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