Thursday, May 28, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Naso
11 Sivan 5775/ May 29, 2015
Pirkei Avos – Chapter 1

In the past I have written about the golf course which runs adjacent to the street I walk up in order to get to shul on Shabbos (see Musings 70 & 190). Apparently one need not be a very adroit and skillful golfer to patronize that golf course. During our uphill trek to shul we often peruse the area searching for golf balls that not only missed their holes but also cleared the high trees and the road at the edge of the golf course.
When we come home from shul our children proudly add the newfound golf balls to their burgeoning collection. This week I was informed that we now have 67 golf balls.
For a time the golf ball collection was situated at the base of a bush in front of our home. Each morning our younger children would look to see if the golf balls had rooted so that our golf ball tree had begun growing. To their disappointment it never happened. The most movement the golf balls had was when some of them dropped down a gopher hole.
Unlike the stagnant and inorganic golf balls however, our shuls and homes were filled with verdant and beautiful flowers and greenery. Undoubtedly the ones who most ‘enjoy’ Shavuos (or at least pre-Shavuos) are Tenuvah, J & J, Haolam, and the other  dairy companies. But florists come in at a close second. 
It’s fascinating that those flowers which so beautifully and regally adorned our homes throughout Yom Tov are by now wilting and withering. Even the most robust and verdant flowers are limited in how long they can remain fresh.
The truth is that it is for that very reason that flowers are so apropos as a symbolic custom on Shavuos. Someone once quipped that women don’t love flowers even though they die; women love flowers because they die. In other words, because flowers die and have to be replaced, the beauty of flowers represents the need for constant and continual investment.
Flowers symbolize the need for constant effort and investment to maintain and build even the best relationships. When one allows his/her marriage to operate on status quo the relationship becomes stagnant and wilted.  Relationships are organic and constantly developing, unlike inorganic golf balls that remain the same wherever they may find themselves.
Shavuos is not merely a celebration of receiving the Torah, but also the context of how it was given – like a wedding between a choson and a kallah. One’s Torah and mitzvah observance cannot merely be done out of rote. Such service becomes trite and boring. Like any relationship it needs constant freshness and excitement to maintain the passion and connection.
The flowers of Shavuos served their purpose. And now the flowers of the coming Shabbos need to take their place, with that same beauty and excitement.  

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

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar – Erev Shavuos  
5 Sivan 5775/ May 22, 2015
49th day of the Omer - Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6 – Kinyan Torah

On February 17, 2001, my wife and I were married in Bais Faiga hall in Lakewood, NJ. (Lakewood is a city way down the Garden State Parkway with a prominent yeshiva, as well as numerous other Torah institutions, a bunch of kosher restaurants, and many religious Jews. Perhaps you’ve heard of it…)
At our wedding we were joined by our closest friends, relatives, and neighbors. It was a most special and memorable evening. We were the stars of the show and everyone who came and danced did so in our honor. There were flowers, a live band, and other floppy things that made the night even more memorable. We definitely felt very special.
About a week later I was back in Bais Faiga attending a ‘spousal-obligation-wedding’. Those are the weddings of your spouse’s friends that you have to attend in order to accompany your spouse, even though you don’t really know anyone there. That particular wedding was quite a humbling experience. Here I was standing in the same spot where a week earlier I was the center of attention and everyone was looking to shake my hand and wish me all blessings, and now I was just another face in the crowd.
Some people politely greeted me and asked who I was and what I was doing there. For the evening, I explained that I was “the new husband of the former Chani Mermelstein”. Some people remembered that our wedding had been a week earlier and wished me Mazal Tov, others simply asked if she was related to “the Mermelsteins from Brooklyn”. [Open a phone book from any Jewish area and see how many Mermelsteins come up. That’s one reason why I chose to stick with the name Staum.]
Bais Faiga will always be the place where we married (as well as the place where my wife went to school, which itself is an interesting combination), and it’s always nice to point that out when we drive by. But ultimately, as soon as our wedding was over and we left the hall it no longer had much meaning to us. It wasn’t so much where it happened that matters as much as what happened. The important thing is that we were and are married, and that bond traverses all time and place.
Everyone knows that Mount Sinai was the location where the Torah was given. We are taught that it was because of the humility of Sinai that it merited becoming the chosen mountain. We are also taught about the incredible unprecedented and never repeated revelation of Sinai, at which all of our souls were present.
Yet Sinai no longer contains any holiness. In fact, we aren’t completely sure where it is. Contrast that with Har Habayis (Temple Mount), from which the Shechina has never departed.
Har Sinai is the place where we forged or connection with Hashem, and the Torah served as the divine ring. Har Sinai was our wedding hall. Therefore, it is no longer important to remember where it happened as much as it’s vital that we remember that it happened. The bond forged there traverses all times and places. No matter where we have been exiled to and how long we have been away from home, that bond remains secure.
Har Habayis on the other hand, is the home we constructed for Hashem. It was there that we learned to serve Him with awe, trepidation, and love. It was there that He demonstrated His professed love for us through miraculous occurrences which were commonplace there. A home has far more personal meaning than a wedding hall. A home represents the perpetuation of the bond and everlasting dedication to its preservation. Therefore, the divine presence has never left Har Habayis.   
The great Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah is upon us; the day we recall what and why, even though we no longer know where. Happy 3,327th Anniversary!

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

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Parshas Behar-Bechukosai
26 Iyar 5775/ May 15, 2015
Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan
41stday of the Omer - Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5

This Shabbos the entire Jewish world in chutz la’aretz will finally catch up with our brethren in Eretz Yisroel. Since the end of Pesach we have been lagging a parsha behind. But last Shabbos Eretz Yisroel divided Parshas Behar and Bechuosai so that this Shabbos they will only read parshas Bechukosai, while we read Behar and Bechukosai.
Truthfully, in Eretz Yisroel they could have split up previous double parshios (Tazria-Metzora/ Acharei Mos-Kedoshim) to allow us in chutz la’aretz to catch up. However, it would be unbecoming for Eretz Yisroel to “wait for us”. Eretz Yisroel is the ideal location and therefore the Torah reading there is primary. It would hardly be respectful for the primary to wait for the secondary.
Instead we continued to lag behind until this week when there was a reason for Eretz Yisroel to split up a double parsha. [The gemara Megilla relates that the curses of Parshas Bechukosai should be read prior to Shavuos. However, in order to give a slight buffer we don’t read them immediately before but the Shabbo prior to the Shabbos before Shavuos.]
I receive many divrei Torah authored in Eretz Yisroel via email each week. During the last few weeks, it has been annoying to receive those emails a week ahead. It’s nice to finally again be on the same page. Still, the concept of “trying to catch up with Eretz Yisroel” and living in their shadow is a beautiful idea.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quipped that “In life we are always running, the question is only what we are running after.” Our aspirations and lodestars have a deep effect upon us. What we aspire for and pursue sets the trajectory of the course which we follow.
Rav Nachman of Breslov famously remarked “Wherever I am going, I am going to Eretz Yisroel.” Apparently, going to Eretz Yisroel in not only a physical endeavor but a mindset as well.
In a poll of 11,000 people, when asked what the number one factor which inhibits them from pursing their dreams, and going “from where they are to where they want to be”, the number one response was fear.
Going to Eretz Yisroel, physically, mentally, and most importantly, spiritually can be daunting. The first step is to overcome our inhibitions and fears so we can pursue our dreams. In fact, throughout our lives our goal must always be ‘to catch up with Eretz Yisroel’ and never expect Eretz Yisroel to wait for us.
In the center of Eretz Yisroel is Yerushalayim, where the heart of every Jew turns to and yearns to be. This week marks the 48th anniversary of the miraculous liberation and reunification of Yerushalayim. It behooves us to thank Hashem for the incredible gift which our great grandparents only dreamt of. Physically we are blessed to be able to visit Yerushalayim when we have the opportunity. But spiritually we still have ways to go before we arrive.
The good news next year we will have the chance to pursue Eretz Yisroel for three months – from Pesach until the week before Tisha B’av. Hopefully by then we will all celebrate Tisha B’av together in Yerushalayim. 

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

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

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Parshas Emor
Lag Baomer – Hilula d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
18 Iyar 5775/ May 7, 2015
33rd day of the Omer - Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was a beautiful spring afternoon, ideal for any baseball fan to buy some peanuts and cracker jacks without a care if he’d ever get back. The strange thing was that at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 8-2, there were no peanuts or cracker jacks sold; not even a hot dog or a beer. When Chris Davis hit a three run homer in the first inning not a single fan cheered. In fact, there was not a single fan in attendance. The 45,971 seats and three decks of Camden Yards were eerily empty. Because of the recent rioting in Baltimore and the imposed nightly curfew the game was played during the day and no fans were allowed into the stadium.
Almost any sports team has more wins at home than they do on the road. It is far easier to play your hardest when you’re being cheered on by thousands of people who are enthralled by every accomplishment and are rooting passionately for your success. Conversely, it is far more challenging to play in front of a crowd that is hoping for your discombobulation and defeat.
A rebbe of mine related that he was once invited to speak in a certain upscale shul. When he and his wife arrived at the beautiful and imposing building a few minutes before he was scheduled to begin his lecture, the brass gates in front were locked and the lights were out. He rang the bell and after a few moments a non-Jewish caretaker came to the gate. When my rebbe explained to him that he was speaking in a few minutes, the caretaker replied that he knew nothing about it. Still he allowed my rebbe and his wife in and gave them a tour of the building.
While they were standing in the shul, two women came in. One of them was carrying a pile of fliers and introduced herself as the woman who had invited him to speak. She apologized profusely and explained that the flyers had inadvertently never been sent and no one knew about the lecture. She herself was not even able to stay. The other woman there worked in the shul office and had overheard about the lecture so she remained to hear it.
My rebbe stood in the front of the room and delivered his lecture while the lone woman listened and wrote notes feverishly throughout.
The most astounding part of the story to me is that my rebbe was totally not bothered by the incident. At times when I arranged for him to speak and I was concerned that perhaps not so many people would come he would recount that incident. He would laugh and say that the attendance doesn’t matter to him at all. He truly felt that it was a zechus for him to give the shiur to whoever wanted to hear.
The great Rabbi Akiva literally climbed his way up from being a forty year old ignoramus into one of the primary Torah leaders in all of history. After twenty-four years of relentless study and dedication he had amassed an incredible twenty-four thousand students. Although the students were spread out over a vast area (From “Tifrach until Aza”) we can imagine that there were masses of students in attendance every time Rabbi Akiva said a shiur.
Then disaster struck and all of his students died. Aside from the unimaginable grief of their demise, we would imagine that it must have been overly depressing for Rabbi Akiva to continue teaching.
But Rabbi Akiva was not destroyed. He gathered five students and taught them Torah. The fact that whereas previously thousands had packed in to hear and savor his every word and now he had only five students did not deter him. He wanted to teach Torah and that was all that mattered.
It’s a level to aspire for. It’s hard to be just as dedicated when in private as when others are watching. But when one truly feels that it’s his duty and privilege to serve G-d then the numbers and watching eyes won’t mean a thing.

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

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