Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
15 Teves 5773/December 28, 2012

Mr. Alex Gold, the indefatigable and devoted director of Camp Dora Golding began his orientation to the campers this past summer by recounting the following personal vignette:
One day I was walking towards my car in Brooklyn, and as I took my car keys out to open the car door the keys slipped out of my hand and fell straight down into a sewer. I was able to see my keys just sitting there, but they were out of reach and there was nothing I could do. It wasn’t like I could just have another key made because the key has a magnetic computer chip inside it and costs $300 to replace.
I was quite frustrated as I called Chaveirim for help. Within a few minutes a representative showed up. He reassured me that this happens all the time and he would be able to retrieve my keys within a minute or two. Sure enough he lowered a powerful magnet attached to a cord, hooked on my keys and handed them back to me.”
Mr. Gold concluded his story in his inimitably witty manner by saying, “Why did I tell you this story? It really has nothing to do with what I want to talk about now. But I got all of your attention, so now I’ll begin.”
In my opinion however, there is a beautiful message contained in this story (aside from the obvious J…)
Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l related that in the shtetles in Europe the impoverished Jews would say that in America there is gold and diamonds in the streets. Rav Pam explained that the statement is indeed true. But it is not something to be proud of. Many of our young men and women have been exposed to the relentless depraved influence of the streets and have been drawn to it. They are the gold and diamonds that are in the streets. Our job is to get them out of there; to reach out to them lovingly, to draw them back to a life of Torah and mitzvos. 
Tragically, many of our children live in the doldrums of spiritual void. The keys to their souls have fallen into the muck of the sewers. But we know that no Jewish soul is ever lost.
In camp there were campers who listened to the music of a particular Jewish singer whose lyrics are not very Jewish, to say the least. When a camper told the camp Mashgiach, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, that it was ‘Jewish music’, Rabbi Finkelman replied that the fact that a Jew sins doesn’t mean that we should join him. Rather, we should pray for him when we say the blessing of Hasheveinu (Repentance) in Shemoneh Esrei.
It takes an adroit person who has the expertise, and more importantly the love and devotion, to reach down into the sewer and draw out those keys. But once the keys are in the right hands, there is no limit to how far they can go.

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
8 Teves 5773/December 21, 2012

The Jewish people always have the last laugh. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience to recognize it, but it never fails.
Pharaoh tried to control our population by forcing us into extreme slave labor, but the more he oppressed us the more our population exploded. Haman tried to destroy us and plunge us into national melancholy, and his efforts resulted in Purim, a deeply joyous celebration of our national survival. Antiochus tried to eliminate our spiritual Avodah, including stopping the Menorah from being lit in the Temple, and as a result there is a menorah lit in every Jewish home for millennia throughout the world for over a week. Hitler tried to eradicate us and all of Jewish life, and here we are, with more quantitative Torah study than ever before in our history.
I would like to add an additional ‘last laugh’ to the Chanukah holiday. It is well known that the ancient Greeks had great respect for the external human body. Spartans prided themselves on their might as fierce soldiers, and Greek culture placed great emphasis on the gymnasium and being trim and fit. So we spend eight days of Chanukah eating latkes and jelly donuts fried in oil so that by the time Chanukah is over we all resemble a Jelly donut, much to the chagrin of our Greek adversaries. Take that you silly Greeks! 
Whenever a holiday comes to an end we have to question what we are taking with us from the holiday. What indelible impression has the holiday made upon us that will continue to inspire us throughout the year? Is it merely added calories and a bulging waist that we take with us (a waste indeed), or have we nourished our soul as well?
Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt’l wrote (Arpilei Tohar) “The pure and righteous – don’t complain about wickedness, rather they increase righteousness; they don’t complain about heresy, rather they increase faith; they don’t complain about foolishness, rather they increase wisdom.”
When Chanukah ends the fast of Asarah B’Teves is not far behind. The gemara states that on the eighth of Teves when the Septuagint was created “darkness descended to the world for three days”. The only way to counter that darkness is with the symbolic light of Chanukah. Chanukah is a celebration of light – of courage to stand up for our mission to serve Hashem and remain steadfast in our unyielding dedication to unadulterated Torah observance. The dark days of Teves mourn our loss of that dedication. 
Our world became darker this week. It is appalling and frightening that a person can be so narcissistic that he can mercilessly snuff out the lives of multiple children. Our response must be to add more light. Ultimately discussing the horror that occurred will not change anything. But another good deed, another prayer, another few moments of Torah study, another mitzvah, another kind word, that will return some of the light we have lost.
Even as we return our Chanukah menorahs to their shelves, we can hardly afford to allow its light to darken. It must continue to illuminate our lives and our world. That is the only way we can fight the darkness.

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

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz – 6th day of Chanukah
Rosh Chodesh Teves 5773/December 14, 2012

I love bakeries. I love the rows of pastries, each in their own shape and colors. But most of all I love the smell. When I go to the bakery and it’s my turn on line and I am asked what I would like to order, I often reply that I want ‘whatever it is that is making that smell.’
I have to also say that I like when a baker is – I guess the best word I can use is the Yiddish word - ‘zavtig’, loosely translated as ‘pleasantly plump’. I want to see a baker who appreciates what he is selling, and in fact loves it so much that he can’t stop sampling the goods. That’s the best advertising, because it tells me that these pastries are seriously delicious. When a baker is skinny on the other hand, I often think that if he won’t eat his own products maybe I shouldn’t either.
I think most people would agree with my point. You wouldn’t want to use a dentist who had rotted or crooked teeth. Nor would you use a doctor who chain smokes, drinks, or abuses drugs.
Before our wedding, when we were looking to hire a band, my father suggested a certain musician. I was surprised that he had wanted to suggest anyone. He explained that he had seen that musician play at other weddings and that he looks like he enjoys what he’s doing. At some weddings a musician may appear bored and uninterested while playing, and it is clear that he is only doing it for the money. My father was insistent that we hire someone who enjoys what he does and smiles occasionally while he plays, because you can feel it in the music.
As Torah-Jews we have a responsibility to not only observe Torah and mitzvos, but to be ambassadors of Torah and mitzvos. Simply by our behavior and conduct we want others to be inspired and to want to join our ranks.
But if we walk around with a scowl on our face and don’t seem to appreciate the greatness of what we are doing everyday, we are not being very effective ambassadors. I have heard people complain that sometimes religious people look too serious. Without a doubt there is a certain seriousness we must maintain while engaged in our spiritual responsibilities. But throughout the rest of our day we have to ensure that we appear pleasant and ebullient, that we enjoy what we do.
When we light the Chanukah candles we are symbolizing ourselves. Our mission in this world is to spread light in an unsatisfied and unmotivated world, which is full of darkness, emptiness, and misery.
That light has to shine and resonate from within us. We have to look like we enjoy what we do, so that everyone is going to want to buy what we are selling.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos/Good Chodesh
Lichtige Chanukah/Chag Orot Samyach,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Friday, December 7, 2012


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev
23 Kislev 5773/December 7, 2012

What a delightful Holiday Chanukah is; a holiday of light and a celebration of the divine. The customs and traditions of Chanukah add to the joy of the day, as we play dreidel and then eat latkes and donuts until we ourselves feel like an unbalanced dreidel.
But I would like to call your attention to the week before Chanukah when there is an extraordinary series of days which most of us hardly think to associate together:
The nineteenth of Kislev is a day of great celebration for Chabad Chassidim. It is the anniversary of the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, the holy Ba’al HaTanya, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, from jail in 1798. Lubavitcher Chassidim consider the day the ‘Rosh Hashana of Chassidus’ and celebrate it with great fanfare. [In addition it is the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch, one of the greatest students of the Ba’al Shem Tov, who died on 19 Kislev 26 years before the Ba’al Hatanya’s release from prison.]
The twentieth of Kislev is the yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt’l, the legendary Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin. Rav Hutner was a deep and profound thinker who inspired thousands of students through his unique and penetrating analysis of many ideas contained in the Torah, specifically connected to the holidays. Rav Hutner possessed a regal bearing and exuded the majesty of Torah.
The commemoration of his yahrtzeit is not only observed in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin but also has connection with other yeshivos founded by Rav Hutner’s disciples, such as Yeshiva Sha’ar Yoshuv in Far Rockaway, founded by his student Rav Shlomo Freifeld zt’l, and Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, founded by his student Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l.
The twenty first of Kislev is a day of celebration for Satmar Chassidim. It is the anniversary of the day of the release of the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt’l, from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp on December 4, 1944. The Rebbe was one of 1,685 people who were part of the famed ‘Kastner train’ which Dr. Rudolph Kastner arranged through clandestine negotiations (bribing) with the infamous Nazi, Adolph Eichmann.
[On a more humorous note, this year the night of December 4th coincided with 21 Kislev. In ma’ariv prayers of that night we began reciting ‘V’sayn Tal Umatar’ during Shemoneh esrei, an addition of two words. It has been said that on that night Yekkishe Jews1 tell their wives that they will return home from ma’ariv late due to the insertion of two added words…]
For some time my Zaydei, Rav Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, was the Rav of the Slonimer Shul in New York’s Lower East Side. On one occasion he was invited to speak at a sheva berachos of a most unique marriage. The groom’s side was of Satmar Chassidic descent, while the Bride’s side was a blend of Litvishe and Chabad descent.
My Zaydei noted that their marriage granted him a new insight into the great dream of Yaakov Avinu (recorded in Parshas Vayetzei, Bereishis 28:12-17). The verse states that in his dream Yaakov envisioned a"סלם" (sulam - ladder) that was implanted in the ground with its head reaching the heavens. My Zaydei explained that he noticed that the first letters of the word sulam are an acronym for Satmar, Lubavitch, Misnaged2”. In his dream Yaakov envisioned the unity of these three groups, and that was at the root of the ladder which leads to the heavens.
In the week before Chanukah there are consecutive days of celebration/observance for these three groups. Each of these groups, along with every other sect of Torah-Jewry are a lamp upon G-d’s Menorah. It is incumbent upon us to respect the light of each of those candles. We may not agree with each other nor do we observe each other’s customs, but we have to respect the light they add to G-d’s Menorah. 
That indeed is the ladder that leads to heaven, and the key to the ethereal light hidden in the Chanukah candles.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Lichtige Chanukah/Orot Samyach,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425
1 i.e. Jews of German descent known for their exactness and punctiliousness
2 The Jews of Lithuanian descent were often called Misnagdim – ‘opposers’, because of their early opposition to the Chassidic movement during its early years.