Thursday, March 31, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini/Parah
22 Adar II 5776/ April 1, 2016

Our Sages relate that the Torah is concerned with the money of the Jewish people. I feel that this is readily apparent from the fact that each holiday uniquely benefits certain vocations.
Rosh Hashanah gives a boost to beekeepers and ensures that we take interest in the worrisome loss of bee colonies in recent years. Succos helps the lumberyards, sellers of the Four Species, and photographers who sell pictures to decorate succos. Chanukah and its donuts and latkes is the holiday of cardiologists, while Tu B’shvat gives focus to the arbor societies and fruit sellers. Pesach benefits Manischewitz, Streits, and Shatzer, while Shavuos is for Tenuva, Haolam, and the other dairy companies. Aside for the obvious boon for wineries, Purim and Simchas Torah help ensure that dentists have plenty of business, as they seek to maintain and repair candy-filled teeth. 
The Megillah relates that although in Mordechai’s counter-decree the Jews had permission to seize the loot of their enemies, when the Jews actually took revenge against their enemies, they did not do so. They wanted to demonstrate that their sole motive was to fight for their physical survival and spiritual freedom, and were not motivated by avarice or wealth.
We compensate for their altruism, because as soon as Purim is over our children gather to divvy up their shalach manos loot. I don’t know about anyone else’s home, but in the Staum house dividing the spoils of shalach manos is serious business. After the dividing process, we spend the next few weeks helplessly watching as our children pull sugar packets and all sorts of nosh out of their pockets at any time, and furtively stick it into their mouths. All of our protests are met with claims of “But it’s mine!”
More important than all of the loot is for our children to understand the real essence of the day and the real ‘Purim loot’ which we treasure.
When I asked my fifth grade class why we give shalach manos on Purim, one of them replied, “So that our friend gives us back!” The poor kid had to listen to a harangue from his rebbe about how much of a misunderstanding that is about this noble mitzvah, whose primary purpose is to demonstrate our friendship to each other. [There is another opinion that it is to provide each other with provisions for the Purim Seudah.]
Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer once quipped that because the true essence of shalach manos is to increase feelings of camaraderie and friendship, we should really seek to give primarily to those we don’t like so much or have had squabbles with. But, he added, today if you don’t give a friend he becomes your enemy, so it ends up that you have to give your friends anyway.
The gemara states that in a leap year we celebrate Purim in the second Adar in order to juxtapose the redemption of Purim with the redemption of Pesach.
Redemption only occurs when there is a heightened sense of fraternity and unity. Just prior to the exodus from Egypt when the Jewish People offered the Korbon Pesach, they did so as groups and as families. We need to maintain the love and connection we felt towards each other on Purim as we progress towards the great Yom Tov of Pesach in a few weeks.
And that is the ultimate loot, which we can all share in perfect peace and happiness.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav
15 Adar II 5776/ March 25, 2016

A number of years ago a friend of mine married a woman from a very upscale neighborhood. After a few months of Shabbos and Yom Tov visits with his in-laws he quipped that he feels bad for the first grade teachers in their local schools. He imagined that the teacher would tell the class that they are going to learn about addition, and proceeds to explain the old ‘if I have one apple and add another apple, then how many apples do I have’ routine. And then one of the student calls out, “That’s not addition. My Mommy is making an addition to our upstairs, and when she finishes that one, she said she’s going to make another addition to the kitchen!”
How often in life do we think that if we only had that one more thing, then we would be truly happy and then we could really appreciate our blessings. It could be a new car, moving to a different neighborhood, having a little more money, a better boss, better employee, better behaved children, a shidduch, health, etc. That one missing commodity contains the key to our elusive happiness.
Not long before his undoing, the villainous Haman declared, “I have everything! I have money; I have children; I have prestige. I am invited to the private royal banquets and everyone bows before me. Everything is going my way, save for one thing! But that one thing gets in the way of my complete happiness. Just as soon as I get Mordechai out of the way, then my life will truly be perfect.”
Little did Haman realize that his efforts to attain that “one last thing” would destroy him and cause him to lose everything he had.
We would be wise to learn to appreciate the blessings we have, and not focus on that “one thing we are missing”. The bottom line is that there will always be that one thing missing because life in this world is never perfect.
I once heard a beautiful quote that sums this idea up so eloquently: “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, but about learning how to dance in the rain!
       Rav Hutner zt’l related that in Europe there was a refrain that performers would chant on Purim: “Haynt iz Purim, morgen iz oiys; Gebb mir a trink, oon vahrf mir aroys”, loosely translated as “Today is Purim, tomorrow, it’s no more; give me a drink and throw me out the door!”  
       Rav Hutner explained (in a more lengthy and characteristically deep manner) that if one would act as he does on Purim the day after Purim, he would be viewed as socially off. But on Purim itself we focus on the day. True, tomorrow it’s over, but today is Purim!
       On Purim we live in the moment. We appreciate the blessings of today – primarily our faith in an Omnipotent and loving G-d, love for our fellow Jews, and celebrating the fact that we are part of the greatest nation on earth!
It’s a lesson we need to take with us long after the shalach manos have been divvied up (or burnt with the chometz J). It’s a lesson we may hear numerous times, but still have a hard time internalizing: It’s not stuff or money that will ever bring happiness, but rather our ability to appreciate what we have – our ability to dance in the rain!  

A Freilichen Purim to Klal Yisroel
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, March 17, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra/Zachor
8 Adar II 5776/ March 18, 2016

I’m really happy that I got the flu shot this year. This way when I got the flu two weeks ago and people accusingly asked me if I got the flu shot, I was able to reply “As a matter of a fact, I did. And my daughter who had the flu after me, got it too.”
My doctor is pretty emphatic that the flu shot is extremely beneficial and worthwhile. He told me that the pharmaceutical companies are gaining a tremendous amount from generating mini-hysteria about getting the flu shot. Their advertisement campaigns have indeed been successful and many Americans have indeed gotten the flu shot making it very beneficial for the pharmaceutical companies. He is also convinced that the whole thing is a hoax and doesn’t really accomplish anything, me being another case in point. On the flip side, the ‘flutologists’ (I might have made that up) will counter that the flu shot works, it’s just that I caught a different strain. There’s no doubt about that – getting the flu was a major strain. Next year I’ll have to remember to only allow myself to become susceptible to the strain that I was injected with (if I allow myself to be swayed by flu shot propaganda next year). 
The one thing I can say about the flu is that it is very loving and friendly. I don’t know anyone/anything else that can tolerate being around me without a break for over two weeks.
The flu of course brings with it a cocktail of symptoms – headache, achiness, fatigue, fever, and, of course, the chills.  I had that unenviable experience of waking up in the middle of the night with my teeth chattering, despite wearing a sweat shirt, socks, and an extra blanket. Until the Advil I took kicked in there was almost nothing I could do to warm myself.
This was in contrast to the deep freeze that overtook the tri-state area the week before. Thankfully it’s been so warm lately that we have almost forgotten about the week of subzero temperatures and wind gusts of a month ago. But during that arctic blast, although it was painfully cold, wearing layers of clothing helped mitigate the cold, at least for the body parts that were covered. But when the chill is within there’s hardly anything to do except to fight it off with medicine.
The Jewish People have no shortage of enemies who have caused us incredible pain throughout the millennia. Above them all, and in a class of their own, is our nemesis, Amalek. The greatest difference between Amalek and all of our other enemies is that although our enemies attack us and threaten us in all sorts of ways, Amalek is not content to attack us from without. Theirs is a full fledged assault on our very identity as believers and as G-d’s ambassadors to the world, as it were. Amalek penetrates our conscience, scoffing our mission, mocking our ability to be truly great, and filling us with self-doubt. That danger is internal and all of the outside layers we don to protect ourselves are insufficient. To fight that battle we have to ward off the infection within, by fortifying ourselves spiritually with belief in ourselves and our cause. 
The driving force of Amalek lurks everywhere. It’s not merely the frightening danger of those who seek to accomplish what Haman wanted – ISIS, Iran, Hamas, etc. Far more pernicious are the bloggers and naysayers whose venomous opinions are enough to make an Amaleki out of any believing Jew.
When it comes to fighting Amalek - a battle we will never fully win until the Messianic era dawns - vaccines are insufficient. We need a healthy dosage of spiritual vitamins. Those vitamins come in the form of recognizing the danger and the (only) remedy, building our ranks with unity, including caring for the underprivileged, and rejoicing together simply because we are members of this elite unit. These steps are also known as reading the Megillah, sending Shalach Manos, Matanos Laevyonim, and enjoying Seudas Purim.
The Torah states that Amalek “cooled you off on the way” (asher karcha baderech). We respond with the intense celebration of Purim to warm our bodies, hearts, and souls. And that’s an even better remedy than your Bubby’s chicken soup for Amalek’s uncommon cold.    

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Freilichen Purim to all of Klal Yisroel,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pekudei
Rosh Chodesh Adar II
1 Adar II 5776/ March 11, 2016

