Thursday, June 27, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
20 Tammuz 5773/June 29, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 1

He was seven years old living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents were concerned about his stubbornness; there was just no changing his mind. His parents felt he had to learn how to give in, and that he couldn’t always have it his way.
Then one fateful Shabbos afternoon his mother placed a piece of veal on his plate. When he promptly announced that he wasn’t going to eat it, his parents replied that he was absolutely not to get up until the meat was eaten. So he sat. The meal ended and everyone left the table. But he continued to sit at the table that had nothing on it except for one plate of veal.
His mother took his siblings down to the park, but he remained playing with the little buttons on the back of the brown chair. His father’s chavrusa came and his father wheeled him into the kitchen where he continued to sit aimlessly in front of the plate of veal.
It was getting dark when his father stood above the garbage can emptying the plate of veal into it. “What’s going on?” asked the incredulous youth. “You win” replied the father in a defeated his voice, shaking his head. Indeed he did; six and a half hours later!
The family of the seven year old moved to suburbia shortly thereafter. In yeshiva the boy’s rebbe taught the class about the mitzvah of sleeping in the succah. The young boy came home and emphatically told his parents that he planned to sleep in the succah that year. Their succah was not attached to the house, and the parents weren’t too keen about him sleeping there alone (his father had sciatica which precluded him from sleeping in the succah). But sleep there he did, all alone.
The next morning his mother told him how proud she was of him. “You used your stubbornness in the right way, and did not allow anything to get in your way of performing a mitzvah.”
When Klal Yisroel committed the egregious sin of the Golden Calf, G-d informed Moshe that He planned to destroy the nation, because “they are a stiff-necked people.” The nation would not let go of its slave mentality, which caused them to panic when they thought Moshe was delayed in returning from Sinai.
In the selichos of Shiva Asar B’Tammuz we state: “We were stubborn so catastrophe increased upon us.” It was only Moshe’s prayer and his interceding on the nation’s behalf that saved them from destruction. And yet the only reason we as a nation have survived two millennia of exile of endless abject persecution is because of our incredible stubbornness. The more they have tried to wrestle us away from our ideals and beliefs the more we have obdurately increased our commitment to them.
So, like every character trait, stubbornness is not necessarily a flaw if one knows how and when to use it. One who is too proud to hear anyone else’s opinion can destroy his relationships. But one who is too resolute to compromise on his principles ensures that they will long endure.
When we as a nation learned how to properly utilize the innate stubbornness that almost destroyed us, it became the guarantee of our eternity as a people.
By the way, the young seven year old boy who wouldn’t eat the veil, grew up, and wrote a column relating the experience from his youth.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
13 Tammuz 5773/June 22, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 6

What an ego boost! From the moment a young man and woman become engaged until the end of the week of Sheva Berachos, they are the center of attention. Wherever they go, people heap blessings upon them and wishes of mazal tov. Then during sheva berachos friends and family can’t stop relating the accolades and praise of the young newlyweds.  
To temper the over-inflated ego of the young suitors, immediately following their marriage a husband attends weddings of his wife’s friends, and the wife attends weddings of her husband’s friends. Suddenly, the former star of the show stands sheepishly aside at a wedding filled with people who hardly pay him/her any attention. It is a humbling experience indeed.
When Chani and I were young newlyweds I was attending one such wedding of one of her friends. I knew no one so I joined the circle once and then stood on the side watching the lively and jubilant dancing. It struck me then as to just how beautiful and special our weddings are. That night I was an outsider looking in, and it was truly a beautiful sight. The beauty and transcendence of the chuppah, the simcha that resonates on people’s faces, the excitement that fills the hall, and the energetic dancing are something special that we don’t always appreciate.
I particularly enjoy reading Parshas Balak each year. The wicked Bila’am sought to curse the Jews, but when he peered at their camp as an outsider looking in he unwittingly could not contain his admiration, and beautiful blessings burst forth from his lips.
This year on Shavuos, one of the members of our shul related to me that after learning through the entire night he was making his way to the mikveh before davening (as encouraged by the Arizal). The first breaks of morning were visible upon the horizon and he saw the Jewish houses lit up, some with candles still burning in the window, white table cloths adorning the tables. In contrast, all the other homes were completely dark. In the distance he saw some shuls where people were still hunched over their seforim enagaged in Torah study. He told me that it was a rare perspective which filled him with a genuine sense of pride that he was part of such a regal group.
There are many complicated challenges and issues that our community faces. But periodically we should step back and view ourselves like an outsider looking in. We would see the beauty of Shabbos, the selfless chesed that traverses all boundaries, the dedication we have to serving Hashem despite tremendous financial burdens.
When we view ourselves through that prism we won’t be able to hold ourselves back from feeling a sense of pride that we are part of such an elite group.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
6 Tammuz 5773/June 15, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 5

They say the truth will set you free, but more often than not, the truth will confuse you and distort your perception of reality. In fact, very often ‘the truth’ is not the truth at all.
Listening to the ‘news’ can be a very frustrating experience. News stations seek shock-value in the stories they follow. Stories that not too long ago would be taboo are today reported openly on the radio. A wise parent exercises caution when listening to the radio with children in the car.
But beyond that, even if (!) the news relates a story factually, they do not always portray reality. One bad apple does not invalidate the whole basket. Yet isolated stories or events are used to classify entire groups of people, while other facts are blatantly ignored. Too much exposure to the news will convince anyone that there is no semblance of goodness left in the world - Conservatives are evil, Israel is a pariah apartheid state, and the ultra-orthodox (whatever that means) are insular kooks and cheats.
The first Rashi in the Torah states that the purpose of Chumash Bereishis is to demonstrate that the world belongs to G-d and that He has the right to decide who should inhabit all lands. Therefore, our right to the Promised Land is Divinely Ordained.
Many of the commentators note that the Torah is not interested in teaching the world that the Land belongs to us. [The Arabs dob’t really care what it says in Chumash Bereishis.] Rather, the Torah wants to remind us that it is our land! We too are influenced by the propaganda campaign of the media and their messages invariably seep into our consciousness and we begin to buy in to their lies. We ourselves can begin to grow dubious of our own legitimacy.
Psychologists warn about the danger of overexposure to media, especially following a tragedy. The graphic images repeatedly displayed can cultivate a traumatic effect. But in truth it’s not just frightening images, but many of the point of views espoused are equally damaging.
Recently I was driving down a road which had a sign which has a great message for life in general: “Limited Sight Distance”. It was cautioning drivers that their visibility will be restricted because of twisting road and hills ahead. I would have to say that often the truth can only be discovered when one closes his eyes and ears to everything around him.
The evil prophet Bila’am was blind in one eye, and it was through that blind eye that he was able to envision prophecy and see truth. His ‘working’ eye was so polluted with immorality and corruptness that he could not see prophecy through it.
If reality is based on perception, who wants his/her reality to be based on the perception of a bunch of biased and corrupt political pundits?
This was best summed up by a friend who quipped that he looks at the news to be informed, but after doing so he invariably ends up feeling deformed!
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Rosh Chodesh Tamuz - Parshas Korach
29 Sivan 5773/June 8, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 4

The beautiful month of June has finally arrived. The comfortable weather that New Yorkers flock down to Miami to find during the winter has finally made its way up the East Coast. [A quick shout out to our friends in Florida who are melting in the heat. Good luck with that; see you in New York soon!] 
During this time of year one appreciates the beauty of landscaping. Many homes boast meticulously manicured lawns with colorful bushes and flowers adorning the front of their yards. I should also mention that while most of us in suburbia have to mow our lawns or employ a service to do so, I have friends in Brooklyn who cut their lawn with a pair of scissors once a month. 
As any homeowner is aware, grass grows very fast and therefore has to be mowed consistently. It will look neat and trimmed for only a short while before it starts looking unkempt again.
Last week we noticed that our grass was unusually high and looked somewhat messy. I called our landscaper who reassured us that it was only because of the inclement weather that lingered for a few days that they didn’t mow our lawn. But they would be back soon enough. Indeed, by the next afternoon it was mowed neatly.
It’s quite fascinating that a whole yard covered in grass can be cut in a relatively short amount of time. Contrast that with other yard work which can be much more tedious and take far longer. For example, tree stumps and branches left over from hurricanes and storms can take weeks, and in some cases months, before being completely disposed of.
Dovid Hamelech compares the ascent of wicked to positions of prominence to wildly growing grass (Tehillim 92:8). It may appear incredibly thick and strong in such a short time, but in the long run they are utterly and completely destroyed. Like grass which is so easily felled and cut down, so do the wicked eventually fall and fall hard. 
Perhaps the greatest example of this was the sudden and rapid fall of the impenetrable Iron Curtain in 1991. The great and mighty Soviet Union was disbanded quicker than anyone could have fathomed. It was truly a divine landscaping!
We have many implacable foes who strike fear within us. We don’t see how we will ever triumph over the threats of so many surrounding and abounding enemies.
And yet Dovid Hamelech reminds us that all we need is the right landscaper! 
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Chodesh,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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