Thursday, September 27, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ha’azinu/Succos
12 Tishrei 5773/September 28, 2012

According to today’s second leading knowledge authority, Wikipedia, (the number one leader is cha-cha), “Betta is a large genus of small, often colorful, freshwater ray-finned fishes in the gourami family.” But a few years ago there was a Betta fish in the Staum family (the gourami’s never complained to us about it).
The fish was a gift given to our then 3 year old son Shalom by his friend Yoel Weinraub who had two of them. Betta fish are not too fond of each other so it’s best to keep them apart (sounds like your house?) and so we adopted Mr. Betta, who we fondly called “Fisha B’av”.
We didn’t think Fisha B’av would last all that long, especially in his 2 inch by 2 inch tank which he practically filled. But somehow, as fish years go, he had arichas yamim (longevity) and remained with us for over two years. When we went away for Shabbos and Yom Tov we had no choice but to take F.B. with us. So while I drove, instead of a coffee or a soda in the cup holder next to me, F.B. would swim around in his mini tank. When we arrived at our destination F.B. came in with us and was deposited on a dresser for the duration of our stay.
One Pesach morning while visiting my in-laws in Lakewood, I was getting ready to leave for shul when I heard a shriek erupt from upstairs. I ran upstairs to see Shalom standing next to the dresser with a look of horror on his face. The tank was overturned and F.B. was nowhere to be found. What’s more, at the time Shalom often confused his words and he kept repeating “I did it by purpose! I did it by purpose!” This was no time to point fingers. It was time for an immediate ‘bedikas Fisha B’av’. The story does have a happy ending (for Shalom that is). I found F.B. lying on the floor underneath the dresser. I quickly filled his tank and deposited him back inside, where he immediately sprang back to life without any CPR or mouth-to-mouth necessary.
The succos-huts that we move into for the seven day holiday are much smaller than our homes and we give up many amenities and conveniences to be there. Yet there is a sense of jovial tranquility that permeates the succah.
The succah reminds us that no matter where we are in the world, ultimately our only real protection comes from Above. Sometimes we may think that if only we can escape the confining succah and run into the world beyond the s’chach there we will find excitement and fun. Perhaps that is true, but the cost of such an escape is a forfeiture of life itself.
It’s no coincidence that the holiday which celebrates leaving our homes and placing ourselves at the mercy of G-d’s elements, is also the holiday of joy. It’s the joy of being home, even when we are far from home.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Monday, September 24, 2012


Erev Yom Kippur
9 Tishrei 5773/September 25, 2012

It’s never a good thing when your vacuum cleaner, not only stops cleaning the floor, but also begins regurgitating what it previously suctioned.
That’s exactly what happened in the Staum house Erev Shabbos last week. So with no recourse I surgically opened the bowels of the machine to try to figure out what had gone wrong. The bag wasn’t full and the main part of the machine seemed fine. So, my dear Watson, I surmised that there was obviously something wrong with the hose.
We (yes we, I had to call Chani in for backup…) realized that somebody (somebody to whom we pay money to clean our home!) had vacuumed up something big which had now wedged itself inside the hose, completely obscuring the air suction. The anonymous perpetrator herself brought the problem to my attention the next time she tried to use the machine.
We finally realized that it was a makeup brush that was stuck inside the hose. Now I don’t really know what a make-up brush is for, but I do know that it’s big enough to render our vacuum cleaner ineffective. Logic would dictate that if it was able to get in it should be able to come out, but thus far we have been unable to pry it out. (Sweeping the carpet is annoying)
You may be thinking that I’m going to use this anecdote to emphasize that Yom Kippur is a day to ‘makeup’ and rebuild relationships that have become ‘stuck’. There is definitely truth in that observation, but I have a different point in mind.
Every morning we declare before our Creator that ‘the soul that You have placed inside of me is pure.’ Our soul is a piece of divinity, an untouchable spark of holiness embedded in the core of our essence. When one performs mitzvos and acts in accordance with the Torah that spark becomes strengthened and we are further drawn to Torah and mitzvos like a spiritual magnet. We pine for even greater spiritual accomplishment and connection.
When we sin and do not act properly on the other hand, that connection becomes enervated and we start to feel spiritually numb. There is an empty sense of disconnect, like a barrier has been erected between us and what we intellectually know is right. But unlike our vacuum which became completely blocked and totally ineffective, Chazal tell us that the spark within us never becomes extinguished. The plug never falls out and the connection is never completely severed. Dimmed and numbed – yes, but always glowing beneath the muck and grime of our hindering foolish actions.
The great gift of Yom Kippur which Hashem grants us with love is an opportunity to clean the hose and – with proper repentance – instantly clear the channels so that the spark within us can again glow to its full capacity and draw us into its hypnotic spiritual embrace. Metaphorically, we need only to open the mechanism so that Yom Kippur itself will yank out the hindering debris, so that we can again feel the spiritual draw of our soul.
Forget Orrick, Hoover, and Electrolux. The joy and purity of Yom Kippur is the greatest cleanser of them all.

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Nitzavim Pirkei Avos, perakim 5-6
27 Elul 5772/September 14, 2012

This week, on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I was recounting to my fifth grade Ashar students my personal memories of that horrific day. I mentioned that it was the first time in my life that I, and many of my friends, felt genuine fear.
I also related that immediately after the attacks, there was a sudden surge of patriotism that swept the country. Suddenly almost every car had an American flag attached to its antenna, or bumper stickers depicting flags and slogans of American pride and courage. Flags couldn’t be produced and sold fast enough to keep up with the influx of demand.
I asked my students – who were not yet born at that time – why they thought that occurred. Why the sudden surge of patriotism? They offered some insightful comments, and then I added my own. I pointed out that as I was speaking to them I was holding a pen in my hand. I wasn’t holding the pen too tightly and I wasn’t paying much attention to it.
Then I asked one of the students to grab hold of the pen and try to pull it out of my hands. As he did so, I asked him what my reaction had been. He replied that I had immediately tightened my grip and was pulling back even harder.
I explained to the class that we are all content and happy with the freedoms afforded to us in America. But the bustle of life and the lure of our electronic gadgets divert our attention from truly appreciating those rights and thinking much about them.
On September 11th, Islamic terrorists tried to yank away from us our freedoms and all that America stands for. Our immediate national reaction was to tighten our grip on all we take for granted. We declared our pride and our indomitable will to defend our freedoms with passion and allegiance. Thus, the eruption of patriotism was a direct response to the nefarious efforts to destroy what we forgot to appreciate.
I then related to my class that as Torah Jews we often fall into the same trap. We take our ability and freedom to keep Torah and mitzvos for granted. There are countless stories of Jewish heroes who were ready to give up their lives and endure torturous suffering to preserve one mitzvah or to learn just a few words of Torah. During Crusades, pogroms, expulsions, Auto-da-fes, in Siberia and Bergen-Belsen we refused to capitulate. But in the freedom of America we often fail to appreciate how lucky we are.
We shouldn’t wait until, G-d forbid, our enemies try to yank away those freedoms. We must maintain our Jewish pride and proclaim our privilege at being the Chosen Nation and our unyielding allegiance to Torah and mitzvos.
That is essentially our task on Rosh Hashana. It is a day when we contemplate and accept upon ourselves the coronation of the King of kings. The call of the shofar is also a call of triumphant joy, a call of honor and glory, which emanates from the recesses of the soul of the blower. It is a proclamation that we are proud to be the bearers of the greatest and most sublime responsibility in the world.    

              Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
              Kesiva Vachasima Tova & Shana Tova,
                R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo Pirkei Avos, perakim 3-4
20 Elul 5772/September 8, 2012

During the break between camp and yeshiva I accompanied Chani to our family pediatrician for our almost two year old daughter Chayala’s appointment. After the doctor finished his examination he asked us if we had received the flu shot yet. Suddenly I felt like a little kid again in the doctor’s office staring at a needle about to receive a shot. But this time not only was my Mommy not there, my daughter wanted to see how well her big and tough Abba would do with the shot.
Thankfully both I and the administering doctor survived, with minimal injury to either of us. The best part of it of course was the Snoopy band-aid I got to cover the wound.
Afterwards I was contemplating what had just occurred. The doctor injected me with a controlled amount of the very disease I don’t want to contract, so that my body would develop and produce antibodies. In other words, he exposed me to the disease so that I could ultimately be protected from it.
That got me thinking of a new way to combat so many annoyances that we deal with. When construction crews build homes they should import a small family of termites. Then the house could develop antibodies and destroy any future termite infestations down the line. I hate to call myself a genius, but this is a revolutionary way to rid ourselves of roaches, mice, and bees. Just bring a few in at the beginning and the house will build up a natural resistance! What’s more, before a family moves in to a new home the workers can ensure that there are some plumbing issues, and a leak or two (they usually do that anyway).
Is it any less of a miracle that our bodies produce antibodies?
To be successful we must push ourselves to face our fears. That is our only hope to ultimately vanquish them. When we cower from things that scare us they become magnified in our minds and the fear intensifies. But when we face our fears with courage and conviction we will usually see that the greatest impediment was the fear itself.
Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt’l once noted that the difference between a hero and a coward is not that one is fearful while the other doesn’t. Only a fool would not feel some fear when confronted by dangerous and unknown situations. Rather the difference is that the coward recoils and hides from his fears, while the hero is propelled forward and strengthens himself to confront his fears.
The new year affords us an opportunity to begin again and confront things that inhibit our growth. But sometimes we need a shot in the arm to propel us forward. Then, when we see that we can overcome our resistance and premonitions, we’ll be able to realize that the sky’s the limit.

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

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