There’s no doubt that I am the most important person in the world these days. You need to know about me. So really I’m telling you about myself for your own good! So pay attention well!
I started off from very humble beginnings, but I was determined to make something of myself, and I wasn’t going to allow anyone or anything to stop me. I built my way to the top with a dream of conquering the world. Believe it or not I continue to be successful. Everyone knows my name and everyone pays homage to me. It doesn’t matter what country or what part of the world. They all know me.
The truth is I don’t have many leadership qualities. If you’re even partially astute you will realize that from my political past and by the empty nonsense I preach. Oh, I know about money and I have more of it than you could even imagine. In fact, it would take days on end for me to even describe how much I have, and I love to show it off. But when it comes to maters of domestic and foreign affairs I am pretty lost without my close circle of advisers. 
So how did I make a name for myself? I had two primary tactics: The first thing I did was to marry a beautiful foreigner. I married for looks because I am a pretty shallow person, and I know it looks good for me to be seen in public with someone pretty.
The second thing I did was that I never allowed or allow anyone or anything to get in my way. In fact, I am known to be ruthless, crass, and vulgar. Dare to cross my path and you will feel the brunt of my anger, and it’s lethal. I will hold nothing back from my foes or from anyone who even has a hope of vying for my power and prestige.
You wouldn’t think those two tactics would be enough for me to bulldoze my way to the top, but it worked for me. I guess my followers are pretty shallow too.
I am never bashful and I am not scared to do radical things if I feel it is for the betterment of my charges. In fact, I would not hesitate to rid myself of an entire nationality. It may sound radical and you may doubt me, but I’ll give it my full backing. Whatever it takes! Who needs ‘em anyway; they are nothing but trouble and you can’t trust them. Besides, that’s what everyone wants to hear.  
There’s another fascinating point about me that you should know. Believe it or not, although I look like your run of the mill gentile, I have a Jewish child - orthodox too. When the child was young no one would have ever guessed it, but the truth is stranger than fiction. And this child is my pride and joy, perhaps my successor one day.
In closing I would just reiterate that as long as you are on board with me then life will be blissful, in fact it will be a constant party. With me on top there are no worries. And you can be sure I will trump over all those who even try to stand in my way. If I can’t do it with sheer force, a ‘diamondo and rubio’ will always help me cruz to victory.
No doubt you know who I am, particularly now. From India to Ethiopia they know me as Xerxes. Perhaps you may know me as Achashveirosh![1] 

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

[1] When Vashti ranked out Achashveirosh after he summoned her to appear at the feast, she ranked him out, referring to the fact that he was originally a stable boy, and that he wasn’t half the man that her grandfather Nebuchadnezzar was (Megillah 12b). Vashti was a Babylonian, while Achashveirosh was Persian, which meant that she was a foreigner. Rav Yonason Eibschutz explains that Darius, Achashveirosh’s son and successor, was the son of Esther, and, therefore, was a full-fledged Jew.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Parshas Vayakhel – Shekalim 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel – Shekalim
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar II
24 Adar I 5776/ March Forth, 2016
I spend my afternoons in the warm environs of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor, NY, where I am the Principal of the Secular Studies department. Once a week the students of each grade have the good fortune to have me as their teacher for one period. With the eleventh grade I give a course in public speaking.
As their final, each student has to present a speech to his classmates. I created a list of possible venues and occasions, and by way of lottery, each student chooses the topic/venue which he will address. The occasions include sheva berachos of your sister, promoting a kiruv event at your shul, bar mitzvah of a younger brother, opening words as emcee of shul dinner, class representative at graduation, Bubby’s surprise 90th birthday party, speaking to a group of eighth grade students and their parents to promote the yeshiva, class valedictorian, etc.
Recently, one boy was assigned to speak at his neighbor’s fiftieth anniversary party. He began with a d’var Torah which emphasized the importance of having good middos and being a pleasant person. He continued by saying, “Everyone knows our dear neighbors – Rabbi and Rebbitzin Staum – who are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary today, possess these wonderful qualities…” When he concluded his speech, I couldn’t help but share with him that, believe it or not, that day, February 17th, happened to be my anniversary (coincidentally it’s also my wife’s anniversary), albeit it was our fourteenth, not quite our fiftieth. I also told them that there was no place I’d rather be on my anniversary than with them.  
The following week in the middle of class the boys presented me with an ice cream cake and a card which read: “Happy Anniversary. Better late than never!”
It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture, and thankfully I still have my teeth and was able to enjoy the cake. But it did give me a moment’s pause to think about my fiftieth anniversary, which I pray G-d will grant us the blessing to reach such a beautiful and precious milestone.
We live our lives trying to balance our short-term, immediate focus with our long-term, future focus. The challenge is that the pressures of today make it so difficult for us to focus on the growth and goals of tomorrow.
It’s been said that youth is not so much a matter of age as it is a matter of attitude. In the Torah Yehoshua bin Nun is referred to as a na’ar (youth) despite the fact that he was well advanced in his years. The Nesivas Shalom explains that as long as one is still growing and has not stagnated spiritually he is still deemed a na’ar. Yehoshua may have been advanced in years, but he still sat at the feet of his mentor, Moshe Rabbeinu, with youthful exuberance and vigor. Therefore, he is still called youthful.
Nesivas Shalom adds that when the brothers of Yosef demanded that he release Binyamin and allow him to return to Cana’an with them, they said “For how can we go up to our father if the na’ar is not with us?” This is a question we must each ask ourselves “How can we return our souls after we leave this world if our na’ar – that youthful exuberance and drive to grow and accomplish – is not with us, because we have allowed ourselves to become old, withered, and frumpy.[1]
More impressive than fifty years of marriage is when it is also a celebration of fifty years of growth and accomplishment. The only way to achieve that is to try to keep growing every day. Not easily achieved, but well worth the price.        
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

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

[1] I heard this idea from Rabbi Noach Sauber, a personal mentor and rebbe, at the chasuna of my friend Nachi Baldinger. Rabbi Sauber told me he was told the idea by a friend. I could not find the Nesivas Shalom inside before I sent this out.