Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor
Pirkei Avos – Perek 2 --- 2 Iyar 5774/May 2, 2014

            On the final day of Pesach, at the beginning of my pre-Yizkor derasha I related that Mickey Mantle, the legendary Yankees slugger, once recounted his recurring nightmare. “Ever since I retired I keep having these dreams. The worst one is I go to the ballpark late, jump out of a cab, and I hear ‘em calling my name on the public address system. I try to get in and all the gates are locked. Then I see a hole under the fence and I can see Casey looking for me, and Yogi, and Billy Martin, and Whitey Ford. I try to crawl through the hole and I get stuck at the hips. And that’s when I wake up, sweating.”
            I then related that during the first days of Pesach, when our family was in Lakewood, I had a nightmare that I arrived in our shul and had no derasha prepared. Throughout the davening I was sweating profusely thinking about what I would say. [I added that thankfully, at that moment that was not the case and I indeed had a derasha prepared.]
            Many people have a similar nightmare. If not an actual nightmare, it is an inner fear. It usually has something to do with having a great opportunity - one that is really important and valuable to you - and for some reason not capitalizing on the opportunity. The feeling of failure when success was so tacitly close, is terribly painful.
            There is hardly anything more painful and tragic than failed opportunities. But we seem to miss out opportunities all the time. In Shir Hashirim, Shlomo Hamelech (5:2-6) poignantly depicts such a tragic occurrence. He allegorically relates that he is lying in bed, when he hears knocking at his door. It is his beloved (G-d) for whom his heart has long yearned for. He knows he should arise to open the door and in his heart he desires to do so, but he is fatigued. Finally he arises to open the door, but by then his beloved has gone. He runs through the streets, begging anyone to tell him if they have seen his beloved. But he is too late. Instead he is beaten by the watchmen.
Opportunity knocked at his door but he failed to let it in.
            In life when opportunities present themselves we have to grab hold of them, because they are usually fleeting.
            I concluded the derasha by making two appeals: One was the customary appeal for charity donations in memory of the loved ones Yizkor was about to be recited in memory of. The other appeal was that every person pledge to relate to someone else a deep emotional feeling, such as feelings of gratitude towards a parent, spouse, or friend, or relating to someone just how special you feel he/she is. Essentially, it is to verbalize one of those heartfelt thoughts which we tragically often don’t get around to saying. Yizkor is a solemn but special moment which reminds us that even someone who has always been there for us won’t always be there for us. It’s a reminder to seize the moment.
            It’s far easier to suggest great ideas to others than it is to practice what you preach. So Chani and I decided that we will try to dedicate more attention to our children, particularly in the evening. Practically, we have pledged to put our cell phones (emails etc.) aside from suppertime until their bedtime.
Chani and I agreed on a five dollar fine if we fail to keep our commitment for the next few weeks. So if you call me during supper and I answer, you’ve just cost me five bucks!
      Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
      R’ Dani and Chani Staum 

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

Friday, April 25, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Kedoshim
Pirkei Avos – Perek 1 – Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar
24 Nissan 5774/April 24, 2014

            On Erev Yom Tov last week as we were getting into our car I noticed that one of the back tires was low. I headed over to the local mechanic, who removed the tire and found a small hole. He patched it up and in a few minutes we were ready to go.
            I was thinking about the irony of the fact that we were just hours away from the onset of a holiday in which ‘air’ inside food – i.e. leaven and leavening agents, becomes our implacable nemesis, and here I was looking for a way to keep vital air in my tires.
Someone once told me that at the conclusion of Pesach, Rav Aharon Shechter shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, wishes everyone a ‘Good Chometz’.
One of the most obvious questions regarding chometz is that if it’s such an evil commodity, and represents our base desires, why do we consume it freely all year round? 
The answer is that chometz is not inherently evil. Our Sages explain that chometz symbolizes our evil inclination. When dough rises, no substances are added. It only seems bigger because we allow air to fill it.
Chometz symbolizes ego and one’s sense of self. Too much of it is extremely detrimental. No one likes being around arrogant and conceited people. On the other hand, every person must have a healthy sense of identity and must be ready to stand up and defend his beliefs. 
On Pesach, which is the anniversary of our birth as a nation, we remove all traces of chometz so we can commence with an extreme level of humility.  In celebrating the exodus from Egyptian servitude we completely nullify ourselves before G-d, symbolizing that the purpose of the exodus was only so that we could become G-d’s People.  
After we have spent a week reflecting on that truism, we reintroduce chometz to our diet. Now that we have reflected on faith, G-d’s love, and our values as Jews, we are prepared to serve G-d with a healthy self-esteem. The air in the dough symbolizes our ability to serve G-d even with the negative impulses, passions, and penchants within us.
It is not air itself that is evil, but rather unbridled and uncontrolled ‘air’. The right amount of air inside a tire is integral to the ability of the entire complicated vehicle’s ability to proceed. But if one isn’t careful and adds to much air to the tire… pop goes the weasel!
Indeed, a “Good chometz” to all!

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Erev Z’man Chairusainu 5774

Erev Z’man Chairusainu  
14 Nissan 5774/April 14, 2014

A number of years ago I was in a car with a friend who was listening to a sports talk show on the radio. They were discussing a popular power hitter on the New York Yankees who was in a miserable slump. The host of the show suggested that the player thought too much. “When he steps up to the plate he’s busy trying to strategize what the pitcher is going to throw to him. So let’s say he concludes that the pitcher will probably throw him a sinker. Then when he throws him a curveball he’s totally off guard. So then he readies himself for a curveball, and then when the pitcher hurls a slider he swings and misses. When he is convinced he’s ready for any type of off-speed pitch, the pitcher hurls it down the middle, and he goes down looking like an amateur.”
The co-host added that the slumping star needed to be more like a different player (whom he named), who was a great hitter, and not known to be intellectual.  “Yeah, he probably steps up to bat and thinks, “I like ice cream”. Then, a second later – BOOM! He whacks the ball into the seats!” 
A wise friend asked me recently what my goal is vis-à-vis my children on Seder night. “What is it that you want them to walk away with?” It’s a good question.
One morning a chossid was reciting Shema fervently in proximity of the Kotzker Rebbe. Kotzk is legendary for their abhorrence of externalities and the chossid made the mistake of demonstrating his intense fervor. After davening concluded the Rebbe summoned the chossid and asked him what he was concentrating on as he said the Shema. The chossid proudly explained all of the deep thoughts he was pondering as he said Shema – the oneness of G-d, the omnipotence of G-d, how G-d rules over all four corners of the earth, is above the seven heavens, etc. The Rebbe listened patiently to the chossid’s discourse. When he concluded, the Rebbe replied that he seems to have forgotten one thing. The chossid was stunned; what could he have forgotten? The Rebbe poignantly replied, “That there is a G-d!”  
Sometimes we become so involved and consumed by the deep and mystical that we forget and overlook the simple integral truths. There is an endless amount of explanations, ideas, discourses, and halachic debates which one can study and ponder regarding every passage and law of the Seder. But when all is said and done, the most important idea that we must convey to our children and inculcate within ourselves is the most simple of all: That there is a G-d. It was He who redeemed us from Egypt, He who chose us as a nation, He who punished the evil Egyptians, he who brought us to Sinai and gave us the Torah, and it is He who runs every facet of our lives and every thing that transpires in the universe. He loves us and awaits our success, and has much more faith in us than we do.
We shouldn’t become so involved in trying to hit pilpulistic, Talmudic, and homiletical ‘homeruns’ that we become distracted from remembering the most basic truth of all. Everything else is just “icing on the cake”, or in (non-gebrokst) Pesach lingo “butter on the matzah”.

               Chag Sameiach & Good Yom Tov,
               R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos – Shabbos Hagadol 5774

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos – Shabbos Hagadol
11 Nissan 5774/April 11, 2014

Do you know who I really feel bad for? Silent letters. For some reason the English language has no compunction about sticking extra letters into the middle of words, and then allowing them to remain there perpetually, never being heard. Think of the poor ‘l’ in ‘walk’ and ‘talk’. Whose idea was that anyway?
The Israelis apparently feel the same way. In an effort to honor their friends in the United States, they named one of the streets in Jerusalem after one of the greatest American presidents – President Lincoln. But they would not allow the ‘l’ in the middle of President Lincoln’s name to be forgotten, and so the street in Hebrew is called “רחוב לינקולין - Rechov Leenkolin”.
In the Torah there is no such concept as an added letter. In situations where a word is not pronounced as it is written, the commentators expend great effort to explain the hidden meaning and lesson behind the unconventional reading. Every nuance in the Torah contains deep endless meaning.
Silence surely has its place in Judaism. In a society which loves to slander, defame, and gossip, the laws of loshon hora and forbidden speech must weigh heavily on our minds.   But speaking up has its place in Judaism too.
Martin Luther King Jr. once quipped that in the end it is not the vitriolic words of our enemies that we will remember, but the painful silence of our friends.
If one studies the history of our national salvations, they all involved the assertive and intrepid confidence of heroic leaders who rallied the nation to their clarion call. During the perilous epoch of Haman, Mordechai urged Esther that the time was ripe for her to boldly appear before the king unannounced. He warned her that if she would be silent at that time the results could be calamitous for her and her entire family.
During the time prior to the Chanukah miracle it was the Maccebean cry of “Who is for G-d (gather) unto me!” that rallied the zealous and righteous to fight for their right to serve G-d.
Pesach was the result of the efforts of Moshe Rabbeinu. Despite his inarticulateness and his hesitation to be the spokesperson on behalf of his people, Moshe –together with Aharon – fulfilled his role, and led the nation to exodus.
Our Sages relate that a significant factor of the Egyptian servitude was that our speech was in exile. The torment was so great that they could not properly pray to G-d, they didn’t even know how to pray G-d. Ultimately G-d hearkened to their wordless cries. 
The redemption included a true freedom of speech and verbal expression. The Arizal relates that the name of the holiday Pesach is a contraction of the words ‘Peh sach – a soft mouth’. For so many decades the letters and words we wished to convey, the pain and anguish of our hearts which we pined to express, remained un-verbalized within us. But with the redemption our hearts found expression in the eloquence of song and prayer, our greatest tool as the Jewish People.
There is much pain in our world. Worse, so much of it is left unexpressed, hidden behind veils of fear to show others what is really in our hearts. The ability to express feelings, sympathize, and empathize is a facet of redemption.
In that sense, until Hashem is ready to send Moshiach and put an end to all suffering and pain, every one of us has the ability to be a redeemer – for friends, neighbors, and family members. May we all have the wisdom to find a voice – a voice of sweetness, love, and faith – for all the painful silence that still lingers within broken hearts. May we all be able to not only walk the walk, but also to tawk the tawk.

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

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Metzora
4 Nissan 5774/April 4, 2014

Every Wednesday morning when I walk out of my home they’re waiting for me on my driveway: that week’s Hamodia and Jewish Press. Recently, my in laws gave us a gift and we also receive the Yated on Thursday mornings. So it seemed odd three weeks ago when we didn’t receive any of the usual deliveries. I figured it was just a fluke and so I bought the papers in the store and let it go. But when it happened again the following week I called all three papers. They were quick to reassure me that they would credit me and contact the delivery company. But last week to our chagrin, again no paper! It seems that 3 Landau Lane was blacklisted from the delivery route!
There are many things in life which we take for granted. We proverbially open our door and expect things to be there waiting for us, because they always are there. We forget that there are no guarantees in life, and sometimes G-d wants us to invest some effort.
When I finish delivering my derasha each Shabbos morning, I return to my shtender and wait for the chazzan to begin Mussaf. On more than one occasion, I returned to my place and awaited the chazzan’s commencement of kaddish, but heard nothing. After a few seconds I realized that I was in fact the chazzan (on one occasion that gabbai had to tap me to remind me). In that scenario waiting patiently wouldn’t get me anywhere. I was the one who had to make it happen, and until I took a step forward nothing was going to happen.
Chazal relate that 80% of the Jewish People never left Egypt. During the plague of darkness, all the Jews who were not prepared to emigrate from Egypt died and were buried there.
In truth, it is understandable why there were so many who didn’t want to leave. At that point the bitter servitude had ended months earlier. The Jews had become prosperous and could learn about their faith and establish Houses of Learning unopposed. Why should they subject their families to the uncertainties and perils of the open desert? Why not remain in Egypt and seek closeness to G-d where there was already an infrastructure and comfort?
That may have seemed logical, but those who thought along those lines could not be those who would accept the Torah at Sinai. One cannot wait for Torah to be delivered to his door in a neat little package. If one wants to truly embrace Torah he must be ready to sacrifice for it.
Shlomo Hamelech (Mishlei 2:4-5) wrote: “If you will seek it as you seek money, and search for it as you search for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem, and discover the knowledge of G-d.” The Chofetz Chaim commented that when one pursues his livelihood, he is not deterred by cold weather or lengthy hours, because he knows it is par for the course. If one wants to achieve greatness in spiritual matters he needs to maintain that same attitude.
In conclusion I must mention that now that I had what to write about this week, I’m happy to report that the weekly newspapers were lying on the driveway this morning.

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

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