Thursday, March 27, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazria – Hachodesh
Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan
26 Adar II 5774/March 28, 2014

A few years ago I read a story about a CEO who wanted to motivate his employees, so he hung up a sign over the sink in the office bathroom which simply said “THINK!” He came in the next day to find that someone had hung up a sign just above the soap dispenser which read “THOAP!” 
During my preadolescent years I was a member of the Tzlil V’zemer Boys Choir, directed by Mr. Avrohom Rosenberg. The choir was popular for some time, releasing a number of music albums and performing in concerts both nationally and internationally. We would meet every Thursday night and practice for our performances, reviewing our songs and harmonies, and ensuring perfection of our choreography. We were taught to stand with rapt attention, hands behind our backs, and facing Mr. Rosenberg as we sang.
If there is one lesson I remember most from that wonderful experience, it can be summed up in one word. In fact, it was one word that Mr. Rosenberg would repeat constantly: “Improvise! Improvise! Improvise!” When I joined the choir I didn’t even know what that word meant, but I quickly learned. There would be unexpected situations - he would tell us - things which we could not have foreseen or prepared for. But performing before large crowds we may not always have a chance to plan our best course of action. Improvise! Think about what is the best idea to follow given the circumstances, and do your best!
Indeed there were times when we had to employ that wisdom. The band was playing off beat, the stage was too small for all of us, some of the stage costumes didn’t arrive, etc. Improvise!
What a great lesson to convey to our society, especially our children.
One of the criticisms of our society’s child-rearing is that we aren’t sufficiently training children to think for themselves. Children quickly learn how to spit back the information we want them to say, record it on tests, and tell us what we want to hear them say. Then they promptly expel that knowledge from their minds, so they are able to focus on the more important things of life – i.e. their ipod, x-box, and tablet.
The greatest tragedy is when this occurs in Torah study. It is truly incredible that constantly new seforim are printed containing new ideas and novel approaches and explanations in all facets of Torah. But many of our children cannot think for themselves, and would rather ‘get through it’ in a cursory fashion, than to exert any efforts at innovation. How boring; but more tragically, how disastrous!
One of my teachers would often remind us that common sense isn’t too common. Mesillas Yeshorim reminds us of this truth in his opening words that he isn’t coming to relate novel ideas, but rather to remind us of things that we all know, but tend to overlook.
The truth is that it’s not just a problem that our youth faces; it’s a general societal malaise – why should I think when a machine can think for me?
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that the fourth son mentioned at the Seder – the son who doesn’t ask – is generally depicted as an ignorant infant. However, it may very well be that the son who doesn’t ask is physically mature and past youth. He doesn’t ask because he is not interested! He sits at the Seder surrounded by age-old laws, customs, symbolisms, and traditions, yet his curiosity isn’t even piqued. His mind is lost in a movie or electronic game on some distant galaxy, far more exciting to him than the story of our exodus from Egypt. The curse of apathy is far more perilous than the curse of blissful ignorance.
Before we can convey to our children the richness of our traditions, and how lucky they are to be part of the eternal people, we need to teach them – and ourselves – how to think!

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

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini- Parah
19 Adar II 5774/March 21, 2014

