Thursday, August 27, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei
13 Elul 5775/ August 29, 2015
Pirkei Avos Perek 1-2

Auntie Em will tell you: There’s no place like home. This week we arrived home from Camp Dora Golding where we enjoyed another wonderful summer season b’h. After all the boxes and packages were unloaded and everything was (will be) finally unpacked, it’s great to be home. Although we will undoubtedly miss our summer home and all our friends from there – including a few skunks, daddy long legs, and raccoons, it’s nice to be home.
The morning after we came home it was time for the big shopping trip to replenish our kitchen shelves. Our older children went to visit their gracious (and daring) grandparents in Lakewood for a few days, and our younger two went to a day camp. That left me with no excuse to get out of going food shopping with Chani. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against food shopping. In fact, I do it quite often during the year. Along with all of the other men wandering aimlessly around the markets, on Thursday night I meander around the store with my cell phone in hand trying to figure out what I’m supposed to buy. But shopping with my wife is a different story. She doesn’t really need me, since she knows what she wants. Sure it’s great to spend time together, but when it comes to food shopping I’m merely the porter and the payer who is supposed to look pretty as she shops and shmoozes.
It was a flashback to when I would go shopping with my mother years ago. Only now it was much worse because these days I can’t tug on my wife’s foot and whine, “Come onnnnnn! Can’t we goooooo alreadddddyyyyy!” as she is schmoozing with a woman whose children are doing the same to her. Nor can I empty the shelves and throw things at other kids to get her attention. After all, I have to speak from the pulpit on Shabbos and people know me. What was worse was that I couldn’t even incite one of my children to whine to Mommy to get her to hurry up (not that I ever would do that anyway…)
The situation reminded me of a classic thought from Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l who always had a unique perspective about life and its challenges. Rabbi Miller notes that everything in life is an opportunity from which we can grow.
“A man standing under the chupah looks at the array of his wife’s relatives. He has to know that each is a different opportunity for perfection… This one is stubborn… another relative is selfish… then there is a hot-tempered man…
“Each person who crosses your path is sent by Hashem and in such a way that is suited to your needs… Each test is another opportunity. Think of a chicken roasted on a spit. It’s turned slowly to get every crack and wrinkle cooked just right. Likewise, in order to make us perfect in every facet of our character, Hashem ‘rotates us’ as we pass through life over the fire of ordeals.”[1]
I looked at the frozen chickens as they were placed in our shopping cart, and thought about how delicious they would be on our Shabbos table after they were cooked to perfection. After reminding myself how lucky I am not to be one of those frozen chickens, I thought about how every situation is an opportunity to grow. Sometimes it’s about working on being patient and appreciating just being there.
I guess I need a lot more turning before I’m roasted to perfection.    

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

[1] Rabbi Avigdor Miller on Emunah and Bitachon, by Rabbi Yaakov Astor, p. 98-99

Friday, August 21, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim
6 Elul 5775/ August 22, 2015
Pirkei Avos Perek 6

Anyone who has ever attended summer camp knows how emotionally-charged and special the Grand Sing is. At the conclusion of three days of Color War activities, skits, plays, and songs, the entire camp gathers together. They sing all of the Color War songs, especially the ‘alma mater’, a song that nostalgically recounts the highlights of camp and emotionally depicts the sadness of leaving the friends of camp behind as everyone heads home.
Before the Grand Sing all campers are requested to change into white shirts out of respect for the climactic night. This week, prior to this year’s Grand Sing, all of the campers arrived at supper already clad in their white shirts – a meatball and spaghetti supper. It was a very beautiful and memorable Grand Sing. The singing was passionate and the campers looked perfect for the occasion with their special themed costumes atop their white, meatball sauce stained white shirts.        
It reminded me of my own experience at home. For a number of years I had the zechus to deliver a shiur about tefillah to the women of our shul on Wednesday evenings. Every Wednesday night we had a meat dish with sauce for supper (spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, etc.), and every Wednesday night I had to change my shirt after supper before heading out to deliver the shiur. No matter how careful I was there was no escaping it. Even if I managed to keep my shirt clean while I was eating, invariably one of my children would use my shirt as a napkin.
The truth is that 99% of my shirt could have been perfectly clean, but we all know that our eyes are immediately drawn to the splotch or stain. That’s the way we are. We immediately notice the imperfections.
Years ago in my office I had a black folding table which I used when I met with students. On the table there was a small hole in the fabric that was covered with a black piece of tape, it was almost imperceptible unless you were sitting right in front of it. But virtually every student – and adult – who sat at the table began to fiddle with the tape while we were talking.
If that’s the way we are in regards to externalities, we are all the more critical when it comes to people’s natures and behaviors. We have a lot of opinions about other people and we are fairly confident we understand why they are that way. We need to be aware of the fact that we are always quicker to find the small stain and hole than we are to notice the virtues.  
The Navi states (Yeshayah 1:18) that if we even if our souls are completely sullied like crimson – which is far worse than meatball sauce – Hashem assures us that we can become pristine like snow and white wool. Fortunately, Hashem doesn’t only see the stains, but views us wholesomely and sees the virtue and greatness within us, that even we may not appreciate.
The Ba’al Shem Tov revealed to us that the more we seek to see the good in others and to view them holistically, the more Hashem will see us in that same light. The less we look at the meatball stains the more we will notice the beautiful white shirt underneath.

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

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

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh
30 Menachem Av 5775/ August 15, 2015
1 Rosh Chodesh Elul
Pirkei Avos Perek 5

A few weeks back I spoke in Shul about the greatness and significance of the mitzvah of tzitzis. I quoted Chazal who state that fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis is equivalent to fulfilling all of the other 613 mitzvos. I spoke about the symbolism of the mitzvah as a Jew binds himself to G-d, much as the tzitzis are tied but hang freely. I also noted that it is foolish for a man to pass up on this tremendous mitzvah. One dons them on in the morning and then forgets about them, while the reward accrues.
While I was delivering my brilliant lecture I noticed two congregants laughing amongst themselves. In ‘rabbi school’ they teach you to pretend not to notice disturbances in the crowd, such as the fellow reading the paper during the sermon, the guy snoring right in front of you, or the person grunting in obvious disagreement with the point you are conveying. So I pretended not to notice and I carried on.
After davening, one of the two related to me the undertone conversation that had evoked their laughter during my speech. As I was speaking ‘Reuven’ had turned to ‘Shimon’ and noted that he had forgotten to put on his tzitzis that morning. He added that he often forgets.
Shimon then noticed a red string wrapped around Reuven's wrist and asked what it was for.  Reuven replied that it is a segula (propitious omen) for protection. At that point Reuven realized the incongruity of his own statement and they both began to laugh. One who wears a red string which may possibly having some significance (or may be a meaningless ritual that only the distributors make money on) but not tzitzis which are mentioned in the Torah, is quite remiss. The Gemara states that one who is wary to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis properly will merit seeing the Divine Presence. One who wears a red string however will only merit to be wearing a red string.
We like convenience. In fact our world is driven by it. High speed internet and sophisticated toys and attractions are today expected.
So it comes as no shock that we look for segulos and "easy blessings". Saying a certain catenation, following a certain ritual, going to a certain exotic location and doing some defined unusual kabbalistic (or not) heebie-jeebie stuff is a very alluring to us.
Rabbi Zev Leff wryly notes that at Kabbolas HaTorah[1], Hashem proclaimed us to be His "Am Segulah- treasured nation", but instead we have become an "am segulos" a nation that looks for easy propitious omens. And how many charlatans take advantage of those in desperate situations by offering them false promises in exchange for money!
The truth is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to spirituality and divine blessings. If we want to merit greatness we have to be ready to roll up our sleeves and prepare ourselves to grow and elevate ourselves. Then we can merit true blessings as promised by Hashem in the Torah itself.[2]
Good Chodesh
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

[1] And in parshas Re’eh
[2] Note this is not to belittle true segulos that are recorded in holy sources. But segulos are surely not as powerful as what Chazal have instructed and informed and mitzvos.

Thursday, August 6, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan- Shabbos Eikev
22 Menachem Av 5775/ August 7, 2015
Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Elul
Pirkei Avos Perek 4

I was privileged to be part of the final graduating class from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah when Rabbi Berel Wein was its Rosh Yeshiva. It must have been that only once our class graduated in 1997 that Rabbi Wein felt he could fulfill his lifelong dream of aliyah. The many Torah and lifelong lessons he imparted to us during those years, and in the years since, remain very much engrained in my heart.
On one occasion while addressing the students of the yeshiva, Rabbi Wein noted that if after he delivers a speech the adherents tells him how wonderful it was, he knows that it didn’t make much of an impression. But when people approach him afterwards and tell him what a terrible speech it was, then he knows he struck a chord and he considers it a good speech.  
After he concluded that speech, my older brother Reb Yitzie, who was then in the yeshiva, approached Rabbi Wein. In true Staum form he told Rabbi Wein that that was the absolute greatest speech he had ever heard in his life. Rabbi Wein wittily replied, “Who is that kid? Take down his phone number!”
It’s been said that if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything!
A few years ago one of my students was working with a British therapist. The truth is that even if she did not have such a distinct accent I would have known she wasn’t American by virtue of the fact that she was willing to speak her mind, even when it ruffled some feathers. She wasn’t rude or aggressive, but she was firm and uncompromising. She had the boldness to tell my student’s mother what she needed to do in order to help her son, even though the mother was somewhat resistant to hearing it.
When I noted how impressed I was with her directness, she replied that she had a hard time with the American mentality to constantly patronize everyone. She argued that in America no one is able to speak their mind, and so people relate to each other superficially. The result is that no one tells anyone what they are really thinking or feel.
Why is it that Americans have such a hard time standing up for our beliefs and speaking our mind? I surely don’t mean that people should be rude and obnoxious. There are other nationalities that seem to have that challenge. But there is a talent in knowing how to be honest and forthright in a pleasant and respectful manner.
Is it that we have no self-esteem? Are we afraid of not being accepted if we cause others to be annoyed with us? Are we afraid that no one can handle the truth? Or are we perhaps not firm enough in our beliefs to state our feelings with conviction? Perhaps it’s a combination of all of those ideas.
It is well known that the Torah was given on Har Sinai because it was the humblest of all the mountains. But Har Sinai was still a mountain. One must be humble but he must also have a sense of self.
It is a challenge to be assertive without being aggressive, and at times it may entail turning people off along the way. But that may be the price for being genuine, sincere, and real.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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