Friday, July 30, 2010


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev – Avos perek 5

19 Av 5770/ /July 30, 2010

It was Visiting Day in Camp Dora Golding one year ago and the campus was packed with excited parents and children, who were catching up with each other. An elderly man sat down on my Gator (in-camp vehicle) and asked me for a ride to his grandson’s bunk on the other side of camp.

As I was driving he commented to me that he had been a camper in Camp Deal many decades earlier (Camp Dora Golding was originally called Camp Deal). He then quipped, “I’m eighty years old. When I was a seven year old camper, the Junior Counselor from the bunk next door took my chocolate lollipops that my parents had given me and ate them.” I replied that it was amazing that he still remembered that incident seventy-three years later. He shrugged, “You don’t forget when someone takes your chocolate lollipops!”

One of the greatest things that we can do for others is to create memories. Every counselor wants his/her campers to leave camp with good memories, every rebbe/teacher wants his/her students to have good memories of their school-year, and every parent wants his/her children to have wonderful memories throughout their lives.

The irony is that many of our most wonderful memories are not necessarily of expensive or exotic trips, as much as they are from personally wonderful and meaningful experiences. I can still vividly recall my grandfather reading me “Scuffy” as I lay next to him in bed, and my other grandfather standing in the street feigning that he was running towards us, as we ran towards him.

There is a book whose title expresses this idea beautifully and profoundly, “To a child love is spelled T-I-M-E”. But in today’s world we simply don’t always have adequate time. We all have days or weeks when we simply have too many responsibilities or events that we cannot escape from. What can we do?

I once asked this question to a distinguished educator who I am close with. His phone rings non-stop with questions from myriads of people who seek his wise advice. That is all aside from his daily responsibilities and the various positions he holds. He told me that when it comes to our children quality time is far more important than quantity of time.

If we don’t have a lot of time to give our children on a given day, we should strive to give our children a few minutes of “Shabbos time”, i.e. without any interference of anything forbidden on Shabbos (phone, cell phone, blackberry, computer, etc.) Those few moments of undivided attention are priceless. One never knows if moments like that create better memories than trips to Disney Land. Any child would rather five minutes of parental attention than an hour with Mickey Mouse!

It is also worth remembering that sometimes just doing something together is wonderful enough. One early morning I was driving with our oldest son Shalom to get a haircut. There was a CD playing that we were both enjoying. Then I thought to myself “Hey Mr. Social Worker, your son is in the car with you and no one else. Talk to him!” So I shut the CD and asked him, “Shalom, how is school?” (We discuss this virtually every night at dinner). “Fine!” “No, I mean, how is your rebbe and teacher and classmates?” “They are fine!” “Well, what do you enjoy about them?” There was a silent pause before Shalom responded, “Why are you asking me all these strange things? Can’t you put the CD back on?”

I guess quality time does not have to entail twenty-one questions. Just spending time together is worth everything. Just don’t ever take a child’s chocolate lollipops, unless you want them to remember it biz huntret oon tzvantzig (until 120).

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 23, 2010

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim “Shabbos Chazon” 5770

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim “Shabbos Chazon” – Avos perek 3

5Av 5770/ /July 16, 2010

This Sunday, 7 Av, is the yahrtzeit of the Nesivas Shalom, Rabbi Shalom Noach Brazovsky zt’l, the Slonimer Rebbe (1911-2000). For the past year during shalosh seudos in shul each Shabbos afternoon, we studied together a thought from the Nesivas Shalom. Therefore, it is only fitting that we note his yahrtzeit in deference and appreciation for all of the encouragement and Torah that we learned from him.

It is unusual that a work of a Chassidic master should be so widely accepted by Torah Jews of all backgrounds, even non-chassidim. Few such works merit such a distinction (such as S’fas Emes). Yet there are countless groups that study portions of the Nesivas Shalom on a regular basis, in shuls and yeshivos throughout the world.

Each thought of the Nesivas Shalom begins with a question, or series of questions, concerning a passage or commandment in the Torah. Although there are many variant approaches to understand Torah, the Nesivas Shalom always follows the same approach. Every question is answered, “Al derech ha’avodah”, i.e. with a lesson that has practical ramifications for one’s daily Service to G-d. At times the answer is intertwined with deep kabbalistic ideas. Yet it is always explained practically, with lucid clarity.

But perhaps the most salient feature of the Nesivas Shalom is his spiritual encouragement. In virtually every thought recorded, the Rebbe speaks of one’s ability to draw close to G-d, no matter how much one has sullied his soul. There is undoubtedly a process of repentance that a sinner must undergo. However, the sinner must understand that no matter how far he has drifted, when he is ready to repent and sincerely tries to do so, G-d will help and guide him. [The Rebbe also often mentions that there is no greater spiritual boost than that which comes from the bliss of proper Shabbos observance.] That is perhaps the overriding theme that traverses all of the Rebbe’s writings and teachings.

It’s been said that one of the reasons why the Nesivas Shalom merited such widespread acceptance is because of the Rebbe’s sincere love for every single Jew, as well as his incredible love for Torah and Eretz Yisroel.

On one occasion, an American chassid who was visiting Erertz Yisroel for a week came to bid the Rebbe farewell the night prior to his departure. With the chossid was his five year old son who was slightly under the weather. When the Rebbe noticed the youngster was sniffling and coughing he asked the chossid where he would be davening shacharis the following morning. The chossid replied that he planned to daven in one of the local shteiblach. The Rebbe shook his head. “I am afraid that if you will daven in one of the shtieblach you will have to wake up your son early in the morning. Then you will be rushed to eat a quick breakfast before hurrying off to the airport. Your son is already coughing and sneezing and if he arrives home in such a run-down state, when your wife will see him when he comes home she will be sorry that she allowed him to accompany you to Eretz Yisroel. Please, do me a favor, and daven in your hotel room! Your son will be able to sleep later and eat a normal breakfast. Then he will come home feeling better. It is better that you should daven alone than to risk your wife thinking negatively about Eretz Yisroel!”

It is that level of sensitivity and love which the Rebbe infused into his Chassidim as well as into all of his teachings. As we commemorate his yahrtzeit we should seek to internalize what made him so beloved. It is the Rebbe’s legacy of being sensitive to others and encouraging others by helping them feel valued and loved that is the antidote to the virulent enmity that has caused us to stagnate in two millennia of exile.

The words Nesivas Shalom literally mean “pathway of peace”. May we find that path and follow it “al derech ha’avodah”, along the way of Divine Service, all the way home to Yerushalayim! And may our souls ascend in this world, as his holy soul ascends in the upper worlds.

May we merit witnessing the consolation of Zion and the rebuilding of Jerusalem!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Parshios Matos-Masei 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Matos-Masei– Avos perek 2

27 Tamuz 5770/ /July 9, 2010

Did you ever hear anyone described as a “typical New Yorker”? Exactly what is it that makes someone a “typical New Yorker?”

The way I see it, it means that although he might know in the back of his mind that there are places that exist outside New York, to the “typical New Yorker” all of those places are peripheral, and they all seem to meld together in one nebulous blur.

It's been wisely said that to the ADHD child his temporal world is limited to two measurements of time: "now" and "not now". To the ADHD child ten minutes from now falls under the same category as three weeks from now; they are both "not now".

In a certain sense New Yorkers have ‘geographical ADHD’. To them there is only “New York” and "not New York". Therefore, there is little difference between California and Boston – they are both “not New York” and so that’s all that matters.

I admit that in that way I could at times be accused of bring a ‘typical New Yorker’. In last week’s Stam Torah I recounted a story from our dear neighbor Scott Kaplan. In a footnote I wrote that Scott spends most of his time teaching Torah in Dallas. On Shabbos a friend pointed out that Scott actually is stationed in Houston not Dallas. However, as a typical New Yorker to me there is virtually no difference between Dallas and Houston (except maybe for the fact that the Astros play in Houston and the Cowboys play in Dallas). The truth is that it's amazing that I got the state right.

In fact I once asked Scott if he knew my older brother R' Yitzie who lives in Chesterfield, Missouri. I reasoned that after all, Chesterfield and Dallas are practically neighboring cities; they are both basically in the southwest. I should mention that when Scott replied that he had never met my brother I told him that I was disappointed because I was under the impression that they were friendlier down south. I didn’t think they snubbed their neighbors down there.

My faux pas with Scott’s hometown brought to mind the following incident: A number of months ago I was in Manhattan for an educational seminar. As I was waiting for the bus to take me back to Monsey in the late afternoon, a man asked me if I knew directions around the city. I apologized and said that I wasn't from the area and couldn't help him. As he walked away he muttered audibly, "Oh that's right, you people are from Israel!"

I am unsure if the comment was said facetiously but it did make me think. Essentially he was right but do I truly believe that I belong in Israel? Do I really hope to become a "typical Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite)" instead of a ‘typical New Yorker’?

A true "Yerushalmi" also classifies the whole world into two groups - “Yerushalayim” and "not Yerushalayim", or at least “Ha’aretz” (The Land) and “Chutz La’aretz” (Outside The Land). But that distinction does not emerge from arrogance and hubris. Rather it stems from an awareness of the privilege to be a resident in G-d's city.

As the laws of the Three Weeks of mourning intensify as Tisha B’av rapidly approaches it’s something to think about. If we really aspire to become “typical Yerushalmis”, it’s not just a matter of attitude about where we live, but we must also ensure that we will be able to ‘fit into the neighborhood’. And when Moshiach arrives soon, fitting in entails that we are ready to live in the opulent grandeur of the Palace of the Supreme King.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 2, 2010



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos – Avos perek 1

20 Tamuz 5770/ /July 2, 2010

The fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz ushers in the Three Week period of mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temples. Although the Mishan (end of Ta’anis) lists five tragic events that transpired on that day, in regards to the destruction of the Temple the most significant event was that the Roman legions who had laid siege around Jerusalem finally penetrated the walls and burst into the city on that day. Once they had entered the city it was only a matter of time before the Temple Mount would succumb and they would destroy the Temple.

The breaching of the physical the walls of Jerusalem is symbolic of a deeper more spiritual breach. In the Hoshanos prayers recited on Succos Israel declares, “Ohm ani choma – I am a wall!” That ‘wall’ represents the exclusiveness of the Jewish people. In the words of the wicked prophet Bila’am, “Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.” When that wall of exclusivity and uniqueness is breached, as a nation we become vulnerable to the spiritual and material dangers that lurk beyond those barriers.

In recent and current news, we are acutely aware of the vast danger of breaches. The oil that has been spilling into the gulf, contaminating and threatening the ecological life of the surrounding seas, is one such painful example. Another example is the recent flotilla debacle. For obvious security reason Israel sealed off the gulf from foreign ships. When a flotilla breached that security Israel sought to protect itself by inspecting the ship. The world responded with unjustified hypocritical consternation.

Most recently the Charedi public in Jerusalem and B’nei Brak bonded together en masse to protest what they felt was a breach of their standards of education. They viewed the secular court’s ruling against the Slonim girl’s school in Emmanuel as an infringement on the unyielding impenetrable barrier they erected to ensure that their educational system is unadulterated. [Needless to say the court and the media’s false portrayal of the Charedi position is also a breach!]

In a different vein, when a groom and bride stand under the canopy together, the bride customarily circles around her future husband seven times. Then the groom places a ring upon her finger, effecting the marriage. One of the ideas behind both customs is to symbolize the fact that a vital part of marriage is that each spouse form a proverbial protective wall around his/her significant other. The circuits she walks around him, and the circular ring he places on her finger, represents the fact that in their marriage they commit that their lives will circle and revolve around each other, first and foremost.

One of the greatest tragedies of our time is the atrophying of the nuclear family. The problem is further compounded by a liberal society which promotes a false sense of independence that does not promote familial bonding and marriage, in fact it denounces it.

A husband and wife are supposed to be protective walls around each other, just as parents seek to be for their children. To our dismay and chagrin, in so many families those walls and protections have been breached.

The fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz does nor merely commemorate a ‘historical breach’. On a symbolic level we mourn numerous breaches in many walls that comprise the House of Israel. It is a day, not only of tragic memories, but also of global attacks on our world, external attacks upon us as a people, internal attacks upon us as the bearers of the banner of Torah, and domestic attacks upon our families.

But the Three Weeks of mourning also carry hope for a better future. We are a nation of sanguinity and optimism, and that is why we have endured. So even with so much to mourn for we still anticipate the time of ultimate consolation, when our breaches will be repaired and our citadels will again stand firm and uncompromised.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum