Thursday, December 26, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era – Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat
23 Teves 5774/December 27, 2013

            Jack rushed into the airport. Traffic had been heavy getting to the airport, and he was eager to check in and get through security. He checked three times to make sure he had his passport and ticket. Check-in proceeded monotonously. As soon as his luggage was checked in, and he had his boarding passes, he dashed over to the line for security. He had heard that this airport had installed an extremely high tech security machine that was so sensitive it could detect weapons standard security detectors wouldn’t register. Although happy that security was so tight, Jack hoped it wouldn’t cause him any delays.
When it was finally his turn he was gratified to hear that he didn’t need to take off his coat or even his shoes. Glad to spare everyone else that odor he gleefully thought as he nonchalantly stepped through the machine. No sooner did he do so when a piercing siren erupted from atop the machine. Security guards burst out from all directions and shoved a bewildered jack into a side room. Jack tried to reason with the guard, “either there was a mistake or your fancy machine is defective. I have nothing even remotely dangerous on me”. But the guard ignored him. He pulled out an electronic wand and began passing it up and down in front of Jack’s body. As soon as it came close to Jack’s face it began beeping wildly. “What are you hiding in your mouth?” demanded the guard.  By now Jack was as angry as he was frazzled. “In my mouth? Hmmm. I keep my teeth there because I figured they’d be safe there. Oh yeah, and I also leave my tongue in there, and –“
“You think this is a joke, don’t you?” snapped the officer. “But our machine is detecting that you are a danger to us. Apparently you are a very critical person, and don’t mince words in verbally trashing our government and all of its policies. You seem to have no problem bashing segments of our people, anyone remotely different than you. You may not have any physical weapons, but the insidious damage you cause us constantly – socially, financially, and in depleting our morale, is huge. Sorry buddy, you deserve to be on our no-fly list! You really are a menace to society!”

One morning during davening I motioned to a student who was a repeat-offender talker to be quiet. He looked up at me and said, “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t do anything so bad?” indeed with physical eyes and ears he would seem to be correct. But the Shulchan Aruch says otherwise. It states unequivocally that speaking during Chazaras Hashatz is a grave sin that’s “too great to bear.”
Mishna Berura (124:27 quoting Elya Rabbah) states “Woe is to those that talk during Chazaras HaShatz, as many Shuls throughout history have been destroyed due to this sin”.
Rav Moshe Wolfson shlita announces in his shul, Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park, that based on the aforementioned Mishna Berura,  those who talk during davening are tantamount to people who take an ax and begin chopping mercilessly at the shul’s foundation. Therefore, on behalf of the congregation, he requests that those who wish to talk during davening should daven somewhere else.
In addition, the Chofetz Chaim warns repeatedly about the dangers of speaking loshon hora, and the evils of ona’as devorim, hurtful, insulting, and demeaning words.
Reminding ourselves of the power of our mouth is something we can always use chizuk in. Perhaps the machine that exposed Jack hasn’t been invented yet in this world, but in the World of Truth it has been up and running since man was granted the priceless, yet awesome, gift of speech.  

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos
17 Teves 5774/December 20, 2013

