Thursday, June 26, 2014

Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas 5774

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
Pirkei Avos – Perek 4 --- 29 Sivan (Erev Rosh Chodesh Tamuz) 5774/June 27, 2014

250! That’s an impressive number!
It was a great feeling when I realized that this is the 250th Rabbi’s Musings column that I have written. It is an added honor that column archives are now posted weekly in the Five Towns Jewish Home, Baltimore Jewish Home, and Bergen County Jewish Link.
The column began as a venue for me to share thoughts with our kehilla, Kehillat New Hempstead, during the summer when our family is away in Camp Dora Golding, where I am a Division Head. It began Erev Shabbos Pinchos in July 2009. It has continued virtually every week since, until now – a little more than 250 weeks later - incidentally back at Camp Dora Golding.
I have been asked where I find or how I come up with the material for this column. After all, it generally has nothing to do with the parsha and can be about any random topic. Firstly, I consider myself privileged to be counted among the students of Rabbi Berel Wein shlita. I was a member of the final class of students to graduate Yeshiva Shaarei Torah under his tutelage as its Rosh Yeshiva. [When I graduated in June 1997 he apparently felt there was nothing more to stay for, and his family made aliyah.]
Rabbi Wein has instilled within his students and myriad admirers an appreciation of the fact that there are lessons to be gleaned from every occurrence in life if your eyes are trained to see them. His book, Buy Green Bananas, is a collection of short witticisms of his unique perspective of seemingly mundane events. The book is so named as an encouragement to invest in things that are not yet ripe, because we always have to invest in our future. Modeling myself after my Rebbe, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book called ‘Eat Mashed Potatoes’.
My weltanschauung and perspectives on life have been vastly influenced by Rabbi Wein, as is especially recognizable in this column. In fact he has influenced me more than I realize. I was very proud of myself for the title of this column, Rabbi’s Musings (and Amusings), until I found that it’s actually a chapter heading in Rabbi Wein’s book, Second Thoughts.    
I would add that looking for material to write about each week helps bolster one’s search for significance in everything that occurs in life. A friend of mine once wondered whether more eccentric things happen to Ba’alei Teshuva or is it that they are they more in tune to finding G-d in every aspect of life, and so they recognize the Hand of G-d more than others who allow their religious responsibilities to become passé.
I would venture to think that although the Hand of G-d is often blatantly clear in the journey of Ba’alei Teshuva, it’s the latter explanation that carries more weight. Every time a shidduch is celebrated, one finds a job, buys a house in a specific neighborhood, meets someone random on the street, needs repairs in his home/car, deals with frustrations, or merits particular blessing, it is a clear manifestation of a Divine Hand guiding the world and our lives.
When one trains himself to search for Hashem in life, He is readily found, even in bananas and mashed potatoes.     

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

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

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Korach
Pirkei Avos – Perek 3 --- 22 Sivan 5774/June 20, 2014

During my years in yeshiva Shaarei Torah a mentally unstable fellow named Moshe would at times circulate the yeshiva. At times he even sat in on a high-level gemara shiur and would offer his (nonsensical) comments. He was a pleasant person so no one was too bothered by him.
On one occasion a group of high school boys were making a video about earthquakes, part of a project for their earth science class. They interviewed Moshe and asked him where he thought the best place to be is in case of an earthquake. He thought for a second and replied, “You really want to know? Yerushalayim!”
What about during a power outage? What's the last place you'd like to be in if the electricity goes out? I would venture to think a moving elevator. Getting stuck in a cramped dark confined room with no idea of what's happening outside can undoubtedly be panic provoking.
A few months ago in yeshiva Bais Hachinuch that is exactly what happened. One afternoon a powerful fast-moving crossed our area and knocked out the electricity. At first no one realized that someone was stuck in the elevator. But shortly after two burly equipped firemen hastily entered the building, pick axes in hand and headed towards the sealed elevator.
A crowd of excited students gathered in the dark hall and listened as one of the firemen rapped on the door and called out. Pressing his ear to the door, the fireman was able to hear a woman respond that she was trapped in the elevator. She had been heading up to the offices on the top floor when the power went out. The elevator was stuck halfway between the floor beneath the yeshiva and the floor that the yeshiva occupied.
It took the firemen a few minutes but they soon pried the doors open and helped pull the woman out of the elevator to the excited applause of the young spectators who were then shoed back into their classrooms.
This week I had the pleasure of attending the Chumash seudah of our son Avi, who is b’h now concluding Pre-1A. It was a beautiful event with his numerous classmates seated alongside him on stage. It was stirring to see how each of the children sang on cue, bellowing passionately the words of the chumash and the songs they were taught about the sweetness of Torah.
There was not a child up there who doesn’t want to ascend the rungs of Torah greatness and be a source of nachas for his parents and teachers. But unfortunately in every class there are a few students whose growth ‘gets stuck’. They feel shut out and stuck in place even as they watch classmates continue to rise. There are many labels used to explain those individual power outages, ranging from auditory processing, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, low IQ, lack of motivation, social/emotional/familial issues, etc. But the common denominator is that those stuck children often wordlessly cry out wordlessly and can’t be heard.
Then there are those special educators who can hear those cries and have the unique priceless gift to be able to reach every student. They are the ones who can pry open those sealed doors and manually hoist their students toward feeling a sense of accomplishment.
There isn’t an educator in any of our schools who isn’t a hero. Teaching is the most valuable and integral profession we have, despite the fact that teachers are often underpaid and underappreciated. But those educators who can reach students deemed ‘unreachable’ are our superheroes.  
As the school-year comes to a close let’s take a moment to salute the greatest heroes we have, the ones with whom we have entrusted the education of our greatest treasures!

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

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach
Pirkei Avos – Perek 2 --- 15 Sivan 5774/June 13, 2014

Remember the winter? The truth is, I don't think anyone in the United States is going to forget this winter too quickly. For over four months it seemed like every day it was either frigidly cold or it was snowing.
But by now under the warming June sun, for most people the cold bitter winter has for the most part been relegated to table talk and a point of past fascination. Not so for the Staum family, who have a stark reminder of the effects of winter every day as soon as we walk out of our house. During one of the many snowstorms this winter one of the village snow plows did an excellent job of, not only clearing away the snow from the road, but also of clearing away the first few feet of our lawn. During the winter the damage wasn't very noticeable. But when the snow finally thawed and melted the herbal carnage became visible.
In every situation that arises in which we must respond we have to approach from two perspectives: - long term effectiveness and short term effectiveness. Although often our response can be beneficial for both, the challenge is that what works for one is not necessarily the most productive for the other.
For example, if a father embarrasses his son in shul because the latter was talking during davening, he may get his son to stop talking in the moment, but in the long term he has not taught him anything about kavod hatefillah. In fact, in the long term he may have sown seeds of resentment towards tefillah in his son’s heart. Another example, if a mother does her child's school project for him the night before it’s due, she may help the child get a good grade in the short term, but what is the long term lesson the child has learned?
The rule is that we can demand short-term compliance, but real internal growth can only be fostered with patience, empathy, and love. Those are the components needed for long-term effectiveness. Consider the following quote from Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People):
Suppose, for example, that I am highly overreactive to my children. Suppose that whenever they begin to do something that I feel is inappropriate, I sense an immediate tensing in the pit of my stomach. I feel defensive walls going up, I prepare for battle. My focus is not on the long-term growth and understanding but on the short-term behavior. I’m trying to win the battle, not the war.
“I pull out my ammunition - my superior size, my position of authority – and I yell or intimidate or I threaten or punish. And I win. I stand there, victorious, in the middle of the debris of a shattered relationship while my children are outwardly submissive and inwardly rebellious, suppressing feelings that will come out later in uglier ways.”  
Sometimes we get so caught up in the short term that we hurt ourselves in the long term. Sometimes we're so focused on plowing the snow off the road that we forget that one day it will all melt into oblivion, and bare what until now was concealed underneath. In the dead of winter we need to consider how our decisions will manifest when the summer sun eventually shines.

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

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Erev Shavuos – Z’man Matan Toraseinu - 5 Sivan 5774/June 3, 2014

Before Shabbos this week I asked our son Shalom if he turned off his alarm clock so that it wouldn’t go off on Shabbos morning. He assured me that he did. Somehow the alarm clock sprang to life anyway and at 6:30 a.m. Shabbos morning our upstairs was filled with the relentless chiming of his alarm clock. At about 7 a.m. when I headed downstairs I noticed a most interesting sight: Our daughters were wide awake while our two older boys were sound asleep, oblivious to the obnoxious buzzing of their alarm clock. It was obvious that because the alarm clock served to signal to the boys that it was time for them to get out of bed to get ready for school they had trained themselves to not to hear it. To the girls however, it meant nothing more than that they were lucky to have more time to stay in bed. Therefore, the girls had no aversion to getting up and taking advantage of some early time.
The human mind can accustom itself to anything. When I was spending a Shabbos in Lawrence a number of years ago, in the middle of the meal I heard the unmistakable deafening sound of a jumbo jet bearing down upon us. I was sure that it was about to land on the dining room table in the cholent. I instinctively ducked (as if that would help at all). To my astonishment my host continued the conversation as if nothing was going on. Because he lived next to the Kennedy airport he had grown accustomed to the sounds of planes taking off and landing, and he hardly heard them.
The same was true when I was visiting a friend in Edison. Then too in the middle of the Shabbos meal I felt heaving pulsations and the unmistakable sound of a train bearing down the track. I was sure the New Jersey Transit was going to run right through his living room. But my host didn’t even acknowledge it.
When my parents first moved to Monsey in 1988, after living their entire lives in Manhattan, they couldn’t sleep at night because of the eerie quiet. Where was the honking trucks, shouts and hullabaloo at 2 a.m.? The sound of crickets was unnerving to them. But not too long later when they returned to the Lower East Side to visit, they had a hard time sleeping with the windows open because of the noise.
Educational experts note that when adults yell, threaten, or lecture children, the children can tune out as soon as the adult begins talking, and no longer hear the content of the harangue. (From what I’ve heard from others) this can happen between spouses as well.  [Someone once noted that in the old Charlie Brown movies, their teacher always sounded unintelligible. The reason is because that is often how students hear their teachers – like a dreary endless blah of monologues.]
The Yom Tov of Shavuos gives us a brief, subtle yet poignant jolt that reminds us of the centrality of Torah in our lives. On Shavuos we read about the revelation of Sinai, amidst thunder and lightning, and the uninhibited display of G-d’s Omnipotence throughout the world.
In the daily grind we often forget about the thunder and lightning and the excitement of Torah. It becomes just another part of our day, and we forget that its message is eternal and all encompassing. On Shavuos we remind ourselves “It is our life and the length of our days, and in it we will engage day and night.”
On Shavuos an internal alarm is buzzing. It’s up to us to decide if we will heed its call.

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

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