Thursday, December 29, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz
Rosh Chodesh Teves – 6th day of Chanukah   
1 Teves 5777/ December 30, 2016

It was definitely one of the most unique gifts I ever received. Since it was given to me, I am hardly ever apart from it. This may sound funny, but when it’s with me I constantly feel embraced, as if in a bear hug. This gift understands me and my needs better than anyone I know. It’s flexible in the sense that, on days when I need space, it will grant it to me, and on days when I need a stronger connection it will provide that as well. It supports me in ways few others can, and never leaves my side, unless I want it to. I can enjoy the gift based on my own level. It’s durable and uncompromising, and grows with me.
Can you think of a more endearing gift?
Flexibility is one of the most important character traits necessary for all successful human relationships. The ability to compromise and not stand on principle is one of the keys to getting along with others.
And yet there are times when one cannot, and must not, compromise. There are situations in which one must be unflinchingly rigid and unbending. Those are times when one’s ethics and beliefs are called into question.
Life is full of challenges wherein one must be able to walk a fine line, and not veer towards extremes. As a classic example, parents must be loving and accepting, yet they must also be demanding disciplinarians. Finding that delicate balance is never easy.
In a similar vein, as Jews, we have an obligation to be gregarious, pleasant, and gracious. Being flexible and swallowing one’s pride for the sake of another, is of the hallmarks for living a Torah life. However, when our beliefs and adherence to halacha is challenged, we have to be obstinate and inflexible. After-all, halacha is not ours to tamper with, but rather directives which we are bound to follow.
In Parshas Vayeshev, after Yosef was sold, the brothers banished Yehuda. The Torah states that Yehuda “Went down from his brothers” and had to live away from his family for some time. That is when the whole ordeal with Tamar occurred.
 The gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) states that anyone who praises Yehuda for his compromise with Yosef is considered a blasphemer. Shimon and Levi had suggested that they kill Yosef, while Reuven wanted to save him. Yehuda had suggested that they sell him. Yehuda’s compromise was deemed inappropriate. If Yosef was truly deserving of death (because they deemed him a rodeph – see Seforno) they should have killed him. If he was worthy of being saved, Yehuda should have urged them to bring him home. But compromising ultimately accomplished nothing.
There is no time of year that serves as a greater reminder for this concept than Chanukah. In an age of political correctness, where everyone is afraid to speak the truth, the message of Chanukah is ever so vital. We are charged with being like the holy Maccabees, prepared to stand our ground in regards to our adherence to the precepts of Torah and halacha.
We would be wise to remember that we are not the defenders of the Torah; but rather the upholders of the Torah. We must never be apologetic for our beliefs.
Isn’t in fascinating that the two components of the Chanukah holiday, contain these two polar opposite expressions. They went to war with a feeling of defiance and unrepentant religious zeal. The miracle of the menorah however, was only able to occur because the Maccabees subjugated themselves to the opinion of their leadership in deciding what to do with that one jug of oil. The delicate balance of inflexibility and subjugation. 
I conclude by expressing again how thankful I am for the gift I received this Chanukah.  For what is more embracing, supporting, and yet flexible than… a belt. (I could have thrown in that it’s also hole-y, but that would have been corny.)
It may seem like a lame gift, but when you don’t have a belt you really learn to appreciate its importance and value.  And after a few donuts and latkes, its flexibility is all the more important.  

Chag Urim Sameiach & Lichtigeh Chanukah
Good Chodesh/ Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev
Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Teves - Erev Chanukah   
23 Kislev 5777/ December 23, 2016

I want to tell you a little about Fishel.
Everybody admired Fishel.
It’s safe to say that most people were envious of Fishel, and the life he lived.
What an amazing and perfect life it was!
He and his wife drove very expensive cars, and lived in a stunning home. Fishel was always posting pictures of his family and their exotic vacations on Facebook and Instagram. He was the consummate father and husband, always smiling with his children. He was always tweeting about the gifts he bought his wife and kids, and about their next exciting trip. He constantly posted videos on You Tube of himself at corporate dinners, and meeting with celebrities and other famous personalities. His tallis in shul had a stunning atarah (crown) and his tefillin bag was gorgeous. He davened with such kavanah, and was always talking about the numerous shiurim and chavrusos that he had.
Simply put, Fishel was the life of the party, and everyone wanted to be around him. He had an aura of perfection around him – a super person to say the least.
In fact, that’s what everyone called him:
They could never know how apt that name really was. You see, Fishel’s whole persona was a farce. Fishel was in heavier debt than anyone could imagine. His posts were mostly lies, and his videos were photo-shopped. His shalom bayis was in shambles, and he had no relationship with his children. At home his only interactions with his children was when screaming or barking orders at them. He had a beautiful tefillin bag, but the parshios inside – the part that no one saw, but are the main part of the tefillin – were barely kosher, if at all. When no one was around to see him, he barely davened, and he did so while he was checking his phone, and updating his social media. He didn’t learn a word, and surely had no chavrusos.
Super-Fishel. A hero in our time.[1]  

