Thursday, July 25, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev
17 Menachem Av 5773/July 26, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 5

One of the many extracurricular activities that campers love in camp is to make bonfires. Campers spend their free time for a day or two collecting sticks and twigs, and setting them up for their bunk’s exclusive after-hours bonfire. There is a certain joy in sitting around a fire you helped construct, and watching it surge upwards, while roasting marshmallows or franks, and listening to a good story, or singing a heartfelt song.
When preparing for the fire, campers look for dry fuel, and then they hope it doesn’t rain. If the twigs and sticks are wet it’s that much harder to start the fire and to keep the fire going.
But there are always a few experts in camp who know a lot about outdoors, and fires. They know everything about them, even how to start and maintain them with wet fuel. In the event of rain, such experts are summoned to salvage the soggy bonfire. It’s impressive to see it get done.
Chazal relate that within the heart of every Jew is an innate love and feeling of connection with Hashem. The only reason we, at times, may not feel it is because we taint it through sin. This is the reason the Torah can instruct us to love Hashem. Normally, like all emotions, one cannot force anyone to feel anything towards someone else. But in regards to loving and believing in Hashem, which is naturally inborn, the mitzvah is essentially that a person not allow himself to become sullied with sin, or that he do teshuva and cleanse himself of sin, so that he can again feel connected with the inner love in his soul.
In our day and age, there has been much attention devoted to ‘emunah workshops’ proving the veracity of Torah, especially to adolescents. There is no universal reason why people have questions and doubts. But definitely some of the proliferation of questions can be blamed on the plague of dulled hearts, from which we all suffer.
In our world, there is much excitement about technology and the newest gadget. In addition, we are all aware of the struggle we face in maintaining a pure environment, despite being surrounded by rampant immorality and free-spiritedness. In a sense we backpedal by trying to flame innate love which lays dormant within sodden hearts. We need experts who know how to start and maintain fires with damp wood. Those experts are well versed in proofs and witty responses to skeptics and doubters.
But if somehow we were able to dry out that wood - if we could dry out the dampness of impurity within our hearts - the flame within would begin to burn that much stronger. At that point it wouldn’t require so much expertise to flame the fires of emunah and ahava, because those emotions would naturally be palpable within one’s soul.
Those experts who can light fires on dry wood do us a great service. But if our hearts weren’t so damp to begin with, we wouldn’t need so many experts.

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan - Shabbos Nachamu
12 Menachem Av 5773/July 19, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 4

“I have a light switch in my home which isn’t hooked up to anything. Every now and then I flick the switch up and down a few times. Yesterday I received a call from a woman in Australia who said “Cut it out!””  (Comedian Steven Wright)
Everybody has them somewhere in the house – those light switches that don’t do anything. There is gleeful enjoyment that children feel when they turn a light switch on and off in rapid succession. Mothers are forever scolding children that doing so can start a fire. But those switches that don’t do anything allow the child to flip the switch as many times as he want without having to worry about an angry mother, or a fire.
In my youth we had one such switch and I indeed often wondered if somehow I was causing something to happen, far away every time I flipped the switch.
There may be more truth there than we realize. Nefesh Hachaim (1:14) writes that everything we do, say, and even think has repercussions throughout the world. In a sense, we are all holding switches which, seem to be innocuous, but in reality affect the whole world.
On Tisha B’av we mourn all the calamites that have befallen our people in exile. We also recount the statements of the Torah and sages which explain how our sins, and the fact that we have not lived up to our spiritual responsibilities have caused all our suffering.
And there in that painful awareness lies our consolation. Because if we have been so punished because of our actions, that demonstrates just how resoundingly significant our actions are. In other words, our lives and our actions matter!
Rav Nachman of Breslov stated: “If you believe that it’s possible to destroy, believe that it’s possible to fix!” If our sins caused the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash and the suffering in exile, we are surely capable of causing incredible salvation to occur as well.
During the Gettysburg Address, President Abe Lincoln pledged that the nation would  ensure that those who had died fighting for the Union “shall not have died in vain”. There is no greater consolation than to know that the sacrifice and suffering endured was for a greater purpose and was not in vain. We are comforted on Tisha B’av by the stark realization that all of our actions, our suffering matters!
Tisha B’av reminds us that we are the switchboard operators of the world. If our sins were able to turn off switches of blessing and goodness, than we surely wield the ability to turn those switches back on again.    

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

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim - Shabbos Chazon
5 Menachem Av 5773/July 12, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 3

From all over the tri-state area, and then some, they came. Cars laden with water, soda, and enough nosh to feed an army, pulled up to camp on Visiting Day morning. Even the sweltering ninety degree heat couldn’t stop them, as they marched across the vast Camp Dora Golding campus to see their sons. It’s that first sighting, followed by that first hug and kiss (“Mom please! My friends are watching!” “I don’t care! I lugged you around for nine months, so I’m allowed to kiss you in front of anyone.”) which is the most special.
It’s been over nineteen hundred years since the Bais Hamikdash has been destroyed and Jerusalem reduced to a wasteland of destruction by our enemies. And G-d is still waiting to give us that initial hug and kiss upon our return.
On Tisha B’av we confront our pain. Throughout most of the year we seek to hide ourselves from the things that make us feel uncomfortable and sad. Our society has no place for tears. Tears are viewed as wimpy, and we like to be macho and cool. On Tisha B’av we face the truth which is that for all we have accomplished, in exile we are an incomplete nation. We are still not home, even in our homeland.
I believe that - without most people even realizing it - one of the most poignant moments of the Jewish year takes place on Tisha B’av. We spend Tisha B’av morning sitting on the floor recalling the endless persecution, suffering, and anguish that our nation has been subjected to in every exile. Some of the events we recall are so utterly catastrophic and painful that we just want to cover our ears and run out of shul shouting “Stop! Stop! It cannot be!” Yet all that we say and recount is not even the tip of the iceberg of how much more there is that we don’t say.
We conclude the recitation of kinnos by singing in unison “Aili Tzion” -proclaiming that Tzion and her cities continue to cry in inconsolable mourning for all the grief and anguish she has suffered. After we have cried our tears, lamented our losses, and wept together, we conclude shacharis.
What are the first words we state after spending the entire morning recalling the forfeiture of our pride and the merciless persecution of our enemies?
Ashrei yoshvei baysecha – Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your House; forever they will continue to praise You! Praiseworthy is the nation that such is their lot; praiseworthy is the people that Hashem is their G-d!”
It’s absolutely mind-boggling! What a people! How incredibly loyal! How fiercely proud! We are a nation that prioritizes our faith above all else - even our loved ones, and even life itself! Despite all that we have just recounted, despite all we have been subjected to, we proclaim our praiseworthiness in bearing it all. We would not have it any other way.
We are proud to bear the banner of Torah as the nation of Hashem, despite the price it costs. We know and believe that all of our losses are a precursor and a microcosm of the glory and pride that awaits us when Hashem dries our tears forever, and at last, gives us that hug and kiss. 
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
A meaningful Tisha B’av,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstea

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos-Masei
Mevorchim Chodesh Menachem Av – Shabbos Chazak!
27 Tammuz 5773/July, 2013
Pirkei Avos – perek 2

This past Shabbos in Camp Dora Golding, just as everyone was getting ready to head up to shul for Kabbolas Shabbos, it started to rain. By the time I arrived at shul, even my raincoat was saturated. Worse, my socks were drenched and remained that way for a few hours. It was particularly uncomfortable to be dressed in a suit and Shabbos finery and yet to be all wet.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l noted that we don’t wear Shabbos finery for others, but rather for the honor of Shabbos, which is a pseudonym for Hashem. Therefore, even if one is alone, or if G-d forbid, one is ill, he should still don Shabbos clothes, despite the fact that no one else will see him.   
The same holds true in regards to tefillah. Sometimes it is quite uncomfortable to don my jacket and hat for davening when it’s hot and humid. In fact, I know that I would probably daven with more kavanah if I was more comfortable without the extra clothing. But serving Hashem isn’t always about doing what makes us feel good. Rather, it’s about showing honor to Hashem, and fulfilling His Will.
Similarly, observing the laws of the Three Weeks may not make us feel holy and elevated. Surely then the austere laws of Tisha B’av, with all of its restrictions, not to mention sitting on the floor, may not give us that deep spiritual feeling which helps us feel connected from an uplifting ‘Shabbos experience’. Nevertheless, we adhere to the dictates of halacha because that is our duty, not necessarily because it makes us feel good (though doing the right thing ultimately grants a sense of fulfillment).
We may have many ideas of what would constitute feeling spiritual and holy. But our job is “m’daff tuhn fahr der Ribbono Shel Olam”. We do as the Torah and our Sages have dictated, all of our ideas notwithstanding.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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