Thursday, October 31, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos – Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev
28 MarCheshvan 5774/November 1, 2013

It was one of those picture-perfect, beautiful spring mornings. I had davened at an early minyan that Shabbos morning in early May down the block from my parent’s home (this was well before I was married). When I stepped out of the shul it was peacefully quiet, the sun was shining, birds were chirping, and there was nary a cloud in the sky. I was a few steps out, when I heard the voice of someone stepping out of the shul behind me jovially call out: “Baruch shelo asani b’Brooklyn! (Blessed is He who didn’t put me in Brooklyn)”.
I have an ongoing debate with my Brooklyn friends. They claim Monsey is too quiet and boring; I claim it’s far more beautiful and quaint. They say I can keep the quiet beauty and they’ll keep their restaurants and all of the action. I agree.
One important difference between Brooklyn and Monsey is noticeable during autumn. In Brooklyn the leaf changes color; in Monsey the leaves change color!
There is no doubt about it. The visible foliage during these weeks is absolutely stunning. The iridescent combination of colors is magnificent, combining orange, yellow, red, and tinges of purple into multihued, majestic beauty.
It’s incredible to see the process unfold on its own, much like the miracle of spring a few months later. After being universally green throughout the hot summer, the leaves suddenly assert their individuality, displaying heretofore unrecognized resplendence. It is intriguing that the orange and yellow colors which only emerge now, had been hidden there throughout, obscured by the dominant green color. As the sunlight begins to wane signaling the advent of winter, the chlorophyll in the leaves starts to get depleted, and the inner colors emerge.
We are taught, and have heard many times, that there is great beauty and uniqueness in the soul of every person. Hopefully, as adults, we have an appreciation of our own inner beauty. But children are not always able to appreciate their own uniqueness. This is especially true about children who do not perform well in school for any variety of reasons.
The truly great educator is the one who is able to detect a child’s uniqueness, and subsequently help him/her bring it to the fore. The supreme educators are those who display a contagious enthusiasm and affection for their student’s/children individuality.
“Any fool can count the seeds in an apple. But only G-d can count the apples in a seed.” We can add that anyone can see the colors of a leaf during autumn, but only one with great foresight can appreciate those colors during the spring.
It’s a tragedy if a person never realizes his unique inner colors until he is older and wiser. How much wasted time and internal doubt!
Almost any adult can point to an individual in their life who encouraged them during their formative years. It didn’t have to be verbal encouragement; sometimes it’s the un-verbalized sentiment that gave us the greatest boost. Someone who just appreciated us, for who we are.
Those educators who help children recognize and appreciate their inner colors fill the world with an unparalleled resplendent beauty (even in Brooklyn!).

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

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
23 MarCheshvan 5774/October 25, 2013

I’ll bet you never heard of ‘Shmatta Pizza’!
It was the summer of 1988. My Aunt Miriam was traveling to Eretz Yisroel for the unveiling of my Zaydei’s kever (burial plot) in Yerushalayim, and she offered my mother to take one of her children along. Being that my older brother was away in camp, I was privileged to go.
It was a long and restless trip for an eight year old, but somehow I managed. I still remember that when my Bubby, who was already there along with my uncle and cousin, met us in the airport she was so excited that she lifted me off the ground.
By the time we arrived in Yerushalayim I was cranky and hungry. The closest eatery was a real Italian restaurant, so that’s where we went. I looked at the menu and my head began to swim. I just wanted some macaroni and cheese. I had no idea what the fancy Italian dishes were and being the flexible, happy-go-lucky kid that I was, I adamantly refused to sample anything I couldn’t pronounce.
Finally, Aunt Miriam convinced me to order something which the waiter assured us was pizza. When the food finally arrived I took one bite and nearly spit it out. “Uchh it tastes like the shmattes in Bubby’s house!” All efforts to get me to eat it fell on deaf ears. By now Aunt Miriam was ready to put me in an envelope and drop me in a mailbox marked “Air Mail: Return to sender.” To prove to me that I was being foolish my cousin Yehuda sampled the pizza. Then he burst out laughing and announced that I was right; the fancy Italian cheese really did taste like shmattes. Aunt Miriam sampled the pizza and was amusingly forced to agree.
I don’t remember what I ended up eating, but I do remember that when we got up to leave the pizza was gone, save for a few crumbs. All eyes turned to Bubby who was swallowing the last bite. She looked at us and shrugged, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s delicious!”
In our home we try to be particular that our children don’t say about any food that “it’s disgusting!” If someone doesn’t like something the proper response is “It’s not my taste”. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and just because one person doesn’t enjoy something, that doesn’t give him/her the right to decide that it’s good or not.
The funeral of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l three weeks ago was attended by unprecedented multitudes. The eulogies recounted his incredible accomplishments, sagacity, devotion, love, and faith. Among his greatest accomplishments was that he “restored the crown” to Sephardic Jewry.
During the early years of Israel’s statehood the halachic laws of the land were almost exclusively decided by Ashkenazic authorities. Rav Ovadiah valiantly asserted his influence to create awareness and pride of Sephardic opinion. He held that Bais Yosef (author of Shulchan Aruch) was the final ruling of halacha in Eretz Yisroel and his halachic rulings reflect that.
Rav Ovadiah was not afraid to speak his mind, and his quest for truth is awe-inspiring. He wrote thousands of pages of halachic responsa, and is quoted alongside the greatest halachic authorities of the previous generation.
Rav Ovadiah’s legacy includes that there is not only one opinion. Ashkenazim must adhere to the rulings of their leaders, but they must also know that there are other opinions as well. One person must do one thing, while his neighbor is obligated to do something else.
Halacha is not one size fits all, and a differing opinion is not necessarily a ‘shamtta opinion’!

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
14 MarCheshvan 5774/October 18, 2013

In camp this past summer one of the more intelligent points that were debated, was of personal preference between “Dougies BBQ and grill” and “Chickies French Fry and Chicken Bar”. The common denominator is that both are cardiovascular disasters. But the question was which one of the two restaurants really takes the cake (or the greasy fried fries). That was the subject of disagreement between many a counselor and staff member.
Shortly after we arrived home from camp, our nine year old son Shalom ruefully noted that he had never been to Dougies or Chickies. He heard so much discussion about the wings, poppers, and ‘unbelievable onion’, and he wanted to know what the hock was all about. We simply hadn’t realized how much we had woefully and negligently deprived our children. Had we actually been raising our children in America and never once brought them to Dougies?
On Sunday evening August 25, 2013 we repented by taking our four children for a special family dinner at Dougies. It wasn’t just special because we got to eat tortilla chips before supper, or because we were able (and were provided for) coloring all over the table, or because of the big portions of greasy and spicy food that we all enjoyed. It was also the final outing we had as a six member family.
Later that evening we went to the hospital and, Boruch Hashem, our son Shimshon Dovid, was born Monday morning, August 26 (20 Elul). We contemplated naming him “Douglas” in commemoration of our final family meal before his birth, but in the end we decided against it for various obvious reasons.  
One thing was for certain. Our children really enjoyed themselves and can’t wait to go again.
There are children in school who seem to make it their mission to drive their teacher crazy and disengage the class from the lesson. On a subconscious level, often the child’s real goal in derailing the lesson is to get the teacher to stop teaching things that makes him feel dumb, especially in front of his classmates.
Many of those children have had limited experiences feeling successful, at least in the classroom. The old adage that ‘success breeds success’  is partially based on the fact that once one realizes that he can be successful, he will be more confident and invest more effort in trying to recapture that feeling. 
Dovid Hamelech declares in Tehillim (34:9) “Taste and see that Hashem is good”. From an outsider’s perspective being a G-d-fearing, Torah-observant Jew can seem archaic, insular, and overbearing. But one who has truly experienced it can attest to the fact that it is the most rewarding and fulfilling life.
If one experiences the joy of one blissful davening, one fulfilling session of Torah learning, one elevating Shabbos meal, that may be all he/she needs to serve as a reference point that reminds him/her of how deeply fulfilling it was, and can be. Those few positive successful experiences can make a tremendous difference.
One bite of success of often enough to make us want to keep coming back for more.   

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

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
7 MarCheshvan 5774/October 11, 2013

Written for Ashar’s “Ashrei News”

Since 1996, nobody knew it more than the New York Yankees: “You gotta go to Mo!” The Yankees knew that if they could hold a lead until the eighth inning they could bring in the Sand-Man to throw his wily cutter and shut down the opposition and score another victory.
After announcing that this would be his final season, Mariano has been accorded tremendous respect, with presentations to him in many cities. Even the fans of such formidable foes as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets respectfully cheered for him.
Baseball lovers will tell their progeny that they saw the great Rivera pitch for the Yankees, much as their fathers told them about their memories of seeing the Babe, DiMaggio, and Koufax.
There is a great lesson to be gleaned from the Rivera hype, one that we need to impress upon ourselves and teach our children. The great Mariano, often called Mr. Automatic, with more saves than any other closer in baseball history (652) was far from infallible. It was he who failed to close out the decisive Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he blew the save in the bottom of the ninth inning, when he allowed a bloop single with bases loaded to score the winning run.
The 2004 ALCS was even more disastrous for Rivera when he blew saves in Games 3, 4, and 5, allowing Boston to become the first team in MLB history to win a best-of-seven series in which they trailed three-games-to-none.
He began the 2005 season dismally, even getting booed by his own fans. Baseball journalists speculated if his days as a dominant pitcher were over.
And yet, he is regarded as the greatest closer ever.
It’s a lesson and a message that can’t be repeated enough. Greatness is not synonymous with perfection! Greatness is more about consistency, effort, goals, determination, and, perhaps most of all, resiliency.
We live in a society, in which everyone wants to be the best, and we feel that second place is the same as last place. The result is that people are often trying to outdo each other, and wear an artificial persona, pretending to be something they’re not to impress people they don’t care for. What a tragedy!
A person must be aware of who he/she is, which includes one’s individual weaknesses and strengths. 
In our time we have seen the heights that ‘American Boys’ could achieve in Torah leadership. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, attended Ida Crown in Chicago, Rav Sheinberg zt’l, a Yankees fan as a child and known by his peers as ‘Lefty Sheinberg’, became the Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Ore, and Rav Yitzchok Sheiner shlita, who attended Public School in Pittsburgh in his youth, is today the beloved Kaminetzer Rosh Yeshiva. 
We all have ups and downs. The question is what we capitalize on. A person who tries to cover over his shortcomings and pretend they don’t exist will end as a failure. The successful person however, will embrace his imperfections and learn to work with his strengths.
Yes, we must always have high aspirations and hopes for ourselves. But at the same time we need to accept and love ourselves for who we are, and we must appreciate and value what we have achieved through our efforts. We have to be the best we can be, not the best that anyone can be!

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach – 1 Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan
30 Tishrei 5774/October 4, 2013

If you have any experience with a computer you know the frustration of finding numerous programs downloaded to your computer, although you never signed up for them. You innocently download one program which you need, and the next thing you unwittingly (and outwittedly) have downloaded six other programs which (ironically) are all trying to convince you to purchase them so they can protect you from other such programs duping you the same way. Before you know it every time you try to open a program on your computer you feel like you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and when these programs byte it hurts!
Luckily the computer has a built in system to help remedy that problem called System Restore. The program is automatically installed to undo harmful changes to computer and to restore the computer’s performance to an earlier time, called a Restore Point. The process reverts the computer to the way it was at that point without deleting any purposely saved documents, emails, history, or favorites. The best thing about it is that it is a completely reversible process.
Although the computer automatically sets up periodic Restore Points, additional points can be created at will.
Throughout our lives, and more specifically throughout the year, we set up Restore Points along the way. Perhaps we can’t actually physically travel back to those times and places. But we can mentally revert back to the inspiration and nostalgic enjoyment we felt at those points.
Each Yom Tov is meant to be a Restore Point. Throughout the year, we are to be able to mentally recapture the intensity and awe of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the sublime joy of Succos, the inspiration of Chanukah, the bliss of Purim, the spiritual liberation of Pesach, the feeling of deep connection to Torah on Shavuos, and the yearning for redemption of Tisha B’av.
There is a great deal of mental and spiritual debris that we accumulate along the way, which impedes our growth, and detracts us from the goals we set for ourselves. When we are able to restore ourselves to those high points, if only for a few moments, it helps us delete the silly programs that leech onto our hard drive along the way. Each Yom Tov is so vital for our spiritual growth.
Now if only we could restore our bodies and belts to our pre Yom Tov/Mass-calorie settings, we’d really be in business…

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

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