Thursday, February 27, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pekudei/Shekalim
28 Adar 5774/February 28, 2014

I haven’t received one of them in some time, but for a number of years I must have received five of them a day. It was those pesky emails which contained either a joke, an attempted inspirational thought, or some silly message, which concluded with a command that you forward the email to ten other people: “Don’t break the chain!” it would demand. Or it would say “Now that you have finished reading this, you have a choice. You can either do nothing with this (as in you can go back to do your work, pay attention to your family, or some other more worthwhile endeavor) or you can forward this to ten friends and brighten their day, by showing them you care!”
The sheer guilt involved was overwhelming for many of those who had my email address on their contact list, and I would receive many of these emails. I will be bold enough to say that I almost never forwarded those emails or text messages. That’s right; I was the trend-breaker. If I thought it was a worthwhile message I might send it to a few people who I thought might be interested, albeit without the insistence that they not ‘break the chain.’
My favorite of that genre of insipid emails were the ones that promised that you would receive a dollar for every person that you forwarded the email to. It was even better when the heading on top read “This one is not a joke!” It would then contain some elaborate story about why all you needed was the forward button and a dream to become an instant millionaire. I would often email the sender of one of those emails to please let me know when they received their first bag of money. As far as I know, no one ever received a penny for forwarding, and spam senders had all the email addresses they could have wanted.
I was thinking about this because this week, with the help of Hashem, I have concluded my personal study of Seder Zeraim, the first of the six Orders of Mishnayos. When I was in the kollel of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah over a decade ago, there was an elderly gentleman named Rabbi Yosef Solomon z’l, who learned with us each morning. Rabbi Solomon was a retired educator and businessman, and he learned with one of my friends, as if he was just another yeshiva student.
Rabbi Solomon would often encourage us to learn a Mishna or two a day, and have our own study of Mishnayos. At one point I decided to follow his advice and took up the study. Since then I have completed the entire six orders of Mishnayos, and now am 1/6 of the way through my second cycle. I only learn a Mishna or two a day, and generally not for more than 5-10 minutes, but it adds up quickly. Artscroll has completed their commentary on all six orders, so there is a great English resource available. 
Every time I complete another tractate or order it is another load of ‘spiritual points’ delivered to Rabbi Solomon in his place in Gan Eden. I am sure I am not the only one who was inspired by his advice to commence the study. 
It’s been said that if it is customary to learn Mishnayos in someone’s memory, isn’t it far more worthwhile to learn Mishnayos while one is still living?
So I invite anyone to forward – not necessarily this brilliant writing – but this idea. Beginning your own study will not only grant you a feeling of accomplishment and growth in many areas of Torah, but it will also grant me some ‘spiritual points’ for influencing you. That, in turn, will grant Rabbi Solomon additional ‘spiritual points’ for influencing me, which will then grant ‘spiritual points’ to whoever influenced him…
By the way, this idea is of course not limited to Mishna study. Anytime a person influences another person to further his/her own growth, they have forwarded a timeless message, which ensures for themselves a continuous chain of growth.
So pass it on, and don’t break the chain!
               Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
               Good Chodesh,
               R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel
21 Adar 5774/February 21, 2014

I’m not really sure if it’s grandparental-amnesia or revenge. Did my mother forget what’s it like to have five young children, or is she now insidiously exacting revenge against me?
Last week, my parents were gracious enough to watch three of our children over night so we could attend a wedding in Lakewood. When our children returned home the next morning, they each had a little whistle, a present from Bubby.
Our children delighted in blowing their whistles endlessly... until their parents became exasperated, and started bellowing warnings. As if there isn’t enough noise when they don’t have whistles!
The Torah relates that one of the special vestments of the Kohain Gadol was the Me’il. One of the unique features of the Me’il was that it had little golden bells and pomegranates affixed to its hem. As the Kohain Gadol walked the bells would ring, alerting everyone that the eminent Kohain Gadol was approaching.
I was recently thinking that there is an important message symbolized by those bells. When I have the opportunity, I enjoy watching Chassidic rebbes (e.g. Skver, Nikolsburg) surrounded by their throngs of Chassidim at a ‘tish’, or lighting menorah on Chanukah, or reciting hoshanos on Chol Hamo’ed Succos. I always come home inspired by the great level of concentration and fervor that the Rebbe has, whilst his Chassidim watch his every move in reverent silence.
I then return home, with illusions (or rather delusions) of my own children watching me like the Chassidim, while I perform the mitzvah like the Kohain Gadol in the Sanctuary.
For example, I prepare to light the Menorah, anticipating that my children will see my shining countenance and holiness exuding from my face. As I begin to recite the blessings I can virtually hear the angels singing from behind me… “Stop pushing me!” “Mommmmmmmy! I had it first!” The angels have indeed quickly returned me to reality.
Any Jewish mother has had a similar experience. She has just heard a moving lecture about the power of tefillah, especially at the propitious moment when she lights the Shabbos candles on Friday eve. On this particular Friday, she is inspired and emotional as she lights the candles and begins to pray. In her mind, all of her ancestors are swaying with her and she hears Baruch Levine singing harmony as she recites the timeless prayer for her children to be scholars and illuminators of the world. And in the middle of the spiritual euphoria (if she is lucky enough to get so far) she feels a tug on her leg. “Mommy, can I have apple juice?” “Mommy, it’s not fair…”
The Kohain Gadol had to perform the avodah with bells ringing every time he so much as moved. Every individual is the Kohain Gadol (or female counterpart) in his home. He/she is responsible to initiate and direct the Avodas Hashem in their family. But they should not be deluded into thinking that their children will be perfect angels, standing like soldiers at attention, with smiles on their shining faces, as their father recites Kiddush on Friday night or mother scrambles to say a few words of davening in the morning.
This doesn’t mean that we should not train our children to be respectful and responsible in performing mitzvos, but we need to be realistic as well. We have to learn to perform our Service, despite the bells ringing all around us. It also helps to remember that those ‘bells’ are made of solid gold, representing our future and our greatest hopes.
Still-in-all, grandparents don’t need to add to the noise of the bells. There’s plenty of noise already.
               Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
               R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Friday, February 14, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa
14 Adar 5774/February 14, 2014
(Written for Ashar’s ‘Ashrei News’)

Despite the fact that all of his fellow sixth graders were major sports fans, Eddie didn’t know much about sports. In fact, Eddie didn’t know anything about sports. Eddie was more excited to discuss politics, science, and weather patterns than he was to discuss players and stats. It was quite frustrating for Eddie when he wanted to tell his peers about the polar vortex, and how the freezing cold and all of the snow was a direct result of global warming. He couldn’t figure out why his classmates just weren’t interested. But even more than he loved meteorology, Eddie really loved ecology. He loved animals and plants (fauna and flora, as he called them) and he was always talking about protecting the earth and the animals.
You can only imagine Eddie’s shock this week when, during lunch, he overheard his classmates discussing an environmental anomaly that had occurred. Eddie only heard bits and pieces but he was able to make out the basic story. It seems that 43 sea hawks had swooped down and completely decimated 8 Broncos, while the Broncos were on the run. One kid said that the Broncos had been destroyed. The boys said it was an embarrassment, but Eddie felt like it was a shocking tragedy.
Eddie couldn’t get over the story. How could it have happened? Eddie knew that the sea hawk, known as the Osprey, is a bird of prey which lives near water, which provides it with an adequate food supply. What was most strange was that the sea hawk's diet consists almost exclusively of fish. They surely don’t eat or attack broncos, which are untrained wild horses, and live in completely different terrain than sea hawks.
One of the boys mentioned that when this happened there was a major safety issue with the broncos. Eddie laughed to himself, “Well duh, Copernicus! Obviously there is a serious safety concern if this happened.”
What poor Eddie failed to understand was that his peers weren’t discussing sea hawks and broncos, but rather members of two football teams. All sports players take tremendous pride in their Jerseys, which bear their team name, insignia, and color. Fans spend a lot of money buying sports memorabilia and clothing so they can proudly identify themselves with their team. Seahawks and Broncos are emblems for the players and fans to identify themselves with.
The first half of Parshat Tetzaveh details the formation of the special uniform which the Kohanim and Kohain Gadol wore. We can only imagine how proud the Kohanim were to wear those special clothes during the time of the Bait Hamikdash. We too have special clothes which define us as Torah Jews. Men have a kippah, tzitzit, and tefillin, and women have the laws of tzniut. We should wear our special clothes with shameless pride, proud to espouse that we are part of a special people with a special mission.
On February 17th, America will celebrate President’s Day. The truth is that every Shabbat we have the opportunity to celebrate ‘Hashem Day’. On Shabbat too we should be proud to dress in our special Shabbat clothes, in honor of the sanctity of the day, with fierce pride that we are blessed in being Shabbat observant Jews.   

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

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

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh
7 Adar 5774/February 7, 2014

It’s one of those things you don’t think about much. If ever you’re driving your car and the windshield gets a bit dirty you squirt some of that windshield cleaner stuff, causing the wipers to spurt to life for a moment, and the window instantly becomes clean.
I found out just how important that ‘squirter thingy’ is. Last week, during our prolonged arctic vortex, the morning after one of our many snow storms, I headed out to Brooklyn. Before I even drove onto the highway, my car’s windshield became clouded with a debris mixture of slush, salt, and dirt. I nonchalantly flipped the squirter. The windshield wipers immediately rose to life, but no liquid came out. So then the windshield was covered with smeared debris, and my vision was even worse. To make matters worse, the sun was shining brilliantly, and the glare reflected off of my grime-filled windshield. It may sound somewhat comical now, but it was a very difficult and somewhat dangerous drive then. There were moments when I could hardly see the road in front of me. Every few minutes, I had no choice but to slow down, stick my hand out the window, and pour some of the contents of my water bottle onto the window. It would at least give me a brief period when I could see through the little clear island I had created, and I tried not to think about what the drivers in my vicinity were thinking.
I was surprised that I had used up all of the windshield spray because I had gone for a full service oil change (which includes filling up the windshield fluid) fairly recently. While in Brooklyn I was disappointed that none of the stores I went into had windshield wiper fluid (not in the seforim stores or the pizza shop).
On my way home I stopped at a gas station and purchased a big bottle. I opened the hood, eventually found the right place, and poured in the liquid. It was strange that it didn’t take much to fill it. I quickly realized that the problem wasn’t a lack of fluid. The problem was that whoever had done my oil change had diluted the fluid with water to save a few cents. In the freezing weather that water had frozen over, and now blocked the rest of the fluid from emerging.
So on the way home, instead of pouring water on my windshield, I was pouring from a big bottle of windshield wiper fluid onto my windshield.
In life, and we have no choice but to forge ahead. But life is full of complexities and questions. We drive ahead with a windshield full of debris that obscures us from having comfortable clarity of the events surrounding us. There are rare moments when we are granted the temporary ability to see through a clear and clean windshield – moments of joy, celebration, as well as the downfall of the wicked. But those moments are few and far between, and very quickly our windshield clouds up again, veiling us from seeing the road that lies ahead of us, or the merging traffic.
Last week, Klal Yisroel was shocked by the tragic events suffered by the Gross family. A miracle involving their surviving sons (who should continue to have a refuah sheleimah) was befuddled by the unspeakable loss of their two beautiful young daughters. It’s indeed hard to see the road ahead!
Our only comfort lies in knowing that ultimately we are not the drivers. We are but passengers being driven by the Divine, with a windshield sparkling clear, on a road that leads straight ahead to eternity.  

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

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