Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor
16 Iyar 5773/April 26, 2013 – 31st day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – perek 4

Spring has definitely sprung. More important than the stunning budding trees and return of life, is the buzzing activity on the golf course I pass on my way to shul. The hibernating golfers have come out of their caves and resumed their ancient traditions of trying to whack a little ball into a little hole.
For our son Shalom the golfers add a dimension of excitement to his walk home from shul on Shabbos. He was told by some neighborhood friends that as he walks home, he should keep his eyes trained on the ground to find some stray golf balls that inadvertently overshot their targets by a long way. [A neighbor across the street from the course related that on two different occasions a golf ball crashed through his living room window. I was told that those golfers did not make it to the U.S. Open.] When I arrived home from shul this past Shabbos, Shalom proudly held up his loot – two golf balls. 
In his introduction to Mesillas Yesharim, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato details the ultimate recipe for spiritual growth, as taught in the gemara by Rabbi Pinchos ben Yair. “Watchfulness leads to alacrity, alacrity leads to spiritual cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purity…” One of the important ideas he elucidates is that growth can only be accomplished incrementally, step by step, level by level.
In Yaakov Avinu’s epic dream atop Mount Moriah, he envisioned a ladder with its feet planted on the ground leading up to the heavens. A ladder contains rungs upon which one climbs in order to ascend. If one tries to skip a few rungs he will probably end up falling hard, and land up at the bottom. One can only get to the top if he first has a sense of direction of where he wants to end up, and then slowly ascending, one rung at a time.
The days of Sefiras Haomer are meant to be days of growth. Counting each day reminds of the invaluableness of each day. It entails forty-nine steps to arrive at Matan Torah, one day at a time.
As one progresses in his climb, it is inevitable that he encounter setbacks and periods of darkness which seek to impede his progress. It is during those times when one must find light in the darkness, avenues of encouragement that help him maintain his vision and direction.
The fires of Lag Ba’omer reflect those deep penetrating lights. Those fires are the physical representation of the spiritual light of the holy Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Rabbi Shimon revealed many of the esoteric secrets of Torah, and taught that there is more to every individual and to the world than meets the eye. Therefore, one must always dig deeper to find truth. The fires of Lag Ba’omer represent the final push, impelling us beyond any hurdles, carrying us all the way to Sinai.
A person must always pace himself in his spiritual growth. If he doesn’t invest adequate effort he ends up in the banality of the daily grind. But, if he sets his goals too high he is setting himself up for disappointment and deep personal frustration. Hitting the ball too hard will only ensure that it clears the course and ends up out of the game. To stay in the game he must maintain focus on the goal, and then hit the ball with just the right amount of energy. [Then he gets into that little white car and drives to the next hole…]
It takes a golf expert to hit a hole in one, and it takes wisdom and patience to become one who is whole and complete. 

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim
9 Iyar 5773/April 19. 2013 - 24th day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 3

A number of years ago I gave a presentation for an educational institution. A few weeks later, an envelope arrived in the mail from that institution. You can only imagine my surprise when I opened it to find a bill enclosed for the session I had given. It’s one thing not to like my presentation, but to bill me for it – I think that’s a little extreme! I don’t think it could’ve been that bad. 
There’s an old adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’. Sometimes our best intentions do not have the results we anticipated, to say the least. But Chazal remind us that often the chesed we do for another is more beneficial to us - the doer- than it is for the receiver.
A number of years ago I was listening to a lecture from Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita about this very topic. He mentioned that sometimes heaven arranges for us to have an opportunity to perform a chesed because we need the merit for one reason or another.
This is definitely a poignant thought to bear in mind when we are presented with an opportunity to perform a chesed, especially when we are not in the mood.
Soon after listening to that lecture, I picked up a hitchhiking elderly Jew along the side of a road of Monsey. My car did not have a tape deck (actually to be honest I think it had a tape deck that didn’t work) though I had plenty of cassette tapes. So I had an old walkman in the car, and I kept one earphone in my ear (similar to having a Bluetooth in one ear). When my passenger noticed it he began to lecture me about the folly of what I was doing and that it was dangerous. My immediate reaction was of tremendous annoyance. “What an ingrate! How dare he give me advice about what I do in my car when I invited him in?!” But then I remembered the lecture I just heard from Rabbi Salomon. So I nodded and pulled the earplug out of my ear.  I can’t say I would always react that way, but at least that one occasion I was able to maintain perspective.
If we are not yet on the level of doing truly altruistic chesed, we can do it for selfish reasons (as long as the recipient isn’t made to feel like a ‘chesed case’), knowing that we stand to gain much from the chesed we perform.
Oh, and about the bill I received for my workshop, I ended up being paid the full amount I had been billed. I guess my presentation wasn’t so bad after all.

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

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazria-Meztora
2 Iyar 5773/April 12, 2013 - 17th day of the Omer
Pirkei Avos – perek 2

Public Service Announcement: If you have a gray Honda Accord and you see a stranger getting into your car, please don’t call the cops too quickly; it may be me. [Depending who you are when you notice that it’s me you may want to call the cops even faster. And I know who you are…]
On more than one occasion (two to be exact) I have tried opening the door to a car that looked like mine, but wasn’t. One of those times I sat down in the car before I realized that it wasn’t mine.
I felt better when a fellow teacher in one of the schools I work in sheepishly told me that she had gotten into my car before she realized that it wasn’t hers.
Even worse, a certain close relative of Chani’s who shall remain nameless, was once sitting in what she thought was her car waiting for her husband to come out of the supermarket, when someone opened the door and began screaming at her to get out of his car!
What is it that usually gives it away that you got into the wrong car (assuming you don’t remember your license plate numbers, like me)? The stuff inside! You can learn a lot about a person from the inside of his/her car– not only from how neat and organized it is, but also what kind of ‘stuff’ are in the car, (including the kind of music and radio pre-sets).
Before Pesach, you really get a good window into what people have in their car, when it all comes out for cleaning – pens, tehillimtefillas haderech, business cards, cassette tapes (what’s that?), lipstick, etc.
It’s often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The Mishna in Avos expresses it this way: “Don’t look at the jug, but at its contents.” And I say ‘Don’t judge a car by its exterior, but by the stuff inside’. The time I had unwittingly sat down in someone else’s car, I realized it wasn’t my car when I saw that it wasn’t my stuff inside. 
It’s yet another reminder that in our superficial world we shouldn’t be so shallow as to judge people by their exteriors - (especially because they may just be dressing in a certain way to look like someone else…) but rather by the stuff inside which defines us to a large extent.
But the truth is that the stuff inside is not completely definitive because it can be changed. We can straighten up and clean out the garbage from inside. We can change the radio presets, or shut the radio off completely. 
During these days of Sefiras Haomer we count up towards our reacceptance of the Torah. We do so by working on our character traits, and trying to clean out our stuff.
I should also add that if it’s not your car, the car key won’t work, which is very symbolic as well. Only you have the key to start your ignition; unless of course you lose it, but that’s a different story.

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

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Shemini 5773

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini
25 Nissan 5773/April 5, 2013 - 10th day of the Omer

I read an article recently which purported that movies have gotten longer in recent years. Twenty years ago, the average running time of the top five grossing movies of the year was a bit more than 118 minutes. There were even some popular movies that were closer to 100 minutes. In 2012 however, the average movie was 142 minutes.
The article offered various theories about why movies are so much longer. One of those theories was that it simply makes sense. Hollywood has decided to take a lesson from corporate America which supersizes everything.
It is intriguing that in a society which has so little attention or time for almost anything, people find 142 minutes to watch a movie. What’s more intriguing is that recently there has been a proliferation of clips of inspirational Torah thoughts, many of which have moving images behind them to sustain the viewer’s attention, which are less than 142 seconds!  [My intent is not to knock those clips which indeed are very inspirational. I am merely pointing out the disturbing contrast.]
The Yom Tov of Pesach is fundamentally different than the Yom Tov of Succos. During each day of Succos, different korbanos (offerings) were brought upon the altar in the Bais Hamikdash, which symbolized the fact that each day was a distinct holiday. It was for that reason that the complete Hallel is recited each day of Succos.
On Pesach however, the same korban was offered each day of the holiday. [That is part of the reason that only ‘half-hallel’ is recited on Pesach (with the exception of the first day).] On Pesach, instead of it being a new holiday each day, it is a seven-day holiday unit, with one primary focus.
In our attention deprived society, the ability to focus on one idea and trying to internalize a concept, is very challenging. Pesach is the birth of our nationhood and the holiday of faith in G-d. For the duration of the holiday we reflect on the involvement of G-d in every facet of our life.
The story of the exodus is not a blockbuster movie or a bestseller. It is a story with deep implications for which we must create our own mental imagery. It’s not so much the depictions of what occurred back then, as much as it is about us applying those ideas to our own contemporary lives. 
That week-long focus must generate an awareness that remains with us. Like the afikomen, its taste must linger in our mouth long after the Seder has concluded.

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

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