Thursday, April 26, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Tazria-MetzoraPirkei Avos – perek 2
5 Iyar 5772/April 27, 2012

The month of Nissan has come and gone ushering in the month of Iyar. Chazal refer to the month of Iyar as Chodesh Ziv – the month of splendor. By now, spring is in full bloom, and the stunning multihued colors of the leaves add resplendent personality to the resuscitated world in its full splendor.
The conclusion of the month of Nissan also means that we resume saying tachanun each morning after Shemoneh Esrei. That means the chazzan can breathe a sigh of relief. You see, whenever tachanun is omitted the chazzan has the arduous challenge of ending his recitation of Shemoneh Esrei and starting kaddish in under six tenths of a second. He also has to figure out how to say the verse Yehiyu l’ratzon in an undertone during that time. If he is unsuccessful in doing so he will be virtually attacked by a barrage of bellows of ‘Yisgadal’Kaddish’ and the banal ‘nu nu’ from all sides of the shul. The idea being that if tachanun need not be said, we need to ensure that it indeed is not said!
I was once attending a b’ris which was taking place on a day when tachanun was universally not recited. Someone suggested that since we weren’t saying tachanun that morning anyway, we should skip Ashrei and Uva L’tzion because of the b’ris.
It would bode us well to understand the words of tachanun in an effort to appreciate this poignant supplication which is considered an extension of Shemoneh Esrei. In it we verbalize our complete subjugation and reliance on G-d, and passionately pray that G-d protect the remnants of our people, because we have no one and no where to turn besides G-d. In our versatile world that is surely a prayer we should recite with fervor and passion.
The same can be said regarding the four Yehi Ratzons recited after laining on Monday and Thursday. We pray for the return of the Shechinah, the preservation of our leaders, that we be spared of disasters and catastrophe, and that we merit hearing good tidings and good occasions. [During the Holocaust, Rabbi Breuer zt’l implemented that in K’hal Adath Jeshurun these prayers would be recited daily]. Is it not a shame that such profound prayers are often recited as if the chazzan is competing in a verbal speed-marathon?
Surely we should not recite tachanun during those days when the Shulchan Aruch exempts us from reciting it. Still-in-all, if we truly understood the value and significance of the prayer we might not be so overly-passionate about rushing the chazzan to begin kaddish.

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, April 19, 2012



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini – Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar

28 Nissan 5772/April 20, 2012

A few months ago, my father – who is the Administrator of the Friedwald Center for Rehab and Nursing, located about a five minute drive from our home - called me to tell me about an interesting experience he had. Earlier that day while making his daily rounds, which includes greeting patients and residents, he introduced himself to a new patient who had just been admitted.

My father asked the patient where he was from, and he replied that he lived in Hillcrest. When my father asked him which street, he insisted that it was a small street and my father never heard of it. But at my father’s prodding he said that he lived at 5 Landau Lane. My father smiled, “I believe you live next door to my children.” The patient looked up, surprised, “You mean you’re Ronnie and Kani’s dad?” (At least he remembered that our names rhyme…)

When I heard that my neighbor was there I bought a tray of candy and went to visit him. He didn’t look well at all but he was very appreciative and touched by my visit.

The following Shabbos morning when we returned home from shul there was a small package at our door – a card with a bow taped to a bottle of Manischewitz wine, a sentiment of gratitude from our neighbors.

Although they forgot the matzah balls and the gefilte fish, when I saw the bottle of Manischewitz wine I felt very ‘Jewish. I told Chani that after Shabbos we should hold up the bottle and see if we can hear a distant hum of Hava Nageela.

I recently heard a fascinating statistic: Over 70 % of American Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Considering how assimilated American Jewry is that is pleasantly surprising. What was even more astounding is that 92% of American Jews state that they have some sort of Seder on the first night of Pesach. Perhaps many of those sedarim are replete with chometz and non-kosher food, but at least they are sitting at a Seder. Obviously the holiday of Pesach and the symbolism of the Seder tugs at the heartstrings of even distant Jews.

Pesach is not merely a week-long celebration, and the Seder is not merely for 1-2 nights. Rather they are experiences which help define a Jew’s observance and what being a Jew means to him/her.

To some Judaism is a culinary experience. The tantalizing aromas, the glimmer of the table, the amicable conversations and family time, the Maxwell House haggadah, and of course the symbolic foods – matzah, chasroses, (Manischewitz) wine, chicken soup, and matzah balls, all create a nostalgic emotional holiday experience.

But if that’s all the holiday is it’s a tragic loss of a much deeper, enriching experience. Pesach represents internal freedom, the liberty to serve G-d and uphold the banner of Torah. We don’t merely ingest the symbolic foods, we internalize them as well.

Going through the motions and experiencing Pesach superficially is like leaving a bottle of wine in its pretty wrapping at the door. What a tragedy not to bring the bottle into the house, open it, and enjoy its contents.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

Ronnie and Kani

Tuesday, April 3, 2012



Erev Shabbos Kodesh/Erev Pesach

14 Nissan 5772/April 7, 2012

This year I have the privilege to write a weekly column in Hamodia of brief thoughts based on the weekly parsha. Although it is a bit of a challenge to remain 3-4 weeks ahead - such as writing about Pesach the week before Purim - it has been a rewarding experience. The only real significant challenge I have had to contend with is the word-limit.

Readers of Stam Torah are aware that my writings are not exactly short. The length of Stam Torah can range from 1400 words to upwards of 2200 words. In my Hamodia column I am limited to absolutely no more than 800 words, including sources and my short bio. There are weeks when I have to painstakingly review my article a few times in order to minimize words to fit my quota. It is not infrequent for me to have 799 or even 800 words.

The experience has definitely helped me appreciate the value of every single word!

The Ben Ish Chai notes that the word ‘Pesachis a conjunction of the words Peh Sach – a soft tongue. One of the greatest challenges of the Egyptian exile was that it robbed the Jews of their ability to pray. They were unable to express their inner pain or pour out their hearts to G-d. The redemption granted them not only physical, spiritual, and psychological freedom, but also the ability to express their innermost feelings.

He adds that it is for that reason that we refer to the holiday as Pesach even though the Torah refers to it as Chag Hamatzos. All of the many mitzvos of Pesach have specific requirements, measurements, and limitations involved in their fulfillment. This includes matzaoh from which one must eat a certain amount and within a certain time-frame. The title Chag Hamatzos connotes the limitations involved in the matzah, while the name Pesach symbolizes the newfound unbridled freedom of expression which was granted to the nation at the time of the exodus.

One of the hallmarks of a Jew is his adeptness and adroitness with words. A Jew is a master of speech. He knows how to encourage others, how to give chizuk, how to pray, and how to express his deepest thoughts – in Torah and personal in articulate eloquence. As our patriarch Yitzchok said, “The voice is the voice of Yaakov”, the power of the mouth is the domain of the Jewish People.

That great ability is something we need to reclaim.

A recent study showed that the vast majority of teens admit that they would rather text their best friend then speak to them face to face. As people rely more heavily on gadgets to communicate, including using emoticons to express feelings, there is a diminishment in the ability to aptly express one’s inner feelings. Udies show that there are even disruptions in thought patterns in the brain.

Slavery rendered us speechless; redemption gave us back our speech.

Today we are again in danger of losing our speech. “The hands are the hands of Eisav” – when our speech comes from means that are in our hands we are in great peril of forfeiting our most potent tool.

“Whoever increases in telling over about the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.” On Seder night there is no word-limit. But its not enough to read the text. We have to relate and convey stories, beliefs, feelings, and values, and to do so we must have the words to express ourselves!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chag Kasher V’samayach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum