Thursday, January 26, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo

3 Shevat 5772/January 27, 2012

For the last days of Succos this past year we hosted eleven staff members from Camp Dora Golding, who came to enhance our Yom Tov and our kehilla’s Simchas Torah.

Shemini Atzeres morning was a beautiful day and the sun shone brightly. We set the tables, and tried to figure out the best way to squish everyone into our little canvas Succah. When we finally gathered around the table for Kiddush we quickly realized that a few more unaccounted guests would be arriving.

At first it didn’t seem to be such a big deal, after all what’s a Succos meal without a bee? We shooed him away and continued. But when he returned with reinforcements we knew we were in trouble. Within a few minutes bees were swarming all around the succah, buzzing excitedly around the delicacies on the table, in our cups, and on our forks. The bees finally prevailed, forcing us back into the house. [It was a situation of ‘Mitzta’er’ for which one is exempt from succah, especially on Shemini Atzeres.]

It’s amazing how much havoc those little bees could cause. Throughout the summer we try to stay out of their way as they busily go about their business. And then the temperature drops, and the bees disappear for the winter. They return to their hives subsisting on the honey they made the previous summer.

However, I have come to the realization that bees do not completely disappear during the winter. Perhaps the buzzing yellow jackets with pointy stingers vanish from view, but their counterpart ‘synonyms’ rears its insidious face, appearing on children’s report cards at distinct intervals throughout the academic winter. What am I talking about? I’m referring to the dreaded grade: ‘B’.

It seems that the challenge of perfectionism and feelings of academic inadequacy are becoming an even more prevalent problem in our schools. When I was a student I had classmates who would voice their annoyance when they ‘only’ scored a 94 on a test. But today there are students who become absolutely miserable and even depressed because they did not get the best grade in the class. And if they should - Heaven forefend - get one B on their report card? Forget it, their life is ruined!

What a terrible pressure for a student to feel and what an erroneous perception of what constitutes success. A child who put in effort, studied, and scored an 84 on a test – the equivalent of a B on a report card – should be made to feel that he/she has done well. [Imagine how much better our society would look if people worked to 84% of their capacities…] We need to teach our children, and ourselves, that personal greatness is measured in terms of effort, not achievement. They will have plenty of time to suffer from the malady of ‘only accomplishment counts’ in the corporate world. In school they need to be taught what truly matters is self-esteem and the feeling of accomplishment which stems from giving it your all.

In my opinion there is a much more significant danger for a child who is genuinely afraid of getting a B on his report card than the momentary pain of getting stung by a bee.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era

25 Teves 5772/January 20, 2012

One of the most exciting experiences of my youth was visiting Eretz Yisroel for the first time. I was eight years old and my Aunt Miriam was going to Eretz Yisroel for the unveiling of my beloved Zayde at the end of August. My older brother was away in camp so my parents offered me the opportunity to accompany my aunt for the eleven day trip.

I was enamored by everything along the way. I loved the plane, especially because the seats were so roomy. [The next time I flew a few years later the seats shrunk immeasurably…] When we finally landed, my Bubby, Uncle, and cousin met us at the airport. Bubby was so excited to see me she hugged me and lifted me off the ground (the only time I remember that happening.)

The ten hour flight and all of its excitement were a bit much for an eight year old and at that point I was hungry and cranky. We went to an Italian restaurant in Yerushalayim but I refused to order anything. After a few minutes of negotiations my Aunt finally convinced me to order an Italian Pizza. After all what could be bad about pizza?

When the pizza arrived I promptly announced that I wasn’t going to eat it. My exasperated Aunt asked me why not? “Because”, I explained, “it smells like the shmattas (rags) in Bubby’s house.” My aunt tried to convince me that I was being ridiculous but I was emphatic about my refusal. My cousin took the pizza and sniffed it, whereupon he burst out laughing, “It’s true, it smells like shmattas!” My Aunt took one bite and admitted that we were right. It was real Italian cheese and pizza, not for our American taste buds.

I found something else to order and everyone continued eating. When we finished we noticed that the pizza was gone. Had the waiter taken it back? Bubby shrugged us off, “I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. The pizza was delicious.”

Throughout the years, we periodically laugh about the shamattah-pizza, and how Bubby couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t eat it.

In our home, we teach our children that when you don’t like something you don’t announce, ‘Oh that’s gross!’ Rather you politely say, ‘That’s not my taste.’ It is not only insulting to disparage food that someone else worked hard to make, but it is insensitive to speak negatively about something you don’t like when someone else may enjoy it.

Such an expression does not only apply to food but to anything else in life. Just because you don’t like a game, place, or idea, doesn’t make it wrong or bad. It may not be your taste, but someone else may find it pleasurable.

The idea of tolerance is extremely important. Our society would like to believe that it is politically correct and accepting of difference. But underneath all its social babble, our world is extremely intolerant and impatient with differences of others.

That intolerance infiltrates our camp as well. Our exile began because of intolerance which bred contempt and enmity, and it is apparent that we haven’t rectified that malady yet.

What may be a shmattah to one person may be delicious to someone else. What one person may find inadequate another may find appealing and acceptable. We don’t have to agree with other’s opinions, but we still have to learn to tolerate differences.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, January 13, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos

18 Teves 5772/January 13, 2012

I remember it like two days ago. It was Shabbos morning and davening had just ended. I had just left shul with my father, older brother, and two neighbors, and we were heading home. I am not sure what the catalyst was but my older brother (who shall remain nameless for the sake of anonymity) slugged me (though I have no doubt that it was his fault). I remember that it didn’t hurt physically as much as it hurt my pride, but I dropped to the ground and refused to get up. The crowd stopped walking and turned to see what happened. As they were standing nearby trying to cajole me into getting up so we could proceed, I heard someone say, “You better get up, there’s a cop coming.” Good tactic I thought, but I still remained on the ground. Then my father said, “Dani, seriously, a cop is coming.”

I was still a bit skeptical but was contemplating concluding my theatrical drama when I heard a car stop and a commanding voice call out, “Everything okay here?” Someone replied, “Just a bit of sibling rivalry. He’s totally fine.” I picked my head up in time to see the cop turn to my older brother (who is still maintaining his anonymity) and say, “Son, you better be careful. He’s going to keep eating his Wheaties, and one day he’s going to come after you.” Then with a laugh from everyone (except me) he drove off. [I never liked Wheaties which is why I never had a chance to get back at him… until now J.]

If you happen to live in close walking distance to shul this essay is not for you. But for those of us who have a bit of a walk to shul there are benefits to be had. Aside for the obvious advantage that you could afford to eat an extra piece of cake and kugel at the Kiddush with a little less guilt (as long as your spouse doesn’t find out about it), the walk home is a great time to think about important things in your life (like why you don’t live closer to the shul).

When I am walking to shul alone I verbally say the derasha that I will be saying in shul. When I pass people along the way I pretend that I was humming a tune out loud.

Most importantly, if one is blessed to have children who accompany him to shul, the walk is a great opportunity for bonding time. Although every child is different and every child enjoys different things, if parent and child can decide on an enjoyable cognitive activity to share along the way home the walk can be a special experience. I know I have been successful in this regard when my children tell me that the walk home from shul felt ‘so short’.

Aside for preparing derashos for Shabbos, I try to make sure I have a good story on hand to share with our oldest son Shalom while we are walking way home. I try to make sure the story has a good lesson, especially apropos for Shabbos. Recently, Shalom and I have begun to review the Mishnayos he learns in school by heart while walking (he gets a quarter for every Mishna he knows; I get nothing).

At times there may be others walking with us. During those times I have to try to make sure that at least part of the walk is dedicated to my ‘walking session’ with Shalom. Showing that I value our conversation is meaningful to him as well.

So for all of you unfortunate souls who live right next door to the shul (and therefore stopped reading this article three paragraphs ago), you don’t know what you’re missing. (Um, also please have me in mind when you start your seudah).

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi

11 Teves 5772/January 6, 2012

The first day of sixth grade. We apprehensively shuffled into our seats, trying to surmise what kind of teacher she was going to be. After introducing herself, our teacher immediately told us that she wasn’t sure if she was going to remain as our teacher. Her first day, and it may very well be her last. Now there’s a vote of confidence!

Besides those endearing opening words, I will never forget something else she told us that day. She was explaining the concept of time zones and the International Date Line. She related that once while on vacation she had traveled across the Date Line. However, instead of returning the way she came, she proceeded forward circling the globe until she arrived home. She then sadly exclaimed, “Isn’t that sad? I lost a day of my life!”

I remember being very intrigued by that comment. Did that mean her life would be one day shorter? How did that make sense? If someone is born on the 30th of Kislev (a date that doesn’t occur every year) or on February 29th he won’t have a birthday every year. Does that mean he won’t age?

It took some time before I concluded that she had not lost a day from her life, but rather she had lost a calendar day.

Now, she is in good company. The weekend came sooner than usual for the tiny South Pacific island nation of Samoa this past week. When the clock struck midnight this past Thursday, the country skipped over Friday and moved 24 hours ahead – straight into Saturday, December 31. The time jump meant that Samoa's 186,000 citizens were the first in the world to ring in the secular New Year, rather than the last.

Samoa aimed to align its time zone with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region by shifting west of the International Date Line. Now they will be on the same day as their neighboring countries of New Zealand and Australia, instead of being a day behind them.

It only took Samoa 119 years to catch up (in 1892 U.S. traders persuaded local Samoans to align their islands' time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. to assist their trading with California). In doing so, they have forfeited Friday December 30, 2011 forever.

In the Psalm of ‘Moshe the man of G-d’ (Tehillim 90), Moshe Rabbeinu asks G-d: “To count our days, so teach us, then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom.” It’s been said that one should not count his days as much as he should make his days count. There is a reason why the present is so aptly called. Each day of life is a gift, and the one who possesses a wise heart seeks to take advantage of his every day.

During the funeral of the Sefas Emes of Ger, his eldest son, the Imrei Emes turned to his younger brother, Rav Moshe Betzalel, and quipped, “Our father had arichus yamim – lengthy days”. Surprised, Rav Moshe Betzalel replied, “But father wasn’t even sixty years old?” The Imrei Emes responded, “I didn’t say he had lengthy years, but that he had lengthy days. He made every day count.”

The Torah says about Avrohom Avinu that he came with his days (Bereishis 24:1; the same expression is used about Dovid Hamelech – Melachim I 1:1). His every day was utilized to the fullest, and therefore he ‘owned’ every day and took it with him.

What enriched lives we would lead if we could foster that feeling with ourselves.

By the way, our teacher never did come back after that first day. I think she went to search for the day she lost.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum