Thursday, January 30, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah
30 Shevat (1 Rosh Chodesh Adar I) 5774/January 31, 2014

It’s an age-old women’s question:  Why when a woman cares for her children is it called ‘watching my kids’, but when a man watches his children he tells everyone he’s babysitting?
Hashem created everyone with their talents, and women are granted an innate ability to be mothers. Men are good at a lot of things too. But watching their children alone can be an extreme challenge for many men. For one, taking care of children requires multitasking, something which men aren’t legendary for. It also often requires dealing with flaring emotions and a lack of rationality, which men aren’t always good at either (just ask their wives). Whatever the reason is, many men have a particularly hard time watching their children. When they refer to it as babysitting it makes them feel like they’re doing a chesed, which helps them feel altruistic. Perhaps they also like to pretend that they are going to get some sort of compensation for doing it (like being allowed to sleep in their house that night).
I was thinking about this recently, because Chani went to a Melave Malka on Motzei Shabbos last week, and I was left home with our children. Call my watching them whatever you want, but I was about to call a babysitter for backup. The truth is that the older four were fine. But our four month old son, Dovid, wasn’t happy with me. Suffice it to say that he spent the majority of our time together sobbing and screaming. His flustered and frustrated father tried everything to calm him down, including giving him two bottles, holding him in different positions, pushing him in the stroller, playing music, etc.  but it was all to no avail. Let’s just say it was a rough night for both of us.
The next morning when I arrived home from shul, and walked into the kitchen, Dovid was swinging back and forth in his swing. I was sure when he saw me he would burst into tears, the way our children cry when their pediatrician merely walks into the room. I was pleasantly surprised when he looked at me and smiled one of the cooing smiles that melts a parent’s heart.  There is definitely an advantage to not being cognitively developed enough to be able to bear a grudge.
We state each morning in shacharis that Hashem “renews every day constantly, the workings of creation.” Not only does Hashem give the world renewed energy to function each day, but He also invests a spirit of ‘newness’ into the world. No matter what I did or how I acted yesterday, I can renew and recommit myself to rectify yesterday and proceed with today. 
The effective parent/teacher greets his/her children each morning with a smile that conveys a feeling of happiness that they will have the chance to spend time together. There are unquestionably certain children who make it difficult for the parent/teacher to do so. For such children it requires great focusing on the child’s good qualities, some forced temporary amnesia to overlook previous confrontations and struggles, and some prayer for Divine assistance. A child can sense when he/she is wanted and welcomed. It is especially vital to help the child who least deserves it feel wanted and loved.
Our goal is imitatio Dei, to be like G-d. Thankfully, G-d grants us a new opportunity each morning, despite what we have done until now. If we can give that sense of newness to those we interact with, we are indeed divine!  
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim
23 Shevat 5774/January 25, 2014

The new rail system that cuts through Yerushalayim is magnificent. Not only is the train incredibly convenient, significantly minimizing the impossible Yerushalayim traffic, the train is also clean, quiet, and efficient. The train runs along Rechov Yaffo, making its way from Sha’ar Yaffo, all the way to Har Herzl, in the north of the city.
During our visit to Yerushalayim a few weeks ago, our family traveled the train en route to Gan Hachayot, Jerusalem’s picturesque Biblical zoo. [I should add that from Har Herzl at the end of the train line, we took the 26a, a small Egged bus, the rest of the way to the zoo. That bus ride around the hilly circuitous roads of Bayit Vegan was more exciting than any roller coaster I have ever been on. I didn’t think a bus could take turns at such speeds. I also think the driver was under the impression that the road bumps were there to make the ride more entertaining, not as a caution to slow down. But that’s a separate discussion.]   
At one station along the way, a group of young yeshiva boys crowded onto the train, followed by a bearded man, who was obviously their rebbe. When I asked the rebbe where they were headed, he replied (in Hebrew) that they were going to the Badatz (the most prestigious court of Yerushalayim). They were going to be tested by one of the dayanim (judges) on Parshas Mishpatim, which they had just completed learning in yeshiva. I was stunned when the rebbe told me that they were second graders!
Parshas Mishpatim is a rather difficult parsha, containing many laws of interpersonal and monetary responsibilities, as well as property ownership and obligations. In the United States, second graders are still learning the stories of the Avos in Chumash Bereishis. 
At the Rebbe’s insistence I asked the boys questions on different parts of the parsha. [Being that this was Chanukah time I felt like I was being tested, to see what I remembered from Parshas Mishpatim. I became even more nervous when the Rebbe began videoing my Q and A with the boys.] I was blown away by their fluency of the parsha. I asked the rebbe if any of the boys would be available to return to America with me to teach American eighth graders about the 4 types of watchers, 4 types of damages, and the laws of slaves and maids.
When they arrived at their stop the rebbe wished me well, so that he could accompany his second graders to the Badatz, while I proceeded to the zoo.
Everything in life is a tradeoff. The more things we focus on the more fragmented our concentration becomes. We all know how hard it is for us to focus on davening, because we have so many thoughts swirling through our minds throughout the day.    
Those second grade Yerushalmi boys have little else on their minds besides the chumash they learn. Many of them have never played on a Wii, and don’t know what an iPod looks like. If that’s your primary and almost exclusive focus, even eight year olds can master Parshas Mishpatim.
We who do not live in such an environment, and aren’t able to raise our children in such an environment, still need to be wary of how much we invest of ourselves in the world around us. There’s only a certain amount of love and passion that we possess. We have to know how to enjoy things without allowing them to consume us. If all of our excitement comes from sports, electronic devices, and games, there won’t be much passion left for Torah and Avodas Hashem.

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

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro
16 Shevat 5774/January 17, 2014

As we sat on the plane awaiting takeoff a few weeks ago, our three year old daughter Chayala looked out the plane’s window and made an exciting observation, “Look Mommy and Abba; there’s an airplane.”
A wise man once said: “If you don’t master time, time will master you.” Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. A person must periodically step back to take stock of his life, what he’s accomplishing, and what aspirations and dreams he has yet to fulfill. One must also appreciate his accomplishments, and the blessings he has been granted.
Recently, Chani received a phonecall from her sister that her childhood friend’s grandmother had died. She immediately called her friend to convey how sorry she was to hear about her grandmother’s passing. Chani then proceeded to tell her how much she loved her grandmother, especially because she was such a dear friend of her own grandmother.
When she finished, her friend thanked her for the call. “But,” she added, “I should tell you that it was my other grandmother that died.” After hearing that, Chani wanted to drive down to Lakewood to the home of the “living grandmother” just to give her a hug, and to tell her what she meant to her.
The sad truth is that we often don’t appreciate things that surround us and the things we are involved in. How often do we think about the gift of our spouses, children, cars, health, community, neighbors, kehilla, schools, etc.
Throughout the years we have been married b’h, Chani and I have some random “freeze moments”, when we tell each other that we should freeze this moment in our memory. We refer back to those moments at times. The first moment was during our wedding, and we have thankfully had many since then.
This week my children shared with me something they had – strep! During the time I was sidelined with fever, chills, and a throbbing throat, and unable to sleep, it helped me appreciate the health I take for granted.
We can’t appreciate our own lives, if we’re too busy looking out the window at everyone else. 

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

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

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach
9 Shevat 5774/January 10, 2014

It’s been a while since I’ve read Stephen Covey’s classic “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Recently I opened my highlighted, marked-up copy of the New York Times #1 bestseller, and was again swept away by its insights.
In the first chapter of the book, Covey writes that he studied self-help books written in America over the course of the last two hundred years. He noticed that for the first 150 years the books all focused on developing character ethic as the foundation of success – integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, etc. The character ethic taught that there are basic principles that govern effective living, and that enduring happiness and success can only be achieved by integrating those principles into one’s basic character.
            Shortly after World War I however, Covey found that there was a shift of focus from character ethic to personality ethic. Success became more of an outgrowth of public image, attitudes and behaviors, skills and techniques, and how one’s personality came across to others. No longer was the focus on genuine internal transformation, now the focus was on getting others to like you and be impressed with the persona you displayed, even if not authentic.
            When I read his powerful observation, I remembered that I had read about a similar concept in the sefer ‘Tzav Hasha’a – (The call of the Times)’ authored by Harav Yaakov Meir Shechter shlita.
Rav Shechter relates that during his youth his rebbe was Rav Yudele of D’zikov zt’l. Rav Yudele once told him that after the First World War that anyone who had a ‘keen perception’ was able to detect a radical reduction in people’s level of satisfaction and happiness with life. There was a noticeable change in the demeanor of those born after the war, from those born before the war. This was true not only in the spiritual realm, but in the physical realm as well. Whereas before the war people generally felt great satisfaction and pride in their work, and people accepted their lot in life – familial, community, etc. – as it was, after the war there seemed to be a palpable change in people’s general demeanor and happiness.
It was fascinating to see two similar ideas in two such diverse sources. These two ideas explain each other. If society is more focused on quick-fix and is ready to sacrifice internal genuine accomplishment for transient external depthless facades, it is understandable that people have less satisfaction and take less pride in their accomplishments.
This year marks the hundred year anniversary of the beginning of World War I. If this was a problem almost a hundred years ago, we know how much worse it is today. We live in a society in which we are inundated by advertisements which urges us to focus on the material things we lack. Ours is a world of superficiality whose primary focus is on externalities and image. Many have sacrificed their children on the altar of image, paying homage to a deity which can never be satiated, and doesn’t really care for its adherents.
True happiness can only be achieved when we tap into our true selves and respect and love ourselves for who we truly are. It comes with work and effort. Once we have achieved that level of love and respect for ourselves, we can love and respect others for who they truly are as well.  

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

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
2 Shevat 5774/January 3, 2014

            A few summers ago in Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Noach Sauber, a masterful educator (currently camp’s learning director) would give a brief night seder each night following maariv to the oldest divisions in camp. His topic was halacha, and each night he would introduce a few simple halachos pertaining to daily Jewish life. Rabbi Sauber has the ability to convey his teachings in a dynamic and exciting manner, and the room came to life with debates and discussions.
At the end of the summer Rabbi Sauber announced to the older divisions that any boy who would call him on the phone on Chanukah to tell him that they learned two halachos every day, would receive fifty dollars. There would be no test or need to prove it. Their word was sufficient to earn them their cash prize.
Rabbi Sauber related to me what prompted him to make that offer. He explained that today it is in vogue to discuss the whys of Judaism. There are many worthy classes and discussions that explain why we should believe in G-d, why we keep Torah, why Shabbos is so vital, why we keep kosher, etc. And there is a great need for those seminars and classes. However, very often our added focus on the ‘why’ inhibits our focus on the ‘how’. The result us that there is not enough focus on how a Jew should conduct himself. It’s important to know why you are doing what you do, but you also need to know what to do! The answer to that question can only be found in the Shulchan Arch and its commentaries.
There are many people who simply are unaware of many straightforward halachos. They may be able to quote lofty kabbalistic thoughts and beautiful explanations of verses in the Torah. But they are unaware of basic halachos pertaining to Shabbos, kashrus, tefillah, and berachos.
Rav Yisroel Salanter zt’l taught that when one learns about a mitzvah it awakens within him and infuses within him with an inner drive to fulfill that mitzvah in the optimal manner. When one is aware of the halachos governing a mitzvah he feels that much more confident and excited to perform it.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman, often laments the fallacy of those Jews who say “I’m a good Jew at heart and that’s the main thing. I may not perform in Judaism too well, but in my heart I feel very connected with G-d.” Rabbi Finkleman would say that mitzvos are like a shower. If one goes under the shower and contemplates the greatness of the shower and the beauty of the clean feeling it generates, but never turns on the water, he is not going to have any benefit from the shower.
The only way to gain anything from the shower is by turning on the water and standing underneath it. Similarly, the only way one can elevate and purify his soul is by performing mitzvos, observing Torah and Shabbos, and keeping halacha to the best of one’s ability. 
Indeed, learning halacha is a great way to ensure that your home and your family are showered with blessing!  

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

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