Thursday, May 29, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Naso
Pirkei Avos – Perek 6 --- Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5774/May 30, 2014 – 45th day of the Omer

(The following is a thought from Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky - ASHAR – May 2014:)
During the summer, in camp I have one of the most coveted toys; a toy which only the heads of camp have access to, i.e. a golf cart. For campers there are different levels of privilege in regards to the golf cart. The lowest level is if I give a ride to a camper who is sitting on the passenger seat. The golf cart can zip across camp and the passengers enjoy a soft breeze as it moves, while pedestrians watch and hope for a turn as well. The next level is achieved if I allow the passenger to push the accelerator on the golf cart while I maintain control over the steering wheel. It's exciting to be able to make the golf cart move, even if someone else is steering and making sure it doesn't crash into a tree. The highest level is if I actually allow the passenger (who at least has his driver's permit of course) to drive the golf cart while I sit in the passenger seat and allow him to chauffeur me.
There are three levels of special times we enjoy on the Jewish calendar. The kedusha of Shabbos Kodesh is, in the vernacular of Chazal "kevia v'kayma - set and established". Its holiness embraces the world on Friday evening, and our role is only to accept it, like a passenger.
Succos and Pesach are days fixed on the calendar, both beginning on the fifteenth day of their respective months. However, when the Sanhedrin, the great Jewish court was still in function, the sanctification of the new month, Rosh Chodesh, was done by them. Although the holiday itself began on a fixed date, the rabbinic court had a say in when the month would begin. The holiness of those holidays is analogous to one pushing the pedal while someone else is steering.
Shavuos however is unique in the sense that it is wholly dependent on us. The Torah strangely doesn't even give the holiday a calendar date. The holiday begins on the fiftieth day of the OUR counting, which we began on the second night of Pesach. [There is an opinion in Halacha that if one crosses the International Date Line during the days of sefirah and does not cross back, he should continue to count sefirah according to what night it is for him, despite the fact that everyone around him is one night ahead.] Shavuos is celebrated at the culmination of one's personal count. It's an incredible concept; the holiday of Shavuos, the anniversary of the most seminal event that ever transpired, is based on our count.
More so than any other holiday, on Shavuos we are in the driver’s seat as it were. We push the pedal and we steer, and G-d is our passenger, as it were.
The Kotzker Rebbe noted that we refer to Shavuos as "the time of the giving of our Torah", as opposed to "the time of our receiving of the Torah". G-d gives the Torah on Shavuos, but it's our prerogative whether we want to accept it, and how well we will accept it.
The relatively brief holiday of Shavuos affords us the chance to be in the driver seat, but it's up to us to take advantage of that opportunity.

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

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

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar
Pirkei Avos – Perek 5 --- 23 Iyar 5774/May 23, 2014 – 38th day of the Omer

Before I left to Eretz Yisroel prior to Chanukah a few months ago, I asked a rebbe of mine if there was anyone particular I should try to make it a point to visit while I was there. He quickly answered "Rav Zundel Kroizer".
I had heard of Rav Zundel from a friend who often told me about Rav Zundel’s hidden greatness. Rav Chaim Kanievsky is purported to have once quipped that Hashem must love Rav Zundel more than He loves himself because Hashem allowed Rav Zundel to remain hidden from the public eye where he could serve G-d without interruption of the masses. Those who knew the "secret gadol" would testify about his incredible saintliness, devotion to G-d, and incredible love and diligence in Torah study.
Despite the fact that he learned privately with such notable tzaddikim as Rav Chaim Brimm zt'l, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt'l, and Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita, he was virtually unknown.
When I tried to inquire about where in Yerushalayim Rav Zundel lived the only information I could procure was that he davened vasikin (sunrise) in the Zichron Moshe shteibluch (near Geulah) in the morning, and that he was again there between 4-5 pm each day davening mincha, learning, and then davening maariv.
When we were in Eretz Yisroel I had the zechus to meet and receive berachos from a few tzaddikim, including Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz, and Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal. But somehow I kept missing Rav Zundel. It was upsetting and frustrating, but I hoped that I would one day have the opportunity to meet him. Sadly, I now know that that will never happen, for last week Rav Zundel was niftar.
But on another level there is still a way I can meet Rav Zundel and draw from his spiritual wellsprings.
This week tens of thousands of Jews of all backgrounds traveled to Meron in the north of Eretz Yisroel to be at the kever of Rav Shimon bar Yochai on Lag Baomer. For the rest of us who were not able to be there at the unparalleled festive celebration we can take comfort from the following anecdote:
A young Gerrer chossid once asked his rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, for permission to leave yeshiva for two days so he can travel to Meron for Lag Baomer. When the rebbe asked him why he wanted to go, the chossid replied "to meet Rav Shimon bar Yochai". The rebbe poignantly replied that if he wanted to truly encounter Rav Shimon, he could find him in the pages of Gemara where his teachings are prevalent. [It's worth noting that in the Daf Yomi of Lag Baomer this past Sunday, Rav Shimon was quoted.]
Unfortunately I will never have the opportunity to receive a beracha or to gaze at Rav Zundel's holy countenance, but Torah transcends all limitations and time. Through his numerous volumes of seforim, entitled Ohr Hachama, I can encounter his greatness and still ‘meet him’.
In two weeks all of Klal Yisroel will recommit ourselves uninhibitedly to the Torah and all of its commandments. In doing so we connect ourselves to eternal life and a life of meaning and fulfillment. Above all, within the pages of Torah study we encounter G-d Himself.

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

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014


                                  Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechukosai - Shabbas Chazak!
Pirkei Avos – Perek 4 --- 16 Iyar 5774/May 16, 2014 – 31st day of the Omer

This past Shabbos I had the pleasure of participating in the Torah Umesorah Convention at the Split Rock Resort in the Pocono Mountains. The convention is a weekend of chizuk, spent in the company of 1800 of Judaism’s finest and bravest – a collection of the great educators of our Torah institutions.
On Shabbos morning I davened behind some of the greatest Torah leaders of our time. The ‘lineup’ of those called up for aliyos was unparalleled, including Harav (Shalom) Reuven ben Harav Moshe (Feinstein), Harav Shmuel ben Harav Yaakov (Kamenetsky), Harav (Aryeh) Malkiel ben Harav (Yosef Chaim) Shneur Kotler. It was no less inspiring to hear words of chizuk from Harav Aharon Feldman, Harav Avrohom Chaim Levine, and the Novominsker Rebbe, among others.
One of the many arduous tasks involved in hosting such a convention is arranging the seating for the Shabbos meals. Dealing with 1800 personal requests can be quite intimidating. Most of the convention attendees know Mrs. Fran Shulman, the one charged with the aforementioned task. Mrs. Shulman and her husband are good friends of my parents from their days living on the Lower East Side.
Having connections is always advantageous, and this year – thanks to Mrs. Shulman – I landed a seat at Mrs. Shulman’s table, which is also the table of Harav Reuven Feinstein shlita and his Rebbitzin, who also know my family from the Lower East Side.
Aside for the pleasure of sitting at the Rosh Yeshiva’s table, it was also fun to see the reaction of those who came to wish the Rosh Yeshiva a good Shabbos and saw me sitting there. I just replied with a smug nod. After all, what can I do if the Rosh Yeshiva wants to sit at my table?
Many people struggle to recite Pesukei D’zimrah each morning. They find it tedious and have a hard time relating to what they are saying. Some purposely come late to davening so they can recite the abridged b’dieved ‘latecomer’ version of Pesuki D’zimrah.
Part of the pleasure of reciting those hallowed ‘Verses of Praise’ (literal translation of the words Pesukei D’zimrah), aside for the actual beauty of the words themselves, is the feeling of connection those words engender.
For example, we declare, “You Hashem; do not withhold Your compassion from me…” It’s mind-boggling to think that we are calling out to the Master of the World directly!
Another example appears just two verses later: “Give strength to G-d, on Yisroel His pride!” Some people love to show off a picture of their “Pride and Joy”. We are Hashem’s Pride! Is it heretical to say that if Hashem had a wallet with a picture in it, the picture would be of us serving Him?!
The only way one can experience the joy of reciting such words is by expending the effort to understand and appreciate the words. The mere ability to sing out the praises of Hashem directly each morning is an opportunity not to be missed. How fortunate we are to have been seated around G-d’s table!   

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

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar
Pirkei Avos – Perek 3 --- 9 Iyar 5774/May 9, 2014

Every generation loves to tell the subsequent generations how different things were ‘back when I was a kid’.  One of the things my generation will tell our grandchildren is that when we were kids the ‘shayncoat’ hadn’t been invented yet.
Today, any time it rains on Shabbos, virtually every hat/straymel wearing man walking to shul looks the same – like a black blimp with a black hood. But when I was a kid we didn’t have shayncoats. Back then, if it was raining on Shabbos and you wanted to cover your hat (and you didn’t have one of those slimy gray fitted covers) you grabbed whatever bag you could find from your drawer and placed your hat inside it.
My father, adorned in his gray rain-hat, loved to poke fun at the assortment of bags people wore as they hurried to shul in the rain. He would often quip that you could tell a lot about a person by the bag he wears on his head in the rain. There were bags from various shopping stores and department stores, and of all colors. Every now and then you would see a very religious looking fellow wearing a bag on his head from a store he would never step foot in. You knew he grabbed the first bag he could find and didn’t bother to look at what it was before he ran out of his house.
The new Shayncoat has put an end to all of that individuality, and now all you see are the same trite (although quite effective) black hoods. Well, with one notable exception. It seems that I left my Shaynoat in our bungalow in camp last summer. And just my luck it seems to rain every Shabbos recently. So the last few weeks when I walked out of my house in a bright rain jacket, bearing a bag upon my hat, my children came running to the door to laugh at me. I tried telling them that this is what noble people wear in the rain, but they weren’t buying it.
As I was walking through the rain this past Shabbos, with a beautiful Wesley Kosher bag atop my hat, ignoring the cars that slowed down as they passed me (“You see that guy? Man, them Jews is weirder than I thought!”) I had a much greater appreciation for an anecdote I once read.
            In his book, ‘Walking with Rabbi Miller’, Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky, a devoted disciple of Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l, relates the following: “In my memory I am walking with the Rebbe, and dark, threatening clouds in the distance are closing in on us. Before you know it we feel actual precipitation, intermittent and gentle at first, then turning into a very wet downpour. All this is marked by an increase of action on the street, people running helter-skelter and being very vocal with their complaints. We continue walking together, and the Rebbe changes the topic and addresses the subject of the raindrops. He focuses on the vegetation, the colorful, flavorful fruits that we enjoy and indulge in, and explains that they are actually ‘coming down’ right now in the form of raindrops. Then he continues to enumerate other gifts of Hashem, including the wonderful world of sefarim that are in the making at this moment, as they are printed on paper that grows in the forest. He then points out that “people” are falling; all the new babies, our own children and grandchildren – Klal Yisroel, the tzaddikim!
            “Now to see the Rebbe’s face – the joy, the excitement and ecstasy… It is one thing to sit in a dry, comfortable home, lecturing about the wonderful blessings of rain, repeatedly verbalizing this concept. But to be in the wetness of the rain pouring down, and then to be in a state of ecstasy, certainly reflects one’s true feelings.”    
            As the rain dripped upon the bag atop my head, and my toes began to wrinkle inside my drenched socks, I could only marvel at the appreciation Rabbi Miller had for every aspect of creation. Whereas most people are annoyed by wind, Rabbi Miller was excited about the benefits the world was gaining from it. The same held true for snow and cold weather.
            It’s a great lesson to think about. But if you’ll excuse me I have to go out to buy myself a new shayncoat.

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

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