Thursday, July 28, 2011

MASEI 5771

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Masei

27 Tamuz 5771/July 29, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 2

Everyone knows that ‘Almost doesn’t count!” Almost winning the championship, almost finishing a job, almost closing the deal, almost getting into a school, almost accomplishing your goals, is all said to not count, because if you don’t make it all the way then what’s it worth?

The past week was a very difficult week weather-wise for us in camp. Last week ended and this week began with three days of scorching 100 degree weather combined with heavy humidity. Then Monday, the final day of the first session of camp, brought soaking rains that drenched the camp from morning until late afternoon, making it very difficult to load luggage onto trucks going to various locations.

Thankfully Tuesday was a beautiful and sunny day as the new campers filed into camp and began unpacking. But then suddenly, with hardly any warning, during the late afternoon, sinister clouds rolled across the sky. Within three minutes a full force tempest unleashed a fury of powerful winds and an utter downpour of rain. Fifteen minutes later the sun was out, but so was all of the electricity in the camp.

Most importantly, everyone was safe. However, during the rainfall a strong three-root tree snapped almost at its base, causing the bulk of the tree to collapse on a small cabin only a few feet from a family bungalow with a newborn baby. Originally a camp maintenance worker was to have slept in that cabin but it was decided (thankfully) to convert it into a storage shed for prizes and soda (all the sodas survived).

So the tree almost hit the house. Interesting, but we know that ‘almost doesn’t count’. Or does it?

Our Sages teach us that everything that happens to a person – every last thing – is preordained by heaven. It is not uncommon for a person to be in a situation where something almost happened – for good or bad. We are taught that everything contains a message. There is a reason why things happen and a reason why things almost happen.

How often do we hear people recount tales of a near miss, what was almost an accident on the road? Often the story is repeated a few times and then forgotten.

In the spiritual world and the world of believers ‘almost’ counts tremendously. Sometimes heaven sends us powerful messages by having things almost occur to us so that we will be able to get the message in a painless manner. But we have to pay attention to the ‘almost’ or we will miss the message.

Also, in regards to our Service to G-d ‘almost’ counts tremendously. Someone who was almost able to complete a tractate, almost able to fulfill a mitzvah, almost able to help someone in need, may not get any credit in this world, but they are surely credited for their efforts in the World of Truth.

So when people say ‘almost doesn’t count’ it depends who is counting!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 22, 2011

MATOS 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos

20 Tamuz 5771/July 22, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 1

As we all know, our children are our greatest gifts and every child is priceless. What wouldn’t we do or give for our children! But, we also all know that like anything of value they require nurturance, time, and, above-all, tremendous patience.

Parents are always seeking worthy techniques to help guide their superlative efforts to educate and discipline their children: What do we do when our children don’t listen to us, and how can we foster compliance?

The Love-and-Logic program (of which we are often adherents) promotes the use of a technique called ‘brain drain’. If a child (children) is not cooperating or is misbehaving the parent says to the child that the child’s misbehavior is causing them to have a ‘brain drain’. This causes the parent to become ‘tired’ and unavailable to participate in the child’s leisurely activities until the child figures out a way to restore the parent’s energy by behaving nicely and perhaps doing extra chores to compensate. A brain drain may impede the parent from taking the child somewhere the child wants to go or from enjoying a privilege around the house.

In our home, Chani has recently been telling our children that she has ‘a bottle of patience’. If the bottle of patience is used up she won’t have extra patience for the things they want her to do, until they somehow figure out a way to help her bottle become refilled.

When I heard about the bottle of patience I liked the idea and asked her where she got it from.

“From you,” she replied.


“Yes you. Whenever we go shopping you tell me that you only have a certain amount of patience for shopping, after which you become restless (to say the least!). So I just applied your shopping creed to our home management.”

I dare say that Chani has more patience with our children than I do for shopping (thankfully).

Although we must have endless patience with our children, our children must know that their actions have consequences and when their behavior is subpar there is a price-tag attached to their actions. After all, that’s the way life is in the grown up world as well.

I am not sure if there are other connections between child-rearing and shopping (definitely not the way I shop) but one thing is for sure, our children never go on sale.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos

13 Tamuz 5771/July 15, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

Warren Harding was not a particularly intelligent man. He was not particularly distinguished politically either. He was vague and ambivalent on matters of policy. His speeches were once described as ‘an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea’.

In 1914 he was elected to the US senate. He probably would not have gone beyond that were it not for the prodding of his wife Florence and his scheming stage manager Harry Daugherty.

In 1921, despite his unimpressive political record, Warren Harding was elected President of the United States. Most historians agree that he was one of the worst presidents in American history. President Harding rewarded friends and political contributors, referred to as the Ohio Gang, with financially powerful positions. Scandals and corruption eventually pervaded his administration.

In August 1923, President Harding suddenly collapsed and died during a stop in California on a return trip from Alaska. He was succeeded by Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

Why/how was he chosen? Harding was an impressive person with a tremendous presence. While running for president he launched a "front porch campaign", which captured the imagination of the country. Not only was it the first campaign to be heavily covered by the press and to receive widespread newsreel coverage, but it was also the first modern campaign to use the power of Hollywood and Broadway stars, who travelled to his home for photo opportunities with Harding and his wife.

Being a former newspaper man, Harding got along well with the press, better than any prior President. Reporters admired his frankness, candor, and confessed limitations.

Prior President, Woodrow Wilson, had been ill by a debilitating stroke for eighteen months and before that had been in Europe for several months attempting to negotiate a peace settlement after World War I. By contrast, at the March 4, 1921 Inaugural, Harding looked robust and full of vitality, with grey hair and a commanding physical presence.

Warren Harding wowed the public despite not having much to offer politically or experientially.

It’s been said that “He who said ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ never tried to sell a book.” Perhaps that adage is more of an expression of hope that, ideally people should not judge things by their exterior appearance. But sadly that is usually not the case. In fact our world seems to be particularly prone to superficiality. People seek to appear to the world as ‘cool’ and aloof, as if they don’t have a care in the world, when in truth our world seems to have more emotional and personal pain and confusion then previous generations.

Of course it is important for a leader to have a presence, but if that is all he has it is a sad indication of the status of his constituents.

Could such a thing happen today? I’m sure we would like to think that we are all intelligent and better than that. We like to think of ourselves as having depth and not being fooled by mere eloquence and a strong presence. But are we really above that Or Better Articulation May Actually have an affect on people’s decisions?

What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 8, 2011

BALAK 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak

6 Tamuz 5771/July 8, 2011 ----Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5

This Musing is dedicated in honor of A. M. who was an inspiration for these thoughts.

I’m not sure who coined the term, but it has definitely become a cliché. Some people view the term as a pejorative others see it just as a label. People talk about young adolescent boys and girls from our circles going off to yeshiva/seminary (usually in Eretz Yisroel) and “Flipping Out”, becoming “like totally religious and stuff”. In fact, “Flipping Out” is the title of a book, as well as the topic of a song, which subtly mocks the whole concept.

My point is not to discuss why it happens, who it happens to, whether it’s a good thing, whether it’s ‘brainwashing’, or whatever other debates have been raised about it. I wanted to mention a different idea.

Recently, I was talking to a teenage friend who – although is a great guy and has many wonderful qualities - is lacking in his maturity and religiosity. While we were conversing he quipped that there was no doubt that he was going to go to Israel when he finished high school and would ‘flip out’. But it was his next comment that bothered me, “then I’ll become all shtark and I won’t play ball or make jokes or hang around with anyone.”

I said to him that I didn’t understand why that was true. Who said that ‘Flipping Out’ (as the terminology has become for one who begins to take his Avodas Hashem more seriously and dedicatedly) entails losing your personality and never playing ball? Why can’t a young man who has a lively personality and wonderful sense of humor begin to daven with more intensity, learn with more gusto, wear his tzitzis out, alter his mode of dress, and still maintain his sense of humor and great personality, albeit within the realm of halacha?”

Actually, I don’t see any reason why becoming more serious about one’s Avodas Hashem has to be synonymous with losing one’s personality.

I have had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest Torah leaders on occasion such as Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l, Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky and Rabbi Reuven Feinstein shlita. All three of these great Torah luminaries (had) have a keen and pleasant sense of humor that helps all those who seek their counsel feel comfortable and welcomed. People are often overwhelmed that these great men are so ‘grounded’ and so familiar with the contemporary world and its challenges. That familiarity and understanding does not belie their greatness, but is an important component of their ability to be of the foremost leaders in the Torah world.

Being a servant of G-d surely entails a certain seriousness and maturity. But it does not preclude having a sense of humor and an embracing personality. In fact, it is a wonderful thing to help other people laugh in a healthy manner.

To sum it up, I guess we can say that a person can ‘flip out’ and still be tuned in!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 1, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas/Erev Rosh Chodesh Tammuz

29 Sivan 5771/June 30, 2011----Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

I’m sure everyone has had the frustrating experience of looking for something inexpensive and fairly common that nobody seems to have just when you need it. [Ever need change of a dollar for a soda machine?]

Last Friday our family arrived at Camp Dora Golding, where I am a Division Head and we are fortunate to spend our summer. After hastily unpacking and trying to create some order before Shabbos, I noticed a few light bulbs were out and I wanted to change them so it would be brighter on Shabbos. I just needed a Phillips screwdriver so I could get the covers off the light-bulbs. 88 cents at Walmart, didn’t we leave one here at the end of last summer? Hmm, I guess not. No big deal. I’m sure one of the other families in camp has one. One neighbor had a flat screwdriver but that didn’t work. The others apologetically couldn’t help me. The maintenance department must have one on the truck. Nope, none there either.

By now it’s getting close to Shabbos and I realize that I’m going to have to give up. But then I remember that while I was unpacking the car, I noticed a miniscule screwdriver rolling around in the trunk. I went back to the trunk and indeed found the forsaken screwdriver which my son had won as part of a prize from his rebbe. Presto! It worked like a charm. I changed all the bulbs (that’s about the extent of my maintenance abilities), we had light for Shabbos, and I had a Musings for this week.

What lesson did I glean from the encounter? It may sound trite but it really is an idea that we need to remind ourselves constantly. I was searching mightily for a specific tool that I needed to help myself. I asked neighbors, friends, and even the ‘specialists’ (the maintenance people are very special). But in the end, the tool I needed was in my own trunk all along.

G-d, in His infinite world, has placed each of us in this world with specific abilities and weaknesses, and in a specific family and life situation. At times we feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the challenges we encounter. And so we begin to search elsewhere for ideas and new coping ‘tools’.

Surely this is not to say that we cannot gain encouragement, ideas, and support from others. In the most trying times, we unquestionably need the love and encouragement of others. Still, at the end of the day, all that our friends, family, and even specialists can do is help us realize that we have the tools within ourselves to persevere. We all have latent talents and abilities which we hardly realize we possess. Life often forces us to draw out those abilities and capabilities, from somewhere in our trunk.

Dovid Haelech stated (Tehillim 121:1-2), “I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come from? My help is from G-d, the One who made the heaven and earth.” King David does not ask “Where will help come from?” Rather, he asks “Where will my help come from?”

Perhaps King David is referring to the many arduous moments during his life when he felt overwhelmed and defeated, yet somehow found uncanny internal strength to forge on and continue fulfilling his daunting responsibilities. He marvels at the fact that he himself was able to find the inner conviction and courage. And he lauds the fact that it was G-d - the same G-d who created heaven and earth - Who also created him with abilities he hardly knew he possessed.

King David was amazed that throughout his life, in moments when he was on the brink of despair, he always found the tools he needed in his own trunk.

By the way, as I was preparing to send this out someone asked over the camp radio if anyone has a Phillips-screwdriver. I happily lent him mine. A minute later he called me over the radio to tell me that, right after I lent him mine, he found his own Phillips screwdriver in his bungalow. I kid you not.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum