Friday, August 31, 2012


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei – Pirkei Avos, perakim 1-2
13 Elul 5772/September 1, 2012  
      One evening last week, shortly before we returned home from camp, I had to travel into Brooklyn to be menachem avel a fellow camp administration member. The trip is normally about an hour and forty five minutes from East Stroudsburg, PA, in the Poconos to Brooklyn. I took along with me a car full of people including someone who reassured me that he knew the directions. To be safe, I also plugged the address into the GPS, and we set off with confidence. When my navigator in the front seat dozed off somewhere down Route 80 I turned my attention towards the GPS.
      Of course, all of you brilliant readers are shaking your heads. But how was I to know that the GPS was not taking me to Brooklyn via Staten Island, but through Manhattan? It seems that as far as mileage goes, Manhattan is the shortest route. No one told the woman inside the GPS that one must avoid Manhattan at all costs in the late afternoon.
      So we got off the 80 and wound around some streets in scenic Jersey City where the natives looked as happy to see us as we did to see them. Before I knew it we were sitting in abysmal traffic waiting to get into the Holland Tunnel. The way we were moving I think we could have walked to Holland in less time. By then my navigator woke up and realized what occurred, but by then we were resigned to our fate.
      Dr. Stephen Covey, in his acclaimed New York Times best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People writes (habit 2), “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction…It is possible to be busy – very busy- without being very effective…the carpenter’s rule is, ‘measure twice, cut once’.”  
      The road toward spiritual growth is not easily traversed. There are many bumps along the curvy and lengthy route, and traveling is arduous at best. But there are directions that have been pre-posted for us by our sages which instruct us of the best way to get to our destination. But we often think we are smarter and wittier and can figure out quicker ways to get there without all the fuss and struggle. We think we can tunnel our way to spiritual greatness.
      But in the end we aren’t wiser than Chazal, and, au contraire. There is a price to pay for every attempted shortcut. More often than not, the shortest route is not the fastest route.
      That’s part of the reason why we have a full month of Elul to prepare for the yimei hadin. If we want to take advantage of the opportunity being afforded to us to renew our lives and our priorities and direction, we need to chart our course carefully and calculatedly.
   By the grace of Hashem we eventually made it to Brooklyn, despite hitting more traffic at the Battery Tunnel (and then at the BQE, and Prospect, and at every corner in Boro Park. Boy, do I love Brooklyn!). The good thing for us in Elul is that our spiritual destination is a much greater and blissful destination than Brooklyn.  
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum 
  720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, August 23, 2012


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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim – Pirkei Avos, perek 6
6 Elul 5772/August 25, 2012  
   The Siyum Hashas at Metlife stadium three weeks ago generated a great deal of worthy discussion and deserved fascination. Also, like everything else, by now its discussion has begun to fade, as new occurrences warrant our attention.
   Personally, I feel that the profundity of the experience can only be appreciated after the fact. It was a privilege and a merit to be part of the event, but even more than that night itself, looking back and reviewing it in my mind garners new appreciation each time I think about it. It’s analogous to one’s wedding which passes all too soon and can hardly be appreciated in the moment. But the memories of the event cause a surge of nostalgic joy to the choson, kallah, and their families perpetually.       
   One of the greatest aspects of the Siyum for me, even beyond the diversified yet unified crowd, and even beyond the inspiration of hearing some of the greatest Torah leaders of our time, was the moments of silence. Stadiums by definition are created to be arenas of noise and fanfare. The cries and ovations of the throngs of crowds who seek emotional outlets and entertainment are commonplace during such events. The mere murmurs of tens of thousands of people, even without raucous cheering, itself lends to a high level of noise.
   Yet on the night of the Siyum there were moments of almost absolute silence. The entering crowds, despite constant rain, long lines for parking and security checks, was emotionally charged and excited. Yet as soon as kaddish was said following ashrei during Mincha a hush descended on the burgeoning crowd. The stadium was silent.
   Hours later, after impassioned speeches, vivacious dancing, and energized camaraderie, when it came time for Shemoneh Esrei during Maariv, again a hush descended upon the stadium, as the remaining tens of thousands swayed gently in the stands in silent concentration.
   In addition, each time one of our great Torah leaders arose to speak, instantly the 92,000 strong rose to their feet and, for a few moments, the packed stadium was utterly silent.
   To me those moments of silence spoke more volumes than all of the clapping and responses throughout that august evening. That silence symbolized the respect and reverence we maintain for the Torah and for what we were celebrating.
   In that stadium, and in all sports stadiums, victory celebrations are conducted by the victors with open bottles of champagne being exploded in all directions, along with whopping and jovial shouting. There is no silence during those moments. Suffice it to say that our celebrations are vastly different. While the celebration may not be silent, it incorporates a sense of reverence for its accomplishment. 
     The great Siyum included not only many powerful and inspirational words but also very powerful and inspirational silence. That silence is something we need to capture in our noisy busy world. It is a silence which allows us to think about the blessings we have, the greatness of our accomplishments, and our responsibilities towards the future.
   We need to hear that silence, especially in Elul, as we prepare for a new year of blessing and growth!  
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum 
  720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh Pirkei Avos, perek 5
Rosh Chodesh Elul 5772/August 17, 2012

“Isn’t it amazing how time flies?  I can’t believe it’s already time to pack up and head home.”
“I agree. Didn’t summer just begin? And now it’s Elul, almost time for school, and Rosh Hashanah not too far in the distance.”
“Speaking of Elul, I feel like I didn’t live up to my last year’s resolutions too well. Truthfully, I get frustrated every year at this time, and I really want to do something to change that this year.”
“I know what you mean because I feel the same way. But this year I am confident that I’ll be able to do it. I’m joining a new teshuvah program called “Sin Fast”. It’s a bit radical but the idea is that you become so spiritually charged that you don’t even want to sin. Their motto is ‘just three shakes a day’. When you daven with enthusiasm and feeling, you have such pleasure out of the three tefillos each day that all of the machinations of the yester hara no longer add up or seem alluring, so you end up fasting from sin.”
Sounds interesting. Actually I myself was looking into another program called “South Breach”. The program divides between good inclinations and bad inclinations. You’re supposed to engage in the good inclinations and use to help you boost your spiritual system. But the bad ones you have to stay away from completely. That’s the breach part of it. The guide to the program is Mesillas Yesharim.
“Truthfully, there’s a third program I heard about which really sounded feasible and practical. It’s called “Wait Watchers” and is a regimented program tailor-made to suit your personal needs for spiritual growth. Before you do things you’re supposed to see what their value is – whether it’s a positive and appropriate action or not. Then, at the end of every week you weigh your actions to see how you’re doing and if you’re holding up to your commitments. The program is designed to help train you to think before you do things, hence the name ‘Wait Watchers’. 
All of these programs sound great. Still, I think the most important prerequisite for any of these programs is commitment and the knowledge that you can really do it. You really can look like the person you want to be and you can effect the change you dream of with proper mentoring and guidance.
Sounds like a plan. I hope you have a safe trip home.”
“You too. Hatzlocho and Kesiva Vachasima Tova.”

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

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

Thursday, August 9, 2012



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev Pirkei Avos, perek 4
22 Av 5772/August 10, 2012

The yeshiva bochur was late for his close friend’s wedding and he really wanted to catch the chuppah. When he finally neared the hall, to his chagrin, there were no parking spots to be found. Beads of sweat began dripping down his face as he neared the hall but still no spots were available. Then as he drove up the block of the hall itself, just five feet from the main entrance, the bochur was ecstatic to find an open spot. He parked his car and quickly grabbed his hat and began rushing towards the entrance. Just then he noticed a police officer writing him out a ticket. When the bochur asked him why he was getting a ticket the cop snapped, “Son, are you blind? There’s a sign right there which says No Parking.” The bochur smiled, “Officer, let me explain. I also thought that way originally. You see, I was driving around when I noticed this spot. My immediate thought was that there was no way that could be a legal spot. But then I saw the sign which said, “No (don’t think you can’t park there); Parking!” 
We often fail to appreciate the nuances or the vital importance of proper punctuation. Those little dots and lines can make all the difference in the meaning of a statement. One famous example is how two different groups punctuated the words: “A woman, without her man is nothing”. The men punctuated it as, “A woman without her man, is nothing” while the women punctuated it as, “A woman: without her, man is nothing!”
The New York Times Bestseller “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero tolerance approach to punctuation” was so titled based on the following joke:
“A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. “Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes his way towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder. “I’m a panda”, he says, at the door. “Look it up.”
“The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to china. Eats, shoots, and leaves.”
What does this have to do with the post-Tisha-B’av seven weeks of consolation which we find ourselves in?
The sefer Nechamas Tzion is the Ben Ish Chai’s unique commentary on Megillas Eicha. In it, the Ben Ish Chai demonstrates how every phrase in Megillas Eicha can, and will, ultimately be words of consolation. For example, the opening words which lament how the great bustling metropolis of Jeruslaem has become barren like a widow, can be read as an explanation of admiration that such a great city with so many inhabitants stands alone and in solitude, towering above all other cities and peoples. The word ‘K’almanah - like a widow’ can be read as ‘k’al manah – as if above count’, because of their spiritual greatness they defy numbers and limitations. 
As another brief example, in pasuk 3, when the prophet speaks of the cause of ‘galus – exile’, the Ben Ish Chai reads it as an expression of ‘gilui- revelation’.
Thus, the future consolation is, and has always been, covertly embedded in the exile itself. It is just a matter of reworking the words and adding some punctuation to alter the meaning.
So you’re grammar teacher was write, when, she said that grammar; is important. After-awl: they can change the hole thing around

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

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan Pirkei Avos, perek 3
Shabbos Nachamu – 15 Av 5772/August , 2012

Torrents of tears, rivers of innocent blood, unbridled anguish, unmitigated suffering, ruthless cruelty, and extremes of evil, all come to life in the painful pages of the Kinnos of Tisha B’av. It’s an emotionally difficult day, and the laws of the day reflect it.
Then suddenly the clock strikes midday and an instant transformation takes place. We rise from the floor, return the curtain to the Ark, don our tallis and tefillin and proclaim “Nachem”, and commence the process of national consolation.
How does it happen? Where does the consolation stem from, even while the day of Tisha B’av has many hours remaining?
Forest fires are unquestionably dangerous and devastating. As an example, the Caramel Forest Fire near Haifa in December 2010 caused widespread property and ecological damage. It was estimated that 1.5 million trees burned in the fire, and another 4 million trees reportedly burned since then. Nearly half of the 37,000 acres of the Carmel Forest reserve were destroyed in the fire. Most tragic was the loss of 44 lives.
And yet forest fires have an important effect on the eco-system. It’s been said that the forest fires of today lead to healthy forests of tomorrow. The heat and pressure of a fire explodes cones filled with seeds, which are released onto the ground and begin growing shortly after. Dead branches and trees are consumed and the vegetation that begins to grow is healthy and vibrant.
In our history we have seen time and again how we have relentlessly and resiliently risen from the ashes to rebuild. But never was there a greater demonstration of our unyielding eternal resiliency than in the last century. The devastating destroyed forests of Europe bred an explosion of seeds in Eretz Yisroel and America, where they immediately began to re-grow and redevelop.
Perhaps that is the consolation of Tisha B’av. It’s the knowledge that “As much as they would afflict them, so did they increase and so they would spread out” (Shemos 1:12). The pain of the Kinnos is without measure, but the knowledge that after Kinnos we arise with unabated determination – that is our consolation.
I had the great zechus to be in attendance at last night’s Siyum Hashas at Metlife Stadium together with almost 100,000 other Jews. Personally, I went to celebrate my father’s fourth completion of the cycle and my mother’s dedication to that cause. But the event also allowed all of its participants to taste the bliss of national celebration for our accomplishment as a people.
At the siyum, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau passionately noted that that morning in the Shir Shel Yom we beseeched, “O G-d of vengeance Hashem, O G-d of vengeance appear!” and that evening we merited to witness the appearance of that vengeance!
I wondered about that profound statement. Yes, 100,000 Jews had gathered to celebrate the completion of a study that their ruthless adversaries had tried to obliterate in the smokestacks of the crematoria. Still however, it would take another 60 such stadiums to merely replicate the physical loss of that time.
But then I realized that that’s not what the revenge really was. Truthfully, the revenge for the senseless physical torture and genocide of that time will not be realized until Moshiach comes. Rather, it lay in the resurgence of the spirit and soul of our people, which they had sought to extinguish.
In attendance with the 100,000 people was the spirit and soul, not only of the six million, but also all of those mentioned throughout the Kinnos. Beyond that, the souls of Abaye and Rava, and all the great personages of Torah since time immemorial joined together as well. That was the revenge we witnessed last night, and the seeds of that revenge were planted by the barbarians themselves in the inferno they created to destroy it. 
And therein lies our consolation!

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

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