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