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