Thursday, October 27, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach /Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan

30 Tishrei 5772/October 28, 2011

Yom Tov is truly a special time. The special tefillos, the meals, the songs, the meals, the camaraderie, the meals, extra time with the family, the meals, and of course the delicious meals. Chol Hamoed also provides a wonderful opportunity for family bonding (pronounced ‘kvetching’) and enjoying spending time together.

One of the many pleasurable moments of this past Chol Hamoed for me personally was watching our three year old son Avi enjoying an arcade that we visited. For our two older children the arcade cost me some money. But for Avi the cost was minimal.

Avi plopped himself down on one of the virtual motorcycles attached to the game and turned the steering wheel with gusto as the car on the screen made the same turns. He gleefully made engine noises as he steered his car through windy roads at dangerously high speeds. He looked a bit confused when some large letters suddenly appeared on the screen and began blinking a few times. However, when the simulated game reappeared a minute later, he went right back to his tenacious driving.

And why should I be the one to tell him that he wasn’t really controlling what was happening? If he cannot yet read the words ‘Insert Coins’ why must I explain it to him? As long as he was content and felt that it was his doing, he was happy and I saved a few dollars.

When he finished one game he went on to another, and the same scene repeated itself.

It was cute and humorous that he thought he was controlling the game when really it was pre-programmed, and had nothing to do with his motions and efforts.

I don’t know if angels laugh, but I wonder if they view us in the same vein? We too feel that we are in control and are running every aspect of our own lives. But in truth it only appears that way, because life and its events are divinely simulated and ordained to occur exactly as G-d sees fit.

We do not see the words “Insert act of Kindness”, “Insert Charity”, or “Insert additional Prayer” flashing before our eyes. Still, we are aware that it is such acts which grant us the merit to remain behind our wheel and continue to drive (or at least appear that way).

The only problem was that in order to procure tickets which are redeemable for ‘serious prizes’, you have to actually play some games. So I did have to shell out some cash and we had to help Avi with a few rounds of skee-ball and basketball shooting.

When we were done he had racked up over 100 tickets! I was pretty sure he had enough tickets to get the 6 days-7 nights vacation getaway package to Miami. But I guess he fell a bit short because he was only able to get the little squishy thing which broke in the car on the way home. At least he still had the free brochure.

Drive safely!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Hoshanah Rabbah 5772

21 Tishrei 5772/October 19, 2011

In our home, Children’s Tapes are very important. More than anything else, we kick off the holiday season with the familiar sounds of certain Children’s Tapes being played. Of course there are certain tapes which seem to be played all year round. [Last week I had to keep reminding our younger children that it is not almost Purim even though they can’t get enough of ‘The Purim Story’. “Avi, tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, can we put away the Purim tape?” “Okay Abba, put on the ‘Baruch learns about Pesach’ one.]

This all helps you appreciate why I am so vexed that there aren’t too many Succos Children’s tapes. We have a tape of Rabbi Alter singing Succos songs, but that’s about it. When Baruch finished learning about Pesach and his berachos, why didn’t anyone teach him about Succos? When Yanky finished learning about Shabbos and Pesach why didn’t Zaydey teach him about a succah? And why couldn’t there be an ‘Incredible esrog of Feitel von Zetrog’? Why can’t Kivi and Tuki go to visit Uncle Moishy’s Succah? [Please note that if you are not familiar with contemporary Children’s Tapes you may not know what I am talking about. You also don’t know what you’re missing!] I’m sure soon Lipa will have some video singing ‘Hayp oif dayne hentelach in der succah ubber not when you’re holding your lulav and esrog’.

The truth is that the message of Succos is so important, especially in our day and age, and it is unfortunately not spoken about enough. In fact, I remember a friend of mine commenting to me when we were about twelve years old that he would be willing to bet that many children our age have no idea why we celebrate Succos. What a tragedy!

Succos is a celebration of the belief that G-d controls and directs every facet of our lives. We think our homes, finances, cars, and prestige protect us. But in truth it is G-d who provides shelter, protection, and comfort in our lives. We leave our alarm-secured homes, to sit in a flimsy succah under the stars, to ingrain within us that ultimately it is only G-d who watches over us. During the same holiday we wave the Four Species in all six directions to symbolize that it is G-d who controls the ‘winds of the world’, which symbolically includes everything that occurs in the world.

There are many deeper meanings and explanations of the profundity and depth of the succah and Four Species, but we need to remind ourselves of the simple understanding of the holiday: that we must place our faith and trust in G-d. That is the reason for the intense joy during this unique holiday.

It is a lesson that we must not only teach our children, but that we need to remind ourselves of constantly.

It is only after spending a week with that focus in mind that we can remove the Torah Scrolls from the holy Ark to dance with them, with unbridled love and passion, in the presence of the One who gave us the Torah.

I conclude by sharing with you a memo that I was told is hanging in Home Depot: “To all of our Jewish patrons, please note that the thing that attaches to the thing, which looks like the thing in your garage, will not be available until after the holiday.” [And for those of you who are asking - no, there is not really such a sign hanging in Home Depot.]

Hey, maybe next year they’ll release a tape about the opening of the new Home Depot on Torah Island, just in time for Succos. I hope Yanky Strudel doesn’t land on the s’chach.

Chag Kasher V’samayach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Erev Z’man Simchasaynu 5772

14 Tishrei 5772/October 12, 2011

Ever since they enslaved our ancestors for over two centuries a few millennia ago, we have never trusted our neighbors down in Egypt. We remind ourselves of that fact every year when we celebrate the holiday of Pesach. But this year the Egyptians have surfaced around the holiday of Succos.

“Pharaoh, let my lulavs go!”

Egypt is the central exporter of lulavim needed as one of the Four Species taken on Succos. They provide the Jewish world with about half a million palm fronds annually, from a general demand of about 700,000. This year the ministry has decided to ban all exports of lulavim, bar none. Although the Egyptian ministry claims that the reason for the ban is because of overharvesting and agricultural concerns, we all know that the real reason is because of the growing tension between Israel and Egypt.

Egypt’s refusal to export the lulavim is a demonstration of the Sages’ rule that ‘hatred perverts the straight path’. In the long run, it is unquestionably the fledgling Egyptian economy that will suffer the most from this whole debacle. The Jewish People will somehow figure out a way to have lulavim. In fact, this year many Jews will have to purchase the more expensive, but more halachically qualified, ‘Deri’ lulavim. [The Deri lulavim are thicker, sturdier, and are more reliable vis-à-vis the uppermost ‘twin’ leaves (t’yumas) being perfectly sealed, as required by halacha.] Thus, as has happened so many times in the past, our enemy’s effort to diminish our mitzvah observance, only leads to our beautification and more preciseness in that regard.

To add, there is another subconscious reason why the Egyptians seek to hinder our having the required Four Species. The Medrash (Vayikrah Rabbah, parshas Emor) relates that on Yom Kippur there is a tremendous battle raging in heaven between every nation in the world and Klal Yisroel (kind of like all every meeting in the United Nations in this world). The Medrash continues that it is not immediately apparent who was victorious. But then, when we emerge on Succos proudly holding the Four Species, it is symbolic that we were the victors.

No wonder the Egyptians don’t want us to have lulavim if they can help it. They never really got over the fact that we became the Chosen Nation after we were redeemed from their accursed land.

So Egypt, keep your lulavim and we’ll keep our money. And don’t you worry; the Season of our Gladness will not be lacking in mitzvah observance one iota. You stubborn Pharaohs, you just never learn.

Chag Kasher V’samayach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Erev Shabbos/Yom Kippur 5772

9 Tishrei 5772/October 7, 2011

A family friend once remarked to me that Yom Kippur is her favorite day of the year. Then she added with a half-smile, “I don’t even know why I love it so much. I hate fasting, yet I love the day. Am I crazy?”

I replied that I always feel there is a certain serenity which sets in as Kol Nidrei commences. I compared it to the early morning hours after a massive snow storm. The whole neighborhood is covered in a pristine blanket of white, and the roads are still impassable. For at least a few hours there is no where to go, and everything seems so tranquil (unless of course you drive a snow plow).

The hours before Yom Kippur are an extremely frenzied and busy time. Meals, mikvah, showers, blessings, last minute phone calls, arrangements, candles - including yahrtzeit candles, tallis and kittel, slippers, etc. I always feel quite harried as I settle into my seat to try to say Tefillas Zakkah (the impassioned confession prayer recited prior to Kol Nidrei) with the intense concentration it warrants.

But then as the sun begins to set and the chazzan’s voice begins the ancient penetrating and haunting tune for Kol Nidrei, all of the frenzied rush is over. True, there is tremendous intensity and seriousness that envelopes the synagogue. However, at that moment there is no where else to go and no where else to be. There are no meals to prepare, no arrangements to be made, and nothing else to do. There is only the machzor and the prayers before us.

Yom Kippur also affords us the opportunity to take a candid unhindered look at ourselves, and whether we are living up to, and fulfilling, our own dreams and aspirations.

It is well known that in the court of the great Kotzker Rebbe there was a tremendous emphasis in truth – in behavior, conduct, and even thought.

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked a woman why she had traveled a great distance to come to Kotzk. She replied that she had come to find G-d. The Rebbe replied that for that she could have stayed home, because G-d is everywhere. “Then why have I have come?” She asked. “To find yourself”, the Rebbe poignantly replied, “to find yourself”.

Therein lies part of the greatness of Yom Kippur. We ‘come to Kippur’ to find ourselves: Where have we been? Where are we going? It is an opportunity for serious introspection.

Yom Kippur may not be an easy day, but it is a transcendent day, and in a sense, a day of great serenity and inner peace.

May we all rediscover ourselves and enjoy the experience.

G’mar Chasima Tova

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum