Friday, January 28, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim

23 Shevat 5771/January 30, 2011

Someone once asked me why our Torah study halls are so loud. Walk into a yeshiva at almost any time during the day and you will be greeted by a cacophony of noise, a blend of shouts of debate, lively discussion, and melodious chants of ancient words in a blended mix of Hebrew, English, Yiddish, and Aramaic. A library has virtually the opposite atmosphere. There is a pervasive silence of concentration and intense focus, disturbed only by an occasional whisper or soft spoken question or comment. Why are houses of Torah study so diametrically opposite?

Until this week New York was immersed in a Jets-frenzy, hoping that the Jets would beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and earn themselves a trip to the Super Bowl. The Empire State Building in New York City was lit up in green and white, the color of the Jets, to spur them on. Alas it was not to be and Jets fans have once again tasted the chalice of disappointment.

Last week during the countdown to the game, I heard an interview between a noted sportscaster and Santana Holmes, the Jets receiver. Holmes played on the Steelers and is friends with many of the players, especially Ike Taylor, the Steelers cornerback. Holmes was told that when Taylor was asked about going up against his friend in the big playoff showdown Taylor replied, “I love him… but I’m going to try to be as disrespectful as possible when we get between those white lines. Friendship doesn’t enter into it then. I’m not going to hesitate to lay him out. No question at all. You know why? Because he aint going to hesitate to crack on me if he gets the chance.”

Holmes replied that it was one hundred percent true. “Yeah, I’m gonna play within the white lines of football. And after the game get over we’re gonna become best friends again… In this game you gotta be physical; you gotta be the aggressor.”

Friendship is great but if you want to be successful in the game, any feelings and sensitivities have to be left behind.

The gemara (Kiddushin 30b) states “Even a father and his son, a rebbe and his disciple, who are engaged in the study of Torah in one gate, becomes enemies, one with the other. However, they do not emerge from there until they become lovers, one with the other.” Rashi explains that they become enemies because they question each other’s opinion and do not accept each other’s postulations.

When one goes to a library to read his motive is to take information that has already been recorded and intellectually ingest it. He can decide whether he agrees with what he reads, but the text itself is not up for discussion. Torah study however is vastly different. The words and opinions may have been recorded, but how to understand the words and opinions is subject to intense debate.

When one begins to study a volume of Talmud he is commencing a vivacious pursuit of truth – truth which can be understood from different perspectives. Part of the intensity of its study is that there can be more than one correct answer.

Proper Torah study wherein one is dedicated to true understanding of the profundity and depth of the ancient wisdom must preclude friendships, and personal biases. Before one can begin its study he must divest himself of personal sensitivities so that his perspective is not skewered by his own vapid sensitivities.

However, to be candidly honest, the aforementioned analogy is severely wanting. It may be true that one can battle it out on a football field and put aside all friendships, and then reclaim the friendship after the game. However, it is not the football game itself which develops the friendship. Not so in regard to Torah study. The Talmud notes that the study and intense intellectual – and often heartless - debate itself fosters the deepest camaraderie and friendship. There is no deeper bond that connects two souls than the bond of Torah. And that is why we shout passionately in the Bais Medrash.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, January 20, 2011

YISRO 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro

16 Shevat 5771/January 23, 2011

There have been many incredible inventions in the last century, including cars, planes, computers, internet, and the proliferation of electronic devices. The medical world too has seen its share of incredible advancements, including improved diagnostic imaging testing, minimally invasive laser surgery and laparoscopic procedures. But I believe that Earle Dickson’s invention in 1921 is of the greatest of all time, i.e. the Band-Aid.

Just ask any young child who hurts himself. It doesn’t matter what the ailment is or whether there is any blood or not. Give a crying child a band-aid and the hysterical howling seems to cease instantly. And if the band-aid has a picture of a cartoon character on it the healing is even more pronounced.

When we moved into our home a few years ago, one of the sinks in the upstairs bathroom had a small spot which had rotted and left an unsightly streak. A few days after we moved in I noticed a ‘Snoopy band-aid’ covering the spot. Apparently one of our children had figured out a cheap and effective way to solve the problem.

What is it about band-aids that makes them into a virtual panacea?

Infants live with the concept of “out of sight, out of mind’. When they cannot see something they no longer believe it exists. As a child matures he begins to realize that something can exist even outside his purview of vision. But that process is slow. [A child also thinks that everyone can see what he sees. Ever tell a three year old child to move over because he is blocking someone else’s view of something? The child may be slow to move because he cannot fathom that someone behind him can’t see what he can see.]

The sight of blood or a bruise is somewhat traumatic. Often a child will fall and hurt himself then get up and continue what he was doing unfazed. Five minutes later, if he notices that he is bleeding, he may begin to cry uncontrollably. Putting a band-aid on the wound effectively conceals the wound. Out of sight, out of mind! So to the child the band-aid has cured his ailment, even though it has done nothing more than obscure it.

At times we approach more serious and pronounced problems by utilizing ‘a band-aid approach’. For example, if a child loses his temper, it is important to ponder the source of his anger. There is a significant difference in how to deal with a child who became angry because someone embarrassed him and a child who became angry because his classes are too difficult for him.

The band-aid effect can easily become dangerous as well, such as when someone uses drugs or alcohol to quell anxiety or severe depression, G-d forbid. The pain may temporarily ease, but whatever the core problem is has not been dealt with and the wound will surely not heal.

Please don’t get me wrong. I think band-aids are wonderful. But more often than not you better make sure you apply some Bacitracin/Hydrogen-Peroxide to the wound before you cover it with a cartoon-character-laden band-aid.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach

9 Shevat 5771/January 16, 2011

If you were to ask any good American who Ted Williams was they would undoubtedly reply that he was one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball. Until a week ago, that is. Suddenly there is a new Ted Williams flooding the news, who has captured the attention of the nation. A man, who once had a good life, including a wife and nine children, and a job in radio, destroyed it all because of drugs and alcohol. He ended up on the streets homeless and destitute. Over the years he was arrested numerous times for theft and drugs. In his police dossier his place of residence is listed as “Streets of Columbus”. Last week, as he was standing at a busy intersection in Columbus soliciting money he held up a sign which read, “I have a G-d given gift of voice. I’m an ex-radio announcer who has fallen on hard times. Please! Any help will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you and G-d bless you.”

A journalist with the Columbus Dispatch took a video of him standing on the corner and saying a refrain in his deep baritone ‘radio voice’. The video was posted online and instantly became a sensation with millions of viewers. Literally overnight the man who was homeless for over a decade was catapulted into instant fame. He was invited to appear on numerous talk shows, and offered substantial contracts, including becoming a radio announcer with the Cleveland Cavaliers and an advertising gig with Kraft.

It struck me that this extraordinary story is - in a sense - actually the second such story in a matter of three months. It is the second story of someone(s) who was in the most precarious and unstable situation, literally at rock bottom, who almost overnight was hoisted into the heights of fame and the world’s conscience. In October the world held its breath as thirty-three Chilean miners were incredibly pulled out of their potential mass tomb into the anticipating eyes of much of the world. Now a similar drama has unfolded with an individual who destroyed his life getting a second chance.

On the Today Show, Mr. Williams was asked why this time would be different. Why he was confident that this time it would he would not make the same mistakes? He replied that this time G-d was in his life, whereas last time he never included G-d in his endeavors.

No one can really know whether Mr. Williams really will stick to his newfound resolution when the limelight fades and daily life sets in (though it’s surely a different daily life now). But the question always is “What did you do with it?” Every now and then we are granted newfound blessing and new opportunities. In the timeless words of Mesillas Yesharim (chapter 1), “For all the matters of the world, good or bad, are tests for man, poverty on the one hand and wealth on the other.”

This is part of the reason why the holiday of Succos is celebrated right after Yom Kippur, although it logistically should be after Pesach. On Yom Kippur we merit a tabula rasa, a new beginning to start again and reaffirm ourselves to our goals and aspirations. The holiday of Succos is over a week-long to give us time to acclimate ourselves and to plan ahead how this year will truly be different.

A close friend of mine often asks me if I bought a lotto ticket when the lotto reaches epic amounts, such as last week’s 325 million dollars. I always reply that it’s too much money. Believe me, I’d be happy to win the lottery, but winning too much too quickly is extremely dangerous. Just look at what happens to most lotto winners five years later. The statistics are frightening!

Whenever anything occurs to us in life, it all boils down to one question: “What did you do with it?” Best of luck to Mr. Williams. Let’s hope that this time he doesn’t strike out!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, January 6, 2011

BO 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo

2 Shevat 5771/January 7, 2011

It had been a long Shabbos as I was running a high fever and was almost completely out of commission. It was an arduous ordeal for me to drag myself to the doctor’s office on Motzei Shabbos, but I knew I needed to get onto anti-biotics as quickly as possible.

After I finished giving my basic information to the receptionist at the doctor’s office, a chassidishe fellow sitting in the waiting room looked up from his sefer, “Excuse me, where did you say you live?” I was a little surprised by the question but I politely replied, “Landau Lane”. A smile spread across his face, “Landau? Dos iz mayn numan (That’s my name).” He was very excited to know that there was a street in the area named after him and he wanted to know exactly where it was located. I told him that the nearest cross street was Suzie Lane. I asked him if that was his wife’s name. He assured me that it wasn’t.

For those who live in Manhattan or Brooklyn where the street names are all synchronized and basically follow a logical pattern you may not appreciate these thoughts. [I had a friend who we used to tease that he only knew the middle letters of the alphabet because he knew the streets in Brooklyn. So if you asked him to tell you the middle letters of the alphabet he would say ‘L-M-N-O-P-Quentin-R-S-T…”]

But for those of us who live in towns where a street can end at any other street - such as in Monsey where Concord Road ends at Concord Road which ends at East Concord Road - and you’re totally at the mercy of the person in charge of naming the streets (who is that anyway?) you’ll be able to identify well with these thoughts.

A road is a great metaphor for our travels along the pathways of life. You need the road to get from point A to point B. You have to know which roads to take otherwise you may never reach your destination.

At the same time it is important to know that, ‘Sometimes the road of life isn’t a road.’ At times reaching a destination requires innovation and ingenuity, and using the road is not the best option.

Very often when we are walking to shul my son will ask me if we can take a short-cut. I reply that staying along the road is the shortest route. But to him it only feels like a short-cut when we get off the road and meander through trees and backyards. Truthfully, sometimes a shortcut is a much more direct manner to get to your destination. But at other times taking a shortcut can prove to be disastrous. What’s more, what is the right road for one person may be the wrong road for another person. It depends who is driving, what kind of car he has, how much gas he has, what the weather conditions are, and where he hopes to end up.

Truthfully, street names do seem to be more than just a haphazard title. There are restaurants that are named after the street they are on (such as ‘Essex on Coney’ and ‘Avenue R Café’; so what if both restaurants aren’t on the streets they are named for…)

I was thinking about this particularly in regards to our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead. Although the shul’s address is on Union Road, the shul actually faces Brick Church Road. That gave me an ingenious idea for the title of a new blog, which I’m sure you’ll agree is most unique - “The Rabbi from Brick Church”.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum