Thursday, July 31, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim/Shabbos Chazon
Pirkei Avos – Perek 3 --- 5 Menachem Av 5774/August 1, 2014

I was eight years young. My mother’s father - my Zaydei - had recently passed away, and I was still trying to come to terms with the concept of death. I was having a hard time grasping the idea that I would never again see my Zaydei, who I loved and adored. The fact that my mother was not home for the first week after so she could sit shiva with her mother, sister, and brother in my Zaydei’s apartment in the Lower East Side only made it more difficult.
But shiva ended, my mother returned home, and life was starting to return to normalcy. Now a few weeks later, for the first time since my Zaydei had died, we were going to visit my newly widowed Bubby. We came to the door and rang the familiar bell. Bubby replied in her familiar way. It all seemed so usual, like it always was.
Then we entered the apartment. I will never forget how my mother began crying bitterly as we walked in. All the usual pictures were where they always were, the furniture was where it had always been, Zaydei’s myriad seforim were still lining the shelves of his study, and as usual Bubby was cooking something. But there was no big gemara open in his study, no new seforim hidden under the dining room table, and most profoundly Zaydei did not come to greet us with his trademark gleaming smile.
That painful moment revitalized the pain of the raw wound that Zaydei was gone.
My younger siblings born after Zaydei’s passing, had a very different experience when they came to visit that apartment in later years. They could hardly understand the pain we felt because they never knew Zadei; they didn’t know what was missing.  
We are very blessed in the current exile. We can visit Eretz Yisroel and the Kosel, there is no dearth of Shuls or Yeshivos throughout the country, and the proliferation of Torah and mitzvos is unparalleled.
The events of the past week remind us of the peril we constantly face and that the Messianic era has yet to arrive. But even so Yerushalayim has regained its status as the capitol of our world, and the country is flourishing.
            However, all is not well. As long as the Bais Hamikdash is not rebuilt and korbanos not offered, things are not as they should be. The greatest challenge for us is that we don’t even know what we are missing. We cannot fathom the excitement of offering a Korbon Pesach, and we have no inkling of the inspiration of seeing the Kohanim performing the Avodah while the Levites sang with harmonious beauty. We do not know the excitement of the tri-annual pilgrimage for the holidays, and we never experienced the awesome trepidation of seeing the Kohain Gadol perform the Yom Kippur service. We were never privy to the feeling of devotion to G-d and acutely sensing that you have achieved atonement when offering a korbon.
            Although we don’t know what we are missing, the very fact that we want to know what we are missing, is indicative of the fact that we wish to connect with that forgotten world.
            On Tisha B’av, we demonstrate or connection, or at least longing for connection, with that more G-dly world. We remind ourselves that for all the blessings we have G-d is not yet home. His Presence may have never left, but we cannot experience it fully. We long for the day when the dome of the rock will be replaced with the third Bais Hamikdash, an eternal reunion, when all our tears will be dried forever.     

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
A meaningful & inspiring Tisha B’av,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum           

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Masei
Pirkei Avos – Perek 2 --- 27 Tamuz 5774/July 25, 2014 – Mevorchim Chodesh Menachem Av

They just couldn’t be prouder. Twelve years earlier they had undergone the arduous process of making Aliyah, which entailed moving away from much of their family and friends. They had to get used to a different lifestyle, a style of living that was simpler than they were used to in the States. But it was all worth it for them so that they could live and raise their children in Eretz Yisroel.
And now here they were at the Kosel, witnessing the induction of their son Yoni into the Golani Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Afterwards the family gathered around Yoni and took pictures with their smiling young soldier. They had a festive meal together with neighbors and couldn’t stop talking about Yoni protecting our holy borders from our evil enemies.
There was one thing that the proud parents failed to realize, one major detail. Although Yoni knew how to pose like a soldier and stand alongside his comrades, he had no idea how to act like a soldier or even fire a gun properly. Yoni’s induction was a terrible mistake which had somehow gone unnoticed, and Yoni didn’t have the courage or heart to tell anyone the truth. Although on the outside Yoni celebrated along with everyone else, in his heart he knew that he was in grave danger, because he had no clue of how to act in combat.
Whenever a twelve year old boy becomes a bar mitzvah it is a joyous event for all of Klal Yisroel. Another trainee has joined the ranks; another soldier has undertaken the perpetual battle for holiness and a Torah life. It’s an arduous battle, one in which we know of many spiritual casualties and even fatalities. But we have weapons, arms we bear that assist us in combat. They are our tzitzis and tefillin, tefillah, the timeless words of Tehillim, and Shabbos observance, to name a few.
One of the greatest tragedies is when a new inductee stands at his/her Bar/Bas Mitzvah smiling for pictures and enjoying the ‘induction ceremony’, but in reality has absolutely no idea how to be a soldier or how to ‘handle’ the weapons.
They may appear like any other soldier, looking sharp in their new tefillin, but they never learned the laws of tefillin and don’t appreciate the potency and holiness of their tefillin. They may have never tasted the beauty of Shabbos or appreciated the value of tefillah. Such soldiers will be woefully deficient in the epic battle they will encounter throughout their lives.
  The good news is that the soldiers can still learn if they seek it, and they can still transform themselves into excellent and invaluable soldiers. But it requires commitment and an understanding of the dangers they will confront as well as a stark realization of how great the stakes are. In times of war we need every soldier to be fighting as well as can. No one is dispensable.
May Hashem protect every one of our soldiers and bring them home safely.  

