Thursday, December 29, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash

4 Teves 5772/December 30, 2011

Jeff had always wanted to be an army-pilot and now his dream was finally becoming a reality. In another week he would set off to the army base to begin the exciting new stage of his life. Although he didn’t want to admit it Jeff was very nervous. The prospect of entering hostile enemy territory and engaging in constant combat was daunting to say the least. He knew there would be dark and lonely days ahead. Still Jeff was confident that his years of training and ongoing support from his generals and fellow soldiers would give him the encouragement to stay the course.

During the week before his departure, friends and family members gathered around him to toast him, wish him well, and tell him how proud they were of him. Most precious of all was the advice and encouragement from Uncle Barry. A former general, Barry had proven himself to be an adroit soldier. Uncle Barry spoke to Jeff about his own experiences. He told Barry that it was inevitable that he would make mistakes, which at times could even be costly. But a real soldier doesn’t allow himself to wallow in self pity. Most importantly he told Jeff that he had to learn to trust himself and believe that he had the tools necessary to succeed. Even in the bleakest situations he had to trust the monitors and gauges before him. He had all the tools he needed; the test would be whether he could access those tools in moments of need.

The conclusion of Chanukah is always somewhat bittersweet. For eight nights we gather together with our families to reflect upon the blessings G-d endows us. We sing in the glow of the dancing flames which remind us that throughout our history our flame continues to burn, despite the storms and tempests that tried to extinguish it. The beautiful customs and unique foods endemic to Chanukah add to the spirit of the holiday.

When Chanukah ends it not only marks the conclusion of this most beautiful holiday, but it also ushers in the darkest and coldest stretch of winter. Within a week of Chanukah’s conclusion is the eighth of Teves, that day the Septuagint was written. It is a day when the Gemara says darkness descended into the world for three days. Chanukah generally ends during the Christian holiday season or prior, which historically is a difficult period for Jews. The Septuagint also has much to do with the eventual writing of the New Testament, the foundation of their religion. Two days later we fast to commemorate the beginning of the siege of Nebuchadnezzar around Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash. The weeks of Shovavim, a period of repentance and introspection (during the weeks of the reading of the first six parshios (in a leap year eight parshios) of Chumash Shemos), also begin within two weeks of Chanukah.

These events do not abruptly and rapidly eradicate all traces of the joy of Chanukah. In fact the opposite is true. The holiday of Chanukah provides us with encouragement and spiritual warmth to weather the challenges of the upcoming weeks. The Yom Tov grants us the tools to find fulfillment even in darkness.

The Yom Tov of Chanukah cannot end when the Menorah is placed back on the shelf. We must continue to hear its message, feel its warmth, and see its light throughout the winter. The Menorah and the eight days of hallel and hoda’ah have given us the tools we need to plunge ahead into the months of Teves and Shevat. The only question is if we can access those tools in our moments of need.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, December 23, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz – Shabbos Chanukah

27 Kislev 5772/December 23, 2011

I’m typing this quietly because I don’t want my car to hear. My faithful Hyundai Sonata – may it live and be well until 120,000 and more (it’s not too far off) - is still going strong b’h. But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s showing its age and wear and tear. It has many wrinkles, coughs a bit, and can be bit grumpy in the morning. It’s also an experience to drive down the highway. As the speedometer passes 60 it starts to feel like the car is about to take off. Passengers have voiced their annoyance that complimentary peanuts are not served.

So the other week when we were visiting my in-laws, the topic of discussion turned to car salesmen. [I don’t know why these car establishments all have ‘used’ car-salesmen. Why can’t they find new salesmen?] When Chani mentioned that she had seen a great deal advertised for a car, my father-in-law countered that the advertised deal usually refers to one specific car which is has almost no features, including no CD player or power windows. Their goal is to get you to come down to the dealership. Once they get you to ‘stick your foot in the door’ they use their wily and slimy influence to ‘interest you in something else’, luring you into spending more on features you don’t necessarily need in order to upgrade to a more expensive purchase.

The ‘foot in the door’ technique succeeds due to a basic human reality referred to by social scientists as ‘successive approximations’. The more a subject agrees to small requests or commitments, the more likely he is to continue in a desired direction of attitude or behavioral change, feeling obligated to adhere to greater requests.

This technique is the logic used in car dealerships, providing a free sample of a product, window advertising outside a store, vendors asking people to fill out an optional questionnaire or survey, and agreeing to view a brief sales presentation in order to collect a free vacation (ever go to a Timeshare meeting?...)

Sfas Emes explains that the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles was enacted to be in the doorway opposite the Mezuzah in the doorpost (most people today light in the window facing the street, but there are some people who light at the door). The Syrian-Greeks had a particular obsession with destroying doorways. The Mishna relates that they made thirteen breaches in the Soreg, the fence which was the dividing line prohibiting gentiles from proceeding further in the Bais Hamikdash. He also explains that the three mitzvos they prohibited Shabbos, circumcision, and Rosh Chodesh are ‘gateway’ mitzvos, i.e. mitzvos that lead to higher levels (see Sfas Emes, Chanukah 5642-5643).

The Torah says (Bereishis 4:7) “Sin rests at the door”. The Evil Inclination seeks merely to get his foot in the door. Once he’s in, he employs ‘successive approximations’ to expand his welcome. In our time the Evil Inclination has found ways to penetrate our homes by bypassing the doors, and we must be wary of those dangers as well.

Chanukah is a holiday when we spiritually fortify our doorways, being careful to not allow negative influences to penetrate our homes so that our homes are islands of morality and Torah values.

In the meanwhile I ask everyone to please pray for the health and longevity of ‘Sonata shel Dani’. May the miracles of Chanukah apply to my car, keeping it going well after its parts should have ceased to work.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

A happy and lichtig Chanukah,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev

20 Kislev 5772/December 16, 2011

Here it is Americans; the present you’ve all been looking for: “The Hanukkah Tree Topper! Celebrate the warmth and wonder of both Hanukah and X-mas. A must have for interfaith families. Available in silver metallic coated, textured plastic, with a steel coil for easy sturdy mounting.”

A Jewish woman once told me that she and her Catholic husband work very hard during the holiday season so that their children feel privileged that they can celebrate both Hanukkah and X-mas.

The notion of trying to blend two mutually exclusive faiths is itself a tragedy. The very concept of the ‘Holiday Season’, as if insinuating that there is any remote connection between the two holidays, other than the fact that they sometimes overlap, is a sad misunderstanding.

But the fact that this befuddlement of ideals and values occurs with the holiday of Chanukah is a complete distortion of what the holiday is about.

Rambam writes, “The Chanukah candles are exceedingly beloved.” It is an unusual emotional declaration to be found in a treatise dedicated to the bottom line of the law. In fact the Rambam does not express such a strong sentiment in regards to any other seasonal mitzvah.

Chanukah is the result of the efforts of our ancestors who would not compromise on their ideals and fought to keep the Torah in its pristine purity. This was symbolized by their obdurate refusal to use any of the oil that had been (purposely) contaminated by the Syrian-Greeks.

Thus, Chanukah is a victory and holiday of separation. It was a time when our forefather pledged ‘their lives and their sacred honor’ for the right to be different, and not allow calls for equality to contaminate their existence.

Erecting a Hanukkah Bush or placing a Jewish symbol of a tree is analogous to celebrating American Independence Day by hoisting the British Flag above the White House with a little picture of George Washington on top. The whole point of the American Revolution was to sever the ties between the colonists and the English Monarchy.

Trying to merge two disparate entities is not a promotion of peace but a destruction of both entities.

Still we must not become too discouraged with how the holiday is celebrated outside the Torah-observant world. Chanukah is the holiday of light – and that includes the inner light of our souls. Somehow the Chanukah lights beckons even to the most distant Jews and tugs at their heartstrings. They may not even realize it, but somehow those little candles sear through the vapid falsities they have been taught, to keeps a spark of truth glowing within.

“These candles are holy… to praise and express gratitude to Your Great Name.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

A happy and lichtig Chanukah,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach

13 Kislev 5772/December 9, 2011

Aside for being renowned for the famous yeshiva, Bais Medrash Govoha, and for being the residence of my in-laws, the city of Lakewood, NJ boasts its own Jewish radio station. The station 107.9 FM WMDI is all Jewish all the time 24/6. On Shabbos the station plays nothing but static throughout the day.

As we were leaving Lakewood after spending a few days of Chol Hamoed Sucos at the home of my in-laws we were interested to see how far the Jewish station would reach. At the time the station was airing a shiur on Mishnayos. We were still able to hear the shiur as we drove all the way down Squankum Drive, and even onto the I-195. Then, after a momentary dulling, the station abruptly changed programming. Suddenly we were hearing a typical FM station where someone was singing about how incomplete their life is because someone else had abandoned them… It was then that we turned on a CD.

An FM radio station actually is not limited by a certain amount of distance, but by mutual interference of another program. Most stations reach a distance of about 28 km (as regulated by the FCC). However, in areas where there is no interference, such as Wyoming, a station can be heard at a distance of 139 km. But once an interfering station begins vying for the sound on your radio, it is the program which is closer to its transmitter which will dominate.

Our soul works in similar fashion. The more connected we are to our source the clearer we will hear the ‘voice of our soul’. But as soon as we travel beyond range, we enter the airspace and dominance of other programs and the sounds we hear will be vastly different.

When the Germans invaded Russia during World War II they were determined not to make the same mistake as Napoleon did a hundred and twenty years earlier. Napoleon’s superior army was destroyed by the sheer brutality of the Russian Winter, for which the French soldiers were ill prepared. Hitler was foolishly confident that the invasion would be over long before winter. The German invasion of Russia - Operation Barbarossa – in June 1941 was initially a great success for the Germans. The Russian forces collapsed under the onslaught. But as the Russians retreated they destroyed everything in their path, a tactic known as ‘scorched earth’, leaving the Germans no supplies. The German supply lines ran all the way across the Russian border, through Poland, and back to Germany. When winter finally arrived it was one of the most brutal ever, with temperatures dipping 40 degrees below zero. Once again the forces seeking to conquer Russia were destroyed by “General Winter”.

In the spiritual world, as in the physical world, one cannot venture to far from his ‘supply lines’. It is simply too dangerous for one to expose himself to the elements. If we want to ensure that the sounds which resonate within us is that of our pure souls, we must ensure that the connection to our source is vibrant and that we don’t allow other forces to interfere.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei

6 Kislev 5772/December 2, 2011

It’s not easy being a New York Mets fan these days. The Mets have become the nebuchs from Queens, the team that just can’t get it together. A billboard hanging right near the Brooklyn Bridge preaches the greatness of New York as being ‘the city that hosts six professional sports teams, and the Mets’. Ouch!

Just recently the Mets organization leaders convened to discuss what they can do to boost their hapless team. How could they get their players to hit more home runs? There are All-Star players whose annual numbers of homeruns have dropped precipitously during the last three seasons since the Mets moved to their new home at Citi-Field. Why can’t they get it Wright?

The organization came up with a brilliant solution. They decided to lower the outfield walls by seven feet, and to bring in the right field wall by 17 feet. Now fly balls that would have been caught in the outfield, or would have bounced off the wall, will be deemed homeruns. That should definitely solve the Mets’ woes.

Whenever one is faced with feelings of inadequacy or lack of fulfillment because he has not achieved his self-imposed goals, he has two options: He can either reassess his efforts and ambitions and recommit himself to meeting his goals with renewed vigor, or he can settle for the path of least resistance by minimizing his goals and allowing himself to be satisfied with what he has already achieved.

This is true in regards to all areas of life, but especially in regards to spiritual matters. It’s been said that if a child is trying to kiss a Sefer Torah as it is being carried to the bimah, it’s better to raise the child to the Torah than to lower the Torah to the child. The symbolism is that we must never rest on our laurels or compromise on our values. The Torah stands on its lofty pedestal and we must raise our standards to be in tandem with its mitzvos, even at the cost of self compromise and sacrifice.

We have to figure out a way to live by its boundaries and parameters, and at times that requires spiritual exercise and growth. But we can never cut corners to make the Torah suit our needs, or to fit our agenda.

The Mets may be enjoyable to watch (especially if you’re the opposition) but this is one lesson not to be learned. It’s always better to build your muscles than to chop down the walls.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos/ Mevarchim Chodesh Kislev

28 MarCheshvan 5772/November 25, 2011

This past Sunday morning as I was delivering my weekly Rambam shiur after shacharis, my family neighbor from my youth, R’ Akiva Lane, walked in and sat down to listen. At the end of the shiur, he handed me a small notebook and said, “We were cleaning out our basement and we found this; it belongs to you.” I peered down at the cover of my fourth grade notebook! I should mention that the Lane family made aliyah a number of years ago. I have no idea how my notebook ended up in their home in the first place, but somehow it remained with them all these years.

By nature I am a copious note-taker and have many binders and notebooks full of notes from classes and lectures I have heard over the years. I try to write my notes in a manner that others could read my writings and understand them. Part of my inspiration for writing in such detailed fashion comes from my Zayde. Truthfully, it is not because he had such beautiful notes, but rather the opposite. His handwriting is very difficult to decipher, and he wrote brief thoughts on any pieces of paper he had available. There are short thoughts jotted on the back of invitations, tax forms, school papers, and advertisements. Those papers were left in his sefarim.

Over the years I have spent considerable amounts of time trying to decipher his writings. I have been successful in understanding some of them, but there is so much more that I still can’t quite make out. Whatever I have been able to understand is extremely precious to me.

Ben Franklin famously wrote:

“If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth writing.”

The Mishna in Avos states וקנה לך חבר" – Acquire for yourself a friend.” One of the commentaries offers a novel interpretation of these words: A קנה can also be translated as a reed, which used to be used as a quill for writing. Thus the Mishna is saying, “Your pen – will be your friend.”

When something is written, it’s documented forever (as long as you don’t lose it). I have letters that I received from my Grandmothers when I was a camper in camp as a child which are so precious to me, as well as letters from my parents, and even copies of letters I sent to others. The memories contained in those writings are invaluable. When I read them I find myself momentarily transported back to a different time and place in my life.

It was a fascinating experience to open the notebook and see my writings from so many years ago, from such a vastly different stage in my life.

That is a bit of the feeling I had when I opened up my fourth grade notebook with my old address - 19 Echo Ridge Rd - and our classic phone number 578-5787 (what a phone-number!) written in my nine year old handwriting on the front cover. That notebook had the steps of the korbanos which were brought in the Mishkan. Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer, my fourth grade rebbe, had us memorize all the steps, many of which I still remember.

It’s amazing how many memories are hidden away in old letters and an old notebook.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah

21 MarCheshvan 5772/November 18, 2011

I’m sure it’s happened to almost everyone at one time or another. You’re sitting at some sort of reception or simcha schmoozing with a friend, when you start to feel thirsty. A quick perusal of the table and you notice that the Coke is too far away, so you settle for the only beverage within reach, a closed bottle of Seltzer. While your friend continues explaining his theories about life you maintain eye contact while trying to slowly ease the bottle open. And then it happens!

The room seems to grow quiet, conversations stop, and all eyes turn to you. You are sitting with a goofy look on your face, seltzer dripping down your sleeves and all over your shirt. People look at you with pitiful eyes that seem to say, ‘What a nebuch! He can’t even open a bottle of Seltzer without it exploding. Why didn’t he just take water?’ And there’s always that one clown who calls out jovially, “Quick pour some seltzer on it before it stains!”

And yes, I am writing about this because it happened to me recently…

You can’t just open a bottle of Seltzer. You must bear in mind that the contents of the bottle are under pressure. Therefore, you must open it slowly, allowing just a bit of air to escape before pulling the whole cap off.

There are many times in life when a certain measure of pressure is necessary. A parent needs to pressure his/her child, a husband needs to pressure his wife or vice-versa, an employer needs to pressure his employee, etc.

The golden rule is that one must always ‘open slowly’. Pressure must be added gently, incrementally, soothingly, and understandingly. If someone is always pressuring another, without thinking about the effects of his words, the results can cause an explosion and, G-d forbid, prove disastrous.

At the same time a certain amount of pressure is certainly necessary. Parents who don’t pressure their children deny their children the opportunity to realize their true self-worth and the feeling of accomplishment. There is no point of having the bottle on the table if it remains closed and unused.

The key is to find the happy medium - not too much and not too little – but finding that medium is not always easy.

By the way, for those who are questioning my right to lecture about Seltzer, I should mention that my Zayde (whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday, 27 Cheshvan)’s father, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Willamofsky zt’l hy’d was the Rav and spiritual leader of the town of Seltz in Russia. Had that position remained in our family I may have actually become the Seltzer Rav. And that would unquestionably have been a groyseh shpritz!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, November 11, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera

14 MarCheshvan 5772/November 11, 2011

Natti was your typical American yeshiva boy. He was born in 1943 and raised in his native Chicago in the world of baseball and hotdogs. He was the starting center on his high school basketball team, Ida Crown Jewish Academy. In his eighth grade yearbook, next to his photo it said ‘Ambition: Undecided’ with the quote, “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” Natty was well liked and was a good student but he wasn’t particularly brilliant.

When he was fifteen he went to visit Eretz Yisroel for the first time. While there he stayed in the home of his cousin, an illustrious Rosh Yeshiva, and spent some time visiting the yeshiva. Natty was immediately drawn to the atmosphere of the yeshiva and he wanted to stay longer. But his mother wanted him to return to Chicago until he completed High School.

If a fortune-teller would have appeared during his graduation procession from High School to reveal his future, Natti would probably have discounted his words, and told the fortune-teller that he was out of his mind. This is what the fortune-teller might have said:

“Natti you will return to Eretz Yisroel to live in the home of your cousin, the Rosh Yeshiva. You will fall in love with the yeshiva and you will remain attached to it for the rest of your life. You will begin to apply yourself and study with unbridled enthusiasm and uncanny dedication, raising your knowledge and proficiency in Torah to incredible levels. The Rosh Yeshiva will be so enamored with you that he will arrange for you to marry his granddaughter.

“You will raise a beautiful family of thirteen children. Your wife will bring your children to the yeshiva to see you during the week so you can continue to learn uninterrupted. After a few decades your father-in-law will hand over the reigns of the yeshiva to you just prior to his passing. Despite the fact that by then you will be afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease, causing you to suffer constant pain and physical challenges, you will undertake the challenge. The yeshiva will continue to grow under your tutelage at a mind-boggling rate, until it boasts a student-body of three thousand. You will become a role model for Torah Jews the world over, a beloved personality and an inspiration to all. Your tremors, and a times violent shaking, will only seek to strengthen your myriad students’ love and admiration for you. Your shiurim will be packed with talmidim who will strain to hear the pearls that flow from your (physically) weak voice. You will become the foremost symbol of learning and loving Torah despite all challenges.

“Then suddenly, to the shock of the Torah world, on the yahrtzeit of our matriarch Rochel Imeinu, you will have a massive heart attack at the age of 69 and leave this world. Your passing will tear apart the hearts of your beloved people. The greatest Torah leaders of the day, including esteemed rabbanim thirty years your senior, will eulogize you and mourn your passing together with a hundred thousand of your orphaned students in a funeral that will paralyze the bustling city of Yerushalayim. The world will hear about the death of a humble rabbi named Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, and understand that the Jewish people suffered an irreplaceable loss.”

“The day will come when an American yeshiva boy will no longer be able to blame his lack of growth on the fact that he grew up in America, because they will point to you. But for now why don’t you go enjoy your graduation ceremony with the rest of your family.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

7 MarCheshvan 5772/November 4, 2011

Do you have that one friend who always seems to be one step behind? He’s the person who is very sincere but a bit too gullible (the one who believes you when you tell him that they took the word ‘gullible’ out of the dictionary); the one who never laughs at a joke because he needs the punch line explained to him. He’s the fellow who just ‘doesn’t get it’ unless it’s spelled out for him.

But perhaps on some level that describes all of us.

In 1985, the U.S.S.R. was - as it had been since the conclusion of World War II - the United States’ most implacable foe. Behind what Churchill dubbed ‘the Iron Curtain’ was the joint forces of the communist world. Led by such nefarious leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, it was an impenetrable power.

At the same time Saddam Hussein was the dictatorial ruler of Iraq, as he had been since 1973. He had instigated a war with neighboring Iran that caused the death of hundreds of thousands. Mummar Gaddafi was the tyrannical dictator who dominated Libya since 1969. He financed and supported Palestinian militant organizations against Israel, and was dubbed ‘Public Enemy number one’ by President Reagan.

If you would have told someone then that by the year 2011 the U.S.S.R would already be a historical entity for over two decades, that Saddam Hussein would have already been captured in a farm house, put on trial for his crimes against humanity, and subsequently executed, and that Gadaffi would be dragged out of a drainpipe by rebel forces who toppled his forty-year reign, and would be beaten and killed, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Add to that that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind responsible for the September 11th and America’s Most Wanted enemy since 1998, who was killed in his Abbotabad Mansion in a gutsy raid by American Marines that lasted just a few hours.

Dovid Hamelech stated, (Tehillim 49) “Do not fear when a man grows rich, when he increases the splendor of his house. For upon his death he will not take anything, his splendor will not descend after him.”

Saddam Hussein had a net worth of over two billion dollars, Gadaffi was worth an estimated one billion, and Bin-Laden had a net worth of about fifty million dollars. [The U.S.S.R was completely bankrupt when it disbanded under Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost.]

In the last few years we have witnessed the incredible downfall of three powerful leaders and a world power, all of whom paralyzed their respective nations with intense fear and intimidation. They deified themselves to the masses and ensured everyone’s complete allegiance solely to them. Any opposition was brutally crushed and they inundated their masses with propaganda and lies. They maintained personal wealth that boggles the mind, living in palatial wealth while many of their subjects suffered abject poverty.

And now they are all dead, killed in a most ignominious fashion, and all of their decades of wealth, might, and power are gone too.

But that is all old news already. We want to hear the latest about the storm cleanup and what is happening in sports. Thank heaven the Giants didn’t lose to the winless Dolphins.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach /Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan

30 Tishrei 5772/October 28, 2011

Yom Tov is truly a special time. The special tefillos, the meals, the songs, the meals, the camaraderie, the meals, extra time with the family, the meals, and of course the delicious meals. Chol Hamoed also provides a wonderful opportunity for family bonding (pronounced ‘kvetching’) and enjoying spending time together.

One of the many pleasurable moments of this past Chol Hamoed for me personally was watching our three year old son Avi enjoying an arcade that we visited. For our two older children the arcade cost me some money. But for Avi the cost was minimal.

Avi plopped himself down on one of the virtual motorcycles attached to the game and turned the steering wheel with gusto as the car on the screen made the same turns. He gleefully made engine noises as he steered his car through windy roads at dangerously high speeds. He looked a bit confused when some large letters suddenly appeared on the screen and began blinking a few times. However, when the simulated game reappeared a minute later, he went right back to his tenacious driving.

And why should I be the one to tell him that he wasn’t really controlling what was happening? If he cannot yet read the words ‘Insert Coins’ why must I explain it to him? As long as he was content and felt that it was his doing, he was happy and I saved a few dollars.

When he finished one game he went on to another, and the same scene repeated itself.

It was cute and humorous that he thought he was controlling the game when really it was pre-programmed, and had nothing to do with his motions and efforts.

I don’t know if angels laugh, but I wonder if they view us in the same vein? We too feel that we are in control and are running every aspect of our own lives. But in truth it only appears that way, because life and its events are divinely simulated and ordained to occur exactly as G-d sees fit.

We do not see the words “Insert act of Kindness”, “Insert Charity”, or “Insert additional Prayer” flashing before our eyes. Still, we are aware that it is such acts which grant us the merit to remain behind our wheel and continue to drive (or at least appear that way).

The only problem was that in order to procure tickets which are redeemable for ‘serious prizes’, you have to actually play some games. So I did have to shell out some cash and we had to help Avi with a few rounds of skee-ball and basketball shooting.

When we were done he had racked up over 100 tickets! I was pretty sure he had enough tickets to get the 6 days-7 nights vacation getaway package to Miami. But I guess he fell a bit short because he was only able to get the little squishy thing which broke in the car on the way home. At least he still had the free brochure.

Drive safely!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Hoshanah Rabbah 5772

21 Tishrei 5772/October 19, 2011

In our home, Children’s Tapes are very important. More than anything else, we kick off the holiday season with the familiar sounds of certain Children’s Tapes being played. Of course there are certain tapes which seem to be played all year round. [Last week I had to keep reminding our younger children that it is not almost Purim even though they can’t get enough of ‘The Purim Story’. “Avi, tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, can we put away the Purim tape?” “Okay Abba, put on the ‘Baruch learns about Pesach’ one.]

This all helps you appreciate why I am so vexed that there aren’t too many Succos Children’s tapes. We have a tape of Rabbi Alter singing Succos songs, but that’s about it. When Baruch finished learning about Pesach and his berachos, why didn’t anyone teach him about Succos? When Yanky finished learning about Shabbos and Pesach why didn’t Zaydey teach him about a succah? And why couldn’t there be an ‘Incredible esrog of Feitel von Zetrog’? Why can’t Kivi and Tuki go to visit Uncle Moishy’s Succah? [Please note that if you are not familiar with contemporary Children’s Tapes you may not know what I am talking about. You also don’t know what you’re missing!] I’m sure soon Lipa will have some video singing ‘Hayp oif dayne hentelach in der succah ubber not when you’re holding your lulav and esrog’.

The truth is that the message of Succos is so important, especially in our day and age, and it is unfortunately not spoken about enough. In fact, I remember a friend of mine commenting to me when we were about twelve years old that he would be willing to bet that many children our age have no idea why we celebrate Succos. What a tragedy!

Succos is a celebration of the belief that G-d controls and directs every facet of our lives. We think our homes, finances, cars, and prestige protect us. But in truth it is G-d who provides shelter, protection, and comfort in our lives. We leave our alarm-secured homes, to sit in a flimsy succah under the stars, to ingrain within us that ultimately it is only G-d who watches over us. During the same holiday we wave the Four Species in all six directions to symbolize that it is G-d who controls the ‘winds of the world’, which symbolically includes everything that occurs in the world.

There are many deeper meanings and explanations of the profundity and depth of the succah and Four Species, but we need to remind ourselves of the simple understanding of the holiday: that we must place our faith and trust in G-d. That is the reason for the intense joy during this unique holiday.

It is a lesson that we must not only teach our children, but that we need to remind ourselves of constantly.

It is only after spending a week with that focus in mind that we can remove the Torah Scrolls from the holy Ark to dance with them, with unbridled love and passion, in the presence of the One who gave us the Torah.

I conclude by sharing with you a memo that I was told is hanging in Home Depot: “To all of our Jewish patrons, please note that the thing that attaches to the thing, which looks like the thing in your garage, will not be available until after the holiday.” [And for those of you who are asking - no, there is not really such a sign hanging in Home Depot.]

Hey, maybe next year they’ll release a tape about the opening of the new Home Depot on Torah Island, just in time for Succos. I hope Yanky Strudel doesn’t land on the s’chach.

Chag Kasher V’samayach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Erev Z’man Simchasaynu 5772

14 Tishrei 5772/October 12, 2011

Ever since they enslaved our ancestors for over two centuries a few millennia ago, we have never trusted our neighbors down in Egypt. We remind ourselves of that fact every year when we celebrate the holiday of Pesach. But this year the Egyptians have surfaced around the holiday of Succos.

“Pharaoh, let my lulavs go!”

Egypt is the central exporter of lulavim needed as one of the Four Species taken on Succos. They provide the Jewish world with about half a million palm fronds annually, from a general demand of about 700,000. This year the ministry has decided to ban all exports of lulavim, bar none. Although the Egyptian ministry claims that the reason for the ban is because of overharvesting and agricultural concerns, we all know that the real reason is because of the growing tension between Israel and Egypt.

Egypt’s refusal to export the lulavim is a demonstration of the Sages’ rule that ‘hatred perverts the straight path’. In the long run, it is unquestionably the fledgling Egyptian economy that will suffer the most from this whole debacle. The Jewish People will somehow figure out a way to have lulavim. In fact, this year many Jews will have to purchase the more expensive, but more halachically qualified, ‘Deri’ lulavim. [The Deri lulavim are thicker, sturdier, and are more reliable vis-à-vis the uppermost ‘twin’ leaves (t’yumas) being perfectly sealed, as required by halacha.] Thus, as has happened so many times in the past, our enemy’s effort to diminish our mitzvah observance, only leads to our beautification and more preciseness in that regard.

To add, there is another subconscious reason why the Egyptians seek to hinder our having the required Four Species. The Medrash (Vayikrah Rabbah, parshas Emor) relates that on Yom Kippur there is a tremendous battle raging in heaven between every nation in the world and Klal Yisroel (kind of like all every meeting in the United Nations in this world). The Medrash continues that it is not immediately apparent who was victorious. But then, when we emerge on Succos proudly holding the Four Species, it is symbolic that we were the victors.

No wonder the Egyptians don’t want us to have lulavim if they can help it. They never really got over the fact that we became the Chosen Nation after we were redeemed from their accursed land.

So Egypt, keep your lulavim and we’ll keep our money. And don’t you worry; the Season of our Gladness will not be lacking in mitzvah observance one iota. You stubborn Pharaohs, you just never learn.

Chag Kasher V’samayach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Erev Shabbos/Yom Kippur 5772

9 Tishrei 5772/October 7, 2011

A family friend once remarked to me that Yom Kippur is her favorite day of the year. Then she added with a half-smile, “I don’t even know why I love it so much. I hate fasting, yet I love the day. Am I crazy?”

I replied that I always feel there is a certain serenity which sets in as Kol Nidrei commences. I compared it to the early morning hours after a massive snow storm. The whole neighborhood is covered in a pristine blanket of white, and the roads are still impassable. For at least a few hours there is no where to go, and everything seems so tranquil (unless of course you drive a snow plow).

The hours before Yom Kippur are an extremely frenzied and busy time. Meals, mikvah, showers, blessings, last minute phone calls, arrangements, candles - including yahrtzeit candles, tallis and kittel, slippers, etc. I always feel quite harried as I settle into my seat to try to say Tefillas Zakkah (the impassioned confession prayer recited prior to Kol Nidrei) with the intense concentration it warrants.

But then as the sun begins to set and the chazzan’s voice begins the ancient penetrating and haunting tune for Kol Nidrei, all of the frenzied rush is over. True, there is tremendous intensity and seriousness that envelopes the synagogue. However, at that moment there is no where else to go and no where else to be. There are no meals to prepare, no arrangements to be made, and nothing else to do. There is only the machzor and the prayers before us.

Yom Kippur also affords us the opportunity to take a candid unhindered look at ourselves, and whether we are living up to, and fulfilling, our own dreams and aspirations.

It is well known that in the court of the great Kotzker Rebbe there was a tremendous emphasis in truth – in behavior, conduct, and even thought.

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked a woman why she had traveled a great distance to come to Kotzk. She replied that she had come to find G-d. The Rebbe replied that for that she could have stayed home, because G-d is everywhere. “Then why have I have come?” She asked. “To find yourself”, the Rebbe poignantly replied, “to find yourself”.

Therein lies part of the greatness of Yom Kippur. We ‘come to Kippur’ to find ourselves: Where have we been? Where are we going? It is an opportunity for serious introspection.

Yom Kippur may not be an easy day, but it is a transcendent day, and in a sense, a day of great serenity and inner peace.

May we all rediscover ourselves and enjoy the experience.

G’mar Chasima Tova

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Erev ‘Rosh Hashanah 5772’

29 Elul 5771/September 28, 2011

What is it about songs and music that makes them so contagious?

Did you ever find yourself singing a song that you realized was in your head because you heard someone humming it when you walked past them a few hours earlier?

During my years in yeshiva, in the morning as seder (learning session) began I would often ask my chavrusa (study partner) ‘So what song should we have everyone sing today?’ We would pick a song which we would sing out loud as people entered the Bais Medrash. Then we would gleefully wait to hear people humming or singing the song hours later on the other side of the Bais Medrash.

For the last two weeks there was a song swirling in my head. It’s an ancient beautiful tune with Yiddish lyrics written by the Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Barditchiv, in which he makes a ‘deal’ with G-d. I very much wanted to purchase an album that had the song but I couldn’t find any. In fact, I purchased one album which I thought had the song, and was frustrated when I realized that the song wasn’t there.

Then one day last week I walked into a seforim store in Monsey for a few minutes to peruse the new selections. There was a fellow standing by the bin containing the shofaros who was sampling every one, helping to contribute to my afternoon headache. But in between his ‘blowings’ I was able to hear the song being played over the store’s loudspeakers – it was the very song I was looking for. I excitedly asked the cashier which CD was playing, and he pointed to a pile of new CDs. The CD had 39 tracks. At the moment I walked in track 36 was playing, the track I so much wanted to hear. [As I type this masterpiece I am listening to the song again. Perhaps if you listen closely you can hear it.]

What are the chances that that track, on that CD would be playing, at the moment I walked in?

There is so much happening in the world that we cannot comprehend. There is so much pain and suffering constantly that we have no answers for. And yet for a moment Heaven gave me a ‘nod’.

However, if G-d could orchestrate (no pun intended) that specific song to be playing when I walked in, that means that He orchestrates everything. Every time I am on line, or stuck in traffic, there must also be a rhyme and a reason, even if it makes no sense to me.

The world is full of messages, if we are looking for them. Those messages remind us that even when we don’t comprehend G-d has a reason for everything that occurs - to us and to the world. That is part of what we accept upon ourselves on Rosh Hashanah, the day of our reacceptance of the yoke of the King of kings upon ourselves.

Perhaps that is part of the reason why we eat symbolic foods, each with its own special prayer on Rosh Hashanah eve, to help us recognize that the whole world contains messages and the ability to pray and connect with G-d, if we only have our eyes open to it.

After relating my experience with the Barditchiver’s Niggun in shul before beginning Selichos this past Motzei Shabbos, on Sunday I walked into another seforim store in Monsey. I hope no one saw me laugh to myself when I heard the song being played overhead; the Barditchiver’s Niggun!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go buy a lottery ticket.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova

Good Yom Tov & Shana Tova,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Netzavim- Vayelech

24 Elul 5771/September 23, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5 & 6

During the last day or two of camp when I wake up my divisions, I jokingly tell them that they better get out of bed because if they miss the bus home it’s a long cold and lonely winter in camp.

This year it almost happened. It was the last day of camp and busses were stationed in different areas of camp getting ready to depart for various locations throughout the New York area. The administration was gathered at the entrance (exit) to camp to wave off the first three buses which were pulling out. Just then I received a phone call from one of my counselors that a boy in my division was missing. I was sure he would be there in another minute. But five minutes later my radio buzzed that the bus was being held up because one boy still had not shown up.

I raced up to the now practically empty hill and rushed into his bunkhouse. I ran through the bunk and was about to leave when I noticed a blanket on his bed. Sure enough, there was the missing camper, fast asleep. And I mean fast asleep. I grabbed his blanket and started to nudge him, “Come on, the bus, is about to pull out.” He barely moved. Suffice it to say that I almost literally had to drag him out of bed.

The poor child had stayed up the entire last night of camp, davened at sunrise, and then fell into a deep sleep. When I finally managed to rouse him he was sitting on his bed half dazed. I grabbed his belongings and stuffed them into a garbage bag. I then walked him out the door to my waiting Gator (in-camp vehicle), put his tefilin and the bag in the back and raced him down to the bus. It was only as he began boarding the bus that he realized where he was and what had happened.

The Rambam states that the reason why we blow shofar during the month of Elul is to serve as an alarm, “Awaken all you sleepers from your slumber.” Rosh Hashanah is imminent and now is our chance to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to us to implore G-d that He grant us a year of blessing, and that He help us in our efforts to repent.

The question is if we are listening to the message as we hear it. The busses are in the parking lot, the luggage is all loaded, everyone is involved in an excited frenzy as they prepare for departure, and the road is open before us. But are we so deeply entrenched in our slumber that we don’t realize what is happening around us? Are we about to miss the bus because we stayed up too late the night before?

There is one final alarm that rings before Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the recitation of selichos (for Ashknazim; Sefardim already began at the beginning of Elul). Selichos marks the final countdown for the imminent holy days that are rapidly approaching.

If we begin to gather our belongings now, when the busses pull out we’ll be ready for the most sublime journey of our lives.

Have a great trip!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, September 15, 2011

KI SAVO 5771

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo

17 Elul 5771/September 16, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 3 & 4

What a tzaddik I am! Or at least that’s the way it must have appeared.

I walked out of my house one crisp Sunday morning in late October last year, heading towards my Hyundai Sonata 2000 which I had left on the side of the road in front of our home the night before. But when I reached for the handle I noticed a sizeable dent in the side of the car. I had absolutely no idea who whacked into the side of my car at some unearthly hour the night before, but dent was so big that I could barely open the door wide enough to squeeze in. I drove to the garage where my mechanic told me it was simply not worth fixing the dent. When I mentioned that I could hardly get in, he pulled out a crow bar and pushed the door back out.

But here’s where my righteousness comes into the picture: At no point did I get angry. In fact I think I even exclaimed, ‘gam zu l’tovah (this too is for the best)’. What utter control I must have over my emotions! What spiritual greatness I must have attained! Kudos for me! Or maybe not…

I have been driving our Sonata since I married my wife, and she was driving it for a couple of year before that. The car has been (and is b’li ayin hara) great. But with time it has begun showing its age. These days, when I drive it on the highway and accelerate past 60 mph it feels a little bit like I’m getting ready for takeoff (I always wanted to be a pilot). The ‘Check Engine’ light is a bit volatile, popping on at will (though my mechanic told me it’s fine). [One of my friends dubbed the Check Engine light as his car’s ‘ner tamid’.] But even more importantly, a number of years ago someone jumped a stop sign and rammed into the passenger side of my car creating a sizeable dent, which for various reasons I never fixed.

So when I noticed the new dent on my car that Sunday morning it wasn’t as aggravating and upsetting as it would have otherwise been, because the car was already dented. If anything the new dent made the car look more balanced. Had the car been brand new or in top notch condition when it was dented I can only hope that I would have had such equanimity and self-control.

The problem is that when the Days of Awe approach many people feel like my car. “What’s the use of even making New Year’s resolutions? What’s the point of even trying to rectify my sins and negative habits? I’m so lost anyway. My soul is so dented and damaged that who cares already?”

But that is an egregious error. King David stated (Tehillim 130:4), “For with you is forgiveness in order that we should fear.” If G-d is full of forgiveness is that not cause to feel more secure and less fearful? What does King David mean that because G-d forgives we should fear?

If I knew that my car could be repaired to look brand new, and even upgraded to have the appearance and amenities of a 2011 luxury car, I would have been much more annoyed when I saw that dent. It is only because I feel like the car is anyway dented that the added dent isn’t worth becoming angry about.

Since G-d created repentance a person can never resort to giving up, because he always has the ability to rectify his wrongdoings and reach a state of pristine purity.

Our souls may indeed be tarnished and blemished. But with proper teshuvah our souls can again sparkle and shine. Therefore, we must fear that perhaps we have not yet done enough in our efforts towards repentance.

“The all-new ‘Soul-5771’ – so pure and holy. Get yours today!”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Seitzei

10 Elul 5771/September 9, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 2

A rebbe recounted that one day last year there was a large map spread out across his desk. A student was gazing at it fascinatingly for a few moments before he remarked, “Wow rebbe; I never saw a paper GPS before!”

Today the GPS has become almost standard, and most people won’t go anywhere without one. Still it is worth our time to double check directions before leaving on a journey just to make sure we entered the correct directions.

On one occasion I entered ‘Lakewood’ into the GPS and was quite surprised to find that it estimated the trip to take 56 days and 4 hours. (I know there are some cars that can’t move very well, but 56 days?) Then I realized that the directions were taking me to Lakewood, WA, Australia. [The directions included kayaking across the Pacific Ocean 2,756 miles, traveling across Hawaii, turning left at Kalakaua Ave (1.9 miles) and then kayaking again 3,879 miles to Japan. Then, after traversing Japan, kayaking across the Pacific another 3,358 miles to Australia.]

This past June, three women driving in an SUV after midnight, followed the directions of their GPS down a boat launch and into a lake in the middle of Mercer Slough Nature Park near Seattle. All three women were rescued but the SUV was completely submerged under water.

Similar stories abound. A driver in Germany followed his navigation’s instructions despite several ‘closed for construction’ signs and barricades, eventually barreling his Mercedes into a pile of sand. In Britain a truck driver followed his GPS’s instructions down a country road too small for his truck. The truck became wedged into the side of the road so firmly that the driver couldn’t move backwards or forwards. He was forced to sleep in the cab for three days until being towed out by a tractor. In April 2006, in the British town of Luckington, rising waters flooded a road above the Avon River making it impassable. Markers were posted and the road was closed. Yet, every day during the two week closure, at least one car drove past the warning sign, straight into the river.

This week America celebrated Labor Day as children everywhere mourned the official end of their prolonged summer vacation. Bathing suits were folded and put away, pencils were sharpened, school bags were filled, and children headed ‘back to school’. School halls were again filled with the sounds of teaching and learning, and the occasional interruption by a restless student.

Our rabbeim and teachers, and of course every parent, expend tireless efforts to guide each child to learn and grow to his/her potential. Any experienced educator knows that there is no GPS to follow when it comes to education. There is no voice, book, or program that can lay out for us exactly what protocol to follow to ensure a child’s success. Though there are many worthy ideas, experiences, and guidelines that can guide us in the right direction, ultimately every child is a world unto themselves, each requiring his own directions to help him achieve his inborn potential.

The right road and approach for one child may prove to be a disaster for another child. The only way to educate a child is by understanding the child and knowing how to awaken the latent talent and potential from within. Satellite programs guide from above, while education is a process drawing out from within.

And, as someone once eloquently said, “Sometimes the road to success isn’t a road at all.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, September 2, 2011

Shoftim 5771

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim

3 Elul 5771/September 2, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapters 1& 2

I’m not really sure who invited her but, invitation or not, Irene burst across the East Coast with a fury this past week. No one knew for certain the course the storm would take, exactly when it would hit, how great the carnage would be, and who was most vulnerable to her fury. In full strength Irene was a category 1 hurricane, replete with over 100 mph sustained gusts of wind with tremendous downpours of rain. The ground and trees, already saturated from a record breaking month of rain, and the already swelling rivers and lakes, were unable to absorb the excessive rains, which would only exacerbate the damage the storm would wrought.

Everyone knew it was coming and knew they had to prepare, including making sure there were working batteries in flashlights, filling up bathtubs with water, turning up the fridge and freezer, etc. But all of those measures were merely precautionary. When the storm actually hit there was nothing to do but wait apprehensively hoping we will be able to weather it relatively unfazed.

Any type of natural disaster is scary and daunting. This includes not only natural meteorological disasters, but also natural disasters borne out of unrestrained human emotions, as in the following example:

Irene was the type of woman you just never knew what to expect from. She was friendly and good-natured, and loved to help others in need. There was only one problem; she had a terribly volatile temper. It didn’t take much to set her off and it was hard to know exactly what would set her off. She could be fine one minute, but then a minute later she could be screaming a barrage of sharp invective at anyone, about anything. In her fury no one was safe. She could rehash any wrongdoing anyone one around her had ever done, even years earlier. In her worst moments she could even break things and hurt her children.

It was impossible to know how long a tirade would last or how severe it would be. When it finally ended she calmed down fairly quickly, and then she resumed her routine as if nothing happened.

Her closest friends had told her repeatedly that she had to work on her temper and learn to control it. Her response was always the same, ‘This is the way I am and there’s nothing I can do about it.’ As the years went by her friends drifted away from her, simply out of fear to be in her vicinity. Her family however, was forced to endure her rampages with trepidation. The emotional pain she inflicted upon them was very deep indeed.

The Sages warn us repeatedly about the evils of unrestrained anger, even comparing someone who loses themselves to anger as being tantamount to serving idolatry. They also warn that one should never create a sense of tenseness and fear in their home.

The Irene that preyed upon us this week caused tremendous financial damage, heartache, and G-d forbid, even some lives. The Irene in our story causes tremendous psychological and emotional damage on an ongoing basis.

Natural disasters are always dangerous and frightening. May Heaven protect us from all types of natural disasters, and may we never be the catalyst or cause for personal natural disaster.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, August 25, 2011

RE’EH 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh

26 Menachem Av 5771/August 26, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul

Camp is an amazing place. In a certain sense it’s a fantasy land where a camper can spend all day with friends, have a slumber party every night, and play sports and activities all day long, without his parents hovering over him. But all good things must come to an end, and this week the camping season ended.

Last week, as is customary during the final week of camp, we ‘observed’ Color War. After three days of sports, plays, and competition, Color War reached its crescendo on its final night when the entire camp, split into two teams, participated in the Grand Sing. The highlight of the night (aside for the announcing of the scores) is the singing of the ‘alma-mater’ - an emotionally charged song which describes the memories of camp, how much camp means to everyone, and how much everyone will miss it.

It is not uncommon to see campers and staff members alike, singing together arm-in-arm with teary eyes, and sometimes outright crying. What is it that moves people to tears during the alma-mater? Is it just the sadness of leaving behind the fantasy world of camp, or is there more to it?

I believe the reason why people cry at the end of camp has to do with why children are so excited by their birthday. Ask children how old they are, and they will reply, “four and a half and three quarters”. Then they’ll you that it’s only two months and three days until their birthday. Don’t get me wrong - cake and presents are definitely fun and exciting (especially when you’re young enough to eat cake without counting calories and feeling guilty for every bite). But I think there’s more to why children are soooo excited about their birthday and wait for it all year long.

Children are excited for their birthday because it’s their birthday. On a child’s birthday he is the hero simply because he has lived another year. On his birthday everyone smiles at him, claps and sings for him, and he is the center of attention. On his birthday the child feels special for being himself! He waits all year to be the celebrated hero and ‘king or queen of the day’.

During camp the dining room, packed with approximately 700 people (and another 200 in an adjacent ‘family dining room’) is filled with a tremendous cacophony of noise. Even with the microphone’s volume raised, it is hard to hear announcements or the other ‘shtick’ being broadcasted throughout the meal. At some point during the meal, the names of all campers who have messages are announced over the microphone, so that they can come and pick up their messages. It never ceases to amaze me how, despite the fact that most campers hardly hear another word being announced, virtually every message is retrieved during the meal.

Even when someone is only half listening they hear their own name. A person’s name is the most important sound in the world, because it represents him. A noted educator once quipped that a child goes to school and sits in class all day to hear his name mentioned once!

I believe that people cry at the end of camp, not merely because they are leaving behind exciting sports, trips, activities, and fun, but because they felt special in camp. This does not mean that they don’t feel special or successful all year round. Rather, that during camp they felt a unique sense of wholeness and inner comfort. It could have been the care and friendship of one counselor, learning rebbe, or friend. But someone(s) made them feel more special, and so they cry for the imminent loss of that feeling.

We all need to feel important and special. We all need to have people who believe in us, even – or especially - when no one else does.

As we usher in the month of Elul we have to realize how special and beloved we all are. And if we can help someone else recognize their own specialness then we have given them the greatest gift of all.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EIKEV 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev

17 Menachem Av 5771/August 17, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5

I once had the opportunity to hear a former governor of New Jersey speak at a dinner. He quoted Ben Franklin who referred to New Jersey as ‘a valley of humility between the haughty hills of New York and Philadelphia’ (talk about a complex).

There are certain things that make you aware that you are in New Jersey. For example, you are made to feel that you are no longer competent to pump your own gas. Also, in New Jersey there seems to be signs for the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike on just about every corner. There is a certain look and feel to New Jersey communities as well.

I have noticed another phenomenon in New Jersey on a bunch of different occasions. At times I will be driving on one of the New Jersey highways when signs appear indicating a merge ahead because of roadwork. Sure enough cones appear and along with the rest of the traffic, we all begin to merge right. A half mile later, more cones appear, and again we merge, this time all the way to the right. Then we drive for about three miles in single file, at a much reduced speed, passing tens of cones all neatly lined in formation. The only catch is that there is nothing going on behind those cones. The road is closed for construction but there is no construction going on.

There have been times when I have gotten to the end of the construction area only to find three guys schmoozing and one burly fellow munching on a sandwich. Every time I have that experience (as I did again last week) I wonder if New Jersey residents realize that their tax money is being used to keep workers busy by putting out cones and recollecting them a few hours later.

The great Hillel would say (Avos 1:14), “If I am not for myself than who will be for me?” Every person is put in this world with certain things that only he can accomplish. If a person does not utilize his abilities and capabilities those accomplishments will never come to fruition.

The roads of life are full of New Jersey construction sites. There are areas that have been set aside for specific growth and accomplishments, but the workers never show up. As another Mishna in Avos teaches “The day is short, the work is long, the wages are great, the workers are lazy, and the Master is demanding.”

There’s a classic caption which says “I was put in this earth to accomplish certain things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die!” Unfortunately the reality is not that way. We only have a limited amount of time – hopefully healthy and plentiful time. But if we do not accomplish what was set aside for us to accomplish, the cones are recollected and traffic quickly fills its place, and the work zone is soon forgotten.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, August 12, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu

12 Menachem Av 5771/August 12, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

Someone sent me a cute article which contrasts the value of something, based on who is holding it. “A basketball in my hands is worth about twenty dollars; the basketball in the hands of the NBA championship team is worth millions. A baseball in my hands is worth about six dollars; a ball in the hands of the World Series winning team is worth millions. A football in my hands is worth about fifteen dollars; a football in the hands of the Super Bowl victors is worth millions.” The article then concludes, “So put your concerns, worries, fears, hopes, and dreams in G-d’s Hands, because it all depends in whose hands they’re in.”

It’s not always what is said that matters, as much as how it is said. Educational guru Rick Lavoie notes that the statement “My son did not break the window” can have five different interpretations depending on which word is stressed: “My son did not break the window” means my son didn’t do it, but someone else’s son did. “My son did not break the window” means my son didn’t break it, but my daughter did. “My son did not break the window” means he absolutely didn’t do it! “My son did not break the window” means he didn’t break the window, he just dented it. “My son did not break the window” means he didn’t break the window, but he broke the door.

It also matters who the speaker is. The Mishna in Avos (4:24) states that Shmuel Hakatan would say “With the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice…” The commentators question why this statement was attributed to Shmuel, if in reality he was only quoting verbatim from a verse in Mishley (24:17-18)?

One answer given is that, while it may be true that Shmuel was only quoting from Mishley, the verse took on new meaning when it was stated by the humble and unassuming Shmuel Hakatan.

In a similar vein, I recently quoted an anecdote from Rabbi Aryeh Rodin of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Dallas, Texas. When I asked Rabbi Rodin for some quick rabbinic advice he related what his rebbe, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l, told him years ago, “Do not tremble before any man”. There too he was only quoting a verse (Devorim 1:17). But the context and circumstance of how the verse was quoted gave it new meaning and a new dimension of understanding.

Two people can pray and say the same words, but their words may be worlds apart depending on the level of their emotion and fervor. It may be the same words but those words can have vastly different meanings depending on how they are said.

This idea also has tremendous significance in the world of education. It’s not what we tell our children as much as how we tell it to them. How passionate are we about the Yankees and Mets and the Giants and Jets? On the other hand, how passionate are we about tefillah and Shabbos?

We determine our own value systems - and that is in our hands.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum