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