      When we were in Eretz Yisroel a few weeks ago, a friend of mine who lives there gave me a package to deliver to his father, a rebbe of mine, in Monsey. Last Thursday night on my way home I was passing the house, so I decided to stop to deliver the package. The lights in the house were off except for the lights in my rebbe’s study, which has a side door, so I knocked there.
      When my rebbe opened the door and saw me he welcomed me in. When I walked in I immediately noticed that there was a large ‘chosson shas’ volume of gemara open on the table, with a few sefarim next to it. It was a beautiful sight. It was cold and dark outside and there was no one else home. There was nothing else going on. But my rebbe had clearly been sitting and learning in his home before I interrupted. We had a pleasant conversation for a few minutes before I left. But the sight of the open gemara made an impression on me.
      It reminded me of a similar experience I had a little over two years ago. I had taken our sons – Shalom & Avi - to Rav Don Ungarischer zt’l, the night before Avi’s upsherin, so he could cut Avi’s hair and give them berachos. Rav Don was the Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash Elyon, and a respected Gadol in Torah. But he was equally humble and unassuming.
      When his gabbai led us into the Rosh Yeshiva’s home there too the apartment was completely quiet. In the back room bent over a table with an open gemara and some sefarim sat the elderly sage, pen in his hand, recording the chiddushei Torah he had thought of during Shabbos, in serenity. He briefly paused to cut Avi’s hair and to offer him and Shalom a warm heart-felt beracha, with a smiling resonating countenance that we will never forget.   
      Those who truly enjoy studying Torah, and do so, not out of duty and responsibility, but out of genuine joy and inextricable connection to its every hallowed word, achieve internal serenity, as well as a countenance which bespeaks greatness. However, achieving that level of devotion and love for Torah study does not come easily. It requires tremendous dedication, patience, perseverance, and tenacity. Only one willing to pay the price for its acquisition can merit such priceless greatness.
      Of all the tribes, it was Yissochor who was destined to father the greatest Torah scholars. In his blessing to Yissochor, Yaakov Avinu stated “He saw rest that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant; he bent his shoulder to bear it and he became an indentured servant” (Bereishis 49:15). Yissochor saw that the life of a true scholar and lover of Torah is a life of pleasantness and internal happiness. He realized that the rest it provided – not physical rest, but spiritual rest – was worth the sacrifice and dedication it would require. Therefore, he bent his shoulder to bear its yoke and was willing to toil like a donkey to achieve it.
      Not all of us can merit such deep connection to Torah study. But we can all connect ourselves with those who do have it. In a fast-paced, constantly developing world where the novelty of today is passé by tomorrow, it’s a breath of fresh air to witness those who merely need a sefer containing ancient wisdom to find meaning, tranquility, and happiness.  

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
Fast of 10 Teves 5774/December 13, 2013

It just seemed so logical. If we had to have a stopover on our way to Eretz Yisroel the week before Thanksgiving, where better than Turkey? And that’s basically why we decided to fly Turkish Air (the vastly cheaper ticket prices was only incidental) with a stopover in Istanbul, Turkey, one of the top twenty places in the world I would love to not be in. [Truthfully, the Turkish were very cordial, and our brief visit was otherwise uneventful.] 
When we finally arrived in Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday evening, we wearily made our way through customs and passport control, and finally arrived at the baggage carousel. We had checked in eleven bags. Ten of them came out relatively quickly. All we needed was one more and we could find our prearranged ride to Yerushalayim. But the carousel kept circling, as the masses dwindled. We finally came to the stark realization that our last piece of luggage – the one with all of Chani’s clothes, wasn’t coming around.
We dejectedly filed a claim with the overly unenthusiastic fellow behind the claim’s counter. Hence began the lone damper on our otherwise dreamlike trip. Each afternoon included more phone calls that ended in frustration and futile checking of emails. Istanbul, Kennedy, and Ben Gurion airports, as well as Turkish Air all assured us that they were doing their utmost to blame the other for our loss, and that we would hear back from them soon. [Actually no one even answered the phone at the Turkish Air desk in Ben Gurion.]
When we departed for our return trip, we wanted to ensure that we did our utmost to locate the lost luggage. In Ben Gurion Airport, the luggage department assured us that it wasn’t there. When we arrived in Istanbul, the fellow seated behind the information desk directed us to “Hava’s Desk” on the first floor. Hava’s Desk! It sounded like we had found what we were looking for. Surely Mr. (Mrs?) Hava would know where our luggage was. But alas, Mr. Hava directed us to the Turkish Air desk down the corridor. It seems Hava only dealt with luggage that wasn’t lost.
When we arrived at the Turkish Air desk, before we even reached the counter, we were greeted by a representative who insisted that we needed to go to the Lost and Found desk. I replied that we had been informed that we could only get to that desk, which was beyond the departing flights area, with a Visa to enter Turkey, which we didn’t have. He looked at us for a moment and then nodded that I was correct. “So in other words you’re telling me there’s nothing I can do.” “It seems that way. Have a great day.”
No wonder the European Union didn’t want to allow Turkey in!
The Torah relates that before Yaakov Avinu descended to Egypt with his family, he dispatched Yehuda to create a yeshiva where Torah could be studied and taught.
Why was Yehuda chosen above all the tribes (Yissochor were the Torah scholars, and Levi was the future priests)?
In a moment of incredible darkness and confusion for their entire family, it was Yehuda who stood up and took responsibility. It was Yehuda who guaranteed Binyamin’s safe return from Egypt. Building a framework of Torah, and raising a generation that follows mitzvos and Avodas Hashem, requires individuals who take responsibility to ensure that it will be done properly. Yehuda is the king because he felt that burden of responsibility for his brother.
On President Truman’s desk was a sign that read: “The buck stops here!” That is the attitude of a true leader.
Whether we get our luggage back or not remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain: the “Hava (Nageela)” Turkeys in the airports are sure not going to be the ones who find it.

      An easy & Meaningful Fast
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
3 Teves 5774/December 6, 2013

As of the sixth day of Chanukah I hadn’t had a latke. Not even one! So what, if I had six or seven donuts, and was starting to look like a donut; a latke is a latke! But there’s a good reason for my being deprived. On the sixth night of Chanukah our family returned from an eleven day trip to Eretz Yisroel, where we celebrated the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law, Yaakov and Michal, last week.
As special and wonderful as the trip was, it will be even greater in retrospect, when we have the time to reflect on all we did without the fatigue and stress endemic to traveling. It is of course always great to be in Eretz Yisroel, but it’s even greater during the chagim. Aside for the menorahs lit everywhere each night, the show screen on every Egged Bus blinks the words “Chanukah sameiach”, and there are mounds of fresh donuts – jelly, custard, even cheese, wherever you turn. But no latkes!  
One night during our trip we entered a makolet (small market) to purchase a few things. On the ceiling behind the counter was a tremendous picture of the skyline of New York City. A different night we met our cousins in ‘Apple Pizza’ in Kinyon Ramot. There too, behind the counter, was a tremendous picture of a line of taxis outside Times Square in Manhattan. Both times I told the cashier that in my home in New York I have a picture of Yerushalayim, while they in Jerusalem have pictures of New York City.
While we were on the bus en route to Me’aras Hamachpeilah on Friday, the radio was on. At one point the newscaster announced in Hebrew “Hayom b’Artzot Habrit yesh mah shekor’im Black Friday (Today in America they have what’s called Black Friday).” I had almost completely forgotten about the American post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz, but I was reminded on my way to Chevron! 
Life simply always seems always greener on the other side and isn’t that one of our greatest struggles? We always appreciate what everybody else has, more than what we are blessed with. We in America pine for the sanctity and holiness of the Holy Land, while many of those living there dream of life in America.  
The holiday of Chanukah was primarily enacted as a time of “hallel and hoda’ah”. It’s intriguing that although there is no mitzvah of simcha on Chanukah, the customary blessing we wish each other is “Chanukah Sameiach/Freilichen Chanukah/Happy Chanukah.” [Rambam is the exception in which he states that Chanukah was enacted as ‘days of joy and hallel’.]
Perhaps the idea is that if we fulfill the order of the day properly, i.e. if the holiday moves us to praise and express gratitude to all those who are important to us for everything we are blessed with, and ultimately to G-d for His constant blessing and goodness, than we will naturally feel joyous. 
Tal Ben Shachar, the noted Harvard Professor of Positive Psychology and bestselling author, suggests keeping a gratitude journal. These can be big things (like "I'm grateful for my family") and small things (like "I'm grateful for that nice meal I had today.") In his words, "When we focus on the positive, we stop taking our lives for granted, and we become happier."
Latkes, donuts, and dreidel are delicious and exciting (and fattening). But the main focus of Chanukah is internal. It’s a holiday of thanksgiving on all levels. It may not be a holiday dedicated to joy, but if one observes it properly, how could he/she feel anything but joy? If we can maintain those feelings of gratitude for our health, families, school, livelihood, etc. then we will be able to keep the flames of Chanukah burning brightly and warmly in our hearts, long after the Menorah has been returned to its shelf. 
Oh and by the way, jetlag not withstanding, our family enjoyed plenty of latkes during those last two days of Chanukah. Let the winter diet begin!

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

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