Thursday, March 31, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazriah/Hachodesh

26 Adar II 5771/April 1, 2011

Are smart phones making us dumber?

In January, Cathy Cruz Marrero, 49, was replying to a text message from a friend when she fell head-first into a water fountain at the Berkshire mall in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America following the event, Marrero said, "I was like, 'I'm hoping nobody saw me. So let me just walk away’.”To Marerro’s consternation, the video was posted on YouTube and has had over two million hits.

We are extremely captivated and allured by the conveniences and wonder of technology. But it seems that instead of using our technology for the betterment of our lives, we have become enslaved by technology.

I don’t think I can express this idea any better than the great philosopher Bill Watterson:

William Powers, author of “Hamlet’s Blackberry” explained the mindset of the general public regarding the malaise of technology: “You want to be connected all the time. This is where society is headed. This is where the cool people are. This is where the knowledge is. This is where all the forward thinking people are. And that in fact has been true for the last 15 or 20 years. That's the direction we've all been moving in. I called it digital minimalism in my book. The more connected you are the better. (But) I think its finally donning on people that, that really deserves a second look. That it's not taking us to the place as thinkers, as friends and parents, and teachers, all the roles we play in our lives, that use of digital technology, nonstop around the clock, isn't serving our highest purpose as it's becoming clear to most thoughtful people.”

For us, to whom thought and concentration are essential so that we can ponder the Torah and the Ways of G-d, this challenge is even more daunting. There is unquestionably much to be gained from technology, and surely much Torah to be learned as well. Still-in-all, like everything else in life, we have to ensure that we can develop a balance, and that we are not unwittingly allowing our priorities to become secondary to convenience.

I conclude with the following story which speaks for itself:

One day Fred and Edna, an elderly couple, went to visit their friend Murray in the hospital. Fred was visibly shaken to see his good friend on life support, hooked up to so many monitors and beeping machines.

When they arrived home Fred turned to his wife of sixty years and said, “Listen Edna, I want you to promise me that if I ever become dependent on a machine that you’ll pull the plug. I just can’t bear the thought of living that way.”

Without responding, Edna stood up walked across the room, and unplugged the television.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini/Parah

19 Adar II 5771/March 25, 2011

In a Washington Post article titled “Expecting the expenses”, dated December 9, 2007, journalist Michael Rosenwald calculated that it will likely cost him $340,552 to raise his child until age 17. When you figure that the average American family has two children that means the average family (often with one parent) must generate over $600,000 in order to raise their two children into late adolescence.

A more conservative estimate by the New York Times (June 25, 2010) approximates that the average middle-class family will need to shell out $222,000 to raise a child to age 18.

Even assuming the lower amount, those numbers would be vastly higher for any Torah-observant family. The New York Times’ estimate does not take into account the costs of Shabbos, Yom Tov, or Kosher food. The point of the Washington Post article was to encourage parents to begin saving money for their children’s college tuition and expenses later down the road. What would the author say if he saw the bills we annually pay for Yeshiva/Bais Yaakov tuitions?

In the Torah-observant world it is not uncommon for families to have upwards of five children. Based on the aforementioned numbers a non-observant family of five children would need to generate at least one million dollars just until the children turn eighteen. That number increases significantly when we add the cost for being Torah observant, and that is without even beginning to discuss cost of weddings (and for many, supporting children in kollel).

Granted, we are blessed with many wealthy families, but the average Torah observant family lives with constant financial strains and concerns. So exactly from where are our families pulling together an average of two million dollars to bring up our children, pay for doctor bills, mortgage on a house, the cost of a car(s), not to mention tuition, Shabbos, and Yom Tov?

There is a legendary anecdote that King Louis XIV once asked Blaise Pascal, the seventeenth century French philosopher, to give him proof of the supernatural. Pascal tersely yet poignantly replied, “Why, the Jews, your majesty - the Jews.”

Our very existence debunks the theory of Survival of the Fittest. By all laws of sociology we should have perished long ago. Our survival makes no sense and cannot be explained by historical or natural law. But truthfully the miracle of the Jewish people goes well beyond our physical survival. The fact that throughout the exile we have been able to preserve our heritage is an incredible miracle unto itself.

Our community undoubtedly has reason for concern. There is a financial crisis and a ‘tuition squeeze’ for which we still must ponder a solution. Nevertheless, we should not overlook the miraculous fact that, against the odds, we continue to grow and flourish in all areas.

In one sense we may be living refutation of ‘Survival of the Fittest’. But in a deeper sense we are living proof that G-d ensures that those who are truly deserving of the accolade ‘Fittest’ will not only survive, but also thrive.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav/Zachor/PURIM

12 Adar II 5771/March 18, 2011


No this is not a discussion about shaitels or a new recipe for Potato Kugel (delicious, yet fat free). Actually it is my chance to finally get to express my opinions for once.

While I am sure you all enjoy reading the Rabbi’s weekly Musings, I have a little bit of a different perspective about the column. For most people it is enjoyable to read about lessons that there are gleaned from someone else’s daily foibles and events. But for me it’s unnerving. You see if I come home from the supermarket and forget something, I land up in a musings. If I burn a cake (which never happens) I end up in a Musings. If my car stalls in the parking lot with the kids screaming, guess what that week’s Musings will be about?

Then there is the added frustration of the Rabbi taking credit. One of the original Musings was about when I myself took our children for professional pictures. In that week’s Musings (please circle one:) my husband/the Rabbi/Dani wrote about how we took the children for pictures. When I read it I asked him “Who’s we Kemo-Sabe? As far as I know I took the kids myself?” He replied that since my name is affixed to the bottom he has to write it that way.

The truth is that the weekly Musings has had a wonderful impact upon our entire family. Now whenever anything unusual happens, instead of brushing it off, we stop and think about it. “Hey that would make an interesting Musings.” Then we ponder what lesson we can derive from what occurred.

We (well really Dani, but since my name is affixed to the bottom…) often says that he wonders whether more amazing things happen to Ba’alei Tshuva or is it just that they are more in-tune to seeing the Hand of G-d in their lives?

Isn’t that the main message of Purim? Our Sages relate that every time the Megillah says “Hamelech – the King” (without saying Achashveirosh’s name) it is a clandestine reference to G-d. The Megillah teaches us to identify G-d, even - or rather especially - when He uses ‘pen-names’.

The weekly Musings has definitely had that type of positive impact on our lives. Everything contains a message and G-d signs His Name around us constantly. But we have to search for it.

Still-in-all I would feel more comfortable if the Musings did not have to tell everyone about our family’s personal idiosyncrasies and quirks.

I would have to say that the zaniest part of all is that the same person who often writes about what happens to me is now writing what he assumes I think about his weekly Musings. If you don’t understand what I mean, let me ask you, who do you think really wrote this? (I don’t even know what half of his words mean!)

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen Purim & Purim Sameach

Chani and Dani Staum

Friday, March 11, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra

5 Adar II 5771/March 11, 2011

What a winter it’s been! Aside for the extreme cold we have been hit with relentless snowfall. As the holidays of Purim and Pesach approach and we prepare to change our clocks to Daylight Savings Time we anticipate warmer and brighter weather. But before we do I would like to share a ‘winter thought’.

The driveway outside our home has a somewhat steep decline which levels at the bottom. While it’s great for sledding, when it’s covered in ice it can be difficult to even walk up the driveway.

The first winter that we lived here I didn’t know what to expect. One morning in December I walked out of my house onto the icy ground. I got into my car and naively tried to drive up the driveway. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going anywhere. I tried numerous times to slide back down and rapidly accelerate, but other than the tires spinning and a lot of smoke blowing out, I wasn’t accomplishing anything.

Hoping that the ice would melt during the day Chani drove me to yeshiva and I procured a ride home. However, not only did the ice not melt but when a friend came to pick up his son from our house he drove down the driveway and got stuck alongside my lonely car.

At that point we had two choices: We could either close off the driveway for the winter or we could call for outside help. We opted for the latter. We called Chaveirim who arrived a few minutes later with a truck. The volunteer tied a strong rope from his truck to the stuck car. Then while I accelerated gently he pulled my car up the driveway and onto the road.

The next day I went to Home Depot and stocked up on bags of salt. Since then, every winter I make sure that we have a sufficient supply of salt so that we don’t get stuck at the bottom of our driveway. It was so frustrating to see the top of the driveway and know how close it was and yet not being able to get there.

At times we have ambitions and aspirations to utilize our potential and accomplish tremendous things. The road seems open in front of us. But there is one catch - we have to ‘get up the driveway’. The force of inertia takes its slothful toll upon us, and other impediments and challenges arise. Suddenly the road which seemed so close and so vast appears distant and unattainable. Our Sages expressed this in their wisdom when they stated that ‘All beginnings are difficult’.

If we truly want to get to the open road of opportunity we may need an extra boost or pull from a friend or mentor in order to help us traverse the treacherous terrain that impedes us from setting out. Very often if we can get past the initial apprehension or challenge, the rest becomes far easier to accomplish. But how often do we never get to the road because we remain stuck in our driveway!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pikudei/Shekalim

27 Adar I 5771/March 4, 2011

Did you ever say the right thing and mean it with the best of intentions, only to realize – to your dismay – that your words were understood totally in the wrong way, or were taken out of context?

A friend told me that when he was in elementary school he had an elderly teacher, Mr. Z., who was somewhat senile and couldn’t hear well. My friend recounted that on occasion he would be thrown out of class. Then, after standing out in the hall for about ten minutes the teacher would come outside and ask him what he was doing out of class.

One Friday as he was leaving class to catch his bus my friend cheerfully called out, “Have a wonderful Shabbos, Mr. Z.” Mr. Z. snapped back angrily, “Now you don’t tell me what to do, young man!”

Our Sages teach us that the holy day of Shabbos is inextricably bound with promoting peace and love. This not only refers to peace of mind but also to engender warmth and closeness with our fellow Jews. And so amongst our holy nation we have a prevalent custom to bless each other that our Shabbos be special and elevated. But there are different versions of the time-honored greeting. Some people are accustomed to saying “Gut Shabbos” (or “Good Shabbos”), while others prefer saying, “Shabbat Shalom”. Whichever version one chooses the point is to promote feelings of camaraderie on the holy day.

But there are always individuals who have the ability to misconstrue even the most beautiful of customs. I had one particular congregant who was a living example. When he would come to shake my hand after davening on Friday night I would smile and wish him ‘Good Shabbos’, to which he invariably replied with a hearty, “Shabbat Shalom’. So one week I wised up and wished him ‘Shabbat Shalom’. He looked at me, smiled, and replied, “Good Shabbos’. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Although that congregant meant it as a joke there have been times when I have wished someone one version of the Shabbos blessing, to which they replied with the alternate version in a cold and almost spiteful manner. It was as if I willfully insulted them by not using the greeting they were used to.

It was because of this ‘issue’ that I (only half-jokingly) resolved to begin my Shabbos morning drashos by wishing everyone, “Good Shabbos; Shabbat Shalom”. [I conclude this weekly writing in a similar vein.] No doubt someone out there will still find reason to complain. However, I can rest assured knowing that I have done my effort to convey to you my sincerest desire that you merit a -

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum