Thursday, December 31, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos   
21 Teves 5776/ January 1, 2016

It was so strange. This week on Tuesday morning, those of us in the New York area, awoke to ice and snow. After a December which boasted days when it was warmer and brighter in New York than in Los Angeles, the “normal” wintery weather took us by surprise. Throughout the previous weeks we all undoubtedly appreciated the bright sunshine and over sixty-degree weather. This year the weather on Chanukah was warmer than it was last year on Pesach (not to mention last year’s snowstorm on Purim). But alas, now winter has finally caught up with us in New York!
It seems that we only appreciate things when they aren’t expected. When we feel es kumt mir, a sense of entitlement, we don’t enjoy it as much, or at all. 
Anytime I have visited a city blessed with beautiful weather during the winter, such as Miami or Los Angeles, I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful weather. I also realized that the natives didn’t appreciate what they had. 
The truth is that those of us who live in chutz la’aertz have a benefit over those who live in Eretz Yisroel, i.e. a deeper appreciation for Eretz Yisroel. Those who have it never appreciate it as much as those who wish they had it.   
This world follows a definite pattern, what we know as the circle of life. The divinely ordained trajectory is relentless and generally monotonous. It therefore behooves us and is incumbent upon us to find meaning, purpose, and direction within the natural course. 
When unusual events occur it adds drama to the commonplace routine of our lives. It’s the unexpected, the ironic components of life, that give us cause for excitement. We pray that such drama only stem from blessings and special occasions. 
This week our family is blessed to be celebrating such an experience. Our bechor, Yaakov Meir Shalom, will iy’H become a bar mitzvah on Tuesday evening, 25 Teves. It doesn’t seem so long ago that his birth transformed us from a young couple into a young family. Now thirteen quick years later he is entering the next milestone – complete obligation in Torah and mitzvos, our truest measure of adulthood. 
When such wonderful occasions occur it is an opportunity to thank Hashem and to reflect, not only on the actual celebration of the current milestone, but also upon the guidance and blessings He has endowed us with throughout the last thirteen years. 
We thank Hashem for His past blessings and pray for the future, that we have the wisdom and insight to appreciate even the mundane blessings, and to enjoy many wonderful celebrations which add meaning and direction to our entire lives. 

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi   
14 Teves 5776/ December 25, 2015

Someone once quipped that their mother was always serving leftovers; they have never found the original! Everyone seems to groan when they hear that they are having leftovers for supper. Some mothers try to reason with their family “You loved it on Shabbos, so why shouldn’t you enjoy it now?” Usually those arguments are futile. The bottom line is that people don’t like to eat leftovers.
So in our house we stopped serving leftovers. It just wasn’t worth the battle. So now when our children ask on Monday ‘what’s for supper?’ the answer is “Shabbos delicacies!” True, the foods may be the same as what graced our Shabbos table, but they aren’t leftovers; now they are delicacies!
In a similar vein our children don’t have chores to do. It was too much of a battle to get them to do their chores, so we just did away with them. However, each of our children has family contributions that they are expected to take care of. After all, if they are living in our home and eating our food, it is only fair that they contribute to the family.
You may think this is all a matter of semantics, but apparently semantics are not trivial. It seems that we conceptualize concepts based on language, i.e. how we label them. As infants become older and begin to speak they begin to have a deeper understanding of the world around them.
My father is, and has always been, loathe about disposing good food. He often places bottles or cans back in the refrigerator after a meal despite the fact that they are virtually empty because there is a little left.
On one occasion during our younger years he found a little bit of cottage cheese left in a container in the fridge. He convinced an older sibling of mine (who shall remain nameless to protect his anonymity) that cottage cheese and ice cream was a rare treat, especially with chocolate syrup on top. Believe it or not my anonymous older sibling (I only have one) ate the entire thing.
It all depends on the presentation (just ask the party planners).
The titles and labels we attribute to things and their presentation define how we perceive them. That’s why it is significant when a world leader refers to terrorists by a lesser or more benign term.
A friend of mine once related that when running out to daven he never announces to his family “I have to go daven mincha!” Rather, he says “I want to go daven mincha!” It’s the same basic point but the underlying message is quite different. It implies that the responsibility of tefillah is a privilege and not a chore.
There is nothing wrong with teaching our children that they have to perform responsibilities even when they don’t want to. However, there is also something noble about helping them recognize the inherent value and personal pleasure one can enjoy when living up to his responsibilities. 
I recently heard a seasoned rebbe quip that we don’t fully appreciate the power and importance of our Shabbos tables. Just as there is considerable time and effort invested to ensure that every member of the family has physical enjoyment from the seudah, so does there need to be time and effort invested to ensure that every member of the family feels involved and uplifted at the Shabbos seudah.
 It’s all in the presentation. We want our Avodas Hashem to be fresh and exciting, because no one likes leftovers.  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash   
7 Teves 5776/ December 18, 2015

One morning this week one of my fellow rabbeim chided me for eating a Greek Yogurt during breakfast. He wanted to know how I could eat anything Greek during Chanukah. I continued eating my yogurt without replying. When the container was empty I turned to him and said “See, I have consumed the Greek!”  
The truth is that Greek Yogurt has nothing at all to do with Greeks, and eating Greek Yogurt is not much of a Chanukah victory. There are far better ways to ‘consume the Greeks’.
Perhaps no one personified the essence and message of Chanukah in our time more than the late Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l. Rav Nosson Tzvi grew up as a regular American kid, attending Day School in Chicago, playing sports, and eating pizza. During a visit to Eretz Yisroel with his parents during his high school years he met his great-uncle, the then Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Lazer Yudel Finkel zt’l. Rav Lazer Yudel prevailed upon him to stay in the yeshiva, and Rav Nosson Tzvi agreed. It was a decision he deemed “the greatest siyata deshmaya (divine assistance) of my life”. He joined the yeshiva and lived in his great uncle’s home.
After returning to America to complete high school Rav Nosson Tzvi came back to the Mir and lived in the yeshiva dormitory. Some time later he came back to America for a brief visit. Upon his subsequent return to Yerushalayim, Rav Lazer Yudel asked him to sleep in his home that first night. By the time Rav Nosson Tzvi arrived Rav Lazer Yudel was already sleeping and Rav Nosson Tzvi went to bed in his great uncle’s home. When Rav Nosson Tzvi awoke the next morning he saw Rav Lazer Yudel standing by his bed waiting for him to awaken. As soon as he opened his eyes, Rav Lazer Yudel kissed him on his forehead.
Rav Nosson Tzvi recounted that Rav Lazer Yudel’s kiss remained with him his entire life.
Rav Nosson Tzvi himself grew into one of our generation’s foremost Torah leaders. Had he been healthy, he would have been a leader and role model for his incredible love of Torah, love of Jews, sterling character, and radiant personality. But the fact that he suffered terribly from Parkinson’s disease, and yet accomplished more than most healthy people is staggering and incredible. He was moser nefesh for Torah, for the honor of Heaven, and for his people. It was to defend those very ideals that the Maccabees placed their lives on the line.
Contrary to popular understanding, the Maccabees never achieved complete victory over their enemies. Shortly after the Chanukah miracle they returned to battle. In fact, four of the original five Maccabees were killed in subsequent battles, and the fifth, Shimon, was murdered by his son-in-law.
The period after the Chanukah miracle was similar to the period preceding it – dark and difficult. Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explained that the Chanukah miracle was a symbolic kiss that G-d planted on the collective forehead of the Jews who remained loyal to Torah. It was a passionate sign that G-d was behind them and guiding them, that he was aware of their selfless efforts and desire to defend the honor of G-d.  
The kiss was fleeting. Eight days is a mere blip in comparison to years of struggle and bloody battles. But that kiss gave them the encouragement to forge on and maintain their quest. It was enough to allow them to feel that G-d was with them even behind the veil of darkness and pain.
The holiday of Chanukah each year is a celebration and a re-experiencing of that kiss. That emotional connection must stay with us throughout the dark and cold moments of life. Its light must radiate well beyond the wicks and the oil. It’s a fire that must burn within us and guide us throughout our lives.
And that’s how we consume the Greeks!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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

Friday, December 11, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz – Rosh Chodesh Teves
6 Chanukah   
29 Kiselv 5776/ December 11, 2015

I wear various hats, albeit not at once.
A few weeks ago, they all merged, although thankfully they did not collide. After Shabbos when I wear my “Rabbi hat” (it’s one of the oldest tricks – to pull a rabbi out of our black hats), on Motzei Shabbos I attended an Ashar melave malkah [I am fifth grade Rebbe and Guidance Counselor at Ashar, a Modern Orthodox school not far from our home]. On Sunday afternoon I headed up to New Windsor, where I serve as Principal in Mesivta Ohr Naftali, for Parent-Teacher Conferences. From there I headed to the Camp Dora Golding reunion in Lawrence, NY
In regards to each one of my positions I have different responsibilities and roles to fill. It was interesting to go from rabbi mode, to rebbe/therapist mode, to principal mode, to camp mode – all within 48 hours. Oh, and then I came home and tried to play father/husband role, which is the most important of all.
It reminded me of a classic anecdote that former Vice President Al Gore related about former Senator Bill Bradley at a ‘roast’ in Bradley’s honor.
Senator Bradley once attended a dinner at which he was the featured speaker. Prior to Bradley’s address, the waiter set down a side dish of potatoes, and placed a pat of butter upon them. The Senator asked for an extra portion of butter. The waiter apologized and replied that he was instructed to only to give one pat of butter per guest.
Senator Bradley stared at the waiter and said: “I don’t believe you are aware who I am. I am a Rhodes Scholar and a former NBA star with the New York Knicks. I currently serve on the International Trade and Long-Term Growth Committee, and the Debt and Deficit Reduction Committee, and I am in charge of Taxation and IRS Oversight. This whole dinner is in my honor. And I’d like another pat of butter on my potatoes."
The waiter looked back at the Senator and replied, “Sir, do you know who I am?" Without waiting for a reply he continued, "I am the one in charge of the butter, and it’s only one pat of butter per guest!"
The bottom line it doesn’t matter as much how many hats we wear, as much as how well we wear each hat. We are all responsible to ‘provide the butter’ in regards to every one of our responsibilities.
At times a Torah Jew can feel like he has a dual identity, or even multiple identities. He may feel like one person when he’s in shul and like a different person when he enters his office.
The truth is that we have one underlying and overriding responsibility – and that is to sanctify G-d’s Name in whatever we do. True, the manner in which one sanctifies G-d’s Name is different in shul than it is in the office, but the goal remains the same.
The Maccabes risked their lives so that they, and we, can have the right and ability to live our lives serving G-d as our ancestors did. 
 In that sense, we only have one hat to wear. It may have different colors and at times it may have different logos and insignias. But no matter where we are and who is with us, the hat remains basically the same – the hat of Kiddush shem shomayim.
A Lichtige Chanukah & Chag Urim Sameiach
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Chodesh,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev  
22 Kiselv 5776/ December 4, 2015

I am blessed to be close with many great Torah scholars who I consider personal rabbeim and/or mentors. One of those individuals is a respected educator who inspires his students in his uniquely skillful and devoted manner. He also has the distinction of being known as a person who pulls no punches; he says it like it is. He often quips (only half in jest) “quote me and ill deny it” before relating something insightful that many others wouldn’t have the courage to admit.
On one occasion this rebbe was interviewing for a position in a prestigious elementary school. When he walked into the room for the meeting, the three heads of the school were sitting together in awkward silence. It was clear that they had just been discussing something that was a point of contention between them.
When this rebbe walked in, one of the three remarked “why don’t we ask this rebbe what he thinks?” Without waiting for a reply from his colleagues, he asked the interviewee, “Why do you think our older students are not so interested in learning chumash? What can we do to change that?” Without batting an eyelash my rebbe replied that the problem lies in the source. “You know that you’re rabbeim are probably far more interested in teaching gemara than they are in teaching chumash. The students undoubtedly pick up on that lack of enthusiasm.”
My rebbe told me that the one who asked the question seemed satisfied with the answer, but the other two stared at him in cold silence. He never received a follow-up call from that yeshiva. But when he related the story to me he concluded with a twinkle in his eye “You know that’s the real truth - even though no one wants to admit it!”
Just prior to my beginning to teach fifth grade at Ashar a few years ago, my cousin, Rabbi Shragi Gold, a seasoned and experienced rebbe, and a colleague from Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, offered me an invaluable piece of advice: “In whatever you are teaching, even if it’s the aleph bais, always seek to find chiddush (novelty). Find questions and seek answers that you never thought of before. In that way your teaching will never become stale or dry, no matter how many times you teach it.”
I think about his words constantly, and it is amazing to me how every year when teaching the same pesukim in Chumash Shemos, I, and my students, discover new perspectives, questions, and answers that I never realized before.
The key to education lies in the level of excitement in which it is conveyed. Inspiration requires emotion!
The word “hachanah” (preparation) contains the word “kayn” (just so). When Aharon lit the menorah in the Mishkan the Torah states, “Vaya’as kayn Aharon – And Aharon did so”. In order for something to be performed “just so” - the way it is ideally meant to be, there must be preparation and forethought.
In our home, my Menorahs has already been removed from the breakfront, adorning a table by the window, awaiting the excitement of next week. True, the Menorah may become somewhat tarnished, but the build up of excitement it generates is well-worth it.
Chanukah presents, Chanukah gelt, latkes, donuts, and family get-togethers, are only meant to enhance the true joy we feel in fulfilling the unique mitzvos and essence of this special holiday. Chanukah is about lighting the menorah and expressing our gratitude to G-d for the opportunity to be members of His great nation. The more excitement we generate now, the greater will be our celebration in its fulfillment! 

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach  
15 Kiselv 5776/ November 27, 2015

At our Shabbos table each week, I try to ask our children a challenging question based on the parsha, for a cash reward.
This past Shabbos the question was: in what way is the structure of Parshas Vayetzei unique? How does it differ from any other parsha in the Torah? The correct answer is that it is the only parsha that contains no openings in the Torah. In other words, in a Sefer Torah there are no paragraph breaks throughout the entire parsha. Parshas Vayezei is a few long continuous columns of words.
For those who do Shanyim Mikra V’echad Targum by reading from one opening in the Torah to the next, it is very challenging. For those of us who do it late Friday night (which during these winter Shabbosos, ‘late’ is around 7 p.m.) reading page after page of Unkelos without any breaks presents a real battle against head-bopping snoozes. 
Chazal explain that the open spaces in the Torah symbolize the need for one to step back and contemplate what has just occurred or has been taught. It is not merely for aesthetics. Rather, one must “learn” the open spaces, i.e. by reflecting on the lessons that were just taught.
Parshas Vayetzei contains the story of Yaakov Avinu’s descent and lingering in his personal exile in the home of Lavan. One of the greatest challenges of exile is that one is not in control of his fate and responsibilities. He is under the dominion and direction of others, subject to their whims and demands. Often those expectations are antithetical to Torah values. In such an atmosphere it is all the more challenging to contemplate what G-d expects and demands of a person in such a situation. That challenge is symbolized by the lack of open spaces in Parshas Vayetzei.
Yaakov Avinu demonstrated that one can, and must, maintain his integrity and connection to G-d even in such a challenging atmosphere.
I don’t know if there’s any message that speaks more to our generation! Think about the life of the common person living in our contemporary free world. We go to sleep with our cell phones nearby. Many of us wake up in middle of the night to check email and social media posts, which severely hinders quality sleep. The phone alarm buzzes and we start our day by checking our phones. As we munch down a quick (often unhealthy) breakfast and sip our coffee we check the news and sports. As kids wait for the bus they upload selfies onto Instagram. As adults head out to their cars they text and make phone calls.  And that’s just the morning.
In a classic Far-Side comic, Gary Larson depicts a family staring at a wall. The caption below reads “what families did before television”. There was a time when boredom was part of life. It wasn’t pleasant but it did give our minds time and space to wonder and imagine. For children that enhanced the development of their cognitive minds, for adults it meant advancements in work productivity. 
When life becomes an endless marathon of effortless brain stimulation, we never have the opportunity for introspection and reflection. Our creativity and novel thinking begins to atrophy and we become mindless robots going through the motions without depth or meaning.
Part of the reason we seek that constant stimulation is because we are afraid to be alone with ourselves. We are afraid of what we might encounter. But without it life is devoid of meaning and meaning is what makes us human.
Yaakov Avinu was able to raise the greatest of families despite the fact that that he had no external space or breaks. Somehow he was able to find internal meaning through contemplation and reflection despite the demands imposed upon him. It’s something we need to learn as well.
By now it sounds trite and clichéd but it is the truth and our only option: We can only connect internally if we learn to disconnect externally. 

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei  
8 Kiselv 5776/ November 20, 2015

Growing up there was hardly anything more exciting that receiving a package in the mail. You would open the package and admiringly look at the contents which you have long waited for. Then you put aside the contents and lovingly hold… the bubble wrap! Nothing was more thrilling and delightful than spending hours stomping all over those bubbles and basking in the satisfying "pop" sounds. The fact that it also annoyed everyone around you, and caused everyone else to become jealous that they didn’t have any bubble wrap, made it all the more fun.
This may come as a shock but it seems that the excitement of bubble wrap is becoming a memory. Sealed Air Corp, which has sold Bubble Wrap since 1960, is introducing a new version of the product called iBubble Wrap. The original bubble wrap is too space-consuming. It was delivered in massive roles to warehouses and would take up a great deal of space which couldn’t be used for actual merchandise. The new wrap takes up one-fiftieth the space of the traditional material and appeals to online retailers who are driving growth in the $20 billion protective packaging business, and want to ship items as compactly as possible.
The revamped material is sold in flat plastic sheets. Just prior to shipping the sheets are filled with air via a custom pump. Once inflated, iBubbles look similar to traditional Bubble Wrap with one notable exception: there will be no satisfying pop when you push, press, sit, or stomp on it.
The bottom line is that the wrapping needs to protect the contents in the most efficient and resourceful manner possible. Despite how enjoyable it is to play with bubble wrap, if there is a better way to protect packages in a more ideal manner, than it’s time to bid bubble wrap farewell. The main thing is that the package arrives in its pristine form.
As a nation we have been proudly carrying invaluable merchandise with us wherever we have been. It’s the merchandise which guides our lives and infuses our days with meaning, direction, and purpose.
That merchandise needs to be taught and presented with attractive and user-friendly ‘bubble wrap’. Children need to be drawn towards the merchandise by the wrapping so they could eventually appreciate the merchandise itself. 
In each generation the wrapping needs to be adapted to its times. The wrapping used in my father’s generation is not the same as the wrapping used in my generation, and the wrapping used in my generation is not the same as that of my children. The techniques, the approaches, the disciplinary tactics, and the reward system are all part of the wrapping.
           Despite the fact that the wrapping constantly has to be revamped, the package inside always stays the same. In fact it is illegal to tamper with it.
     This distinction is actually vital to understand. Whatever falls into the category of ‘wrapping’ is subject to change, but the merchandise itself is exactly as it was, as perfectly pristine as it was when it was first given to us at Sinai all of those years ago.

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos  
Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5776/ November 13, 2015

In Ashar I have the privilege to be the fifth grade Rebbe and to serve as School Guidance Counselor. My office shares a wall with the office of the nurse, Nurse Trish. I hung a sign in between our offices which reads “Stomachache? From last night’s supper - enter office on left, because of today’s test – enter office on right.”
Last week, Nurse Trish was kind enough to arrange for a nurse to come to Ashar to administer the flu shot to any faculty member who so desired. It was a long trip next door but I received the injection. The only problem was that the administering nurse didn’t bring any stickers with her, so my children didn’t believe me that I had gotten a shot. The Band-Aid wasn’t enough to convince them.
The next day I woke up with minor flu like symptoms. I felt fatigued and had some achiness in my neck and back, but I was able to proceed through my day pretty regularly.
It’s pretty incredible that by injecting a controlled dosage into one’s body, the body immediately begins producing antibodies to protect itself from a stronger attack of the disease. It’s worth the minor discomfort for a day or two if it spares me the suffering of a full fledged attack of the flu iy’H.
The concept behind vaccination is fascinating – better to deal with the disease now when it’s controlled and manageable, than to contend with it later when it’s far more severe and debilitating.
Expert parents and educators appreciate this concept well. They understand that when their children are young they need to give them the space and confidence to make their own choices, and inevitably mistakes, so that they can gain lifetime experience.
There is a great amount of worthy discussion about the deleterious effect of “helicopter parenting”. These are parents who hover over their children and seek to protect them from life’s challenges and negative experiences. These are parents who are quick to defend their child and lambast the principal and school for disciplining their child, before finding out the school’s perspective. These are parents who will not allow anyone to tease their child and when normal immature youthful bantering takes places, will scream at the school for not protecting their child from bullying. [The vital difference between teasing – even unpleasant teasing, and bullying is often misunderstood with very serious consequences. But that is its own discussion.]
Often these well-meaning parents will never say no to their children when they are young. Then, as the children age and become obnoxious and disrespectful, the parents have a hard time setting boundaries.
It’s never easy for a parent to see their child make foolish mistakes, but there is no better teacher than personal experience.
Parenting expert and Love & Logic founder Jim Fay, quips that it’s always better to allow our children to learn the consequences of their actions when they are young and the price tag is relatively small, than to learn those lessons when they get older and the price tag is far more costly.
The shot may sting and hurt a bit, but to be vaccinated and protected it’s worth it.   

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev
24 MarCheshvan 5776/ November 6, 2015

It’s been over a decade now that I have been learning with my wonderful chavrusa and friend, R’ Yossi Weimer. Although the location and time when we learn has changed over the years, our learning together has not. Currently we learn during the early morning. With the help of Hashem we have made quite a few siyumim together.
At present we are learning Gemara Yoma. Last week the gemara included a discussion about the events that took place on the first of Nisan, the day the Divine Service in the Mishkan officially began. The gemara quoted some pesukim from Parshas Tzav, my bar mitzvah parsha.
As my Zaydei’s yahrtzeit, 27 Cheshvan, is on the horizon it triggered a memory from when I was a seven year old boy and my Zaydei had come to visit us at our home in Monsey. I asked him if he could tell me the story in my bar mitzvah parsha. He was happy to oblige and began relating the laws of various sacrifices and the details involved in the inauguration of the Mishkan.
I was disappointed. “No Zaydei, I don’t want to hear laws and details; I want to hear the story.” Zaydei smiled and replied that from parshas Yisro onwards there are not many stories recorded in the Torah. The Torah teaches us how to live as Jews including the laws we need to know and observe. A brief but pleasant memory.    
At the end of our learning session each morning, Yossi and I learn a few minutes of mussar. Currently we are learning Chayei Olam, one of the great works of the Steipler Gaon zt’l.
In the second chapter the Steipler explains that man’s intellect and cognitive abilities serve as proof that he isn’t created merely for life in this world. The fact that one can ponder and think demonstrates that he has a great mission and purpose. He quotes the Dubner Maggid who relates the parable of the young boy who dons his father’s clothing, which is obviously way too big on him. One is expected to fit into his clothing. If we do not develop our cognitive abilities and strive for great levels of wisdom we are analogous to the child who wears clothing that is too big for him.
That too reminded me of times in my youth when I would don my Zaydei’s hat and jacket and prance around aimlessly. In fact, there is a famous family picture of me wearing my Zaydei’s hat and jacket which hung on the wall in my Bubby’s house for years.
It’s been almost three decades since my Zaydei’s passing, and he continues to be a tremendous inspiration for me. I still yearn to fit into his clothes, albeit not in the physical sense. [I probably would have fit into his hat and jacket even before my bar mitzvah.] But as a matter of spiritual growth, he remains an example and a role model.
In addition, the legacy he left behind through the way he lived his life is that life is not always a bedtime story, the vagaries and tests of life are par for the course. But no matter the challenges life presents, we must maintain our mission to live according to the dictates of halacha and Avodas Hashem.
I still hope that one day I’ll be able to fit into his clothes.     

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 MarCheshvan 5776/ October 30, 2015

If the wicked journalists of CNN, BBC, NPR, AP, NY Times, and all of the other unbalanced news agencies were around in the time of Avrohom, these may have very well been the headlines:

Everything in life is a matter of perception. Three years ago when Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt’l was niftar, Klal Yisroel lost an absolute giant who was responsible for incredible amount of Torah learning and for reviving the Sephardic community.
His life was dedicated to serving G-d and his love for his people – no matter their background – was unparalleled. His humility gave him the uncanny ability to relate to even the simplest Jews and his charisma was contagious.
The well over 800,000 Jews of all levels of affiliation that attended his funeral, and thousands more who couldn’t even enter Yerushalayim, are the greatest testimony of his greatness. This was a man who cried about the million Jews who don’t know “Shema Yisroel” and wanted nothing more than to spread the word of G-d.
Yet the foolish secular media portrayed him as a ‘politician with controversial views’.
I would venture to think that the average American who hears a few headlines about the current Mideast crisis simply cannot believe that they are being presented with outright lies.
Consider the following recent Euronews report about the situation in Israel: “Palestinians have been burying their dead, with at least seventeen killed in this upsurge recent in violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.” It sure sounds like Israel is walking around causing terror among the defenseless and blameless Palestinians. The fact that the seventeen dead were knife-wielding terrorists who tried to kill innocent civilian Israelis is not mentioned.
Then there was this news report: “On Sunday an Israeli air strike killed a woman in Gaza who was five months pregnant along with her three year old daughter. The IDF claimed the airstrike was retaliation for a Hamas missile fired from the area. The streets of Gaza were flooded with mourners.”
The reporter failed to mention that Hamas purposely fired the rocket from a residential area, so that Israel’s effort at self-defense through retaliation would inevitably end up hurting civilians.     
These false media representations which are outright lies, affect us as a nation and as a religious community. There is nothing and no one who cannot be tarnished by false portrayal and misrepresentations.
We would be wise to remember that today’s written word is more often than not unbalanced broadcasting and that ‘all the news that’s fit to print’ is not too ‘fit’ after all.    

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
10 MarCheshvan 5776/ October 23, 2015

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Whilst in Spain they expelled every single Jew

Last week, America celebrated Columbus Day. In recent years Columbus Day has become somewhat controversial as there are many teachers who are hesitant to hail Columbus as a national hero. Nonetheless everyone celebrates the day because a day off is a day off and a sale is a sale.
Many point to the fact that Columbus acted savagely and brutally against the Native Americans that were living there and had an arrogant narcissistic personality. .
Then there is also the question of why we praise Columbus for discovering America when there were others who arrived in America long before him. Aside for the million Native Americans who were already here, in the year 1000 Viking leader Leif Ericson led a group to Newfoundland in Canada. [He subsequently started a football team in Minnesota.]
However, history books are always written from the vantage point of the victor[1], and for now America still celebrates Columbus Day. The prevailing feeling is that our nation’s formation and growth was only thanks to the voyage of Columbus. The reality is that Columbus did not do anything more than to accidentally discover a land he wasn’t even looking for. If it was up to him he never would have arrived here.
The story of Columbus is on some level the story of our lives. We set out on the voyages of life with certain specific goals and destinations in mind. Then so often tempests blow that change the course of our sails and we end up very far from where we expected or planned. Sometimes the journeys are enjoyable and pleasant, but oftentimes they are painful and challenging. We hope for the former types of journeys, but we grow and mature from the latter.
The challenges and vicissitudes of life help us discover internal greatness that we didn’t realize we possessed. When we traverse and prevail over the tests of life we are the beneficiaries.
Avrohom Avinu is instructed to set out on a journey. He has no idea where he is heading or what to expect. It is a journey that culminates with the birth of the greatest nation on earth. Avrohom was compelled to endure challenge after challenge, but when he emerged he not only discovered greatness within him, he successfully transmitted that greatness to his progeny.
The tests of our lives help us discover the unchartered territories of greatness – the proverbial Americas within us. But often unless we are goaded to discover those lands they remain undeveloped and barren.
 Around the time of Columbus’s third voyage, an explorer named Americus Vespucius, arrived on these shores. The newly discovered land was named after him. I guess America sounded better than Vespucica.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

[1] The one notable exception is Jewish history, which grants the reader the rare perspective of viewing history often from the vantage point of the persecuted and underprivileged. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach
3 MarCheshvan 5776/ October 16, 2015

Part of the Chol Hamoed experience includes ‘back of hand stamps’. At many parks and recreational facilities, the policy is that if you need to leave temporarily after entering the park, before doing so you need to get your hand stamped. Just before the exit, there is a highly trained attendant who knows how to delicately and precisely apply the stamp to the back of your hand. Then when you are ready to re-enter, the employee at the entrance gate looks for the stamp. If it’s there you are permitted to re-enter without repaying the entrance fee again.
If you go on different trips during the days of Chol Hamoed, by the time Chol Hamoed is over the back of your hand can look like a coloring book with different stamps from various locations.
Some of the stamps fade away immediately while others linger for a few more days before they too disappear completely.
During the winter a few decades ago, I and a friend were staying at the home of a classmate in order to attend the bar mitzvah of another classmate. Before Shabbos, as my friend’s father showed us to our room, he also showed us something else which was stored nearby – his fully intact esrog from Succos a few months earlier. He revealed to us the secret – he placed his esrog in a sealed glass jar along with a wax candle, and stored it in his garage. The result was that the esrog looked as fresh as it did when Succos ended.
A few years ago I related the secret of successful esrog preservation to my children. Our older children were very excited and wanted to see if it worked. So now in our garage we have several jars of preserved esrogim, each labeled with the year and whose esrog it was. They look like specimens from a laboratory. The oldest esrog is from three years ago and is indeed fully intact.
Parshas Noach relates the tragic story of the flood. The Torah states that “it erased all that existed.” The week of Parshas Noach is the first full week after the holiday season has drawn to a close. As we recount that catastrophic deluge which eradicated all that existed prior, we hope it is not also when all that we have accomplished these last few weeks becomes erased as well.
Part of the post Yom Tov challenge is to maintain the inspiration we gained from the Yom Tov (even as we try to shed the calories that we gained at the same time). Our goal is that the inspiration shouldn’t fade like the nebulous stamp on the back of our hands. In order to do so we need to seal it within our hearts and focus on all we have attained and achieved.
Noach saved the world by bringing everything worthy of salvation into the taivah (ark). The Ba’al Shem Tov related that the word taivah also means ‘word’. A Jew is able to maintain inspiration by holding on to ‘words’: Words of Torah and prayer, and words of encouragement that we share with each other. All of such words help maintain a connection with our personal growth throughout the months of Elul and Tishrei.
If we are able to retain the joy and connection of Elul and Tishrei, then when we prepare to light the Chanukah candles in a few weeks, we will find that the inspiration of Succos is vibrant within us. This despite the fact that the succah has long before been dismantled and our lulav and esrog have dried out, unless you try my method to save your esrog.  

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

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