T’was the night after Shushan Purim, and as I was putting one of our children (who shall remain nameless for the sake of anonymity) into his bed, the sound of scrunching and crunching could be heard. I moved away his blanket to discover a pile of his ‘loot’ from Purim – candies, nosh, and a few dollars. When I asked him what all of it was, he replied matter-of-factly that it was his stuff from Purim. “Mommy said we had to put it away in a good place, so I did!”
The holiday of Purim is beyond compare. The gaiety, laughter, and general celebration is without parallel. But it passes all too quickly.
Haman, the Purim antagonist, was no fool. In order to ensure that his nefarious plans would come to fruition, he wanted to frighten the Jews, and cause them to be struck with such terror and panic that they would become paralyzed and unable to mobilize. The Megillah (9:24) clearly states that the purpose of the Purim (lots) which Haman cast was “to frighten them and to annihilate them.”  In addition, in the lyrical song of Purim - Shoshanas Yaakov, we refer to Zeresh as ‘the wife of one who terrified me’. However, Haman’s efforts failed. The Jews rallied around their leaders Mordecahi and Esther, and despite their fear, recommitted themselves to G-d and achieved an unprecedented wave of repentance and reacceptance of Torah.
In the end, it was Haman who was destroyed through his own tactic. There was no one who knew how to sweet-talk and convince anyone of anything better than Haman (move over lawyer jokes). At the same time there was no greater sucker for Haman’s verbal manipulation than Achashveirosh, as is evident throughout the beginning of the Purim story. So how did Haman end up on the gallows?
From the moment when he was instructed to parade his nemesis through the streets of Shushan until he was on the gallows, Haman didn’t have a moment to contemplate and rationalize about what was happening. Things take place at such a feverish pace, that the master manipulator couldn’t so much as catch his breath and formulate a response. After his family waste was dumped on his head during the parade, the humiliated Haman was hoisted off to the second party, where he was immediately exposed as the villain by Queen Esther. The king stormed off in a rage to calm himself down, but returned moments later even angrier, only to find Haman attacking the queen (or so he thought). Haman was immediately condemned, and the verse states (7:6) “Haman trembled in terror before the king and queen.” In another moment Charvona stuck the proverbial nail in the coffin! The suave and urbane Haman had been destroyed with his own approach! 
However, the deposed and disposed Haman has left his mark upon the holiday he unwittingly created. The fleeting holiday seems to become a cloud of business, a mad rush to deliver shalach manos, and to get to where we need to be. Purim becomes a race against time, with the stress of traffic only adding to the pressure.
Part of the greatness of Purim is that the focus of the day pulls us in so many directions. Vertically the day reignites our connection with G-d by training us to recognize His hidden Hand in nature. Horizontally the days builds our camaraderie and love for each other like no other time of year. Inwardly it helps remind us of how lucky we are to be Torah Jews. So much to accomplish in so little time - no wonder we feel harried.  
When Purim ends, aside for finding place for all of the physical loot we have amassed (and have to get rid of within the next thirty days) we need to find a way to hold onto the incredible spiritual light of Purim, so that it leaves an indelible impression upon our souls for the entire year.

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

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav – Zachor
12 Adar II 5774/March 14, 2014

One morning this week, as I walked to my car I saw something yellow sticking out of the mound of piled-up snow at the bottom of our driveway. I pulled it out and found the newspaper from a few weeks ago, double-bagged and perfectly dry. I had wondered why we hadn’t received the paper that week. Now I realized that the paper must have been delivered in the predawn hours after one of our many snowstorms. When my driveway was plowed the paper must have been lost in the pile of snow. Now, as the snow has finally begun to melt substantially, the paper was again visible.
In fact, all around things that have been buried beneath the snow have become visible, including bottles, branches, and grass (I almost forgot what that looked like). For the last few months it was a challenge to maneuver around our driveway, especially to back the car outout. There was snow piled up all along the perimeter of the driveway, making the blacktop area very limited. With the recent warmer temperatures it seems as if the driveway has expanded significantly. The same is true for the roads.
            Spring affords neighbors the opportunity to see each other, after being cooped up behind warm doors for the duration of the cold winter. Longer days and warmer temps allow children to spend time outdoors even after a long school day. The warmer weather makes everything seem brighter and more comfortable.
            This is true in regards to human relationships as well. When people are self-absorbed, and are callous and cold to each other, there isn’t enough space for everyone. People avoid each other because they are too busy with their own needs and desires.
            When there is a spirit of friendship and warmth however, people are far less particular about boundaries and less protective of their space. Suddenly there is room for everyone. Possessions that were heretofore kept hidden from view and selfishly hoarded, are shared and enjoyed by all.
            One of the great tactics of our nemesis, Amalek, is to breed feelings of coldness. “Asher korcha baderech – He cooled us down on our way.” Not only does Amalek seek to douse the fire of our passion for Torah and mitzvos, but he also seeks to engender feelings of coldness, apathy, and enmity for our fellow Jews.
            Purim is the celebration of Amalek’s defeat. Therefore, Purim is a holiday when we ignite our feelings of friendship and love for each other. We give charity to the less fortunate, we extend gifts to each other, and celebrate joyously together, simply because we are Jews!
As the snow melts and the roads widen, we strive to melt away the icicles that drip within us. We seek to fan the flames of unity and love for each other. We may not agree with each other, but we must love each other. Haman wanted to kill us just because we are Jews, so on Purim we celebrate together for the same reason!  
               Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
               Freilichen Purim Sameiach,
               R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra
5 Adar II 5774/March 7, 2014

Many of the readers of this brilliant column are aware of our luggage woes. When our family went to Eretz Yisroel in December for my brother’s wedding, only ten of the eleven pieces of luggage we checked in came around the carousel at Ben Gurion airport. Thus began an arduous, frustrating, and fruitless search for that one piece of luggage which contained all of Chani’s clothing, as well as our sons’ suits for the wedding. [By the grace of G-d, at the last minute Chani had packed her gown and our daughter’s gowns in a different suitcase.]
When we returned home, the next step was to try to get reimbursed by Turkish Air, and the insurance company. Chani spent numerous hours over the course of a few weeks fulfilling all of their requirements via lengthy email correspondence, until they finally sent us a check. It was not easy especially considering the language barrier. [There was a language barrier despite the fact that they spoke English.]
We were sure the annoying luggage saga had finally come to an end. But then this past Thursday morning, a friend called Chani and related that she had just seen the following ad in that week’s Yated classified section:
“FOUND: Suitcase. In November, right before Chanukah, someone lost a suitcase by airport and JFK sent it to … It contained children and adult clothing. Please contact….”
Chani was quite skeptical but she called the number and identified the contents of the luggage. Wouldn’t you know it, by Thursday afternoon her long lost luggage was home! The son of the woman who had placed the ad had lost a piece of luggage and JFK had mistakenly delivered our luggage to her. It seems that after we checked it in, that piece of luggage never made it out of New York, although it was somehow inspected by Air France, who left a tag in the luggage reassuring us that they had done their best to keep everything in order.
What are the chances that our luggage would end up in the home of a frum person, in Monsey, who fulfilled the mitzvah of hashavas aveida, and didn’t just send it back to the airport? For over three months we were wondering where the luggage could be, when in reality it was in Monsey virtually the entire time! 
We often feel that the key to our happiness lies in achieving that one thing in our lives that keeps eluding us – an extension to our home, a new car, different neighbors, a new job, more nachas from our children, a shidduch, better health, etc. While one has every right to hope and yearn for the fulfillment of his dreams and hopes, he shouldn’t detain his own efforts to grow and achieve until his other dreams have come to fruition.
When Hashem appeared to Moshe from the burning bush, He told Moshe, “Do not come closer to here; remove your shoes from your feet, for the place upon which you stand is holy ground.” (Shemos 2:5)
The Chofetz Chaim explained that a person must realize that every situation and predicament of life that he finds himself in is potentially holy ground, if he consecrates it. One cannot wait for the ideal time to learn more, to perform more mitzvos, or to work on davening better. The challenge of life is to realize that “the place upon which you stand” at this very moment, “is holy ground”.
We cannot wait for all of our luggage to arrive, because Hashem may want us to strive for greatness despite the fact that we don’t have ‘all of our stuff’. And who knows, if at the moment we least expect it, Hashem will allow us to see that the luggage we thought we were missing and therefore couldn’t accomplish, was really with us the whole time.

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

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