It’s amazing how some people make such an impression in your life, that you never forget them. My second grade rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Trenk, was one of those people. I cannot forget his smile, warmth, humor, and love for his talmidim.
I also remember that before every Yom Tov we had to bring from home glue and glitter. On a piece of construction paper, we would write the name of the Yom Tov with glue. Then we would pour the glitter over the paper, and after a few minutes we would spill off the excess glitter. That would leave behind the name of the Yom Tov written in glitter.
I loved the sparkle and it always excited me. In fact, I kept those booklets for some time. To my chagrin, a year or two later, virtually all the glitter was gone. All that was left was the faint outline of where the letters written out of glue had been.
I was reminded of that recently after we hosted a family Bas Mitzvah seudah for our daughter Aviva. As part of the display, Chani bought wooden letters of Aviva’s name. Our children coated it and then covered it with glitter. It’s now almost a month later, and I still find glitter around the house, sometimes on my clothing, and on the faces of some of our younger children. The only place where I am not going to find much glitter, is on the letters where they once were.
In a certain way, my experience in second grade wasn’t so juvenile. Unfortunately, many people experience it all the time. They enjoy the “trappings” of the holidays, including the unique customary foods, and the beautiful customs endemic to each holiday, but fail to appreciate and internalize the real essence and meaning of the holiday. They fail to comprehend the eternal and vital message which the Yom Tov comes to embed within our souls. Such people enjoy the sparkling glitter of the holiday, but do not see beyond that. The problem is that the glitter doesn’t last, and within a short time all that’s left is the faint imprint of the memory of what was once there (and the calories…).
This tragic holiday-neglection is most prominent on Chanukah. The holiday of spiritual light is often misunderstood as the celebration of physical liberty and triumph over tyranny.
The Maharal notes that every object in this world has two components: its chomer – physical properties which compose the object, and its tzurah – the completed object, i.e. its essence. For example, four wooden legs connected with a wooden board on top are the chomer; seeing it as a table is its tzurah.
There are two ways in which we experience the world. We understand the chomer of something by feeling it with our hands and noting its components. We recognize the tzurah of that object with our eyes and intellect.
When one views the world only based on his physical senses, he does not grasp the spiritual essence of it. On a global level, he sees the world and all its details, but fails to grasp that its essence is to be a conduit for spirituality and holiness.
Greek culture espoused viewing the world for its details – what can the world offer me? What pleasures can I derive from the vast wisdom contained in this world? The great Greek philosophers recognized the wisdom of this world, but did not see it as part of a greater purpose. They used their wisdom to advance their epicurean desires, and that became their pursuit.    
The Torah encourages us to view the world for its tzurah – as a place where one can foster divinity. All the details of the world are viewed within that weltanschauung. 
The Syrian-Greeks sought to eradicate our dedication to the tzurah of this world. They sought to contaminate us by polluting our philosophy, through encouraging us to live for the moment. Thus we accuse them of campaigning to cause us to “forget Your Torah”, because a life lived selfishly and only for the moment, runs counter to how the Torah expects us to live our lives.   
Chanukah reminds us to see past the glitter of this world – fancy homes, cars, vacations, etc. It encourages us not to be caught up and duped by the false persona of social media.
Chanukah reminds us to see the world as a place where we – little insignificant we – can light up the world and pave the way for G-d’s presence to reside.
It seems we aren’t so insignificant after all. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chag Urim Sameiach & Lichtigeh Chanukah,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

[1] Maybe R’ Abie Rotenberg will make this story into a song on Journeys V. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach   
16 Kislev 5777/ December 16, 2016

Last Shabbos, the President of our shul, R’ Yossi Goldman, reminded the kehilla that Sunday evening would be December 4th, and we would begin reciting v’sayn Tal Umatar in the ma’ariv Shemoneh Esrei.
 As R’ Yossi made the announcement, I noticed two Israeli guests who were visiting for Shabbos, look at each other and snicker. In Eretz Yisroel they began saying V’sayn Tal Umatar shortly after Succos, on the 7th of Cheshvan. They therefore found it comical that we in Chutz L’aretz were only beginning to recite it now.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. When I mentioned to him that we were beginning to say tal umatar that night, he rolled his eyes and said, “Here we go again”. When I asked him what the big deal was, he replied that from the summer on, he felt like he was always having to repeat Shemoneh Esrei. For the first ten days of the year (from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) he often forgot to say Hamelech Hakadosh, so he had to repeat Shemoneh Esrei. Throughout Succos, half the time he forgot Yaaleh V’yavo and had to repeat Shemoneh Esrei. Then, after Succos was over, he had to contend with remembering to say Mashiv Haruach. He usually forgot a bunch of times during the first few weeks, necessitating his repeating Shemoneh Esrei. When he finally got used to saying Mashiv Haruach and ‘prayer life’ seemed to return to normal, December 4th came around, and with it a whole new period of forgetting Tal Umatar, and having to repeat Shemoneh Esrei.
He looked at me with frustration and asked, “Why couldn’t the Sages have mercy, and just keep the whole Shemoneh Esrei uniform throughout the year?” I replied that although each insertion had its own reason based on the time of the year, perhaps the Sages also wanted to ensure that we don’t daven Shemoneh Esrei on auto-pilot. Perhaps they felt it would be a side-benefit to compel us to be more vigilant as we davened and have to pay attention to what we are saying.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l (Tiferes Torah – Toldos) notes that in regards to human interactions, persistent requests are viewed as vexing and irksome. If a person asks another for something on a few occasions and was rejected, continuing to ask is rude, to say the least. Just ask any parent who has whining children. (I wouldn’t know; I heard about this from friends).
In regards to prayer and davening to Hashem however, it is altogether different. Although we repeat the same words of prayer every single day – in fact, three times a day – Hashem never tires of hearing them. In fact, the opposite is true, for the whole purpose of prayer is to connect ourselves with Hashem through communicating with Him. There is no greater nachas that He has than when we turn to Him in sincere prayer and supplication.
Does a spouse ever tire of hearing a sincere and meaningful compliment? Do parents ever tire hearing their children tell them that they love them? That is how Hashem views our tefillos.
Therefore, it behooves us to ensure that our prayers are not recited emotionlessly and callously. True, we might not know what many of the words mean. But if we pray with an underlying sentiment that we want to connect with Hashem, that is more precious before Him than anything else.
We need to remind ourselves that He never tires of hearing it, so that we will never tire of saying it – with vitality and love. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei   
9 Kislev 5777/ December 9, 2016

For the last year and a half, I have had the privilege to post a brief video entitled “Instant Inspiration” on weekly. In last week’s video, I related a powerful mussar thought on the parsha from Rav Leib Chasman zt’l. I originally heard the idea from Rabbi Pinchus Idstein, with whom I am close from our many summers together at Camp Dora Golding. Rabbi Idstein is a wonderful mentor and rebbe from whom I have learned many insights and divrei Torah.
Currently, Rabbi Idstein is the menahel of Torah Academy in Minneapolis, Minnesota.   When I texted him a link to the video last week, he replied by sending me an email link to his school newsletter. In his weekly message, he had written the exact same thought!
After noting the cute coincidence, I began scanning the rest of the newsletter. A boxed in blurb on the front page caught my eye, that read: “Dress for the Weather! Children should come to school with warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, snow pants, and boots so they can enjoy recess. We send the children outside whenever possible as long as it is not too extreme.”     
I did not ask Rabbi Idstein what they consider to be “too extreme”. However, I did look at the long-range forecast for Minneapolis and saw a string of days when the highs are expected to be in the single digits. From what I understand the weather in Minneapolis gets even colder during much of the winter. 
I have only worked in yeshivos in the Tri-State area, but here when the weather drops below forty degrees the students aren’t too keen about going outside for recess. If they are told they have no choice, many of them will spend their entire recess kvetching about the weather. In Minneapolis if they wait until it’s forty degrees they may not step foot outside for months during the winter.
I have a friend who works as an electrician in newly constructed buildings. Most of the buildings are not yet insulated, and during the coldest days of winter he often spends hours on end, bundled up in his coat, exposed to the extreme cold while working. When I asked him how he does it, he replied curtly, “What choice do I have?” 
In Eretz Yisroel, the fledgling yet prospering and burgeoning state fought three wars for its very survival against hostile enemies. Not a day goes by when they are not forced to defend themselves to provide vital security for the entire country. The refrain in Israel is that the army is led by “General Aleph Bais”; Aleph Bais stands for Ain Beraira – No Choice. The country is fighting for its very survival and that of every one of its citizens, and therefore cannot afford to lose any war.
The reality is that we can tolerate far more than we think. But we are not interested in being uncomfortable. In our society, we pay any price for comfort and convenience, and will go to any length to avoid discomfort. The problem is that real growth and accomplishment only comes from exertion and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort level.
The truth is that the only time we allow ourselves to be inconvenienced is when we feel we must. We only exert ourselves if we feel we have to, because we recognize that stagnation and autopilot is not an option. Happiness is the result of effort and growth, of having pushed ourselves beyond what was easy and convenient.
It behooves us all to always “dress for the weather”. Life’s course doesn’t slow down, and the tempests that are par for the course are not always predictable. The only way we can ensure our constant growth is if we are always ready and searching.
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
10 MarCheshvan 5777/ November 11, 2016

 My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that shortly before he made Aliyah in 1997, he took some of his grandchildren to a Yankees game at the old Yankees Stadium. 
It was a close game, and the Yankees lost in extra innings. The mood in the stadium was very melancholy as the Yankees faithful slowly and grumpily exited the stadium. 
As they were leaving, one of his grandchildren asked Rabbi Wein, "Zaydei, how come you're not upset about the loss like you the rest of us?" Rabbi Wein replied, "because I'm a Cubs fan. We haven't won a World Series since 1908. We are used to losing, so today's loss is no big deal."
Rabbi Wein mused that a person has to know how to live with struggles and defeats, because failures and disappointments are inevitable and par for the course in life. A successful person is not one who never fails, as much as it is one who knows how to traverse setbacks, and not allow them to completely derail him.
Well, in the wee hours of November 3, 2016, the Cubs have finally won a World Series.
There's no one alive today who remembers the last time they won, but the lovable losers have finally become winners.
So now the question becomes whether a team that has lost for so long can deal with such a significant win. 
Not surprisingly, this is another lesson Rabbi Wein taught us: A person has to know how to deal with success, and how to capitalize on it, and how to use it to benefit others. Tragically, there are many people who are destroyed by their own successes, because they don't know how to handle them, or how to capitalize on them. 
In our world, many of us struggle with a balance of both of these challenges. On the one hand we are blessed to live in such an affluent society with so much opportunity. Yet, on the other hand, we struggle to keep up with the impossible financial demands of living in such a world. This includes yeshiva tuitions, the expenses of Shabbos and yomim tovim, and all of the other expenses involved in living an elevated Torah life.
The Mesilas Yesharim cautions us that everything in life is a challenge - poverty is one type of challenge, affluence and wealth is another. The main thing is that we always seek to make the best out of every situation, as we think Hashem wants from us.
So Cubs fans, enjoy your moment of glory - make sure use you celebrate wisely. 
As for Cleveland Indians fans, sorry that Lebron couldn't save you this time. If the Cubs are any indication of how long it takes to break out of being "lovable losers", you're due to win the World Series in 2057. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev
24 MarCheshvan 5777/ November 25, 2016

No one was complaining about the weather last week in New York, especially last Shabbos. Sixty degrees with bright sunshine in mid-November is well above the average temperature for this time of year. But within a few hours after Shabbos ended, the weather changed drastically. The wind picked up as the temperature dropped, and by Sunday morning the first snowfall of the season coated our area. By Monday afternoon it felt like mid-February, with another inch of snow on the ground, and hardly a trace of the previous week’s beautiful weather.
On Sunday morning, our three-year-old Dovid took one look out the window and immediately became very excited. “It looks like cream cheese! I want to go outside and play in the snow!” Standing in his pajamas, peering out the window, he seemed to have forgotten that if there is snow on the ground, it means it’s freezing outside, and you can’t go out in your pajamas.
When he came out of school on Monday afternoon he was disappointed that most of the snow was gone and he commented that, “It looks like someone ate the cream cheese.”
On Friday night before Kiddush we extol the virtues of the Aishes Chayil (Woman of Valor). The prayer, originally said by Avrohom Avinu as his eulogy for Sarah Imeinu, was later recorded in Mishlei by Shlomo Hamelech.
One of the praises stated there is: “She does not fear for her household from snow, for all of her household is clothed with scarlet wool.” (Mishlei 31:21)
After it snows everything is blanketed in crisp white. During the early morning after a snowstorm there is a serene stillness, under a coat of pristine beauty. At that time everything looks exactly the same, no matter what is beneath the snow,  
Every person craves individuality through recognizing and capitalizing on his/her unique talents and capabilities. The world covered in snow symbolizes everything being the same. It may appear beautiful and serene, but it also negates the uniqueness of all the colors beneath.
When raising children we are reminded constantly about how vital it is to recognize the individuality of each ad every child. It can be damaging when children are grouped together and only dealt with collectively, without paying attention to each one’s distinct personality.
The Aishes Chayil has invested in her children the love and time necessary for each of them to recognize their own greatness. She doesn’t fear that her children will become “lost in the shuffle”. She isn’t concerned that her children will feel like the world when coated in snow, where all uniqueness is obscured. The Aishes Chayil has built her family from within, dressing each in the colorful wools of their own spirit and talents. She always seeks ways to help them appreciate their individuality, and so she is confident that they will always maintain a sense of pride in who they are and in what they can accomplish.
This Friday, 24 MarCheshvan, we celebrate the Bas Mitzvah of our oldest daughter, Aviva Rochel. Like any parent who reaches such a milestone, we have a hard time believing it - that we have a daughter who is now joining the elite ranks of responsibility within Klal Yisroel.
We b’h have great nachas from her. We also hope that we have been successful in “dressing her in wool”, by helping her recognize her personal uniqueness, throughout her formative years. We also daven that she will never fear the vicissitudes that are par for the course of living in this world.
May Hashem continue to bless us with nachas from Aviva and from all her siblings, and may He give us the wisdom, patience, and insight to warm each of their souls with the wool that will protect them from the snowy tempests of life.  

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


Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 MarCheshvan 5777/ November 18, 2016

These thoughts are lovingly dedicated in memory of my Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok a’h, whose yahrtzeit is Friday, 17 Cheshvan.

Disclaimer: The following is not an endorsement of any candidate - not of their views, behaviors, or comments. It is merely a perspective on the reality of what has occurred.

“Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”
(Red Smith, New York Hearld-Tribune, “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff”, October 4, 1951; the day after Bobby Thomson hit the legendary walk-off homerun that won the Giant’s the pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

How powerful is the media? How much of an effect do they have on our general perspective?
In regards to contemporary issues the ‘media experts’ present their opinion as they want it to be presented. As Jews, we especially know just how powerful they are. The media is heavily responsible for the anti-Israel bias that pervades campuses and liberal America. The lies and skewered truth that they so often portray leave us scratching our heads about how blatant facts can be so distorted.
This week’s election results stunned the world and shocked the media. There’s a certain satisfaction hearing so many of the “experts” admit that they were wrong. Things they said could not, and would never happen, happened.
Those who were hoping for the first female president to be elected felt disillusioned and disappointed that the “glass ceiling” was not shattered. It seems however, that there was a significant “glass ceiling” that was shattered – that of the arrogance of the media moguls. No one knows what the results will be and whether this will be a positive change for America or not. But the unthinkable has already occurred.
In our long and painful history, numerous unthinkable events happened. Many of them have been painful and terrifying. This week marks the commemoration of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, when 250 shuls were burned, 700 Jewish businesses were ransacked, and many Jews were tortured and killed throughout Germany in 1938. Rav Shimon Schwab zt’l noted that the infamous night is called Kristallnacht, not so much because of the broken glass that littered the streets. Rather it was the shattering of the illusion that it could not happen.
On the other hand, there have so many incredibly wonderful events that have occurred to our nation, despite the fact that they “could not happen”: The Jewish People’s return to Eretz Yisroel and the formation of a Jewish government, victory in 1967 and recapturing of Yerushalayim, the successful Entebbe raid, the rebuilding of the Jewish world and Torah observance after the Holocaust, and the falling of Communism and freedom of three million Jews in the Soviet Union. Before they occurred, it was absolutely impossible for them to happen. But then they did.
The fact that we have witnessed the impossible occurring is in the very genetics of our nation. In Parshas Lech Lecha, Hashem told Avrohom that he should count the stars “if you can count them”. Then Hashem added “So will be your descendants”.
Rav Meir Shapiro zt’l noted that Hashem was conveying to Avrohom that just as he was being instructed to count the stars even though it was impossible “So will be your children”. In other words, they will accomplish and persevere, despite it being impossible.
What the outcome of the new presidency will be remains to be seen. But the very fact that he won, despite the fact that everyone said it was impossible, is a stark reminder that we mortals do not decide what can or cannot happen.
So many people in their private lives have great dreams about things they want to accomplish. In the daily grind, it’s easy to become disillusioned and discouraged, and to give up on those dreams. This is especially true when the ‘realists’ say that it will never happen. This week served as a reminder that things can happen even when they are impossible. This surely does not mean they will happen just because we try so hard and want it so badly. But it does remind us that the experts do not decide our fate.
Of course, the whole idea of Moshiach coming, and all of Klal Yisroel returning to Eretz Yisroel, with the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash, and the end of terrorism is also absolutely impossible. Yet we, and the world, will witness it unfolding… very soon.
And then again the media will be forced to admit just how wrong they were! 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
10 MarCheshvan 5777/ November 11, 2016

Mr. Irwin Cohen, writes a column in the Jewish Press, entitled “The Baseball Insider”. In one article, he related a personal experience from October 8, 1956. At the time, he was a ninth grader at Detroit’s Yeshiva Beth Yehudah. That day was Game Five of the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. The series was tied 2-2.
Sal Maglie, a 39-year-old veteran who had a 13-6 record and 2.89 ERA during the 1956 season, was pitching for the Dodgers. Don Larsen, 27, who hadn’t lasted through the second inning of Game Two, was pitching for the Yankees.
During the yeshiva lunch break, Cohen made his way to the nearby gas station, where he saw all of the attendants huddled around the radio. The unthinkable had happened – the unlikely Don Larson had pitched a Perfect Game, not one Dodger had reached base the entire game. No one before and no one since to date has ever pitched a Perfect Game in the Post Season.
Cohen relates that he ran back to yeshiva and met his rebbe in the hallway. His rebbe asked him who won the game. When he replied that the Yankees won, and Larson had pitched a perfect game, his rebbe slapped him across the face, wagged his finger towards him and said “Don’t lie!”
When he reminded his rebbe of the incident years later, the rebbe would chuckle and reply, “Would you believe me if I told you Larsen pitched a perfect game?”
On Erev Succos a few weeks ago, I was hanging up decorations in our succah together with our (almost) Bas Mitzvah daughter, Aviva. As she was stapling a poster depicting the seven Ushpizin, Aviva asked me why it is specifically those seven – Avrohom, Yitzchok, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and Dovid – who have the distinction of being the Ushpizin whose “spirit” joins us in the succah each night of the Yom Tov.
Just a few hours earlier, I had seen an explanation from Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita, in his sefer, Tiv HaSuccos. Rabbi Gamliel explains that each of the seven Ushpizin – known in kabbalah as the “Sheva Roim – seven Shepherds of Klal Yisroel”, experienced tremendous challenges during their lifetimes. As there is no person who doesn’t experience significant challenges in life, I assume Rabbi Gamliel means that the challenges they faced had national ramifications for Klal Yisroel. Avrohom passed ten major tests, Yitzchok allowed himself to be offered on the akeidah, Yaakov dealt with challenges of Eisav, Lavan, Dinah, and Yosef, Moshe dealt with the ongoing tribulations of leadership, Aharon was together with Moshe, and also encountered the loss of his two holy sons, Yosef had to traverse the incredible test of  temptation with the wife of his master, and he had to deal with familial rejection and isolation, finally Dovid’s whole life was challenge after challenge – internally and externally.
            On Yom Kippur, in a certain sense, we all pitch “a perfect game”. We spend the day immersed in spiritual pursuits, committing ourselves to growth and improvement, and seeking to rectify the follies and iniquities we have committed.
But we do not, and cannot, live our lives on that lofty Yom Kippur level. Yom Kippur comes to and end and regular life resumes. The holiday of Succos gives us an extra infusion of spirituality to help us maintain all that we have gained during the Days of Awe. What greater chizuk could there be than from the seven supreme leaders of our nation, whose greatness was only achieved through overcoming challenges and vicissitudes.  
And when the holiday of Succos concludes, we spend the dark months of winter reminding ourselves of the lessons of those Seven Shepherds, each week through the Torah reading (Two of the haftoras in Bereishis are about Dovid Hamelech).
It’s not perfection that we seek, but slow and steady growth, overcoming daily challenges, and never settling on who/what we can become.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach
3 MarCheshvan 5777/ November 4, 2016

One of the most exciting aspects of Yom Tov is the preparation during the days beforehand. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t like schlepping, shopping, and cleaning. But I love the atmosphere, the frenzied feeling that Yom Tov is in the air.
Conversely, the cleanup after Yom Tov is always sad. Dismantling and putting the succah back into the garage where it will remain for the next eleven months is a tremendous letdown. The same holds true for putting away the Pesach dishes after Pesach. Sure, everyone is excited to eat that first bit of chometz, but it is with a tinge of sadness that the beautiful holiday of Pesach is over. There are even many women who admit that, despite the fact that they are relieved not to have cook again, they miss the ambiance and festive atmosphere of Yom Tov.
I always feel that the end of Succos is harder than the end of Pesach, because when Pesach ends spring is only beginning, and Sefiras Haomer is well underway, in our journey towards Mattan Torah. The conclusion of Succos however, marks the onset of the colder part of the year. It will also be another six months before we have the opportunity to recite the uplifting Yom Tov Shemoneh Esrei, beginning “You have chosen us from all of the other nations, You have loved us, and found favor in us…”     
To subdue some of that sadness, as I am putting the Yom Tov materials away I like to think that I am essentially preparing for next year. As each succah board is piled upon the other, I try to imagine the excitement of taking the succah boards out again just a few weeks before next Succos, just like I felt a few weeks ago when I took out the succah for this year.
It is always amazing to think how about how much has changed between when I put the succah away last year to this year. 
This type of thought process is probably most acutely felt during Kol Nidrei, when the chazzan states that he is seeking to annul all vows - “From last Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur, and from this Yom Kippur to next Yom Kippur.” [There are differing opinions about the text, but that is the generally accepted text.] The night of Yom Kippur is inherently a time of nostalgia and deep emotions, so mentioning the past and the future evokes even stronger emotions. It forces us to think about those who were here last year but are no longer with us, as well as those who were not here last year but are now. On a personal level, last Yom Kippur/Succos, we would never have even dreamed that this year we would have twin boys, b’h.
More important than all the physical succos that we construct and dismantle each year, are the spiritual structures that we construct. The memories we create, the mitzvos we perform, the elevated feeling of closeness we have to G-d - those are never dismantled. They remain in our hearts and minds and infuse us with vivacity throughout the year.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Friday, October 28, 2016

Parshas Bereishis 5777

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis – Mevorchim Chodesh Cheshvan
Tishrei 5777/ October 28, 2016

On Simchas Torah morning, after the Kiddush ended, I carried our three-year-old son Dovid beneath the canopy spread atop the bimah, for Kol Hane’orim (the special Aliyah for all children who aren’t old enough to recite the blessings on the Torah on their own). When the Aliyah ended, all the adults began to sing hamalach hagoel. I noticed the look of confusion and nervousness in Dovid’s eyes, as he tried to understand why we were singing his bedtime song in shul.
As soon as we finished, he shared with me his logical conclusion: “Abba, the Torah is going to sleep!” It made sense considering that the Torah which had been open moments earlier was now closed and covered with a small blanket, just like Dovid when he goes to sleep.
We relate to the Torah not merely as a guide book of laws, but rather as a living entity – a “Toras chaim”, which, in turn, infuses us with vitality and life.
Every morning we recite the birchos haTorah, thanking Hashem for imparting to us His holy Torah. There is a unique halacha regarding the recitation of those berachos: If one removes his tallis after shachris and chooses to put it back on a few hours later, he recites a new beracha when doing so. Similarly, each time one sits down to eat a meal in a succah on succos he recites the special beracha of Leishiv Basuccah. One can recite that beracha a few times throughout the day. However, one only recites birchas HaTorah one time in the morning. Even if one goes to work and doesn’t have a chance to learn from a sefer until the evening, he does not repeat birchos haTorah when he sits down to learn later.  [Most opinions state that even if one takes a significant nap during the day he does not recite a new birchas haTorah upon awakening.]
Tosafos (Berachos 11b) explains that, unlike all other mitzvos, there is no definitive time when we are commanded to engage in Torah study. Rather it is an all-encompassing mitzvah that we are obligated in constantly. Furthermore, every nuance in the life of a Jew contains halachos, and therefore, one is always involved in Torah, even when not actually studying its texts.
On Simchas Torah morning, as I was walking to shul with our bar mitzvah son, Shalom, I recounted to him an experience I had several years ago. It was during the winter and I was visiting a rebbe of mine in Highland Park, NJ for Shabbos. As we were leaving his home for the fifteen-minute walk to shul, my rebbe told me that each Shabbos he walks with his neighbor to shul and they review the content of the gemara they learned that week while they walk.   
I must admit that I was a little bored as I listened to their discussion, because I was not familiar with that particular gemara. But it definitely left an impression upon me. One of them would relate a question or answer from the gemara, and then the other would add another point which the other had missed, and so it continued all the way to shul. I was impressed at how they maximized their time in such a beautiful manner.
I suggested to Shalom that, being that we had reviewed the same gemara he had learned in yeshiva a few times over Succos, we could try to review the content of the gemara too. He agreed, and it was the most fulfilling and productive walk I had in a very long time, even though my feet weren’t happy with the walk.
This past Chol Hamoed I had the zechus to help facilitate a community-wide learning program. It was a most magnificent sight to see over fifty boys learning with fathers and chavrusos each morning of Chol Hamoed, before heading out on their daily trip.
Quite a few fathers noted how enthralled they themselves were with the program and how much it enhanced and transformed their Chol Hamoed.
The Torah never sleeps. As we state in Shema: “And you shall teach them to your children, and speak in them, when you are sitting in your home, and going on your way, and when you lie down, and when you wake up.”
If we feel sluggish it is only because we are the ones who must be asleep.
The beautiful Yomim Tovim of Tishrei have awakened us from our spiritual slumber and reenergized us. Now our job is to make sure we don’t fall back to sleep.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hoshanah Rabbah – Erev Shemini Atzeres 5777

Hoshanah Rabbah – Erev Shemini Atzeres
21 Tishrei 5777/ October 22, 2016

"Abba, the power is out in half of the rooms upstairs!"
While trying to prepare derashos for Rosh Hashanah, that's not what I wanted to hear. But I headed upstairs to try to figure out the electric issue. I happen to be as adept with electric as I am with aerodynamics, but I do know that if the power isn't working you check the fuse box in the basement. When after flipping every switch in the house a few times yielded no results, I called my neighbor, Meir.
Meir is one of those people who genuinely enjoys helping others. I told Meir that I didn't want him to come over; I only wanted to ask him his advice about the situation.
Perhaps it was his love of chesed, perhaps it was his concern that I was going to electrocute myself, but he told me he would stop by on his way home. So at 10:30 pm (on his way home!!) he arrived and began surveying the situation. Within a few minutes he realized that one of the lights plugged in upstairs had a frayed wire. As a protection, the circuit kept shorting and wouldn't stay on. He unplugged the faulty wire, went back down to the basement and again flipped the switch. This time the power instantly came back on.
This past week, as I was putting the schach on my succah, when I placed my hand on top of the gutter on the roof next to the schach, I realized that the gutters were full of water. The rainwater obviously wasn't draining. I've often thought about how great it would be to have a private mikvah, but not in the gutters on my roof.
Determined not to bother Meir, I checked the bottom of the drainage pipe and saw that it was clear. There must be something blocking on the roof. I stood on a chair and reached up to see where the hole was, so I can try to stick a pole down to clear the way. As soon as my hand touched the top of the pipe, I found that something was situated atop the drainage pipe - a moldy tennis ball. As soon as I lifted it, all of the water in the drain rushed down the pipe and was empty within seconds.
When I walked back into my house to tell Chani what happened, she immediately said (what she often says when things like this happen in our home) "I smell a musings coming. Something about how our hearts are blocked up!" That was not what I wanted to hear while I was dripping wet and holding a moldy wall. However, I am starting to think she has the gift of prophecy.
On Rosh Hashanah, we spend the holiday trying to ensure that our connection with the Source of Life, is vibrant and strong. We reaccept upon ourselves the yoke of His Majesty, and recommit ourselves to living up to the lofty expectations He has set for us in His Torah.
If the wire is frayed the connection is faulty and that spiritual power will not ignite within our souls.
Then on Yom Kippur as we try to achieve at-one-ment, we seek to clear away the debris of our past mis-deeds, to ensure that there are no spiritual blockages that hinder our future growth.
Great analogies for the avodah of these two elite holidays. But what about the celebration of succos, you ask.
The Almighty has provided us with an experiential lesson for that too:
The ice maker in our freezer has a lever that gets pushed up when enough ice has been produced, to signal the mechanism to stop producing ice. But the mechanism in our freezer somehow became dislodged, so the freezer continued producing ice, even as it overflowed the bucket and spill over into the rest of the freezer. Whenever someone opened the freezer, ice cubes went flying.
Ice cubes are a wonderful thing, and helps us enjoy our drinks that much more. But when the mechanism that signals the machine to stop producing is broken, they become a nuisance at best.
Succos reminds us that all of the pleasures of life are there for us to enjoy, as long as we keep them within healthy limits. So long as we control our conveniences and they don't control us, we can benefit from them. But when there are no limitations those same conveniences develop a mind of their own, dragging us helplessly along.
Within the spiritually blissful confines of the succah, our food, drink, and sleep are holy. Four mundane Species become holy objects that promote extreme joy and celebration for a week.
This reminds us that within divine parameters all of the physicality of this world is a conduit for growth. That is one of the timeless lessons of succos.
We often think that when Succos ends we return to our homes simply because the mitzvah of succah is over. But in truth, the holiday of Shemini Atzeres presents us with the most formidable challenge of all - to bring all of the lessons of the entire month of Tishrei, and especially Succos, back into our homes.
It is to ensure that the connections we established Rosh Hashanah remain vibrant, the passageways we cleared Yom Kippur remain open, and the message of the succah returns with us into the comforts of our homes.
And to lock it all in we dance with the Torah - which is the ultimate medium to help us maintain that growth throughout the year, and throughout our lives.
You'll forgive me for ending here, but I think Meir is here to fix our ice cube tray.

Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Friday, October 14, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Haazinu
12 Tishrei 5777/ October 13, 2016

Once upon a time, there was a family named The Staums, who resided at 3 Landau Lane in Spring Valley, NY.
This wonderful family was thrilled to spend its summers at Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA, where Rabbi Staum served as a division head. Due to the fact that the Staum family was temporarily residing in East Stroudsburg, they had their mail forwarded from the end of June until the beginning of the final week of the camp season at the end of August.
This year, when the Staum family arrived home after another wonderful camp season, their mail again began appearing in their mailbox, just as they had arranged. And they lived happily ever after… until the following week.
After a few days they realized that their mail had stopped being dropped off. The mailman would pass by their home and simply drive by.  So they called the Post Office, and after a mere fifteen frustrating tries, decided to go down to the Post Office in person.
At the Post Office a real live person agreed to look into the situation. He returned a few minutes later and explained that there was a simple logical explanation for why the Staums had not received their mail. It seems Walter, their usual postman, was on vacation when they arrived home from camp. His temporary substitute received their request to stop forwarding their mail to East Stroudsburg and did so. But when Walter returned from his vacation the following week, he didn’t realize that they had returned (their two cars in front and children running in and out, etc. apparently weren’t a good enough indication). So he resumed forwarding their mail.  
Thus their lost mail was somewhere in limbo between East Stroudsburg and Monsey. They are still awaiting the grand return of that week’s mail.
It would seem that this whole ordeal was just an annoyance that the Staums had to deal with, and, aside for not receiving some invitations, bills, tzedakah solicitations, and calendars for the new year, it’s not such a big deal. Or so you might have thought!
However, during that fateful week of mistakenly forwarded mail, the Staum’s secondary insurance mailed them a standard letter about a bill they had paid. But that envelope stated that it was not to be forwarded. As soon as the insurance company received the returned letter, they came to the immediate conclusion that the Staums no longer had a valid home address, and they promptly cancelled the Staum’s insurance… the day before Mrs. Staum gave birth to twins!
So as they received Mazal Tov wishes from near and dear, the Staums also began receiving substantial bills from the hospital – somehow those did arrive in the mail.
“No big deal”, you’d think. “Just call the insurance company and explain their mistake.” But speaking to bureaucrats is far worse than speaking to a brick wall. And so the Staums await a trial hearing before the insurance company’s judge, hoping that his/her honor will admit to the inanity of the situation and have the insurance company cover the bills they should be covering, so that the Staums, and their twins, can again live happily ever after.
That whole story is an introduction to the following question: What is someone’s address? Where does one really live?
Is it the place where your mail arrives at, and the place where all of your stuff is, or is it more about the place where your family is located, and the place where you feel secure and settled?
During the Yom Tov of Succos, we demonstrate that it is the latter. We depart from our homes that contains ‘all of our stuff’, the one which is listed as our address, so that we can seek residence in a flimsy succah with our family, basking in the security of the divine beneath the schach.
Succos reminds us that despite the fact that we feel secure and protected in our homes, essentially it’s not our roofs or our security systems that afford us any security. It is only G-d, who is impervious to the fallacies and follies of bureaucrats, and is also above the influence of temperamental and untrustworthy candidates, that can grant us any modicum of serenity.
It is only with a firm knowledge and resolve in that truth that anyone can truly live happily ever after. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Monday, October 10, 2016


Erev Yom Kippur
9 Tishrei 5777/ October 11, 2016

It seems that, aside for the wave of penitent emotions, the High Holy Days also arouse a certain level of nostalgia.
I mentioned last week that during my formative years, my family lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We davened in the legendary Polisher Shteible, where not only my father and grandfather davened, but where even my great-grandfather davened during the years he was living in New York.
The atmosphere of the Shteible is impossible to describe to one who has never experienced it. Antique seforim lined the shelves, and aged wooden tables and benches sat atop the dusty tiled floor. The distinct smell of herring, kichel, and "bromphen" was ever palpable. I remember the two elderly kohanim who duchaned - both sang different tunes, equally off key.
 Everyone who davened in the Shtieble was a personality in his own right, with his own idiosyncrasies - each worthy of his own Musings.
One particular memory that I often think of at this time of year was from the middle of mussaf on Rosh Hashnah and Yom Kippur. The gabbai, R’ Ezra, would open a cubby and remove a stack of old copies of the New York Times. Then he would hastily distribute one page to every person in shul. I was quite surprised and confused - a page of old newspaper in the middle of davening?
But soon enough it became clear what the newspapers were for. The gemara states that when one kneels and prostrates before G-d during the mussaf of Rosh Hashnah and Yom Kippur, he is not allowed to do so on the ground itself, as that was the practice of idolaters. Rather he must place something between himself and the floor. The Shteible used old newspapers to serve that purpose.
Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt"l related that he had the same experience in his shul during his youth. They too would hand out newspapers during mussaf on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He also related that one year, after everyone stood up following their prostration, there was one fellow who remained down, with his face remaining pressed to the ground. At first they feared that he had passed out. But upon closer analyzation, they realized that he was reading the newspaper beneath him.
Rav Pinkus commented that there may not be anything wrong with reading a newspaper article, but not at that moment! At that lofty awesome moment when we demonstrate our complete submission before G-d in a manner unparalleled during the rest of the year, it's not a time to be focusing on anything other than one's complete commitment and devotion to G-d.
Rav Pinkus added that Shabbos each week, as well as every Yom Tov throughout the year, are times of spiritual connection with G-d, on an unparalleled level. We have to ensure that our behavior during those holy days is befitting their sanctity. Things which may be perfectly acceptable, and even necessary, on regular weekdays, may not be fitting during those elite times.
As the great day of Yom Kippur is upon us, and we seek ways to elevate our service to Hashem, perhaps we can give thought to a matter that is a particular challenge for all of us:
There is much good that we do with our cell phones, and they help us in so many ways. But how often do we take them out to look at them during davening in shul, during family meal times, or at any time when we are conversing with another person. It has become so commonplace that we hardly even realize that we do it.
During moments of spiritual, or even personal connection, let's not be the guy who is proverbially "busy reading the paper".
May we all have a G'mar Chasima Tova - a year of growth, blessing, health, shidduchim, parnasa, nachas, etc. But above all, may we all have the wisdom and insight to appreciate those gifts we are granted by giving them our full attention, and by not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the phony cyber-world.
G’mar Chasima Tova & Good Yom Tov
An uplifting, meaningful, and easy fast,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum