Thursday, March 21, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav/Shabbos Hagadol
11 Nissan 5773/March 22, 2013

Do you know who I wish I could be like on Seder night? Walter Mitty! “The secret life of Walter Mitty” is a story written by James Thurber in 1939. It was made into a film in 1947.
Walter Mitty has a vivid imagination. In fact, he gets utterly lost in his fantastical imagination. Anything he sees can trigger him into a fantasy world where he takes on the character he imagines. In a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself as a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devilish killer. He becomes so engrossed in his daydream that he loses sight of where he is or what he’s doing.
His name has come to characterize people who become too absorbed in daydreams and fantasies. In Fact, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs".
Hanging on the wall of the shul in Ashar is a beautiful panoramic picture of Sha’ar Yaffo lit up at night. During davening, especially when mentioning Yerushalayim, I often look at the picture and wish I could lose myself in it like Walter Mitty.
Ba’alei Mussar note that our koach hatziyur – our ability to imagine and picture things, can be a powerful tool in regards to elevating our Avodas Hashem. When one davens he should picture himself standing before a king, and when one learns Torah he should imagine Hashem watching proudly, along with legions of angels.
On Seder night we strive to lose ourselves in the pages of the haggadah as the story comes alive before us. On this one night the Haggadah itself exhorts us to be like Walter Mitty, jumping into the pages of the text before us in the epic account of exile and redemption.
But what if I am not as imagining as Walter Mitty and cannot picture ourselves as slaves in Egypt? What if I can’t bring myself to experience the pain of the servitude in behind the iron crucible of Egyptian exile, or the joy of being freed from bondage?
The word ‘Mitzrayim’ literally means boundaries. On the night of the redemption, our ancestors were able to penetrate and break free of the shackles of exile which spiritually paralyzed them for more than two centuries. On that night they were able to become who they really wanted to become. They were finally free to serve G-d as He demanded.
The redemption symbolizes to every one of us that we too have the ability - with G-d’s help - to traverse and break free of the limitations and boundaries that restrain us from being who we really pine to become. We too can triumph over the Pharaohs which shackle us from overcoming the boundaries which constrict and restrict us. If G-d took out a hapless defenseless nation of millions from the nefarious clutches of the most powerful and domineering nation on earth, He surely can redeem us from our personal struggles and vicissitudes as well.
You don’t need to have a vivid imagination to picture yourself leaving Egypt. All you need is belief in yourself to begin the journey, and faith that G-d will lead you to your Promised Land.

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

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra
4 Nissan 5773/March 15, 2013

In case you didn’t know, the United States celebrates National Potato Chip Day on March 14. Not that I think Americans need any added excuse to consume potato chips, which are the largest selling segment of the salty snacks market ($6.8 billion in sales in 2010).
But I think a lot of people wonder how much of that $6.8 billion was spent on chips, and how much on the air that fills half the bag. It seems that a lot more chips can easily be stuffed into the bags. Is it all a scam?
Potato chips companies argue that the air is necessary for the quality of the chip. If the bag would be completely filled, the chips inside would end up being very crummy. The air in the bag serves as a cushion to protect the chips from crumbling. In fact, the FDA allows some air as food protection. [The question becomes if they are adding more air than necessary.]
At this time of year, as we gear up for the annual chometz war, the concept of air in food is significant. Matzo and bread contain the same basic ingredients, are both baked in an oven, and are both very nourishing. The significant difference is that matzah remains flat, while bread is given time to rise and fill with air.
One of the greatest lessons to be derived from Pharaoh’s downfall is the power of arrogance. His country and people were on the brink of utter decimation, yet he would not back down.
A person who is so focused on himself that he cannot see beyond, is trapped in the symbolic arrogance of chometz.
The truth is that our ego plays a vital role. We need to appreciate ourselves and understand the incalculable value that we possess in order to utilize our capabilities properly. But before one can have a healthy sense of ego, he has to be able to be able to see beyond his ego.
Pesach is a training period where we symbolically remove all traces of “I” so we can fully focus on the salvation G-d granted us. Only after spending a week focusing on that point are we confident that we can maintain a healthy sense of ego, and introduce chometz back into our homes. Much like the air in the potato chip bag, which when used in moderation protects the freshness and quality of the chip, so does a healthy ego leads a person to be caring and sensitive to others. But when there is too much air and the bag becomes inflated with vapid nothingness, it becomes nothing more than wasted space which frustrates everyone.
One of the most humble people I knew was my Sabbah, Mr. Abe Staum a’h. He was a prince of a man, with a genial laugh, and a kind word for everyone. His yahrtzeit, 4 Nissan, is always during the season when we rid ourselves of chometz. [The fact that his yahrtzeit coincides with National Chip Day this year is just a coincidence, though Sabbah would have gotten a good laugh out of it…] Sabbah remains an example of true humility – a healthy sense of self which allowed him to live a life beyond himself, a life immersed in chesed. 
I conclude with the timeless wisdom of one of the great philosophers of yesteryear, Lou Costello, who once asked his erstwhile companion: “If hot air makes a balloon go up, tell me what’s holding you down?”

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

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Vayekhel-Pekudei/Hachodesh
26 Adar 5773/March 8, 2013

How many Dani Staums does it take to change a light bulb?
Although I have been blessed with certain talents and capabilities, construction and home improvement are not on that list. In that regard, the good Lord has endowed me with two left hands. While I have some friends who absolutely love stores like Home Depot and Lowes, I have anxiety attacks when I have to go into one of those stores. I have a tool box at home that I received as a housewarming gift from a friend, but I am not really sure what to do with it (a wrench is a decent paperweight).
I also have a very hard time picturing things. When we were looking at houses a few years ago, and even now whenever we are doing any home improvement which requires some imagination of what the finished product will look like, I have a very hard time. I just can’t picture things that don’t yet exist.
It becomes a point of frustration whenever Chani excitedly tells me about her plans for something and I have the look on my face of a third grader sitting in a college level calculus class. Still, I do my best to try to pay attention (sometimes).
For example, iy’h in the near future we plan to redo our kitchen. I try to listen to the plans and picture what it will look like. I must admit that from my mental images, I have a hard time understanding why we are putting the dishwasher on top of the fridge, or why we are placing the milichig sink next to the fleishig oven, with “plenty of place for storage”. But I just nod my head and try not to interfere.
Even though it’s a challenge, since it’s important to her I try to make it important to me.
The parshios at the end of Chumash Shemos are particularly challenging. It’s not easy to follow the depictions and descriptions of the Mishkan, or its vessels and vestments, from a cursory reading of the verses. Even with the wonderful resources available today, including pictures and interactive CD-ROMs, it’s still a challenge to follow the pesukim.
In a certain sense, investing effort to understand these parshios is a greater testament of our love and loyalty to Hashem, than other parshios which contain intriguing stories, or contemporary lessons.  
Why should I bother to try to understand what the mizbeiach (altar) looked like, how the eiphod (Kohain Gadol’s ‘apron’) looked, or how the kerashim (boards) were placed in the sockets surrounding the Mishkan? Only because it is the House of Hashem, and therefore I make it important to me!
So while I don’t know how many Dani Staums it will take to change a light bulb, I will say this: Don’t try to describe to me where the bulb is that needs changing, or you might just end up with a bulb affixed inside your garbage can.
Home Depot says “you can do it we can help”. I say if you can help why should I do it?

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

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