Thursday, November 24, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos/ Mevarchim Chodesh Kislev

28 MarCheshvan 5772/November 25, 2011

This past Sunday morning as I was delivering my weekly Rambam shiur after shacharis, my family neighbor from my youth, R’ Akiva Lane, walked in and sat down to listen. At the end of the shiur, he handed me a small notebook and said, “We were cleaning out our basement and we found this; it belongs to you.” I peered down at the cover of my fourth grade notebook! I should mention that the Lane family made aliyah a number of years ago. I have no idea how my notebook ended up in their home in the first place, but somehow it remained with them all these years.

By nature I am a copious note-taker and have many binders and notebooks full of notes from classes and lectures I have heard over the years. I try to write my notes in a manner that others could read my writings and understand them. Part of my inspiration for writing in such detailed fashion comes from my Zayde. Truthfully, it is not because he had such beautiful notes, but rather the opposite. His handwriting is very difficult to decipher, and he wrote brief thoughts on any pieces of paper he had available. There are short thoughts jotted on the back of invitations, tax forms, school papers, and advertisements. Those papers were left in his sefarim.

Over the years I have spent considerable amounts of time trying to decipher his writings. I have been successful in understanding some of them, but there is so much more that I still can’t quite make out. Whatever I have been able to understand is extremely precious to me.

Ben Franklin famously wrote:

“If you would not be forgotten, As soon as you are dead and rotten;

Either write things worth reading, Or do things worth writing.”

The Mishna in Avos states וקנה לך חבר" – Acquire for yourself a friend.” One of the commentaries offers a novel interpretation of these words: A קנה can also be translated as a reed, which used to be used as a quill for writing. Thus the Mishna is saying, “Your pen – will be your friend.”

When something is written, it’s documented forever (as long as you don’t lose it). I have letters that I received from my Grandmothers when I was a camper in camp as a child which are so precious to me, as well as letters from my parents, and even copies of letters I sent to others. The memories contained in those writings are invaluable. When I read them I find myself momentarily transported back to a different time and place in my life.

It was a fascinating experience to open the notebook and see my writings from so many years ago, from such a vastly different stage in my life.

That is a bit of the feeling I had when I opened up my fourth grade notebook with my old address - 19 Echo Ridge Rd - and our classic phone number 578-5787 (what a phone-number!) written in my nine year old handwriting on the front cover. That notebook had the steps of the korbanos which were brought in the Mishkan. Rabbi Shlomo Breslauer, my fourth grade rebbe, had us memorize all the steps, many of which I still remember.

It’s amazing how many memories are hidden away in old letters and an old notebook.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah

21 MarCheshvan 5772/November 18, 2011

I’m sure it’s happened to almost everyone at one time or another. You’re sitting at some sort of reception or simcha schmoozing with a friend, when you start to feel thirsty. A quick perusal of the table and you notice that the Coke is too far away, so you settle for the only beverage within reach, a closed bottle of Seltzer. While your friend continues explaining his theories about life you maintain eye contact while trying to slowly ease the bottle open. And then it happens!

The room seems to grow quiet, conversations stop, and all eyes turn to you. You are sitting with a goofy look on your face, seltzer dripping down your sleeves and all over your shirt. People look at you with pitiful eyes that seem to say, ‘What a nebuch! He can’t even open a bottle of Seltzer without it exploding. Why didn’t he just take water?’ And there’s always that one clown who calls out jovially, “Quick pour some seltzer on it before it stains!”

And yes, I am writing about this because it happened to me recently…

You can’t just open a bottle of Seltzer. You must bear in mind that the contents of the bottle are under pressure. Therefore, you must open it slowly, allowing just a bit of air to escape before pulling the whole cap off.

There are many times in life when a certain measure of pressure is necessary. A parent needs to pressure his/her child, a husband needs to pressure his wife or vice-versa, an employer needs to pressure his employee, etc.

The golden rule is that one must always ‘open slowly’. Pressure must be added gently, incrementally, soothingly, and understandingly. If someone is always pressuring another, without thinking about the effects of his words, the results can cause an explosion and, G-d forbid, prove disastrous.

At the same time a certain amount of pressure is certainly necessary. Parents who don’t pressure their children deny their children the opportunity to realize their true self-worth and the feeling of accomplishment. There is no point of having the bottle on the table if it remains closed and unused.

The key is to find the happy medium - not too much and not too little – but finding that medium is not always easy.

By the way, for those who are questioning my right to lecture about Seltzer, I should mention that my Zayde (whose yahrtzeit is this Thursday, 27 Cheshvan)’s father, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Willamofsky zt’l hy’d was the Rav and spiritual leader of the town of Seltz in Russia. Had that position remained in our family I may have actually become the Seltzer Rav. And that would unquestionably have been a groyseh shpritz!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, November 11, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera

14 MarCheshvan 5772/November 11, 2011

Natti was your typical American yeshiva boy. He was born in 1943 and raised in his native Chicago in the world of baseball and hotdogs. He was the starting center on his high school basketball team, Ida Crown Jewish Academy. In his eighth grade yearbook, next to his photo it said ‘Ambition: Undecided’ with the quote, “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” Natty was well liked and was a good student but he wasn’t particularly brilliant.

When he was fifteen he went to visit Eretz Yisroel for the first time. While there he stayed in the home of his cousin, an illustrious Rosh Yeshiva, and spent some time visiting the yeshiva. Natty was immediately drawn to the atmosphere of the yeshiva and he wanted to stay longer. But his mother wanted him to return to Chicago until he completed High School.

If a fortune-teller would have appeared during his graduation procession from High School to reveal his future, Natti would probably have discounted his words, and told the fortune-teller that he was out of his mind. This is what the fortune-teller might have said:

“Natti you will return to Eretz Yisroel to live in the home of your cousin, the Rosh Yeshiva. You will fall in love with the yeshiva and you will remain attached to it for the rest of your life. You will begin to apply yourself and study with unbridled enthusiasm and uncanny dedication, raising your knowledge and proficiency in Torah to incredible levels. The Rosh Yeshiva will be so enamored with you that he will arrange for you to marry his granddaughter.

“You will raise a beautiful family of thirteen children. Your wife will bring your children to the yeshiva to see you during the week so you can continue to learn uninterrupted. After a few decades your father-in-law will hand over the reigns of the yeshiva to you just prior to his passing. Despite the fact that by then you will be afflicted by Parkinson’s Disease, causing you to suffer constant pain and physical challenges, you will undertake the challenge. The yeshiva will continue to grow under your tutelage at a mind-boggling rate, until it boasts a student-body of three thousand. You will become a role model for Torah Jews the world over, a beloved personality and an inspiration to all. Your tremors, and a times violent shaking, will only seek to strengthen your myriad students’ love and admiration for you. Your shiurim will be packed with talmidim who will strain to hear the pearls that flow from your (physically) weak voice. You will become the foremost symbol of learning and loving Torah despite all challenges.

“Then suddenly, to the shock of the Torah world, on the yahrtzeit of our matriarch Rochel Imeinu, you will have a massive heart attack at the age of 69 and leave this world. Your passing will tear apart the hearts of your beloved people. The greatest Torah leaders of the day, including esteemed rabbanim thirty years your senior, will eulogize you and mourn your passing together with a hundred thousand of your orphaned students in a funeral that will paralyze the bustling city of Yerushalayim. The world will hear about the death of a humble rabbi named Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, and understand that the Jewish people suffered an irreplaceable loss.”

“The day will come when an American yeshiva boy will no longer be able to blame his lack of growth on the fact that he grew up in America, because they will point to you. But for now why don’t you go enjoy your graduation ceremony with the rest of your family.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha

7 MarCheshvan 5772/November 4, 2011

Do you have that one friend who always seems to be one step behind? He’s the person who is very sincere but a bit too gullible (the one who believes you when you tell him that they took the word ‘gullible’ out of the dictionary); the one who never laughs at a joke because he needs the punch line explained to him. He’s the fellow who just ‘doesn’t get it’ unless it’s spelled out for him.

But perhaps on some level that describes all of us.

In 1985, the U.S.S.R. was - as it had been since the conclusion of World War II - the United States’ most implacable foe. Behind what Churchill dubbed ‘the Iron Curtain’ was the joint forces of the communist world. Led by such nefarious leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, it was an impenetrable power.

At the same time Saddam Hussein was the dictatorial ruler of Iraq, as he had been since 1973. He had instigated a war with neighboring Iran that caused the death of hundreds of thousands. Mummar Gaddafi was the tyrannical dictator who dominated Libya since 1969. He financed and supported Palestinian militant organizations against Israel, and was dubbed ‘Public Enemy number one’ by President Reagan.

If you would have told someone then that by the year 2011 the U.S.S.R would already be a historical entity for over two decades, that Saddam Hussein would have already been captured in a farm house, put on trial for his crimes against humanity, and subsequently executed, and that Gadaffi would be dragged out of a drainpipe by rebel forces who toppled his forty-year reign, and would be beaten and killed, they wouldn’t have believed you.

Add to that that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind responsible for the September 11th and America’s Most Wanted enemy since 1998, who was killed in his Abbotabad Mansion in a gutsy raid by American Marines that lasted just a few hours.

Dovid Hamelech stated, (Tehillim 49) “Do not fear when a man grows rich, when he increases the splendor of his house. For upon his death he will not take anything, his splendor will not descend after him.”

Saddam Hussein had a net worth of over two billion dollars, Gadaffi was worth an estimated one billion, and Bin-Laden had a net worth of about fifty million dollars. [The U.S.S.R was completely bankrupt when it disbanded under Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost.]

In the last few years we have witnessed the incredible downfall of three powerful leaders and a world power, all of whom paralyzed their respective nations with intense fear and intimidation. They deified themselves to the masses and ensured everyone’s complete allegiance solely to them. Any opposition was brutally crushed and they inundated their masses with propaganda and lies. They maintained personal wealth that boggles the mind, living in palatial wealth while many of their subjects suffered abject poverty.

And now they are all dead, killed in a most ignominious fashion, and all of their decades of wealth, might, and power are gone too.

But that is all old news already. We want to hear the latest about the storm cleanup and what is happening in sports. Thank heaven the Giants didn’t lose to the winless Dolphins.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum