) forgiveness.”

--Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 2:9)

Moshe: Hey D?

Dovid: s’up?

Moshe: NM – U?

Dovid: K

Moshe: U home for Y’Kppur?

Dovid: Yeah

Moshe: Moichel me?

Dovid: OK – U?

Moshe: Yeah

Dovid: TYVM

Moshe: NP – TTYL in shul

One of the most significant challenges our generation faces is in our inability to communicate properly. We have a hard time expressing our feelings in an appropriate manner and being clear about what we are feeling or thinking.

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein noted that much of that deficiency is because we are the email and text message generation. One can write an email to a friend and pay little attention to grammar and clarity because if the friend does not understand what was meant, he can just as easily send a second email to explain. Text messages also include coded messages. People don’t seem to speak in full sentences anymore. In fact, people don’t laugh at jokes anymore; they just say “LOL”.

I often have to remind the students in my literature class that they can not ‘text message’ an essay, e.g. “The character in the story thought s/o else would take care of it b4 he got home…”

The truth is that this all has a subtle deleterious effect - not only on our communication with others - but also in our communication with G-d. We have simply lost the ability to cry out and express our concerns and worries to G-d in our own words. But the key to Yom Kippur is being able to do just that. It requires introspection and self-analysis so that we can conjure up the words that express our deepest and most intimate feelings to G-d.

If we don’t know what we want/need, how can we pray? Truthfully we need to pray to G-d that He help us pray to Him. “G-d open my lips, and my mouth will relate your praise.”

May G-d grant every one of us the words to pray to Him that will open the Gates of Heaven to the positive fulfillment of all of our hopes and prayers.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Good Yom Tov & G’mar Chasima Tova,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Erev Rosh Hashanah of 5771

29 Elul 5770/ /September 8, 2010

A number of years ago someone asked our (then) four year old son Shalom if he would be going to shul on Rosh Hashanah. At first Shalom replied that he was not, but when Chani reassured him that he was indeed going to be coming to shul, he looked up at her and asked in all sincerity, “Oh, so will we be bringing our scales to shul so that we can weigh our mitzvos and aveiros?”

Shalom had learned that on Rosh Hashanah our mitzvos and aveiros are weighed on scales, so he surmised that we ourselves must do the weighing. While it is an interesting thought, we are all aware that in heaven that is precisely what is transpiring.

Still, it seems that there is a ‘weighing in’ that we must do for ourselves during these days.

It’s been said that our society has a definition and game plan for ‘success’ only until one is 50 years old. Our society espouses that all that glitters is gold, and if one can achieve a position which earns him prestige, money, a beautiful home, a fancy car, and exotic vacations than he has ‘made it’. But what about after 50? Our society has no game plan for after that. Is there any value in living past 50 when one is no longer as youthful and vibrant as he/she once was?

The Torah has a far different value system. One’s value is determined based on wisdom and experience, rendering our elders our most valuable asset. Success is measured based on acquisition of wisdom and the extent of one’s character refinement.

The glorious days of penitence afford us the opportunity and responsibility to weigh in and contemplate whether we are living successful lives – as the Torah defines it.

Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg zt’l noted that there is an important difference between ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ and ‘Rosh Hashanah Commitments’ (kabbalos). New Year’s Resolutions are things one accepts to do to help him feel better about himself, while Rosh Hashanah commitments are things one accepts to do in order to bring himself closer to G-d.

In a sense, New Year’s Resolutions help us be successful according to society’s definition of success, while Rosh Hashanah Commitments help us achieve success as the Torah defines it.

So perhaps we won’t be bringing our scales to shul on Rosh Hashanah to weigh our merits and sins. But we should still make sure that we do some personal weighing in to ensure that we are en route to achieving ultimate success.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova & Shana Tova Umesuka,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, September 3, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Netzovim-Vayelech – Avos perakim 5-6

23 Elul 5770/ /September 3, 2010

Every parent has their own mode of parenting upon which their children love to reflect on and laugh about when they reach adulthood. One of my father’s classic idiosyncrasies was that when he would confiscate something from one of us he had a habit of stashing it in the first place he found. For example, on occasion we would find comic books hidden away under the fruits in the drawer at the bottom of the fridge.

