Thursday, November 29, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach
16 Kislev 5773/November 30, 2012

“A Day in Court”
Scene One
Warning: The following scene can be disturbing to some viewers. Discretion advised.

The atmosphere in the courtroom was tense. The judge peered intensely at the litigants, as he listened to the defending lawyer’s closing arguments. The defendant himself had boldly presented his position and had represented himself well. He also knew that the judge sincerely cared about him and wanted to help him. Still the defendant knew he needed all the help he could get.
The defending lawyer was adroit and astute, legendary for never losing a case! He knew how to appeal to the emotions of the judge and jurors so that they concluded that there was benefit in granting the defendant - not only clemency - but also court obligated assistance to help him in his private endeavors.
The judge was clearly moved by the lawyer’s arguments and the lawyer was confident that they were about to win the case.
But then suddenly the judge’s face darkened and his complexion changed. He slammed down his gavel angrily and bellowed, “This court hereby finds the defendant in contempt of court. I am ordering a motion to postpone this case until the defendant can learn proper conduct in a court of law.” With that the judge stood up and marched out in a huff.
The lawyer was stunned. What had happened in those final moments? When he questioned his client, the defendant shrugged meekly. “I don’t really know. While you were arguing my case I was talking to my friend behind me about the game last night. It was an amazing comeback and we were marveling about it. Then I mentioned some of the financial hardships I am dealing with lately, and he told me some of the problems he’s having at home. We were talking very quietly and it didn’t disturb the proceedings or anyone else. I think the judge needs to chill. Worse things have happened.”
The lawyer just stared at his client with his mouth agape, not knowing how to respond.
End of scene One 

Judge – Hashem
Defendant – not me or you (hopefully)
Lawyer – Chazzan reciting Chazaras Hashatz (repeating Shemoneh Esrei in shul) twice daily

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei
9 Kislev 5773/November 23, 2012

Did you get that text message on Tuesday night? Did you get it from numerous people?
“Please set aside two minutes of your time! The army is entering Gaza. Rabbanim are asking everyone to say Tehillim 130, 121, 83, 20, 91, 143. Fwd 2 whoever u can. Ty.”
For one, there was is the blatant problem that the text was disseminating information that was simply untrue. The invasion did not occur b’h. Making people more nervous than they already are is not to be taken lightly. For those who have family members who are soldiers, and even all of us who are davening and hoping for the welfare of our brethren, it compounded our fear for no reason.
Personally I am also bothered by the ‘text craze’. It isn’t uncommon to receive a text from someone with an urgent message with no author attached to it, that has been forwarded many times over, and ends with the words (as this one did) “Don’t break the chain.” No one wants to be the malevolent evildoer who breaks the chain, so everyone keeps forwarding the text to everyone on their contact list.
I remember a certain Rabbi once saying that he feels that it is meaningless for a man to give his wife flowers every single week. He argued that when it becomes a standard gift each week it loses its appeal. It becomes expected and is no longer valued for its sentiment.
Whether you agree with his point or not, it is thought-provoking. Something that seems to constantly happen and doesn’t entail much thought or innovation lacks poignancy.   
I certainly have nothing against people davening for someone who is sick or in a desperate situation. Au contraire; there is nothing greater than the power of tefillah. If we can convince others to daven as well we should always try to do so. But from personal census I have found that people feel that they have done their share by forwarding such texts even without adhering to its message to actually daven. And because we get such texts so often and they are so easily sent around without anyone seeming to know who sent them, they quickly lack their ability to emotionally move us.
The Kotzker Rebbe lamented the fact that people seem more dedicated to minhagim (customs) than halachos (laws). He suggested that if G-d would have given us ‘the Ten Minhagim’ in the luchos at Sinai, people would be much more apt to keep them properly.
When these text messages go out everyone feels they must immediately forward them. We fear the accusing angel coming to us in our dreams waving an accusatory finger at us and saying “YOU! You were the one who broke the chain!”
Perhaps we should send urgent texts each morning that z’man kriyas Shema is in just three minutes: “Urgent. You only have three minutes left to say Shema before the z’man. Rabbonim ask that you please say all three parshios asap. Please fwd 2 as many people as you can. Don’t break the chain. OMG wants us to do so.”
I fear that people may perceive the wrong message from what I am writing. If someone is in need of assistance or prayers within a community, texting/emailing is a wonderful means to get that message out to the community as quickly and efficiently as possible. The same holds true within a family, G-d forbid. But I question the effectiveness of such texts and emails on a mass scale, especially when no one knows the source.
May we only need to share and hear good – and accurate – news.

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos
2 Kislev 5773/November 16, 2012

In case you are concerned that this country has a lack of faith, especially with recent efforts to take G-d out of the Pledge of Allegiance, let your heart not be troubled. Insurance companies are insistent that they will not compensate for ‘an act of G-d’, which includes the recent hurricane. [Isn’t blind faith beautiful?!]
I was told that the morning after the storm, the headlines on one of the local newspapers read “G-d hates us!” While it is definitely encouraging to note how they believed it to be in act of G-d, one must wonder what happened to all the agnostics. Shouldn’t the headline have read “Random hates us!” In addition, on a beautiful summer day when the markets were up and things seemed peaceful, was there ever a headline that read ‘G-d loves us!’
But it seems not everybody believes in G-d. This week when we received our bill from the electric company we noticed that they charged us a late fee for last month. Guess why we paid late? Because we had no electricity! What a brilliant tactic! So while banks are allowing a grace period because of the storm, the electric company is not. I guess they live by the old creed ‘In G-d we trust; all others pay cash!’  
As believing Jews we turn to our faith as we helplessly hear about the trauma and tragedy that ravaged the homes of our brethren in Far Rockaway, Seagate, Bayswater, and other communities. The beauty of our people shines through as busloads of people from surrounding communities, and even as far away as Baltimore, altruistically gave of their time and efforts to help fellow Jews. But for those who have to be the recipients of that altruism the pain must be overbearing. We must at least think about their pain and keep them in our tefillos. At least our lunch shouldn’t taste as good knowing how much they have lost.
I believe that the best perspective on the recent events was summed up by R’ Eli Oelbaum, one of my in-laws’ distinguished neighbors in Lakewood, who – when asked during the week of the storm if he had power – replied, “I have electricity, but I learned this week that I have no power!”

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
24 Cheshvan 5773/November 9, 2012

A few years ago Chani and I spent some time vacationing on Cape Cod. During one of those days we took a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard where we rented some bikes to pedal along a beautiful trail that ran alongside the bay. As we proceeded we enjoyed the scenic panorama all along the way. A few times way we stopped to rest, take a breather, and take a picture or two. Each time Chani asked me if we could meander around the area and enjoy the views in the serene setting. But I was set on getting to the end of the trail in the village of Eatontown. I was sure the sight at the end of the trail was most breathtaking of all and would be worth the extra exertion to get there.
When we got to Eatontown we were quite disappointed. It was indeed a peaceful and pleasant town bordering the water. But it was nothing like the idyllic vacant path we had just traversed. There were stores, restaurants, cars, and regular pedestrian traffic, as in any town. I had foolishly forged on to complete the path, but in doing so I had forfeited the enjoyment we could have had if I would have allowed myself to enjoy the moment.
Isn’t that the story of our lives? Aren’t we always thinking that just around the next bend is the key to happiness?
Someone once noted that people often rationalize that at the next stage of life they will be able to appreciate what they have. A child feels constrained and thinks his adolescent years will grant him maturity and identity. The adolescent pines for early adulthood when he will have free reign over a car, set his own guidelines and live a blissful, self-regulated life. The young adult who is dating and/or trying to make a living is certain that as soon as he/she finds a spouse and a good job life will be set. Then children come along with all the challenges of child-rearing along with its tremendous responsibilities. The parents are sure that as soon as the children are married and self-sufficient, they will be able to retire and enjoy their golden years. When those years finally arrive, even if one is blessed with self-sufficient children who have families of their own, he/she cannot help but wonder where life has gone, and what has become of the wonderful memories of years gone by. “Why didn’t I appreciate it then?!”
Hurricane Sandy was very challenging, and for many its devastating effects will linger for a long time. During such trying moments one can only focus on one day at a time. No one knows when power will go back on, whether businesses and schools will open tomorrow, or whether the gas crisis will finally resolve itself. Even an imminent landmark presidential election with massive ramifications which has riveted the attention of the nation for months, was temporarily put on hold as people focused on survival and basic needs.
The refrain expressed repeatedly is “we lost a lot but thank G-d we are all safe.” The moments when people heroically rise to the occasion, appreciate what they have, and live in the moment also linger for a long time.
Surely we do not want such tragedies to ever strike us. But if somehow we can hold onto that appreciation for the moment we would live more enriched and happier lives.
Last week our community lost a mentor who taught us this lesson by example. Howard Israel a’h, was a dear friend, who seemed to have a perpetual smile etched on his face. At his funeral his wife Susan remarked that she remembers only 4 times (!) during 31 years of marriage when she saw Howard become angry. And each time he calmed down relatively quickly and it was over. Another son noted that he had never seen his father get angry - ever!
Even during his last two years while he was ill and feeble he never lost his drive and zest for life. No matter how physically drained he was from treatments and surgeries, when asked how he was his answer was always the same – ‘fantastic’! He was never willing to capitulate. Shortly after completing brain surgery this summer, the day he was discharged from the hospital he walked in to shul for Mincha with that omnipresent smile on his face, to the shock of the kehilla.
We will miss him not only as a beloved neighbor and friend, but also as one who taught us not only how to count our days, but also how to make our days count by appreciating all of the blessings of life, including life itself.
Yehi zichro baruch!    

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

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

Friday, November 2, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 Cheshvan 5773/November 2, 2012

By now Sandy has commandeered most of our conversations. We cannot help but marvel with awe at the ravages of destruction she wrought. With whipping winds in excess of 90 m.p.h. Sandy tore through our area, flooding tunnels, gushing through homes uninhibited, and uprooting trees along with their roots. For a night the bustling city-life was brought to a standstill.
The storm has passed and now we are faced with the momentous task of the great cleanup. Gas lines are monstrous, reminiscent of the oil embargo of the 1970s. We are thankful that we are safe, but for those of us in the dark and cold, we anxiously await the return of our electricity. In Monsey/Spring Valley, our electric is provided by “O & R” (Orange and Rockland), and now all eyes are upon them.
With schools closed all week, for the last few days we drove around the battered streets of Monsey trying to keep our children busy and warm. As we did so we searched for our heroes - the workers of O & R who, we are told, are working around the clock to restore our power. If only we could look upon the lines and see the workers atop their cherry-pickers, it would bolster our confidence in their efforts. But alas, we have not seen any! Not even one! We have seen numerous Verizon and Optimum trucks, the mail was delivered, and our garbage was collected, but no utility workers in sight. Someone told me he saw one utility worker sipping a coffee, and someone else told me he saw a worker rolling out the yellow tape in front of a fallen tree. But no cherry-pickers.
I was informed that the workers have to do ‘internal work’ before they can begin work on the poles, and that is why we haven’t seen them up and about.  
I found the concept intriguing. While I surely believe that introspection is important, and the desire for ‘internal work’ is certainly commendable, I believe their priorities are backwards. Chazal indeed say (Bava Metzia 107b) “Adorn yourself and then adorn others”. However, the Chofetz Chaim taught us that during a time of crisis when all hands are needed on deck, everyone must join the rescue efforts, even one who has not personally achieved that requisite level (See Stam Torah, Lech Lecha 5771).
If the Chofetz Chaim said that regarding spiritual matters, then it surely applies to physical matters as well.
Someone should tell the O & R workers that there will be plenty of time for them to do ‘internal work’ as soon as the aftermath of Sandy is behind us. But until then, they should get out there and get our lights and heat up and running!

A bright and warm –
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Please remember that this was written for entertainment and moral value purposes.
We salute all of the herculean efforts – including those of O & R - to return us to normalcy.

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