Thursday, March 26, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav
Shabbas Hagadol
7 Nisan 5775/March 27, 2015
Every Tuesday and Friday is garbage pickup for our block. On those mornings I have to remember to lug the garbage cans up the driveway to the edge of the road, so the garbage collectors can dispose of them properly.
On one occasion I arrived home on a Tuesday afternoon to find that some of the loose garbage which I had placed next to the garbage bin had not been collected. I realized that although I had placed the garbage at the top of the driveway it wasn’t close enough to the road. It wasn’t clear that it was to be thrown away, and so remained there it remained.
On another occasion I found one of our children’s tricycles close to the garbage pile. Thankfully it too was not closer to the curb or it would have been disposed of. I reminded my children that if they leave a bike at the top of our property, the sanitation workers may think it’s garbage and dispose of it.
Often we may be inspired to want to change. We may decide that once and for all we are going to rid ourselves of our negative habits and foster meaningful change. But within a short amount of time we find ourselves right back where we started.
If we are really honest with ourselves we may realize that sometimes we don’t really want to change. There is a great deal of comfort in what’s familiar and it’s exceedingly difficult to let go.
As the old adage goes “Let go and let G-d!” But if we are clandestinely holding on to our trash we aren’t really allowing G-d to help us cart it away.
Before Yom Kippur a friend sent me a picture of a young Chassidishe boy lovingly and emotionally clutching the chicken that he was apparently given in order to schlugg kapparos. The deeper meaning behind the picture is that often even when we externally proclaim that we wish to rid ourselves of certain character faults, internally we may really seek to clutch it close to our chests and hold onto it. The unknown and unfamiliar is daunting and intimidating. The path of least resistance and settling for our default mode is always easier.
Before Pesach we are all involved with destroying our chometz. 
The Radvaz writes that the reason why we are so hyper-vigilant - not only to search for chometz - but to completely eradicate every trace of it, is because chometz is a symbol of our evil inclination.
While we are investing so much time and energy into divesting ourselves of all chometz we are wordlessly praying that Hashem help us divest ourselves of the chometz in our hearts and souls as well. But we have to first have a sincere desire to get rid of that inner chometz.
If we really want to take out the garbage we have to make sure to leave it by the curb where it’s going to be collected.

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

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


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav/Hagadol
7 Nissan 5775/ March 27, 2015

After a particularly brutal last few weeks of winter, we happily welcomed in spring this past Friday at 6:45 pm. But within minutes of the onset of the new season, winter was back giving us five more inches of snow.
On Shabbos morning I donned and buttoned my winter coat yet again and headed to shul. When I arrived in shul and began opening my coat the top button popped off. At that point the button became muktzeh since it no longer had any use to me on Shabbos, so I let it fall to the floor near the wall.
The purpose of a button is to connect two disparate items and hook them together into one entity. I decided that my button popping off was a sign that it was time to open my coat and allow the spring weather in. So Shabbos afternoon I didn't wear a coat.
Even more significant than my button falling off is the fact that the holiday of Pesach always heralds spring.
Pesach is a holiday of national connection, when a band of disparaged slaves were transformed into a nation. The laws of Pesach reflect that transformation. The korbon Pesach must be consumed in groups whose adherents pre-registered before the offering was brought.
While the holidays of Tishrei focus more on the individual and his personal process of teshuva, the primary focus of the holidays of Purim and Pesach are on national redemption. We celebrate as a people.
This is part of the reason why we have such an adverse reaction to the wicked son at the Seder. The question he asks is essentially a good one - why are we busy with this service tonight? But it is his attitude that so irks us. On the holiday of national unity when we achieved nationhood and marched out as a free people, he wants to remain a disparate loner.
We caution him that if he possessed such an attitude at the time of the redemption he would never have left. It was a unified nation that Hashem took out of Egypt, not a group of individuals.
In that sense the wicked son is popping off the proverbial button - he wants to disconnect himself. That's why we give him such a harsh response, for he has effectively undermined our primary effort tonight to celebrate the genesis of our nationhood.
I would conclude by saying that when the button on the bottom of your shirt starts popping off, it's also a sign - a sign that it's time to begin the post Pesach diet. But until then, enjoy!

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

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

PARSHAS VAYIKRA/Hachodesh 5775

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra/Hachodesh
Rosh Chodesh Nisan
1 Nissan 5775/ March 20, 2015

Federal officials say the number of laser incidents in the US being pointed at aircrafts jumped from 311 in 2005 to almost 4,000 in 2014.
On March 10, 2015, the FAA said it received four reports from commercial pilots landing or taking off at LaGuardia airport of lasers pointed in their direction. The pilots were temporarily blinded by the light, and after they landed were treated at local hospitals. A police helicopter was dispatched to circle the area. When a laser was pointed at them they traced it to its source – a Bronx apartment. They soon arrested the perpetrator, Mr. Frank Egan.
How often do we become discouraged with ourselves and our accomplishments? How often do we wonder what our tefillos really are worth, why it matters if we learn more Torah, and if anyone cares about the chesed we do?
Perhaps Frank Egan didn’t realize the true danger of what he was doing. Or perhaps he did realize it but was so enamored with the thrill of being able to have an impact on a plane flying thousands of feet above his bedroom that he didn’t think about the repercussions of his actions.
It is not hyperbole to say that each of us carries a laser with us. Every time we perform a mitzvah, daven, or learn Torah we are creating a massive beam of light which connects our soul with its eternal source. 
Rav Tzadok Hakohain writes “Just as a person needs to believe in Hashem, so too afterwards he needs to believe in himself.” If we realize the power we yield we would be much more careful about wasting opportunities that abound around us. But alas, we don’t believe we can truly have an impact, and we don’t fully appreciate the potential we have.
In the tefillah Elokai Netzor prayer recited as the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei, many add a prayer which includes a petition that G-d help “that I not become angry today, and that I do not anger You.”
The vernacular of the prayer itself reveals an astounding concept: We have the ability to anger G-d, as it were. Surely none of us wish to do so, but if we can anger G-d, then we surely have the ability to bring Him nachas too. In fact, this idea is expressed in the gemara (Berachos 17a) “Rabbi Yochanan… said: Praised is the man whose growth is in Torah and his toil is in Torah, and he grants nachas ruach (“pleasure of spirit”) to his creator.”
Apparently we are far more influential than we give ourselves credit for.
We better be careful we point our laser.

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei/Parah
Mevorchim Chodesh Nisan
22 Adar 5775/ March 13, 2015

During one of my internships when in was in Fordham University’s Social Work program, my supervisor was a psychologist who was also a secular Jew. Although he knew a lot about psychology, he didn’t know much about Judaism. Even so, as the child of survivors he was proud that he was a Jew and would often speak about it. I mostly listened and nodded. It wasn’t much use arguing or debating him anyway.
On one occasion the good doctor told me that he loves Judaism because it’s a religion of action. “You know those other religions dictate what you should think, and tell you what your attitudes should be. Judaism on the other hand, because it doesn’t dominate your thinking or tell you what your attitudes should be. It only tells you about certain things you have to do, but that’s about it.”
I was not about to launch into a harangue about mussar and the mandate that one control his thoughts, and so I just nodded. It was fascinating to me that although we were both Jewish, our understanding of the religion was quite distant.
This week in shul a congregant asked the million dollar question – why were the Jews deserving of extermination under the rule of Haman? What sin(s) could they possibly have committed that were so serious as to warrant the unprecedented decree calling for the genocide of the entire nation?
It’s such a good question that the Gemara itself discuses it. In a discussion between Rav Shimon Bar Yochai and his students it emerges that their culpability resulted from the combined sins of attending the feast of Achashveirosh and the nation’s having bowed to an image of the evil Nebuchadnezzar a few decades prior. But even so the question remains as to why the punishment was so severe?
A couple is sitting in front of their Rabbi. It is quite apparent that the situation is extremely tense. Their marriage is deteriorating and they are making a last ditch attempt to save it. The husband asserts that he doesn’t know what her problem is. He does everything he is supposed to do and provides well for their family. She replies that it’s not any one thing in particular, but it’s the general attitude. There is no feeling between them. They live a parallel existence but it’s not much of a marriage. How do you put that into words?
The Torah does not merely demand that we ‘do certain things’. The Torah demands that we develop and foster a passionate connection with it. The Jewish people are termed the brides of the Torah, in what is a dynamic relationship.
At the time of Purim the Jews began to view themselves as ‘just another nation’, albeit with a responsibility to perform mitzvos. When it’s all only about action the relationship deteriorates. Perhaps they did not actually ‘do’ anything so bad per se, but the deterioration of the connection is more egregious than any negative act.[1]
The salvation of Purim generated within the nation an emotional connection. It reignited the feeling of connection and relationship with Torah and G-d. It was only when they reignited that spark that they were worthy of the completion of the rebuilding of the second Bais Hamikdash, which happened shortly thereafter.
As in those days, in our days too.

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

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

[1] Rav Dovid Soloveitchik shlita (Me’or Hamoadim) explains that at times exhibiting negative character traits can be more severe than actual sins, and that was the reason they were worthy of such severe punishment.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Ta’anis Esther - week of Parshas Ki Sisa
13 Adar 5775/ March Forth, 2015

Who generates the most excitement? I would venture to say it’s the Fed-Ex or UPS guy. (By the way, did you know Fed-Ex and UPS are merging? It’s going to be called Fed-Up. It’s happening on Tuesday after they take the word gullible out of the dictionary).
Mail can be exciting, but there’s also a lot of junk and bills that come in the mail. But everyone loves getting packages. There’s a certain surge of excitement one feels when the delivery man drops it off, even if the recipient ordered it and knows what’s inside. That look of anticipation as one opens the box and pull out its contents is worth it all.
In the Staum house however, while the contents inside the box are exciting, that is definitely not the main focus or excitement. In our home heated arguments break out over who has first dibs on… the bubble wrap. There’s a certain thrill and feeling of power that our children enjoy when they pop those poor defenseless bubbles. Giving your parents a headache from the popping is just an added benefit.
It may sound somewhat silly, but on some level this is our story as well. We seem to get really excited about the bubble wrap – the externals and trimmings, and neglect the real inner essence.
In a superficial society so focused on externals this is true on many levels. But perhaps it is never truer than in regards to the holiday of Purim.
Purim is a celebration of life, and what that means to us as Torah Jews. On Purim we were given a second chance and a new lease on life. It should give us a moment of pause to contemplate what that means to us.
Purim is a celebration, not only of Judaism, but also of Jews. Haman wanted to destroy us simply because we are Jews, therefore victory is achieved when we love and respect each other for the same reason.
Purim is a celebration of thinking beyond ourselves – of worrying for the poor, brokenhearted, and underprivileged. It’s a day to remember the incredible selflessness of Esther on behalf of her people, and that we must strive to achieve that selflessness as well. 
But many of us never have a chance to focus on the essence of the day because the day is so fleeting and we are distracted by the bubble-wrap – the costumes, themes of shalach manos, and what kind of wine to drink during the meal. All of those things have their place, and I surely do not mean to demean or mock the enjoyment of the day and bringing smiles to others through clever shalach manos and costumes. But we need to go beyond the bubble-wrap to find the true gift that is inside the external wrappings.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l quipped that Purim is known as a meshugana tog (a crazy day). We think it’s a ‘crazy day’ because one can see a fellow dressed up like Mickey Mouse dancing with a Rav or Rosh Yeshiva, or other such unusual sights. But it’s a crazy day for a much more profound reason. Normally, there is an exacting progression one must follow to achieve personal growth and closeness with G-d. But on Purim the gates of heaven are wide open and our prayers ascend uninhibitedly, allowing us to ascertain incredible blessings for ourselves and Klal Yisroel. The growth one can achieve on Purim is ‘crazy’, it defies the norm.
On this great holiday of unity and closeness, may we all take advantage and appreciate the true essence of this special day, and merit all of the blessings we all need and hope for, including the ultimate blessing. May the Hamans of our time swing freely as their evil predecessor did, in those days, at this time.  
Freilichen Purim to all of Klal Yisroel,
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum          

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