But nothing beats the football story: On one occasion, my younger brother Yaakov was playing with a football in the house. My father was becoming increasingly annoyed with the frolicking and, after a few repeated unheeded requests for the ball to be put away, my father confiscated the ball and stashed it away.

That evening my mother was not home and my father was making supper. He turned on the oven to preheat, and then went about the house taking care of a few things. A few minutes later the house was filled with the terrible stench of burning rubber. We all ran into the kitchen where smoke was billowing out of the oven. My father carefully opened the door and pulled out… a deflated and cooked football, that he had placed in there hours earlier. Needless to say Yaakov was not too happy.

Although bathing suits are still drying, and August has barely ended, many yeshivos and day schools are beginning this week. As an “early year” when Rosh Hashana is two days after Labor Day, they have to get an early start. [In camp we joked that the banquet - traditionally served on the last night of camp - would have to be eaten in the succah…]

In honor of the beginning of the academic year it is worth reflecting upon one of the most oft-quoted mantras of education: Each child is unique, and has his own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and challenges. Therefore, each child must be guided in an individualized and personalized manner [Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko]. Every educator must remember that the most wonderful technique which ‘turns on’ and motivates one child, can be a severe ‘turn-off’ for another child.

A tray of raw potatoes, eggs, oil, and spices placed in a heated oven will become a delectable potato kugel, causing a satisfying aroma to waft through the kitchen. But put a football in the same heated oven and the football will deflate and cause a malodorous scent that disgusts all who pass by. On the other hand, try to play a game of football with a hot potato kugel and you’ll realize just how valuable that football is.

So the moral of the story is that we must understand what motivates and what deflates every child, and seek to build each one as best we can. And, if your child is playing football in the house, maybe put it in the bathtub, or better yet in the attic.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, August 27, 2010


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo – Avos perakim 3-4

17 Elul 5770/ /August 27, 2010

So there I was, two weeks before Rosh Hashana, cleaning for Pesach! Now I am well aware that there are certain women who would be unimpressed with such a statement, as they have been begun cleaning for Pesach since shortly after Lag Ba’omer. But for me it was an anomaly.

Why was I even thinking about chometz? After spending two exhilarating months in our beautiful bungalow in Camp Dora Golding, this week we packed up and said goodbye to our summer home. As I vacuumed the floors prior to our departure I realized that we aren’t going to be living there again before Pesach. Therefore, I had in mind that I was fulfilling the mitzvah of destroying chometz when I vacuumed up the half cookies and cheerios under the couch.

In truth, chometz does have a deep connection with the Days of Awe. The gemara relates that our Evil Inclination is analogous to ‘the sourdough in the dough’, i.e. it is the catalyst of sin, much as the sourdough is the catalyst of the leavening process. In fact, there is a kabbalistic prayer recited by many at the time of the burning of the chometz, begging G-d to destroy the chometz from our hearts, just as we have burned the physical chometz from our homes.

In addition to vacuuming we also had to decide about a variety of items - whether we should schlep them home, or leave them in the bungalow for next summer iy’h.

That aspect of our experience was timelier. As the Days of Judgment inch closer we all have to become our own accountants. But for these dues there are no extensions or hope of evading the collectors. It is the Creator Himself who manages the books, as it were, and we are all signatories on His ruling. The month of Elul is the period of preparation when the prudent person makes an accounting and decides ‘what should be put away’ and ‘what should be taken along’.

The month of Elul sets the tone for the whole year. We must pack in whatever we can, because once we set off, there is no turning back.

Indeed that is just what we did this week. We packed up the car (twice, for two trips!) and with one last farewell we set off down the road looking ahead, hoping that the new year will usher in all sorts of blessings and good tidings, and that all of us merit a sweet new year, with no chometz along the way.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Seitzai– Avos perek 2

10 Elul 5770/ /August 20, 2010

Many summers ago, when I was a camper there was a camper in the bunk next door who was a bit of a bully. One day a few of my friends were playing basketball on the court when he came and made a ruckus about how it was his turn and they should move aside for him. I decided at that moment that enough was enough. I was going to show him once and for all that he could not always get his way. I stormed onto the court in a huff and let loose a harangue of why he had no right to always push around his weight. I told him that he wasn’t as amazing as he thought he was and that he shouldn’t think that he has the right to impose his wishes on anyone else.

When I was finished he stood there quietly and stared at me. I felt quite smug with myself that I had finally gotten through to him. I was sure that the fact that I, a usually more timid boy, had laced it to him had really hit home. But then after a long ten seconds a smile slowly spread across a face. He looked at me and said, “You know Staum, you look really cute when you get mad!”

At times when my children cry about some triviality, I will hold them up in front of the mirror. When they see their reflection they usually break into a humorous burst of laughter. Then they immediately turn away and launch back into their tears.

The truth is that if in a moment of anger we would stop to peer in the mirror, chances are we would laugh at how ridiculous we looked and our intense anger would mitigate.

Chazal explain that the reason we become angry is invariably because we feel a slight to our ego. Therefore, if one wants to work on controlling his anger, his first step is to work on being secure with himself and who he is as a person. Of course there is a time when one must show anger, but more often than not our anger is exaggerated and overly-emotional.

We often take ourselves too seriously. At times we are unnecessarily particular and fussy. In the words of one of my rabbeim, “The only thing you should be particular about is that you not be too particular about anything.”

If we could learn to laugh at ourselves more and not always stand on principle, we would help ourselves remain calmer and happier people. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves maybe we can look in the mirror and see what we look like.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim– Avos perek 1

3 Elul 5770/ /August 13, 2010

Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA boasts 156 acres of property. During the previous decade and a half tremendous effort has been expended to beautify and utilize the grounds as much as possible.

About two weeks ago, the camp leadership decided that a new parking lot would be beneficial to contain the large volume of cars on Visiting Day. The ideal location for such a lot was next to the entrance. The only problem is that there was a hill on the spot where they wanted the new parking lot to be conveniently located. What could they do about the trees, large rocks, and hilly terrain?

It turns out that it wasn’t a big deal at all. An excavation crew was brought into camp. The tall and mighty trees with their deep roots were uprooted and the large boulders cast aside seemingly effortlessly. The dirt that composed the mountain was carted away and plowed over. It was incredible to watch them literally level the mountain in a matter of days, and the added parking spaces were indeed helpful.

The prophet Yeshaya (Isaiah) foretold to the nation: (41:15-16) “Behold, I have made you into a serrated threshing sledge, new, with many teeth; you will thresh mountains and pulverize them, and you will make the hills into chaff. You will winnow them and the wind will carry them off, and a storm wind will scatter them, and you will jubilate in G-d, and praise yourself in the Holy One of Israel.”

Throughout history, and especially in recent times, there have been many ideologies and isms that have taken root and dominated the psyches of masses, and even entire nations. When Russia was overtaken by Communism during World War I, it eventually dominated Eastern Europe, barricading millions behind ‘the Iron Curtain’.

When Hitler usurped power in the Reichstag in 1923 and formulated the Third Reich, he asserted that it would stand for a thousand years. Truthfully when he began his conquest of Europe, Asia, and Africa with lightning speed, there was virtually no nation that could withstand his onslaught.

The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were awesome mountains that were virtually impregnable. Yet within fifteen years there was nothing left of the Nazi regime. The mighty Soviet Union stood for seventy years until in 1990 it collapsed, and within a short time it was completely disbanded. They were both mighty mountains, yet within a short time, they were flattened, and their dust was carted off into the abyss. On some level we have witnessed the fruition of this prophecy.

“I raise my eyes to the mountains; from whence will come my help? My help is from G-d, Maker of heaven and earth” (Tehillim 121:1-2). Perhaps King David was not only referring to physical mountains, but also to the proverbial mighty societal, economical, and despotic ‘mountains’. The psalmist gazes upon these intimidating powers and wonders who will save us from them? But he is quick to answer his own question: G-d Himself will save us for He who has allowed those mountains to form, can surely destroy those mountains just the same.

The month of Elul is upon us and with it the call of the shofar. Rambam famously explains that the shofar of Elul serves to jerk us out of our slumber of monotonous rote and routine.

On a personal level the shofar acts as a quasi alarm clock, jolting us to realize the imminence of the Days of Judgment. On a global level the shofar of Elul reminds us that the mountains that surround us- mountains of capitalism, anti-Semitism, anti-Israel, terrorism, and Islamic Jihad can all be flattened and pulverized in a moment. We have witnessed the unthinkable collapse of such mountains in the past, and it is surely not beyond G-d to do so again.

[My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, quipped that one knows that communism has fallen by seeing that former refusenik Anatoly Sharansky became an MK in the Israeli Knesset, while former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev is driving a Volvo and doing pizza commercials.]

We pray that we witness the collapse of those nefarious mountains quickly in our time. And then, as we have so many times in the past, we will use the ruins of our former enemies to park ourselves upon them in triumph.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, August 5, 2010


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh – Avos perek 6

Shabbos Mevarchim Chodesh ELUL

26 Av 5770/ /August 6, 2010

Dedicated in honor of Yehuda Hertzberg

On August 29, 1911, the Mona Lisa, Leonardo di Vinci’s most famous painting, was stolen from the Louvre in Paris. For a week the museum was closed due to investigation. Yet it remained a mystery until it was returned in December 1913. It had been stolen by Vencenzo Peruggia, a former employee of the museum who wanted to return the glory of Italians to Italy.

It is fascinating to note that when the museum reopened after being closed for a week following the larceny, throngs of people came to stare at the spot where the Mona Lisa had been. In fact, during the first few days more people came to see the vacant spot, than came to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen.

My mother used to have a magnet hanging on her refrigerator that read, “Housework is something you do that no one else notices, unless you don’t do it!”

It seems to be a fact that we just don’t appreciate things until we no longer have them, or at least until there is a problem.

My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlita, would relate a story about a young boy who did not speak. He grew from infant to toddler and beyond, but still he never uttered a word. His parents were beside themselves with worry. They took him to specialists and experts but nothing helped. Then one morning at breakfast when the boy was five years old he looked up at his mother and said, “The oatmeal is cold!” The mother shrieked. “You can speak?” She immediately called her husband, all the grandparents, and neighbors to share with them the wonderful news. When she finally calmed down a bit she asked him, “If you were always able to speak, why didn’t you ever say anything until now?” The boy shrugged, “Until now the oatmeal wasn’t cold!”

We all want things to go smoothly and to be blessed with peace of mind and serenity. But at times when situations are challenging, mistakes are made, or we lose things that we previously took for granted, it helps us appreciate what we have even more.

One of my elementary school Rabbeim would tell the class before he began to read a passage of Gemara that he will be purposely making mistakes, because he wanted to see how many of us would catch it. I always thought it was a brilliant ploy, because in case he ever really made a mistake he could always claim that he was trying to test us.

Thank G-d I have been privileged to type Stam Torah for over ten years, and disseminate it via the web. I often receive emails from friends and readers with compliments or feedback, which of course is always appreciated. But I never receive as many responses as when I make a mistake (my infallibility not withstanding). I have concluded that it is a good idea to make a faux pas every now and then so that I know people are still reading.

Sometimes it takes cold oatmeal before anyone says anything, and sometimes the Mona Lisa has to be stolen before we recognize its value.

And sometimes a story about Rabbi Elyashiv in last week’s Stam Torah must say that it transpired in (5768)1998, even though 5768 was really the secular year 2008. [Rabbi Elyashiv is ka’h 100, not yet 110.] Just wanted to see how many of you were paying attention. J

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum