Thursday, July 26, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim Pirkei Avos, perek 3
Shabbos Chazon - Tisha B’av 5772/July 27, 2012

Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita, our Mashgiach in Camp Dora Golding (as well as the Mashgiach in Yeshiva Ohr HaChaim in Queens, NY), related that at a Torah Umesorah Convention he attended some years ago, he was privileged to hear a lecture from Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l on the topic of educating children. Rav Schwab mentioned that he felt that a parent should give an occasional potch to their child when necessary, to demonstrate disapproval. He added that the point of the potch is not to hurt, in fact once it does so it may defeat the purpose. Rather it is for the child to see that his behavior needs to be corrected.
[It must be noted that Rav Schwab strongly opposed ever embarrassing a child. He insisted that the misbehaving child be (respectfully) separated from his peers before the ‘potch’ is administered.]
Rabbi Finkelman then noted that shortly after hearing that lecture he was preparing a lecture of his own in his home office with limited time, when his young son decided to play ‘Ocean Parkway’ with his little matchbox cars on the floor of the office. Rabbi Finkelman gently explained to his son that the noise of his playing with all the little cars driving (and probably honking and double parking) was disturbing. His son ignored him and continued playing. Remembering Rav Schwab’s advice, Rabbi Finkelman walked over to his son and softly but firmly said ‘I told you that it was disturbing and you didn’t listen, so now I have to give you a potch”, whereupon he took his hand and gave him a soft potch.
The boy’s immediate response was almost to be expected “Didn’t even hurt!” Rabbi Finkelman replied “It wasn’t supposed to hurt. I just wanted you to know how bothered I am by your disrespectful behavior.” A minute later the young son picked up all of his cars and quietly moved Ocean Parkway into the other room.
The laws of the Three Weeks, particularly of the Nine Days, are somewhat austere and restricting. However, sometimes people will comment that ‘it’s not such a big deal’. They like milchigs better anyway, they don’t really like swimming, their clothes feel dirty five minutes after they put them on during the summer anyway, and they like a good cold shower.
The point of the laws, and all of halacha generally, is not to ‘hurt’ or punish us. During this time period it behooves us to focus on the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, and all of our national losses, and halacha abets that process by helping us maintain that focus. [This surely does not mean that it is within our purview to decide whether those halachos are necessary. We are obliged to follow the laws whether we agree with them or not, but it is helpful to realize that there is an underlying goal and direction to it all.] Similarly, the laws of the Yomim Noraim and Yom Kippur help us maintain our focus on our primary avodah during those days – of teshuvah and cheshbon hanefesh.
There is no question that at times it can be arduous and cumbersome to keep some of these halachos. But halacha serves as a guide to help us achieve the underlying purpose of every times period, and of every day of our lives.  
This year we have a Tisha B’av of the future – a Tisha B’av when we eat meat, drink wine, and sing zemiros in a state of Shabbos joy. Here again halacha dictates our behavior. On the actual day of Tisha B’av the intense laws of mourning are deferred in honor of the holy Shabbos.
We wait and pray for the day when Tisha B’av will be a Yom Tov in its own right, and always have the spirit of Shabbos, even during the week. Perhaps we will merit it this coming Sunday.

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
              An easy and meaningful Fast,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Matos-Masei Pirkei Avos, perek 2
Rosh Chodesh Av 5772/July 20, 2012

A friend of mine related that one summer night, he walked passed a few boys who were laying on the ground in an open field staring at the clear night sky, and he overheard one of them say, “Wow, it looks just like a planetarium!”
I remember as a child scouring our bungalow colony with my siblings for salamanders. We would gleefully amass impressive collections of the spotted critters and bring them home in buckets. [No matter how many we brought home, by morning they were always gone. I always suspected that my mother was an accomplice in their mass escape each night.] At times we would also stare at the clouds and imagine what they liked like.
Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) writes that appreciating nature draws a person closer to loving and fearing Hashem.
In our generation we have a tremendous opportunity to utilize this approach due to the incredible scientific advancements of the previous century. It is therefore ironic and tragic that, despite the uncanny secrets of nature and the world that we are privy to, we spend far less time contemplating the august majesty and miracles of the natural world.
Here in Camp Dora Golding, we are fortunate to have an excellent instructor for our ‘Nature and Pioneering’ activity named R' Yossi Sirote.
R’ Yossi trained as a forager under the acknowledged ‘Wildman’ Steve Brill. R’ Yossi told me that he can be dropped off by helicopter anywhere along the east coast of the USA with absolutely no provisions and he can survive in the wilderness. 
Throughout the summer I often see R’ Yossi walking around the campus near the forests and bushes, touching and analyzing leaves. He often teaches the campers about the incredible secrets of smell, taste, texture, and benefits (including some natural remedies) that lie behind the leaves and trees that we pass numerous times each day without giving them a second thought.
At the beginning of this summer he mentioned to me that he was disappointed that a small bush had been chopped down in front of one of the recreation halls. He noted that there were small cherries on that bush and he had wanted to show it to the boys. I replied that I wish I had such an appreciation of nature to be bothered by a small bush being cut down.  
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “When I brought my farm, I did not know what a bargain I had in the bluebirds, daffodils, and thrushes; as little did I know what sublime mornings and sunsets I was buying.”
Richard Louv wrote a bestseller whose title says it all “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”.
But these days, who has time and patience to stare at trees or lizards? The leaves don’t change color every five seconds nor do they shoot anything. Why would a child shut off his DS, ipod, or wii to stare at some boring foliage? Why would he want to recognize the miracles of G-d’s world when he could just continue his attention-capturing electronic game?
And in the adult world who has time to shut off their cell phone or blackberry to appreciate a beautiful sunset or clouds above?
There is a great deal of inspiration we can glean from staring at a ‘blackberry’, albeit the type that grows on trees.

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

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh ParshaPinchos – Pirkei Avos, perek 1
23 Tamuz 5772/July 13, 2012

This Sunday morning, the fast of Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, I was waking up the campers in my divisions for shacharis, when I noticed two campers standing outside their bunk house with big smiles on their face. They explained that in nervous anticipation of the fast they had an epiphany. Being that the fast began at 2:48 a.m. (camp time) they ate an entire box of cereal before then, after which they stayed up the rest of the night. They figured that as soon as shacharis was over they could go to sleep for the rest of the day. By the time they would wake up the fast would be over.
They weren’t too happy with their division head who woke them up for learning groups and for mincha. It was interesting to see the Shavuos morning look in their eyes during mincha. But afterwards they indeed slept the afternoon away.
Chazal enacted fast days to jolt us out of our physical complacency. We are taught that the main point is not the fast but the repentance that results from the arduous day.
Nobody looks forward to, or enjoys discomfort or difficult moments. But there is a reason for everything that occurs and we grow from our experiences as we learn to deal with challenging, and frustrating moments.
In our world, there is a prevalent attitude of always trying to ‘beat the system’. We don’t quite break the rules, but we somehow circumvent the spirit of the law, albeit while still maintaining the letter of the law. One who sleeps through a fast day can not be accused of doing anything halachically wrong. But one who does so has ‘missed the boat’, for they have failed to realize the point of the day. In a sense, they have stayed on the road but failed to arrive at the predetermined destination.
In a similar vein, halacha dictates that during the three weeks of mourning for the Bais Hamikdash we do not listen to music. And so our world has produced myriads of songs that, although sound exactly like music, are technically not music. So we have again figured out a way to beat the system. We have preserved the letter of the law but discarded the spirit of the law. Chazal intended that during these three weeks we concentrate and feel the pain of exile, but we seek ways to bypass that discomfort. [It should be noted that Rav Belsky shlita, and other poskim, hold that if it sounds like music it is forbidden just as real music is.]
In order to grow spiritually and psychologically, we need to (metaphorically) ‘face the music’. Just as it is insufficient to merely be a Jew at heart who ‘feels’ his Judaism but doesn’t practice it, so is it insufficient to merely be a Jew in action but not a Jew at heart.
Sometimes the only way to ‘face the music’ is by shutting the music off.

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

720 Union Road • New HempsteadNY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak Pirkei Avos, perek 6
16 Tamuz 5772/July 6, 2012

In honor of the July fourth heat I am recounting one of our experiences after one of the major winter snow storm last year. By the time our snow-plower arrived almost a foot of snow had fallen. As he cleared the bottom of our steep driveway he not only cleared away the snow, but he also plowed the wall we have on the side of the driveway. He reassured us that he would not charge us for the additional clearing.
Walls are very important. They create limits, enabling us to have parameters and boundaries. When Bila’am sought to curse Klal Yisroel and peered at their camp he was overwhelmed by their modesty which was apparent by the walls that divided each family in the desert. One of the detriments to our permissive and liberal world is the demolishment of many of the walls which society maintained since time immemorial.
But walls can also hinder and be detrimental. Almost any parent or teacher knows the proverbial feeling of talking to a wall. You are trying to get a message across to someone but the message just doesn’t seem to be penetrating. Sometimes one may feel like he is climbing the walls’; a feeling of restlessness that emanates from his inability to accomplish what he wants.
There are places where walls and barriers are necessary, and there are places where walls and barriers are inappropriate. The problem is when walls – or the lack thereof – become misplaced. A wall of snow on a driveway needs to be pushed away so the driver can reach the road and take care of his needs. But an adjacent wall needs to remain in its place for aesthetic beauty and protection from anyone slipping on the snow that was cleared away.
Bila’am also declared that Jews are a people that dwell in solitude. Although we live among the nations we maintain certain moral and cultural divides, which ensure that we are an example to the world. However, between each other – although we may have different traditions, customs, and even laws which we adhere to - there must not be barriers which divide us.
In a sense, the walls surrounding Jerusalem, symbolizing our separation from the world, must be robust. But within Jerusalem the roads must be open with inviting warmth for every Jew.
At the time of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, symbolic walls divided Jews from each other, as enmity and baseless hate became rampant. When we erect walls within, our enemies demolish our walls from without. In the millennia of exile we have yet to demolish the internal walls which divide us. We are still plagued by emotional barriers which we have erected between ourselves.
When we finally demolish those internal divides, the external walls of Jerusalem will indeed be rebuilt. We will never again have to entertain the notion of making G-d’s Home an international city. The world will recognize that Jerusalem belongs to a united Jewish people; united under the banner of Torah. 
And when that occurs the fast of the seventeenth of Tamuz which commemorates the destruction of Jerusalem’s walls, will become a holiday celebrating the destruction of the internal walls which have divided us for way too long. The chorus of the hymn recited in selichos “The day the enemy prevailed us broke through the (walls of the) city” will be altered to a celebratory and exuberant chorus of “The day we finally prevailed and broke through the walls inside the city”.

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

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425