Thursday, February 24, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel

21 Adar I 5771/Febuary 25, 2011

Background music; it’s practically everywhere. You can hardly go shopping anywhere without music playing overhead as you browse through the merchandise in a store. In fact, you can probably learn a lot about a store, like what kind of clientele they hope to attract, from the type of music they play.

Most people would probably say that they hardly hear the music, and surely not the lyrics, being playing overhead as they shop. But I can’t help but notice what my ears are being subjected to, even in the background. [At times I wish I could tune it out but I have a hard time doing so.]

It is no great revelation to say that there seems to be an overriding basic theme that permeates the overwhelming majority of the Western World’s contemporary music. The singer tends to express a longing for a particular nebulous companion who they are sure will make them feel deliriously happy when they are united. Perhaps in the past the subject has rejected them or even abandoned them. Still the singer feels compelled to reconnect with that lost experience. They just ‘neeeeeeeeed’ to be together, even if logic dictates otherwise.

The songs invariably express a feeling of nostalgic yearning, pining, hoping, striving, and longing to connect with someone who makes them feel complete.

If one hears the lyrics of our zemiros and songs (which are often drawn from the timeless words of Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim) one seems to hear a similar underlying theme. Our songs also express an inner longing to feel connected, to transcend inner pain and despair, and to overcome feelings of personal deficiency. We too sing about our desire to reconnect with ‘Someone’ who can make us feel complete and special. We too lament feelings of despondency which stem from inadequacy, and hope that we can regain a past sense of sublime joy.

Our songs too express feelings of nostalgic yearning, pining, hoping, striving, and longing to connect with Someone who makes us feel complete.

It seems that G-d, in His wisdom, created us with a natural sense of yearning for something beyond ourselves. From the moment we enter this world we seem to be trying to recapture an inner feeling of perfection and connection which we have lost. Throughout our lives we are prone to that sense of probing and pining. It is that search which keeps us motivated and infuses excitement, and sometimes extreme sadness, into our lives.

It seems that mankind will always be yearning and pining. But it remains up to us to decide what/who it is that we are yearning for.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 17, 2011

KI SISA 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa


14 Adar I 5771/Febuary 18, 2011

We have made a startling discovery: Our home is rigged. There are little microphones and video cameras stationed throughout our home, recording almost everything we say and do. Those little cameras are there when we wake up in the morning, when we come back home at night, and when we are eating supper. The only respite we have is when we send the video cameras off to school so they can video and record their teachers.

Indeed there is much to be learned from our children… about ourselves. At times we can hear certain phrases and certain responses from our children which we discontentedly realize originate from us.

What makes it even more challenging is that our children don’t always use the best discretion in knowing when to repeat some of our comments, and maybe even shenanigans. I am quite sure that almost every parent has their own humorous/embarrassing story that they can remember. [Rabbi Krohn relates the story about the Pre-1A boy who was the ‘Shabbos Totty’ in school. He sat down at the head of the class’s mock Shabbos table, let out a groan, and declared, “Oiy! Ich hub g’hatt aza shverer voch (What a hard week I had).”]

It is advisable that parents know a different language so they can converse at home and not worry about their children understanding them. A friend of mine told me that when he was young he thought that’s what Yiddish was for. But after a while he did learn some key phrases, like, “Der bandit darff a frask een punim (The troublemaker needs a slap across his face),” or “Nisht fahrr d’kinder (It’s not for the children)”.

When I was a young boy living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, my family would head off to a bungalow colony up in the Catskills for the summer. Unlike today when bungalows are often nicer than people’s winter homes, we went to a real bungalow which was not much bigger than a shoebox. We also had to share the bungalow with the salamanders and frogs we snuck past my mother, and the mice that snuck past us.

To our chagrin, my father requested that my mother not leave on a crock pot with cholent on it, because it would cause the bungalow to become even hotter than it already was. Our neighbors took pity on the deprived Staum family and they would send over bowls of cholent.

It was a wonderful setup. The bungalow did not have to get hotter and we usually wound up with five or six different cholents. We would sample each one and then would convene and vote whether the cholent passed our taste test for that week.

The only problem was that my younger sister would recount our rulings to the master chefs after Shabbos was over. “Mrs. Greenstein, you only got a 4 this week. Did you forgot the salt?” “Mrs. Cohn, only a 3, the meat was stuck to the bowl because it was so dried out.” “Mrs. Silversmith, you got a 2. Was that cholent or gefilte fish you sent us?” “Mrs. Katz, a perfect 5; your cholent won first place this week!”

Chani, a beloved fifth grade teacher, tells some of her student’s parents when they come to meet her for Parent-Teacher conferences, “Let’s make a deal. You don’t believe half of what your daughter says about me, and I won’t believe half of what they say about you.” In recent years we have begun making that same deal with our children’s teachers.

Parenting is undoubtedly a great responsibility. But aside for the obvious, we have to realize and remember just how much our children look up to us. At times it can be somewhat overwhelming. But in truth, as Torah Jews, we anyways have a responsibility to watch how we speak and act. Our young children are only abetting that responsibility. Thanks Kids!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh

6 Adar I 5771/Febuary 11, 2011

A man was standing on the side of the river when he noticed his friend standing on the other side. “Hey buddy, how do I get to the other side?” His friend laughed mockingly, “You silly fool; you are on the other side!”

Someone once noted that anyone who drives slower than him is a turtle while anyone who drives faster than him is a maniac. Similarly, anyone who is more religious than him is a zealous fanatic, while anyone less religious than him is rebellious.

The Teaneck community is divided by Route 4. Those who live there refer to those who live beyond the highway as living ‘on the other side’. I often ask Teaneck residents whether they live ‘on the side’ or ‘the other side’.

[Although Lakewood is divided by a lake, everyone knows that the Yeshiva side is ‘The side’ and the other side is ‘the other side’. Even if one day they will have more residents than the yeshiva side, the other side will perpetually remain ‘the other side’.]

Our perspective of the world is tainted by our own egos and by the fact that we feel that we represent the perfect median. Therefore we have a hard time seeing things from anyone else’s perspective.

We also have a hard time being candid about ourselves. It’s hard for us to properly gauge ourselves. Consider the following quote: “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”

Those words were uttered by Al Capone, the most sinister gang leader in Chicago. Despite all of the hurt and damage he was responsible for, he actually regarded himself as a misunderstood and unappreciated public benefactor.

The Torah warns us about this danger. “It is not good for man to be alone.” A person must acknowledge the perspective of others, especially regarding himself. “How do I fit (or not) into society?” “How do I make others feel?” “Am I a friend that a friend would want to have?” “Do I act to my spouse as I would like my spouse to treat me?”

It has become an unwritten custom that during Sheva Berachos meals speakers laud the bride and the groom, speaking of their virtues, and how lucky they each are to have found such a worthy spouse.

I often say (only half-jokingly) that those speeches are integral. Now that the young couple has married they are beginning a new phase of life, where they have to learn to respect the feelings of another - even about issues they may feel are trivial. The first months after marriage can be very trying on the young couple as they struggle to acclimate themselves to each other’s idiosyncrasies, preferences, particularities, and personalities. It can often be somewhat jolting for them to discover that they are not as easy-going and amiable as they thought they were. There are parts of their personality that they have to work on after-all.

When they begin to feel dejected or frustrated with themselves (or with their spouse), they must remember their virtues that were recounted during Sheva Berachos, and realize that with a little effort they will acclimate and truly become greater people (IF that is their goal and ambition).

Alone we are a dangerous and unruly species. But when we realize that we are a work in progress and that it’s not ‘my way or the highway’ our potential is almost without limit, no matter which side of the river or highway we are on.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah

30 Shevat 5771/Febuary 4, 2011

Rosh Chodesh Adar I

Recently, I was walking by a non-kosher bakery and peered in the window to see their samples of pastries. Just then a young boy walking with his father – both of whom did not appear to be Jewish - asked his father if he can have some cookies. The man replied, in a voice loud enough that I could hear, “Oh no, we can’t eat that it’s not kosher.” He winked at me and then moved on. From his appearance it didn’t seem like he was too particular about eating only kosher; his son didn’t seem to know what that even meant.

Why do people feel the need to demonstrate their Jerwishness?

Just this week Chani and I were passing a fruit-drink stand during our mid-winter break and stopped to analyze the ingredients of a drink to see if it had kosher certification. There was a man sitting at the counter by himself, sipping a drink. After we had finished analyzing the box he looked up and asked us what the criteria is to make food kosher. After we finished giving him the ‘kosher in ten seconds’ speech, he gave us a rundown of his political views regarding the Palestinians, Iran, and the mistakes America is making by not being more supportive of Israel. He then quipped that he really likes the Jews. “You guys are like a club. If you need a plumber you’ll call your buddy and he’ll come do it. Then if he needs someone to fix his roof he’ll call his buddy. And then when the roof guy needs an electrician he’ll call you if that’s what you do. Because you’re all part of the club.

“Let me tell you something: I’m not Jewish but I went with a Jewish girl named Eileen. I spoiled her rotten and we had a great relationship. But her father would hear none of it and he sent me packing. Now both of us are alone. But I knew there was nothing to talk about, because I’m not part of the club.

“You guys take care of each other, and now that’s nice. We’d be a lot better off in this country if everyone would be a little less selfish.”

Although we were more than ready to get out of there when he finally finished his speech, we appreciated his candid portrayal of our interaction as a people. Kosher, Shabbos, Tefillin, Davening, and on some level even ‘Zei gezunt’, it all makes us belong to a regal club. And a club takes care of each other. So even an individual who doesn’t have the education, or perhaps the fortitude, to express his Jewishness externally, wants other Jews to know that technically he belongs; he’s a card-carrying member of the club.

So now whenever someone makes a ‘Jewish comment’ or wishes us ‘zei gezunt’, we understand that he/she wants us to know that he/she is a member of the club. And when we got into an elevator and an elderly woman began telling us about all the shuls her son davens in we knew that she too wanted us to know that she is in the club!

Welcome to the club!

Good Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum