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

Friday, October 9, 2015


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis – Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh MarCheshvan
26 Tishrei 5776/ October 9, 2015

During one of the days of Chol Hamoed Succos last week, when the weather outside was less than favorable we took our children ice skating. Being the good sport that he is, our children’s father got on the ice as well. I must say that having not skated much since I took lessons when I was around ten years old, I wasn’t all that bad on the ice. But I certainly was no match for my children. Every few minutes they would wave and giggle as they passed me.
As they kept passing me it struck me that this was somewhat of a symbolism of what every parent wants and hopes for their children in life. We want to give our children the tools and resources to be able to accomplish more than we have in our own lives. We hope and pray that our children will be able to access and develop all of their latent talents and utilize them to their fullest capacity. 
Of course it’s not enough to give our children training and resources, we also have to give them the space to fall. We have to imbue them with the confidence that they can grow from their mistakes and fallings. We want them to understand that that those mistakes can help them grow if they learn from them. 
Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky, the eighth grade rebbe in Ashar, and one of the greatest educators I know, invests greatly in creating positive relationships with his students. A few years ago, towards the beginning of the school-year I noticed that, for a few days in a row, he was playing chess with one of his students. This particular student was academically weak and I was impressed with Rabbi Chaitovsky’s novel approach to developing a connection with him.
After one such game I saw that student standing next to Rabbi Chaitovsky, and I asked the student who had won the game. The student proudly and emphatically announced “me!” As soon as he walked away Rabbi Chaitovsky leaned over, smiled, and whispered in my ear, “It wasn’t easy!”  
Besides giving our children proverbial sharpened skates, teaching them how to use them, encouraging them, and helping them achieve a sense of mastery, there is an even more important component of their success: we have to sincerely give them time and attention so that they can recognize their abilities and worth.
Between you and me, I was really allowing them to go ahead just to help them feel good. You have to understand that I didn’t want to show off too much on the ice. But let’s just keep that between us.

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

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

Friday, October 2, 2015

Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos /Simchas Torah 5776

Erev Succos – Z’man Simchaseinu
14 Tishrei 5776/ September 27, 2015

Joe was one of those young entrepreneurs who seemed that have the Hand of Midas. Every venture he invested in, each deal he went after, and every business prospect he followed, seemed to turn to gold. At thirty-five years old he was wealthier than he ever could have imagined. Cars, exotic vacations, more than one stately mansion in various locations – he couldn’t spend his money fast enough. But he was growing increasingly disillusioned with his life and nothing seemed exciting anymore.
Then one day while attending a business expo in a posh hotel, there was a Jewish Discovery Seminar taking place at the same time. With some time to kill and curiously about his latent Jewish roots, Joe wandered in and sat in the back as one of the lectures began. He was enthralled with what he heard. He ended up sitting through three more lectures and by the end of the day he was completely blown away. He had no idea where and what his next step would be, but he knew he had to pursue it further; he knew he had to make a major change in his life.
Jessica had a very troubled youth. The fact that her parents were never around and they lived in poverty only made things worse. In her youth she gravitated towards a bad crowd and ended up in all the wrong places. Now she was a young adult and didn’t know what to do with herself. She was disgusted with her life on the streets and the life of drugs, violence, and everything else that came with it.
Then one day she met her fifth grade teacher – the one she had idolized, and the one she felt truly cared about her. Her teacher’s spark was still there, and she invited Jessica to spend a Shabbos with her family. Jessica accepted the offer and enjoyed her first relaxing and uplifting experience in almost a decade. After Shabbos was over Jessica knew it was time for a change. She had no idea where she would go and how she would get there, but she knew the direction she had to take.
A year passes and with it the triteness of life. Then suddenly on Rosh Hashanah we are struck with a moment of inspiration. We feel that there is something greater that we are a part of and that we need to tap into. Yom Kippur is a Discovery seminar wherein we rediscover our selves and seek to reconnect with ourselves. When Yom Kippur ends we know we need to make some changes, and we know the general direction we need to pursue. However, we are still not sure how to get there.
Sefas Emes (Succos 5636) writes that a ba’al teshuva always feels somewhat lost. He has made a commitment to leave his past life and pursue something greater, but he doesn’t yet know how to arrive there. The succah is the place G-d provides as the haven and training grounds for the ba’al teshuva.
For a week he dwells in the embrace of G-d and trains how to eat, sleep, and live a G-dly life. He is visited by seven of the greatest instructors of all time – they are called the Ushpizin. [True, one does not see the Ushpizin, but the fact that we focus on one of them each night, affords us the opportunity to learn from their example as recorded in the Torah, about how to live a divine life.] 
This is why Succos follows Yom Kippur. The gemara states that in the place where a ba’al teshuva stands, even the most sincerely righteous cannot stand. Sefas Emes explains that this is because G-d provides ‘place’ for the Ba’al Teshuva so that he can achieve his dream of living an elevated and sanctified life.
A friend of mine who became a ba’al teshuva years ago and is today a respected talmid chochom, once conveyed to me the challenge of a ba’al teshuva in raising children. “We don’t know what is considered normal in the frum circles. At times ba’alei teshuva go to an extreme and don’t allow their children breathing room, which causes many problems later on. It’s not enough to create ba’alei teshuva, they continue to need direction and guidance in every facet of their Judaism. In many ways they need it more than those born into a Torah observant family.”
The succah provides us with direction, so that when we return to our homes on Shemini Atzeres we can celebrate our achievements and how far we have come.
But at that point we are faced with the great fear of not losing all that we have gained.
As we return to our opening anecdotes, if we fast forward many months, Joe and Jessica are now known as Yosef and Rivka and are living Torah observant lives. But they also live with an embedded fear that they can be influenced by their old friends and fall back into old habits. They always have to ensure that they are connected with their supports who they knew they can turn to whenever they need chizuk.
We too live with a similar fear after our ‘training session’ on Succos. So on the final day of this incredible holiday/journey, we clutch our guarantor close to our hearts emotionally pledging ourselves to all it states. It is in the constant study and dedication to Torah that our hope lies. That is how we can maintain our growth throughout the year. 

Good Moed/Moadim L’simcha
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameach,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum         

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

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Succos II 5776

Erev Succos – Z’man Simchaseinu
14 Tishrei 5776/ September 27, 2015

It doesn’t matter which of the Jewish Magazines you pick up from any of the local newsstands now before Succos, all of the Succos editions seem to have a similar format. For starters they are all impressively large and the front cover contains beautiful images about Succos which highlights of many of the classic articles you will find inside.
Then, when you open any of the magazines, you will notice the following basic sequence:
The first eight pages contain advertisements for beautiful shaitels, stunning jewelry, and magnificent vacation destinations that appeal to all of your senses. That is followed with the Editor’s note in which the editor writes about the importance of the message of Succos and how it teaches us to give up from the physical world’s amenities and luxuries so that we can discover and achieve true internal happiness. The editor then gives you a taste of the wonderful articles you will find inside which are all basically centered around that theme.
The next ten pages are advertisements for restaurants, mouthwatering meats, exquisite cheeses, and sumptuous desserts. Then there is a feature article which describes the greatness of the Ushpizin, how they lived their lives with utter simplicity, and never indulged in this world. True they may have been blessed with wealth, but they used it solely to help others, and never sought to pamper themselves in any way. They chose a path of service to Hashem in everything they did.
The following fifteen pages have beautiful ads for many exotic Pesach locations throughout the world, and many other special dates with great deals that you cannot afford(!) to miss – such as midwinter in Miami, Cancun, and LA, Shabbos parshas Noach on Har Ararat in Turkey, Shabbos Lech Lecha in the footsteps of Avrom in Aram Naharayim, etc. Then there is a feature article which describes the timeless lesson of the Succah which teaches us that we need nothing more from life other than to always feel we are in Hashem’s protective embrace. We don’t need to travel to find fulfillment because all that matters is that we are close to Hashem.
Then there are another twenty pages of ads for your brand new state of the art kitchen with five thousand dollar handles for the faucets, and many other features that will make your home the talk of the block (until your neighbor constructs a nicer kitchen). Then there will be a feature article about Koheles and why we read it during ‘the season of our happiness’ when it seems so foreboding, depressing, and hopeless. The article will explain that Koheles is really coming to uplift us by reminding us that only if we live for this world and indulge too much in it is everything futile and vain. But if we live for a higher purpose and train ourselves to be happy with what we have than we can achieve true meaning and happiness, even in this world.
I’m guessing by now you get my point.
So basically my advice is that if you want to gain some real appreciation of the greatness of Succos from the wonderful literature that the magazines provide us with (and I’m not being facetious about that), best is to read the articles and skip all the ads in between. I’m guessing you won’t see this article posted in any of those magazines, but at least you were lucky enough to read it here.

Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameach,
              R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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

Succos I 5776

Erev Succos – Z’man Simchaseinu
14 Tishrei 5776/ September 27, 2015

Each year on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur I try to visit the cemetery which is a one minute drive from our shul. I daven at the kevarim of some of the tzaddikim buried there including Rav Mordechai Schwab, Rav Nesanel Quinn, the Ribnitzer Rebbe, and the Skulener Rebbe zt’l.
Each year as I enter the cemetery I tuck my tzitzis into my pants so that they are not visible as is the halacha. Shulchan Aruch (Oh”C 23:1) states that if one’s tzitzis are visible when he visits a cemetery it is tantamount to “mocking the impoverished”. Those who have already left this world understand how invaluable every mitzvah is. Since they no longer have the opportunity to perform mitzvos we don’t want to ‘stick in their face’ as it were, especially as we approach them to intercede on our behalf.
As I tuck in my tzitzis I wonder what the deceased would say about the cell phone visibly hanging from my cell phone. If having tzitzis visible in a cemetery is analogous to mocking the dead, I wonder if having a cell phone visible is analogous to giving the dead a good laugh. “You foolish people, fritting your time away with so much nonsense, why don’t you put that silly time-killer away?” Surely there is much good that we do with our phones, but many of us spend a great deal of time using our phones and other media to escape into the fantastical and fake world of social fantasy media.
The cemetery in Monsey has a well with a pump attached to it so those who visit the cemetery can wash their hands afterwards, as is required by halacha. To siphon the water one needs to pump vigorously for a minute or two until the water begins to flow out.
The focal point of the joyous celebration of Succos was the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah. Although the actual service was the pouring of the drawn water onto the side of the Mizbeaiach, the celebration is titled “the joy of the drawing”.
In a sense that represents what the joy of Succos is all about. Succos celebrates our reconnection with G-d and all that is valuable in life, which we attained through our efforts that culminated with Yom Kippur.
The pouring of the water is the result of the drawing, our herculean efforts to reach deep within ourselves and draw out our latent greatness so it can gush forth.    
In Shir Hashirim, Shlomo Hamelech poetically and nostalgically states: “I am asleep but my heart is awake.” Isn’t that the story of our lives? In our hearts we yearn for greatness, but our bodies are sloth and sluggish. But during the celestial moments of Neilah we are finally awake. Before we have the chance to lap back into slumber we quickly immerse ourselves in the celebration of Succos. We spend a week in the embrace of G-d, shaking the Four Species in all the directions which G-d controls. It’s a joy that stems from deep within; joy that we have drawn out from in ourselves.     
Succos is the joy of the soul merging with the happiness of the body; a celebration of our ability to overcome our inclination to frit away our life, by performing mitzvos as long as we are living.

Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameach,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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