Wednesday, June 23, 2010



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak– Avos perek 6

13 Tamuz 5770/ /June 25, 2010

Your browser may not support display of this image. As I have done for the last few years, last week I chaperoned Bais Hachinuch's eighth grade graduation trip. Along the way we had the opportunity to meet and hear some words of wisdom from Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita, the revered Mashgiach of yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn.

When it was my turn to shake the Mashgiach's hand, I told him that I am his “aynikel” (grandchild). Naturally he looked at me quizzically. I explained that I am a talmid (student) of Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, who is himself a student of Rabbi Wolfson. Being that the gemara (Yevamos 62b) states, “students are like children”, as a student of Rabbi Wolfson’s student, that grants me the status of a grandson.

I am always moved by the way people speak about their own rebbe. There is a look of pride and admiration in their eyes, along with a reverence that cannot be described in words. I am not referring to a one year rebbe from grade school, but to a rebbe from whom one receives direction and guidance in life. I refer to the rebbe who made and makes a resounding and profound impact and impression upon one’s lifestyle and family.

The gemara (Eiruvin 13b) quotes Rav who said, “The reason why I am sharper than my friends, is because I saw Rabbi Meir from the back. If I would have seen him from the front I would have been even sharper.” Rav was saying that the minimal exposure he had to Rabbi Meir, one of the great Torah giants of the generation before Rav, was sufficient to make a deep impression on Rav and raise him to greater levels of spiritual growth.

Paraphrasing the aforementioned gemara, my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that his generation reached a certain level of greatness because ‘they saw the great Torah leaders of Europe from behind’. They had some level of exposure to the great men and women who survived the Nazi inferno and resiliently came to America to rebuild. [Rabbi Wein himself speaks with uncharacteristic emotion when he mentions his own rebbe, Rabbi Mendel Kaplan zt’l.] But the subsequent generations who did not have the opportunity to know that generation is severely remiss.

On a personal level I know that I, and my family, have been extremely influenced by our rabbeim. More importantly, I know that through all of the challenges and vicissitudes that have arisen in our lives, not only are we blessed with devoted and loving parents with whom we can rely on for support, but we have great individuals who possess uncanny insight and sagacity who know us well and with whom we can always consult.

In Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman’s monumental commentary on the Maharal, he dedicates his work to “My father who is tantamount to a rebbe” and to “My rebbe who is tantamount to a father.” As Torah Jews we turn to our mentors and rabbim not only to resolve halachic questions and inquiries, but also to guide us upon the path to follow in our quest to raise ourselves and our families as true servants of G-d.

Chani often tells me that when I finish speaking to one of my rabbeim there is a twinkle in my eye. I have no doubt that when my rabbeim consult their rabbeim they experience the same thing.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, June 4, 2010


Only works in Fire Fox

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach – Avos perek 3

22 Sivan 5770/ /June 4, 2010

A friend of mine related that he recently went to Yankees Stadium to watch a game. At the seventh inning stretch there was a minyan for ma’ariv at the kosher concession stand. After Aleinu, as the mourners began saying the final kaddish, a raucous cheer that erupted from around the stadium. Apparently, one of the Yankees had hit a homerun. The mourners waited a moment for the deafening hurrahs to abate before they continued. When they finished kaddish and the crowd began to disperse someone called out, “Nice davening guys!”

A respected educator quipped that perhaps the most dangerous word in the lexicon we use with our children is “FUN”. Children love to have fun and we, their parents/educators who love and cherish them, want to provide them with experiences they will relish. However, it is vital that one realize that for an experience to be enjoyable and memorable, it does not have to be fun.

For example, when a child comes home from shul it is inappropriate to ask the child if he/she had “fun” in shul. Shul is not a place where one is supposed to have fun. It is surely supposed to be an uplifting and enjoyable experience, but not fun! [I am not referring to youth groups or the like, but to actual davening.] Amusement parks, summer-camp experiences, and exciting trips, are all places and times for fun. But going to school, learning Torah, and davening, are not meant to be ‘fun’. [This is not to say that we should not offer incentives, or for a teacher to seek to make lessons fun. However, if every lesson and spiritual experience is “fun”, a child will hardly learn the meaning of sacrificing for the sake of a higher ideal.]

One of the great ideas that we need to help our children learn is that there are many experiences greater than fun. When one has to overcome difficult obstacles in order to achieve, it creates an inner transcendently blissful feeling, without having fun.

I have always felt that two of the greatest blessings one can merit is ‘simchas hachaim – joy in life’ and ‘sipuk hanefesh – inner fulfillment’. If one has those two qualities he can almost be guaranteed that he will live a fulfilling and satisfying life, despite the inevitable challenges of life.

One can only achieve simchas hachaim when he feels that his life is purposeful and that he is working towards aspirations and goals. That feeling is a byproduct of the struggle to achieve. Indeed there is no greater satisfaction and joy than perseverance and accomplishment. That feeling too is blissful and intensely pleasurable, but not fun.

Robert Brooks offers the following recipe for fostering self-esteem: “Make progress, in something challenging, that matters to you.” To truly foster self-esteem all three ingredients are necessary. It has to be worthwhile, it can’t be too easy, and it has to purposeful.

Self-esteem does not come from fun experiences, but rather from overcoming struggles for the sake of accomplishment. Fun surely has its place, but it must have its limits too.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum