Thursday, December 26, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era – Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat
23 Teves 5774/December 27, 2013

            Jack rushed into the airport. Traffic had been heavy getting to the airport, and he was eager to check in and get through security. He checked three times to make sure he had his passport and ticket. Check-in proceeded monotonously. As soon as his luggage was checked in, and he had his boarding passes, he dashed over to the line for security. He had heard that this airport had installed an extremely high tech security machine that was so sensitive it could detect weapons standard security detectors wouldn’t register. Although happy that security was so tight, Jack hoped it wouldn’t cause him any delays.
When it was finally his turn he was gratified to hear that he didn’t need to take off his coat or even his shoes. Glad to spare everyone else that odor he gleefully thought as he nonchalantly stepped through the machine. No sooner did he do so when a piercing siren erupted from atop the machine. Security guards burst out from all directions and shoved a bewildered jack into a side room. Jack tried to reason with the guard, “either there was a mistake or your fancy machine is defective. I have nothing even remotely dangerous on me”. But the guard ignored him. He pulled out an electronic wand and began passing it up and down in front of Jack’s body. As soon as it came close to Jack’s face it began beeping wildly. “What are you hiding in your mouth?” demanded the guard.  By now Jack was as angry as he was frazzled. “In my mouth? Hmmm. I keep my teeth there because I figured they’d be safe there. Oh yeah, and I also leave my tongue in there, and –“
“You think this is a joke, don’t you?” snapped the officer. “But our machine is detecting that you are a danger to us. Apparently you are a very critical person, and don’t mince words in verbally trashing our government and all of its policies. You seem to have no problem bashing segments of our people, anyone remotely different than you. You may not have any physical weapons, but the insidious damage you cause us constantly – socially, financially, and in depleting our morale, is huge. Sorry buddy, you deserve to be on our no-fly list! You really are a menace to society!”

One morning during davening I motioned to a student who was a repeat-offender talker to be quiet. He looked up at me and said, “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t do anything so bad?” indeed with physical eyes and ears he would seem to be correct. But the Shulchan Aruch says otherwise. It states unequivocally that speaking during Chazaras Hashatz is a grave sin that’s “too great to bear.”
Mishna Berura (124:27 quoting Elya Rabbah) states “Woe is to those that talk during Chazaras HaShatz, as many Shuls throughout history have been destroyed due to this sin”.
Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita announces in his shul, Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park, that based on the aforementioned Mishna Berura,  those who talk during davening are tantamount to people who take an ax and begin chopping mercilessly at the shul’s foundation. Therefore, on behalf of the congregation, he requests that those who wish to talk during davening should daven somewhere else.
In addition, the Chofetz Chaim warns repeatedly about the dangers of speaking loshon hora, and the evils of ona’as devorim, hurtful, insulting, and demeaning words.
Reminding ourselves of the power of our mouth is something we can always use chizuk in. Perhaps the machine that exposed Jack hasn’t been invented yet in this world, but in the World of Truth it has been up and running since man was granted the priceless, yet awesome, gift of speech.  

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos
17 Teves 5774/December 20, 2013

      When we were in Eretz Yisroel a few weeks ago, a friend of mine who lives there gave me a package to deliver to his father, a rebbe of mine, in Monsey. Last Thursday night on my way home I was passing the house, so I decided to stop to deliver the package. The lights in the house were off except for the lights in my rebbe’s study, which has a side door, so I knocked there.
      When my rebbe opened the door and saw me he welcomed me in. When I walked in I immediately noticed that there was a large ‘chosson shas’ volume of gemara open on the table, with a few sefarim next to it. It was a beautiful sight. It was cold and dark outside and there was no one else home. There was nothing else going on. But my rebbe had clearly been sitting and learning in his home before I interrupted. We had a pleasant conversation for a few minutes before I left. But the sight of the open gemara made an impression on me.
      It reminded me of a similar experience I had a little over two years ago. I had taken our sons – Shalom & Avi - to Rav Don Ungarischer zt’l, the night before Avi’s upsherin, so he could cut Avi’s hair and give them berachos. Rav Don was the Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon, and a respected Gadol in Torah. But he was equally humble and unassuming.
      When his gabbai led us into the Rosh Yeshiva’s home there too the apartment was completely quiet. In the back room bent over a table with an open gemara and some sefarim sat the elderly sage, pen in his hand, recording the chiddushei Torah he had thought of during Shabbos, in serenity. He briefly paused to cut Avi’s hair and to offer him and Shalom a warm heart-felt beracha, with a smiling resonating countenance that we will never forget.   
      Those who truly enjoy studying Torah, and do so, not out of duty and responsibility, but out of genuine joy and inextricable connection to its every hallowed word, achieve internal serenity, as well as a countenance which bespeaks greatness. However, achieving that level of devotion and love for Torah study does not come easily. It requires tremendous dedication, patience, perseverance, and tenacity. Only one willing to pay the price for its acquisition can merit such priceless greatness.
      Of all the tribes, it was Yissochor who was destined to father the greatest Torah scholars. In his blessing to Yissochor, Yaakov Avinu stated “He saw rest that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant; he bent his shoulder to bear it and he became an indentured servant” (Bereishis 49:15). Yissochor saw that the life of a true scholar and lover of Torah is a life of pleasantness and internal happiness. He realized that the rest it provided – not physical rest, but spiritual rest – was worth the sacrifice and dedication it would require. Therefore, he bent his shoulder to bear its yoke and was willing to toil like a donkey to achieve it.
      Not all of us can merit such deep connection to Torah study. But we can all connect ourselves with those who do have it. In a fast-paced, constantly developing world where the novelty of today is passé by tomorrow, it’s a breath of fresh air to witness those who merely need a sefer containing ancient wisdom to find meaning, tranquility, and happiness.  

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
Fast of 10 Teves 5774/December 13, 2013

It just seemed so logical. If we had to have a stopover on our way to Eretz Yisroel the week before Thanksgiving, where better than Turkey? And that’s basically why we decided to fly Turkish Air (the vastly cheaper ticket prices was only incidental) with a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the top twenty places in the world I would love to not be in. [Truthfully, the Turkish were very cordial, and our brief visit was otherwise uneventful.] 
When we finally arrived in Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday evening, we wearily made our way through customs and passport control, and finally arrived at the baggage carousel. We had checked in eleven bags. Ten of them came out relatively quickly. All we needed was one more and we could find our prearranged ride to Yerushalayim. But the carousel kept circling, as the masses dwindled. We finally came to the stark realization that our last piece of luggage – the one with all of Chani’s clothes, wasn’t coming around.
We dejectedly filed a claim with the overly unenthusiastic fellow behind the claim’s counter. Hence began the lone damper on our otherwise dreamlike trip. Each afternoon included more phone calls that ended in frustration and futile checking of emails. Istanbul, Kennedy, and Ben Gurion airports, as well as Turkish Air all assured us that they were doing their utmost to blame the other for our loss, and that we would hear back from them soon. [Actually no one even answered the phone at the Turkish Air desk in Ben Gurion.]
When we departed for our return trip, we wanted to ensure that we did our utmost to locate the lost luggage. In Ben Gurion Airport, the luggage department assured us that it wasn’t there. When we arrived in Istanbul, the fellow seated behind the information desk directed us to “Hava’s Desk” on the first floor. Hava’s Desk! It sounded like we had found what we were looking for. Surely Mr. (Mrs?) Hava would know where our luggage was. But alas, Mr. Hava directed us to the Turkish Air desk down the corridor. It seems Hava only dealt with luggage that wasn’t lost.
When we arrived at the Turkish Air desk, before we even reached the counter, we were greeted by a representative who insisted that we needed to go to the Lost and Found desk. I replied that we had been informed that we could only get to that desk, which was beyond the departing flights area, with a Visa to enter Turkey, which we didn’t have. He looked at us for a moment and then nodded that I was correct. “So in other words you’re telling me there’s nothing I can do.” “It seems that way. Have a great day.”
No wonder the European Union didn’t want to allow Turkey in!
The Torah relates that before Yaakov Avinu descended to Egypt with his family, he dispatched Yehuda to create a yeshiva where Torah could be studied and taught.
Why was Yehuda chosen above all the tribes (Yissochor were the Torah scholars, and Levi was the future priests)?
In a moment of incredible darkness and confusion for their entire family, it was Yehuda who stood up and took responsibility. It was Yehuda who guaranteed Binyamin’s safe return from Egypt. Building a framework of Torah, and raising a generation that follows mitzvos and Avodas Hashem, requires individuals who take responsibility to ensure that it will be done properly. Yehuda is the king because he felt that burden of responsibility for his brother.
On President Truman’s desk was a sign that read: “The buck stops here!” That is the attitude of a true leader.
Whether we get our luggage back or not remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: the “Hava (Nageela)” Turkeys in the airports are sure not going to be the ones who find it.

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

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
3 Teves 5774/December 6, 2013

As of the sixth day of Chanukah I hadn’t had a latke. Not even one! So what, if I had six or seven donuts, and was starting to look like a donut; a latke is a latke! But there’s a good reason for my being deprived. On the sixth night of Chanukah our family returned from an eleven day trip to Eretz Yisroel, where we celebrated the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law, Yaakov and Michal, last week.
As special and wonderful as the trip was, it will be even greater in retrospect, when we have the time to reflect on all we did without the fatigue and stress endemic to traveling. It is of course always great to be in Eretz Yisroel, but it’s even greater during the chagim. Aside for the menorahs lit everywhere each night, the show screen on every Egged Bus blinks the words “Chanukah sameiach”, and there are mounds of fresh donuts – jelly, custard, even cheese, wherever you turn. But no latkes!  
One night during our trip we entered a makolet (small market) to purchase a few things. On the ceiling behind the counter was a tremendous picture of the skyline of New York City. A different night we met our cousins in ‘Apple Pizza’ in Kinyon Ramot. There too, behind the counter, was a tremendous picture of a line of taxis outside Times Square in Manhattan. Both times I told the cashier that in my home in New York I have a picture of Yerushalayim, while they in Jerusalem have pictures of New York City.
While we were on the bus en route to Me’aras Hamachpeilah on Friday, the radio was on. At one point the newscaster announced in Hebrew “Hayom b’Artzot Habrit yesh mah shekor’im Black Friday (Today in America they have what’s called Black Friday).” I had almost completely forgotten about the American post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz, but I was reminded on my way to Chevron! 
Life simply always seems always greener on the other side and isn’t that one of our greatest struggles? We always appreciate what everybody else has, more than what we are blessed with. We in America pine for the sanctity and holiness of the Holy Land, while many of those living there dream of life in America.  
The holiday of Chanukah was primarily enacted as a time of “hallel and hoda’ah”. It’s intriguing that although there is no mitzvah of simcha on Chanukah, the customary blessing we wish each other is “Chanukah Sameiach/Freilichen Chanukah/Happy Chanukah.” [Rambam is the exception in which he states that Chanukah was enacted as ‘days of joy and hallel’.]
Perhaps the idea is that if we fulfill the order of the day properly, i.e. if the holiday moves us to praise and express gratitude to all those who are important to us for everything we are blessed with, and ultimately to G-d for His constant blessing and goodness, than we will naturally feel joyous. 
Tal Ben Shachar, the noted Harvard Professor of Positive Psychology and bestselling author, suggests keeping a gratitude journal. These can be big things (like "I'm grateful for my family") and small things (like "I'm grateful for that nice meal I had today.") In his words, "When we focus on the positive, we stop taking our lives for granted, and we become happier."
Latkes, donuts, and dreidel are delicious and exciting (and fattening). But the main focus of Chanukah is internal. It’s a holiday of thanksgiving on all levels. It may not be a holiday dedicated to joy, but if one observes it properly, how could he/she feel anything but joy? If we can maintain those feelings of gratitude for our health, families, school, livelihood, etc. then we will be able to keep the flames of Chanukah burning brightly and warmly in our hearts, long after the Menorah has been returned to its shelf. 
Oh and by the way, jetlag not withstanding, our family enjoyed plenty of latkes during those last two days of Chanukah. Let the winter diet begin!

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

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach
 12 Kislev 5774/November 15, 2013

Any preschool teacher has undoubtedly heard the comment dozens of times: “My Daddy is bigger than your Daddy.” Today, that comment may have changed a bit to something like, “My Daddy is a bigger lawyer than your Daddy and can sue your Daddy” or “My Daddy has more stocks and real estate than your Daddy”, but it’s the same basic idea.
To compensate for their being small, children often point to an adult in their lives who is bigger and more accomplished than they are. The message is, “I may be small, but I have this big guy on my side who will vouch for me and defend me”; “I may be small but I have a Daddy looking out for me who won’t allow anyone to mess with me!”
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l related that one night an aspiring doctor in the middle of his residency, was told that he would be in charge of an entire ward of the hospital that night. With many patients and no other doctors on call, it was sure to be a challenge. But he was told as soon as it became too much for him there was an available phone which had a direct line to other doctors and nurses who would immediately wake up and come to his aid.
The evening began quietly, and the doctor was able to take care of everything himself. Although he was worn out he was proud of his ability to keep everything in order by himself.  However, as midnight approached, there was a sudden explosion of issues, as numerous patients required immediate care simultaneously. The doctor ran through the ward with all of his strength and tried to tend to all of the issues. By the end of the night, two patients were in serious conditions due to lack of treatment, and one other was on the verge of death.
The doctor was summoned before the hospital authorities and warned that they were going to be forced to press charges against him for endangering the lives of the patients under his care. The doctor was shocked. “There was absolutely nothing more I could have done,” he countered. “I was put in an impossible situation and I pushed myself to my limit.” The director of the hospital shook his head. “You are wrong. There was something more you could have, and should have done. You were told that there was a phone line available for us. Why did you arrogantly try to do everything yourself? Why didn’t you utilize the means of assistance that were available to you? It was your naïveté and hubris that convinced you to try to go it alone. Therefore you are indeed culpable!”
Rav Pinkus noted that we are placed in a world with myriad challenges and confusion. But we are giving a phone line, an address to turn to whenever we need help – it’s the power of prayer, the Siddur, and Tehillim. If we fail to take advantage of that ability it’s our own foolishness.
My Daddy is indeed the biggest of them all. Lucky for us, we share the same Daddy!

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei
 5 Kislev 5774/November 8, 2013

The light fixture hanging in our kitchen when we first moved onto 3 Landau Lane was ancient. In fact, I think it was there before Edison discovered the light bulb. The first time one of the bulbs went out I climbed up to see what how much wattage the replacement bulb would need. I quickly realized that the wattage was the least of my concerns. The bulb itself looked like a miniature alien with a helmet on top and two little prongs sticking out, poised to attack. Where was I going to find this type of bulb? After searching in vain in a few stores, I searched on line and was delighted to find that line of bulbs there. By now more of the kitchen bulbs had burnt out, and it was becoming increasingly darker in our kitchen.
ordered a few different sizes of the strange looking bulbs. When they finally arrived I excitedly announced to my family that we would once again be able to see what we were eating for dinner. I plugged the bulbs in and turned the light on. There was a sudden spark and then the room went dark!
The only good thing was that when Hurricane Sandy knocked out our power on Monday evening, October 30, 2012, while we were in the middle of supper, we hardly noticed that we had lost power.
The moral of the story is that light fixtures will only illuminate if the correct type of bulb and wattage are inserted. Anything else and the greatest light fixture in the world will be futile.
Melachim II, Chapter 4, relates the story of the barren Shunamite woman who was promised a child by Elisha Hanavi. Indeed she had a child, but a few years later he suddenly died. When Elisha was informed about what occurred, he rushed to the child’s bedside with his assistant Gechazi.
Gechazi immediately “placed his staff upon him”, but it had no effect upon the lifeless child. Elisha then proceeded towards the child: “He lay upon the boy, placing his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his palms upon his palms. He stretched himself out over him and warmed the flesh of the boy.”
Rav Meir Shapiro zt’l gleaned from this incident timeless insight into educating and reviving the spirit of a wayward child. Gechazi’s method, utilizing a stick and trying to force compliance, will not be effective in reviving a child’s soul. 
Rather, one must utilize the approach of Elisha. Firstly, one must shut the door; close yourself out from everything else. No cell phone or other distractions. Build a connection with the child and demonstrate that you care. “Place your palms upon his palms”, take the child by the hand, hold him and show him that you care about him, “Mouth to Mouth” -  Talk to the child in a way he can understand and relate to, “Eyes on Eyes” – try to view things from the child's perspective!
If one follows this approach, “The flesh of the child will become warm” the child’s spirit will be invigorated and revitalized. 
A light fixture will only give off light if a compatible bulb is inserted into it. The inner light of any person, especially a child, will only shine if a compatible approach is employed.
I’m happy to say that when we redid our kitchen recently we replaced the fixture completely. And we lived happily ever after… until a door handle became loose.

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

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

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos – Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev
28 MarCheshvan 5774/November 1, 2013

It was one of those picture-perfect, beautiful spring mornings. I had davened at an early minyan that Shabbos morning in early May down the block from my parent’s home (this was well before I was married). When I stepped out of the shul it was peacefully quiet, the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and there was nary a cloud in the sky. I was a few steps out, when I heard the voice of someone stepping out of the shul behind me jovially call out: “Baruch shelo asani b’Brooklyn! (Blessed is He who didn’t put me in Brooklyn)”.
I have an ongoing debate with my Brooklyn friends. They claim Monsey is too quiet and boring; I claim it’s far more beautiful and quaint. They say I can keep the quiet beauty and they’ll keep their restaurants and all of the action. I agree.
One important difference between Brooklyn and Monsey is noticeable during autumn. In Brooklyn the leaf changes color; in Monsey the leaves change color!
There is no doubt about it. The visible foliage during these weeks is absolutely stunning. The iridescent combination of colors is magnificent, combining orange, yellow, red, and tinges of purple into multihued, majestic beauty.
It’s incredible to see the process unfold on its own, much like the miracle of spring a few months later. After being universally green throughout the hot summer, the leaves suddenly assert their individuality, displaying heretofore unrecognized resplendence. It is intriguing that the orange and yellow colors which only emerge now, had been hidden there throughout, obscured by the dominant green color. As the sunlight begins to wane signaling the advent of winter, the chlorophyll in the leaves starts to get depleted, and the inner colors emerge.
We are taught, and have heard many times, that there is great beauty and uniqueness in the soul of every person. Hopefully, as adults, we have an appreciation of our own inner beauty. But children are not always able to appreciate their own uniqueness. This is especially true about children who do not perform well in school for any variety of reasons.
The truly great educator is the one who is able to detect a child’s uniqueness, and subsequently help him/her bring it to the fore. The supreme educators are those who display a contagious enthusiasm and affection for their student’s/children individuality.
“Any fool can count the seeds in an apple. But only G-d can count the apples in a seed.” We can add that anyone can see the colors of a leaf during autumn, but only one with great foresight can appreciate those colors during the spring.
It’s a tragedy if a person never realizes his unique inner colors until he is older and wiser. How much wasted time and internal doubt!
Almost any adult can point to an individual in their life who encouraged them during their formative years. It didn’t have to be verbal encouragement; sometimes it’s the un-verbalized sentiment that gave us the greatest boost. Someone who just appreciated us, for who we are.
Those educators who help children recognize and appreciate their inner colors fill the world with an unparalleled resplendent beauty (even in Brooklyn!).

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
23 MarCheshvan 5774/October 25, 2013

I’ll bet you never heard of ‘Shmatta Pizza’!
It was the summer of 1988. My Aunt Miriam was traveling to Eretz Yisroel for the unveiling of my Zaydei’s kever (burial plot) in Yerushalayim, and she offered my mother to take one of her children along. Being that my older brother was away in camp, I was privileged to go.
It was a long and restless trip for an eight year old, but somehow I managed. I still remember that when my Bubby, who was already there along with my uncle and cousin, met us in the airport she was so excited that she lifted me off the ground.
By the time we arrived in Yerushalayim I was cranky and hungry. The closest eatery was a real Italian restaurant, so that’s where we went. I looked at the menu and my head began to swim. I just wanted some macaroni and cheese. I had no idea what the fancy Italian dishes were and being the flexible, happy-go-lucky kid that I was, I adamantly refused to sample anything I couldn’t pronounce.
Finally, Aunt Miriam convinced me to order something which the waiter assured us was pizza. When the food finally arrived I took one bite and nearly spit it out. “Uchh it tastes like the shmattes in Bubby’s house!” All efforts to get me to eat it fell on deaf ears. By now Aunt Miriam was ready to put me in an envelope and drop me in a mailbox marked “Air Mail: Return to sender.” To prove to me that I was being foolish my cousin Yehuda sampled the pizza. Then he burst out laughing and announced that I was right; the fancy Italian cheese really did taste like shmattes. Aunt Miriam sampled the pizza and was amusingly forced to agree.
I don’t remember what I ended up eating, but I do remember that when we got up to leave the pizza was gone, save for a few crumbs. All eyes turned to Bubby who was swallowing the last bite. She looked at us and shrugged, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s delicious!”
In our home we try to be particular that our children don’t say about any food that “it’s disgusting!” If someone doesn’t like something the proper response is “It’s not my taste”. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and just because one person doesn’t enjoy something, that doesn’t give him/her the right to decide that it’s good or not.
The funeral of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l three weeks ago was attended by unprecedented multitudes. The eulogies recounted his incredible accomplishments, sagacity, devotion, love, and faith. Among his greatest accomplishments was that he “restored the crown” to Sephardic Jewry.
During the early years of Israel’s statehood the halachic laws of the land were almost exclusively decided by Ashkenazic authorities. Rav Ovadiah valiantly asserted his influence to create awareness and pride of Sephardic opinion. He held that Bais Yosef (author of Shulchan Aruch) was the final ruling of halacha in Eretz Yisroel and his halachic rulings reflect that.
Rav Ovadiah was not afraid to speak his mind, and his quest for truth is awe-inspiring. He wrote thousands of pages of halachic responsa, and is quoted alongside the greatest halachic authorities of the previous generation.
Rav Ovadiah’s legacy includes that there is not only one opinion. Ashkenazim must adhere to the rulings of their leaders, but they must also know that there are other opinions as well. One person must do one thing, while his neighbor is obligated to do something else.
Halacha is not one size fits all, and a differing opinion is not necessarily a ‘shamtta opinion’!

 Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
14 MarCheshvan 5774/October 18, 2013

In camp this past summer one of the more intelligent points that were debated, was of personal preference between “Dougies BBQ and grill” and “Chickies French Fry and Chicken Bar”. The common denominator is that both are cardiovascular disasters. But the question was which one of the two restaurants really takes the cake (or the greasy fried fries). That was the subject of disagreement between many a counselor and staff member.
Shortly after we arrived home from camp, our nine year old son Shalom ruefully noted that he had never been to Dougies or Chickies. He heard so much discussion about the wings, poppers, and ‘unbelievable onion’, and he wanted to know what the hock was all about. We simply hadn’t realized how much we had woefully and negligently deprived our children. Had we actually been raising our children in America and never once brought them to Dougies?
On Sunday evening August 25, 2013 we repented by taking our four children for a special family dinner at Dougies. It wasn’t just special because we got to eat tortilla chips before supper, or because we were able (and were provided for) coloring all over the table, or because of the big portions of greasy and spicy food that we all enjoyed. It was also the final outing we had as a six member family.
Later that evening we went to the hospital and, Boruch Hashem, our son Shimshon Dovid, was born Monday morning, August 26 (20 Elul). We contemplated naming him “Douglas” in commemoration of our final family meal before his birth, but in the end we decided against it for various obvious reasons.  
One thing was for certain. Our children really enjoyed themselves and can’t wait to go again.
There are children in school who seem to make it their mission to drive their teacher crazy and disengage the class from the lesson. On a subconscious level, often the child’s real goal in derailing the lesson is to get the teacher to stop teaching things that makes him feel dumb, especially in front of his classmates.
Many of those children have had limited experiences feeling successful, at least in the classroom. The old adage that ‘success breeds success’  is partially based on the fact that once one realizes that he can be successful, he will be more confident and invest more effort in trying to recapture that feeling. 
Dovid Hamelech declares in Tehillim (34:9) “Taste and see that Hashem is good”. From an outsider’s perspective being a G-d-fearing, Torah-observant Jew can seem archaic, insular, and overbearing. But one who has truly experienced it can attest to the fact that it is the most rewarding and fulfilling life.
If one experiences the joy of one blissful davening, one fulfilling session of Torah learning, one elevating Shabbos meal, that may be all he/she needs to serve as a reference point that reminds him/her of how deeply fulfilling it was, and can be. Those few positive successful experiences can make a tremendous difference.
One bite of success of often enough to make us want to keep coming back for more.   

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
7 MarCheshvan 5774/October 11, 2013

Written for Ashar’s “Ashrei News”

Since 1996, nobody knew it more than the New York Yankees: “You gotta go to Mo!” The Yankees knew that if they could hold a lead until the eighth inning they could bring in the Sand-Man to throw his wily cutter and shut down the opposition and score another victory.
After announcing that this would be his final season, Mariano has been accorded tremendous respect, with presentations to him in many cities. Even the fans of such formidable foes as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets respectfully cheered for him.
Baseball lovers will tell their progeny that they saw the great Rivera pitch for the Yankees, much as their fathers told them about their memories of seeing the Babe, DiMaggio, and Koufax.
There is a great lesson to be gleaned from the Rivera hype, one that we need to impress upon ourselves and teach our children. The great Mariano, often called Mr. Automatic, with more saves than any other closer in baseball history (652) was far from infallible. It was he who failed to close out the decisive Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he blew the save in the bottom of the ninth inning, when he allowed a bloop single with bases loaded to score the winning run.
The 2004 ALCS was even more disastrous for Rivera when he blew saves in Games 3, 4, and 5, allowing Boston to become the first team in MLB history to win a best-of-seven series in which they trailed three-games-to-none.
He began the 2005 season dismally, even getting booed by his own fans. Baseball journalists speculated if his days as a dominant pitcher were over.
And yet, he is regarded as the greatest closer ever.
It’s a lesson and a message that can’t be repeated enough. Greatness is not synonymous with perfection! Greatness is more about consistency, effort, goals, determination, and, perhaps most of all, resiliency.
We live in a society, in which everyone wants to be the best, and we feel that second place is the same as last place. The result is that people are often trying to outdo each other, and wear an artificial persona, pretending to be something they’re not to impress people they don’t care for. What a tragedy!
A person must be aware of who he/she is, which includes one’s individual weaknesses and strengths. 
In our time we have seen the heights that ‘American Boys’ could achieve in Torah leadership. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, attended Ida Crown in Chicago, Rav Sheinberg zt’l, a Yankees fan as a child and known by his peers as ‘Lefty Sheinberg’, became the Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Ore, and Rav Yitzchok Sheiner shlita, who attended Public School in Pittsburgh in his youth, is today the beloved Kaminetzer Rosh Yeshiva. 
We all have ups and downs. The question is what we capitalize on. A person who tries to cover over his shortcomings and pretend they don’t exist will end as a failure. The successful person however, will embrace his imperfections and learn to work with his strengths.
Yes, we must always have high aspirations and hopes for ourselves. But at the same time we need to accept and love ourselves for who we are, and we must appreciate and value what we have achieved through our efforts. We have to be the best we can be, not the best that anyone can be!

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach – 1 Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan
30 Tishrei 5774/October 4, 2013

If you have any experience with a computer you know the frustration of finding numerous programs downloaded to your computer, although you never signed up for them. You innocently download one program which you need, and the next thing you unwittingly (and outwittedly) have downloaded six other programs which (ironically) are all trying to convince you to purchase them so they can protect you from other such programs duping you the same way. Before you know it every time you try to open a program on your computer you feel like you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and when these programs byte it hurts!
Luckily the computer has a built in system to help remedy that problem called System Restore. The program is automatically installed to undo harmful changes to computer and to restore the computer’s performance to an earlier time, called a Restore Point. The process reverts the computer to the way it was at that point without deleting any purposely saved documents, emails, history, or favorites. The best thing about it is that it is a completely reversible process.
Although the computer automatically sets up periodic Restore Points, additional points can be created at will.
Throughout our lives, and more specifically throughout the year, we set up Restore Points along the way. Perhaps we can’t actually physically travel back to those times and places. But we can mentally revert back to the inspiration and nostalgic enjoyment we felt at those points.
Each Yom Tov is meant to be a Restore Point. Throughout the year, we are to be able to mentally recapture the intensity and awe of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the sublime joy of Succos, the inspiration of Chanukah, the bliss of Purim, the spiritual liberation of Pesach, the feeling of deep connection to Torah on Shavuos, and the yearning for redemption of Tisha B’av.
There is a great deal of mental and spiritual debris that we accumulate along the way, which impedes our growth, and detracts us from the goals we set for ourselves. When we are able to restore ourselves to those high points, if only for a few moments, it helps us delete the silly programs that leech onto our hard drive along the way. Each Yom Tov is so vital for our spiritual growth.
Now if only we could restore our bodies and belts to our pre Yom Tov/Mass-calorie settings, we’d really be in business…

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

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Succos/Hoshana Rabba - Z’man Simchaseinu / Erev Shmini Atzeres
21 Tishrei 5774/September 25, 2013

A few weeks ago one of the gold cufflinks I received as a gift from my kallah shortly before our wedding broke. More than their inherent value, they are precious to me because of their sentimental value. Ten years of wear every Shabbos and Yom Tov will understandably do that. But it took me some time to get around to drop it off at the jeweler to have it fixed.
The jeweler explained to me that he could just solder the broken piece back on, but doing so wouldn’t ensure that it wouldn’t happen again. The ideal approach was to replace the thin bar that wrapped around the back of the cufflink and to solder the piece to that bar.
On Erev Succos the jeweler called to tell that my cufflinks were ready. The broken cufflink looked perfect. In addition, they polished both of them, making them look more beautiful than they have in years.
As I donned them before Yom Tov I realized that the one just fixed was stronger than the original. True, if one looked closely at the back he could see where it was fixed, but the cufflink would be more durable because of it.
The gemara Succah (53a) notes that at the festive Simchas Bais Hashoeivah each night of Succos in the Bais Hamikdash, there were incredible performances taking place in view of the masses. The righteous would exult and proclaim “Praised is our youth which didn’t shame our old age”, while those who repented would exult and proclaim “Praised is our old age which has achieved atonement for our youth.” 
In the sefer ‘Z’man Simchaseinu’ from Rav Dovid Kohn shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva, he explains that it was specifically the righteous and those who repented who celebrated center stage on Succos, for those two groups personified the dual nature of the holiday of Succos. On the one hand the holiday represents the climax of the annual cycle of a Jew’s growth (symbolized by the progression of the three major festivals – Pesach, Shavuos, and concluding with Succos). The righteous represent the perfection of one who has ascended the ladder of growth – represented by the trilogy of the holidays - and now gleams in spiritual bliss.
Those who repented represent the nature of Succos as the apex and conclusion of the process begun during the Days of Awe. During the holidays of Rosh Hashnana and Yom Kippur we repent out of fear, while on Succos we graduate to the ultimate level of repentance out of love, joy, and devotion.
Succos concludes with Hoshana Rabba, the day when the decrees which were sealed on Yom Kippur are actually dispatched to our world. Then we celebrate on Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah in sheer bliss and devotion with our Creator and the Torah He has endowed us with.
Not everyone is analogous to the unbroken pristine cufflink which has achieved divine perfection in an unhindered quest for greatness. But everyone is analogous to the repaired cufflink which is perched alongside its companion, fulfilling the same role, with greater durability.
Not everyone can celebrate completing a cycle of Torah study from the previous year. But everyone can dance and sing with renewed commitment and dedication to spiritual growth and Torah study.  

   A git k’vitel/ G’mar Tov
 Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Erev Z’man Simchaseinu - Succos
14 Tishrei 5774/September 18, 2013

Don’t get me wrong, I like my mechanic. I think he really knows what he’s talking about. The problem is that I have no idea what he is talking about.
The situation has happened numerous times over the years. I pull into the garage and tell the mechanic about my car’s latest malady. He asks me to describe it. I try to replicate the sound the engine makes to the best of my ability. (I think the mechanic goes outside to laugh at me afterwards).
He comes back some time later with his prognosis, which sounds something like this: “Your internal metabolic efficiency frydroclic belt is not working properly. It keeps getting caught on your combustion mega-stopper under the syriphillus booster. That’s what’s causing the noise. It needs to be replaced immediately!”
Not wanting to seem like a complete ignoramus, I nod my head knowingly, pretending I know exactly what he’s talking about, even though he probably just made up all of those parts. “And how much will the new belt cost?” I sophisticatedly ask. He quickly responds with a slew of explanations that because of the particular make and model of my car, and because my birthday is in March, and my Grandparents weren’t born in America, he needs to order a special part which is extra expensive. The cheapest he can give it to me for is $450. I sigh and without feeling much recourse pull out Mr. MasterCard, fulfilling the dictum, “Pay now; cry later!”
Thankfully, the great Yom Tov of Succos – our season of joy – is upon us. It’s time for my annual trek to purchase my Lulav and Esrog. I proceed to the table upon which the most expensive esrogim are on display, from the pardes (orchard) of the Chazon Ish. I figure that if I am willing to shell out $450 for a vague sounding car part, should I be skimpier with my choice for this special mitzvah? It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the value I place in this special and unique mitzvah.
The Mishna Berura states that if one has money to purchase either a beautiful talis and ordinary tefillin or beautiful tefillin and an ordinary tallis, he should opt for the latter. The Mishna Berura adds that even though that is the correct choice, most communities do not adhere to this law.
The reason is that it is far easier to splurge on an expensive tallis which everyone can see, than it is to spend extra money on beautiful tefillin which are obscured inside a sealed black box.
It is inspiring that people spend money to purchase a beautiful esrog case, silver menorah, mezuzah cases, atarah (crown) for a talis, etc. But it is a far greater testament of one’s love for G-d if one expends extra money on mitzvos no one else can see – such as beautiful mezuzah/tefillin scrolls, or a more expensive lulav or esrog.
A typical new car owner excitedly cleans his car, and makes sure it glistens in the sunlight, so everyone who sees it will be impressed. A seasoned mechanic however, ensures that the parts under the hood, which determine the car’s level of functioning and efficiency, are all up to date and in good working order, so the car lasts for a long time.
In regards to our Avodas Hashem we should strive to be mopre like the seasoned mechanic who ensures that the internal workings of his car are working optimally, than the amateur driver who is more concerned with how it appears to others.

    Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh - Yom Kippur
9 Tishrei 5774/September 13, 2013

I remember it well. I was learning in Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim. It was a three day Yom Tov just like this year - Rosh Hashana Thursday and Friday, immediately segueing into Shabbos Shuva. Together with a friend I was invited to the Friday night seudah of my rebbe.
We walked into the apartment and were greeted with the ranting of my Rebbe’s annoyed wife who was carrying on about how she had moved to Eretz Yisroel to escape three day holidays (In Eretz Yisroel they only have one day of Yom Tov, with the exception of Rosh Hashana. Hence the only the only possibility for them to observe three consecutive days of forbidden melacha is when Rosh Hashana concludes with Shabbos).   
We then proceeded into the dining room for the fifth consecutive meal in two days. Aside for the white table cloth draped over the table, the table was bare, save for a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label. My Rebbe sat down at the head of the table slammed the bottle down and with a big smile said “Okay, lets eat again!”
If I thought three day Yomim Tovim were a challenge then, it pales in comparison to when one is blessed with a home full of children – and I go to shul for a good part of the day. The poor mothers stuck at home with their dear fledglings look like they are seeking their own miraculous exodus by the time each day is done. 
But finally the kids are asleep and we begin the task of cleaning the house. As we did so each evening I couldn’t help but think of the quote from the wisest of men “Futile of futilities… it is all futile.” After all, why were we cleaning when we knew we would have to do the same tomorrow?
As the brilliant quote I once saw read: “Cleaning your house when you have young children is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.”
But we know that we do have to clean up, because if we don’t by the time Yom Tov is over we won’t be able to find anything (including some of our children). And we won’t be able to get the house back in order until Pesach, when we just discard everything in our path.
The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the day of Yom Kippur is an incredible gift and chessed that Hashem granted us. Throughout the year we sin and unwittingly lose perspective of our real goals and aspirations in life. But then every year we have one day when we wipe away all the grime and muck that has accumulated upon our souls, so that we can begin anew, tabula rasa.
You know that feeling and smell in your car right after you had it thoroughly cleaned? Our neshamos undergo such a thorough cleaning every year on Yom Kippur, so that we can enter the succah joyously, and feel we are entitled to enjoy the Divine embrace.
Yom Kippur is an arduous day, but it is also an exhilarating day. During each prayer we recite the lengthy vidui (confession) – first privately in the silent Shemoneh Esrei, and then together in unison to a seemingly upbeat tune, with conviction and confidence.
It may seem strange to do so, but Rabbi Zev Leff explained it magnificently when he quipped “Do you ever sing in the shower?!”
Yom Kippur is the shampoo of our souls – far above our Head and Shoulders.

    G’mar Chasima Tova
  Good Shabbos & Good Yom Tov,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Erev Rosh Hashanah of 5774
29 Elul 5773/September 4, 2013

It’s always special to make a simcha, especially in our community. The bell hardly stops ringing as friends and family stop by full of smiles and heartfelt warm wishes of mazal tov, while holding food platters, candy, and pastries.
Everybody knows that you don’t just put down the delicacies without sampling them to make sure they weren’t poisoned. So even though I would not haphazardly consume too much cake and candy, as it’s unhealthy and imprudent to do so - somehow sampling and noshing don’t seem to be so bad.
There’s an old rule in the spiritual world that 12 + 12 doesn’t equal 24. It comes from the story of Rabbi Akiva who was completely engaged in Torah study for 12 years, away from home. Then, when he finally stood outside his door, he overheard his wife telling a scoffing neighbor that she would gladly grant him another 12 years of uninterrupted study. Upon hearing her words Rabbi Akiva immediately turned around and set off to resume his studies.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt’l (Sichos Mussar) explains that Rabbi Akiva did not even stop in to say hello, because he knew that once his learning was interrupted, it would require much more effort to recommence. Perhaps 12 + 12 equals 24 quantitatively, but on a spiritual level one set of 12 and another set of 12, is not the same as one uninterrupted set of 24. Spiritual accomplishment requires consistency and constancy.
The problem is that such logic does not apply in the physical world. Noshing on fattening foods does indeed add up quantitatively and qualitatively, as your belt informs you the next morning, when it forces you to move one hole over.
If one really wants to watch his weight (and I don’t mean watch it increase…) the only way is to be vigilant, by constantly being aware of what and how much he is eating.
In order to be an upstanding Jew we have to be on guard constantly.
When we are not so vigilant, our Evil Inclination can goad us to ‘nosh’ on sins: A word of loshon hora, an insincere prayer or blessing, failure to care about a fellow Jew, not being wary enough with halacha, etc. We can be knee-deep in sin and hardly even realize it.  
We refer to religious Jews as ‘Shomer Torah uMitzvos’ and ‘Shomer Shabbos’, which literally means one who guards Torah and mitzvos and guards the Shabbos.
It’s not sufficient to be a ‘Torah fulfiller’ or a ‘Shabbos fulfiller’. Rather we must be guards standing at our post, proactive and vigilant, to ensure that we are fulfilling our duty. As the new year commences we recommit ourselves to fulfilling our roles in the vital service we merit to be a part of. 

    Kesiva Vachasima Tova
   Good Yom Tov & Shana Tova,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Netzovim-Vayelech
24 Elul 5773/August 30, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 5-6

It is with the utmost gratitude to Hashem that we announce the birth of our son on Monday morning, 20 Elul 5773/August 26, 2013. That first moment when a new life emerges and detaches itself from its nine-month life source, and is suddenly exposed to an absolutely foreign world, is just so incredible.
During the birth, I was reminded of the following: During the winter of 2002, when we were searching for a band to play at our wedding, we had a few different options. My father, who didn’t mix in with too many of these types of decisions, urged us strongly to use the Yitzy Braun ensemble. My father explained that many musicians seem to play at simchos solely because it’s their job. They may play well, but they don’t seem to enjoy it much. My father wanted a musician who looked like he enjoyed what he was doing; he wanted someone who exuded a feeling of happiness as he played. After seeing him play at a few weddings, my father was impressed that Yitzy Braun smiled and seemed to really enjoy the simcha he was enhancing.
For the same reason we really appreciate the doctor who delivered our baby this week – Dr. Peter Simonson. As a seasoned doctor he has delivered thousands of babies during his decades on call. Yet when he delivers a baby it is obvious that he still enjoys the miracle he is participating in. His excitement throughout the process is palpable, as are his wishes of ‘mazal tov’ afterwards with a warm beaming smile. It may seem like a triviality, but it meant a lot to us, and enhanced our own inexpressible joy at that moment.
How does one fulfill the roles and tasks he will anyways be fulfilling? If you ever encountered a grumpy cashier in the supermarket you understand this idea. In the long run the cashier’s emotions have little effect on our lives, but the cashier’s negativity is contagious and can really put a damper on your shopping experience.
A little bit of honey goes a long way to sweeten something otherwise bland. A little smile and a shining countenance can make a tremendous difference.
As the year comes to an end, and we prepare to commence the new year with hopes for blessing and tranquility, we should pause to consider how we do what we do. Particularly, we should consider how we perform mitzvos and serve Hashem.
The Torah warns that the curses of the Rebuke affect us “because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d, with joy and goodness of heart.”
Three times a day in the final blessing of Shemoneh Esrei we ask G-d to bless us with the light of His Countenance. “For with the light of Your Countenance You have given us, Hashem, our G-d, a Torah of life, loving-kindness, charity, blessing, mercy, life, all that’s good, and peace.”
Similarly, we request from G-d that it not only be a good year, but a sweet new year. The greatest merit we can have in hoping for a sweet new year is to commit ourselves to being sweeter ourselves.
It’s not only about what we do, it’s also how we do it!

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

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