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

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos
Pirkei Avos – Perek 1 --- 20 Tamuz 5774/July 18, 2014

It was practically a tradition in our home. When my father would see myself or my brothers the first time after we got a haircut, he would gently waft his hand through the back of our freshly cut hair and half ‘sing’ a brief high-pitched somewhat purposely off-key ditty (it’s hard to describe). Even now my father will still perform the ritual when he sees me soon after I get a haircut. My sons excitedly to go to Zayde for the ‘hair thing’ after they get a haircut too.
There’s something nice about getting a haircut. For a few days the person looks put together and fresh. [For me there’s an added benefit because I’ve been told that I look like I’ve lost weight after getting a haircut. “The haircut diet: You don’t need to change your eating habits, or make any lifestyle changes. Just go to your local barber.” I could make a lot of money if I could market that.]  
The same holds true in regards to a lawn. We have a neighbor in Monsey who doesn’t cut his grass much. In fact, the grass in his yard can grow up to a few inches before he finally mows it. But afterwards his whole yard and the exterior of his house look so much nicer.
During the Three Weeks, as well as the period of Sefirah, when all of the simcha halls and frum barbers are on vacation, the laws of mourning include that we do not take haircuts or shave. Naturally that means that men’s hair and beards grow noticeably long and somewhat unkempt.
We also refrain from listening to music during this time. Music has a palpable effect on people and their deepest emotions. Music can evoke tears, smiles, and even a dance.
In the haftorah for Shabbos Chazon, Yeshaya Hanavi’s chief complaint against the nation is that their Judaism has lost feeling. They haven’t necessarily stopped fulfilling any of their responsibilities, but they do so in a dry unemotional manner. They performed mitzvos, brought korabos, and davened when they had to, albeit without passion or feeling.   
The laws of mourning help us maintain perspective. Part of the reason why the destruction and exile occurred was because their Avodas Hashem lacked passion and excitement. The nation resorted to serving G-d out of rote, just to fulfill their responsibilities.
Our task is to be passionate and excited with the privilege we have to be part of the Torah nation, to perform mitzvos with youthful vigor and passion, and never appearing old and withered. Torah is compared to a song, for it dictates, and elevates, all the emotions we feel.
The restrictions of this period reflect our national and personal deficiencies. Ultimately, when our divine service is performed in an orderly, fresh, and passionate manner we will no longer be bound by these restrictions. At that time we will celebrate our newfound vivaciousness and passion with music, haircuts, and great celebration.  

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

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

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
Pirkei Avos – Perek 6 --- 13 Tamuz 5774/July 11, 2014

This year Camp Dora Golding built a magnificent Shul/Bais Medrash in the heart of its 156 acre campus. The area around the perimeter of the shul was roped off so that the grass which was planted there could grow. When camp began two weeks ago, there was nothing but fertilized mud visible there. But within a few days little spurts of green were visible. After a week and a half the grass was noticeably growing.
For the last few days however, our area has been hammered by downpours of rain. Although much of the grass is still growing, there are noticeable places where the deluge of flowing rain destroyed the potential growth. Although it’s annoying, it’s not such a major issue because the grass can simply be replanted, and will grow within a short few days.
Contrast the growth of grass with the growth of a tree which can take years to fully mature. When a tree reaches its full height it towers majestically over the surrounding area, its branches spreading far beyond it, and its roots firmly taking hold deep beneath the earth in all directions. In addition, unlike grass which any child can rip out of the ground nonchalantly, it is a great challenge to chop down a tree, and an even greater challenge to uproot all of the branches beneath.
In the Song of Shabbos, Tehillim 92, Dovid Hamelech compares wicked evildoers to grass. “When the wicked bloom like grass and the doers of iniquity blossom – it is to destroy them till eternity.” The wicked are numerous and seem to dominate in all directions. Yet like grass one strong deluge can flood them all out perpetually.
The righteous on the other hand, are compared to mighty trees, firm and strong. “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm, like a cedar in Lebanon he will grow tall. Planted in the House of Hashem, they will flourish in the courtyards of our G-d.” Even the greatest and most severe tempests can only rock the branches and leaves upon the mighty trees, but their deep roots and great strength holds them in place to withstand all opposing forces.
Dovid Hamelech concludes that the righteous – like the palm and the cedar – will never whither. Because they are so deeply rooted in the ground they draw nourishment from the minerals and waters beneath even as they age. So too the righteous, even as their bodies physically atrophy with old age, they continue to be vibrant and in love with G-d, His Torah, and His world. They never forfeit their vitality and spirit, because they remain firm and committed in their faith.
Throughout the six day week we do not speak about this lofty perspective, because it’s hard to decipher truth from mirage when in the thick of the bog. But on Shabbos when we view the world from a celestial perspective, with a divine point-of-view, we strengthen ourselves by reminding each other that all of the wickedness and iniquity that surrounds and abounds is merely grass in the hands of G-d. And when the moment comes when G-d decides to eradicate all of that evil, it will happen at an unbelievably frenzied pace - as happened with the rapid fall of communism in the early 1990s. When it happens the mighty cedars and date trees will proudly watch the destruction of the miniscule grass which G-d will trample and destroy.
            Hopefully the grass in front of our beautiful shul will grow lush and enhance its aesthetic beauty. But if rain does destroy our grass, or if we see grass dried out in the summer heat, it will serve as a reminder to us that “Your enemies, Hashem… shall perish”; on the day when our nation will live in peace and security and Hamas and all of their nefarious friends will be destroyed forever.      

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

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

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
Pirkei Avos – Perek 5 --- 6 Tamuz 5774/July 4, 2014

After the failure of the Articles of Confederation to adequately govern the new young nation in 1781, a new constitution was needed.
On May 25, 1787 the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia, in what is now known as Independence Hall. It was the location where the Declaration of Independence had been signed 11 years prior. There were 55 delegates representing all 13 states, except Rhode Island. George Washington was unanimously elected as president of the convention.
All through the stiflingly hot summer of 1787 the delegates discussed, debated, argued, and deliberated about how the new government should be constructed. It was also agreed that all meetings would be closed to the public, so windows and doors were kept shut, making the heat inside even worse. But on September 17, 1787 the Constitution was signed by the delegates, making it the official law of the land. There would be three branches of government – Judicial (Supreme Court), Executive (President), and Legislative (Congress), ensuring that no branch would become too powerful.
What happened next was memorable and touching, although not very well known: A horse-drawn carriage containing a live band began playing upbeat patriotic songs as mass crowds gathered holding torches and clapping excitedly. They sang songs describing their deep passionate love for the new Constitution and how important it was to every aspect of their lives. After a few minutes George Washington himself emerged from the State House clutching the newly drafted document against to his heart. The other delegates danced wildly in front of him, in excited undulating formations. Washington’s eyes were closed and he seemed lost in a different world. Tears began to flow from his eyes as the throngs sang “The convention is true and its Constitution is true.”
After a few minutes Washington handed the document to other notable delegates, such as the elderly Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Each held the new document in hand and excitedly hoisted it in the air as the masses danced wildly in front of them.
It was a memorable day, and the celebration accomplished more to convince people to ratify the constitution than the 85 essays known as the ‘Federalist Papers’.
This story undoubtedly sounds preposterous, and with good reason. The constitution was, and is, unquestionably a vital document for the formation of this country. It was also surely exciting for the Founding Fathers when they completed it. But the bottom line is that it’s just a document of laws, necessary for the flourishing and preservation of the nascent nation. It’s not a guide to life.
However, this story is true with some alternate facts. In fact, this scene has been occurring, and continues to occur, throughout history and the world, every time a new Sefer Torah is welcomed into a shul, or a new shul is constructed. We dance with the Torah, clutch it closely against our heart, and sing “Moshe is true and his Torah is true” with boundless passion and emotion. The reason for the celebration is that Torah is not merely a constitution or a book of the Rights of Man. “It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it, and those who support it are blissful.” The Torah transcends life and is a guide to every aspect of life.      
Happy July 4th.   

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

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