Thursday, June 30, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach
Pirkei Avos perek 3
25 Sivan 5776/ July 1, 2016

Another great camping season has begun. Yesterday, the busses pulled into camp, and smiling campers lugging soda, water, and hockey sticks jumped off happily. The 156 lush acres of Camp Dora Golding instantly came to life with the convergence of campers from as far as Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, and neighborhoods throughout the Tristate area. For a few exciting weeks they have all made East Stroudsburg, PA their new home.
After a few hours unpacking, the campers gathered for orientation. The director, head counselor, and division heads (including yours truly) all began their orientations with big smiles and assurances about how this summer will be the best ever, with great trips and exciting events. But, then the smile is gone, and the speaker looks poignantly at his crowd and waits for absolute silence. He tells the assemblage that they must listen well because now they will hear the rules. When all the rules have been said, the smile returns and the speech concludes with another reassurance that this summer will be incredibly memorable and endless fun. 
Why the need for the seriousness and rules? Because nothing good can come out of something that is all fun and games. There has to be a balance of regulations to ensure that things do not become anarchic and chaotic. If there’s no bedtime, campers become grumpy the next day, and they will not enjoy any part of camp. With all the love, positive, and fun, there has to also be boundaries and a modicum of respect for authority in order for there to be a truly enjoyable experience.
This idea helps us understand an integral idea regarding Shabbos Kodesh. How strange is it that towards the end of the Friday night davening (in ‘Magen Avos’), we state “Before Him we will serve with fear and trepidation”. Fear and trepidation on Shabbos? That sounds more like the emotions of Yom Kippur?
Shabbos is a day of incredible closeness with Hashem. We begin Shabbos by lauding and praising the kallah - the holy day of Shabbos, who is greeted by her chosson, referring to those of us who observe Shabbos according to halacha. If one really appreciates that during this lofty day we are so connected to the infinite and omnipotent Creator, he will inevitably feel a combination of intense joy and fear. Joy with the opportunity; fear of not being sufficiently respectful with the day’s due honor.
In Lecha Dodi we sing “Shamor v’zachor b’dibbur echad”. There is an inextricable connection between safeguarding Shabbos and remembering/honoring Shabbos. Ramban explains that ‘remembering’ is accomplished by observing the positive mitzvos associated with the day, which expresses our intense love for the day. ‘Safeguarding’ is accomplished by adhering to all the prohibitions of the day, which symbolize our fear of violating its laws.
Observing Shabbos is not just about enjoying kugel, cholent, and a Shabbos nap. It’s also about understanding the extreme sanctity of the day and realizing how serious it is to violate its prohibitions.
The truth is that this is an idea that is vital for Judaism generally. Our observance should not be regulated to mere practice and performance. It must be passionate, emotional, and elevating. However, there must also be a balance wherein we recognize that mitzvos are not just something we do because they make us feel good. We are bound to them by virtue of an eternal covenant and our lives can only have meaning if we live in that manner.   
It’s that balance that ensures not only the best summer ever, but optimal living constantly.
 Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

      R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha
Pirkei Avos perek 2
18 Sivan 5776/ June 25, 2016

In the middle of the summer two years ago, I traveled from Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA, to New Windsor, NY to meet with the Rosh Yeshiva and Menahel of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli to interview to become the yeshiva’s General Studies Principal. The meeting went well b’h and we agreed to meet again. I left the yeshiva happily and began the long trip back to camp immersed in my thoughts. I failed to notice that there was a speed trap, where the speed limit suddenly dropped as the highway passed through the village of Highland, NY. The cop who was waiting for me didn’t make the same mistake I did.
I tried to explain to the officer that it was my first time driving through the area and it was an honest mistake. Surprisingly he was unmoved by my eloquence and he issued me a ticket. A few weeks later I found myself back in that village to plead my case.
The Town Hall was in the middle of the block on the second floor of the building. The prosecutor offered a plea of parking at a fire hydrant, which would mean no points and a reduced fine (which coincidentally just happened to go to the village and not the state). When I entered the court room I realized that almost everyone in the room had agreed to the same plea. I am pretty convinced that the whole village only had one fire hydrant, so we must have all lined up waiting for the opportunity to park in front of it.
The judge accepted the plea and I turned to the clerk to pay the fine. When I handed her my paper, I was in for an utter shock – she was cordial and pleasant! I was under the impression that to be a court clerk you had to be nasty and impatient. Yet here was a clerk who smiled, was affable, and said thank you and wished me a good day when I handed her my payment. When I told her how appreciative I was for her pleasant demeanor, she replied that I wasn’t the first person who told her the same thing that day, but that she didn’t understand why she should be thanked for it. I assured her that if I was ever going to speed again, I would make sure to come to Highland, NY, to do so.   
When it comes to parenting/teaching we don’t like to watch children make mistakes. We also don’t like having to take the time and energy to enforce the consequences of those mistakes. So instead, we scream and threaten, and hope it “works”. In other words, we hope our screaming forces them to behave the way we want them to. When it doesn’t (which is usually), we scream some more—and then our screaming becomes the consequence itself. So what is the better option?
The Love and Logic program[1] espouses that the best idea is to “Let the consequences do the teaching”. We do this by getting our emotional anxiety out of the way in order to let the consequences do their job. When our children require disciplining we can calmly tell them that there will have to be a consequence for what they did. [We need not tell them immediately what the consequence will be, as doing so usually causes us to exaggerate and then make the tragic mistake of back-pedaling and not following through.]
When we present the consequence – at a time and in a way planned beforehand that we know we can follow through - the biggest mistake we can make is to lecture, threaten, warn, or become angry. When we do so the child’s focus is no longer on what he/she did but upon our emotional response, which often leads to a power struggle. But when we are able to keep our emotions out of it by having confidence that the consequence we carefully imposed will do the teaching, the child’s focus will remain on his/her own foolish decision.
Normally when people walk out of a courthouse they are focused on the judge, clerk, or cop, and on what terrible people they are (not that I would know, but people have told me…) When I walked out of that courthouse in Highland however, I wasn’t angry at all. What’s more – the next time I drove through the town, I wasn’t even resentful when I slowed down. And I didn’t park next to the fire hydrant! 

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

[1] I am a Love and Logic Parenting facilitator

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Naso
Pirkei Avos perek 1
11 Sivan 5776/ June 17, 2016

During my youth, my personal hero was the popular Jewish singer Avrohom Fried. As a member of Tzlil V'zemer Boys Choir I enjoyed the fact that we had a number of concerts in which we performed prior to Avrohom Fried. After our performance was over I had the opportunity to watch Fried perform from backstage. At home I would imitate Fried’s stage performance, singing his early classics including “No Jew will be left behind” and “Keil Hahoda’os”.
When I was eleven years old, my parents chaperoned the choir during a trip to Eretz Yisroel where we performed in Gan Soccer before an impressive crowd of 9,000 people. Shortly before we were set to go on stage and I was already wearing my choir uniform, my father called me over an instructed me to follow him. We walked quickly down a backstage hall to where Avrohom Fried was waiting. He greeted me warmly in what was a thrilling moment for me. I was so excited that I couldn’t. I had met my hero!
In the summer of 1991, Gatorade launched what was potentially the most iconic sports commercial of all time. It was right after the Chicago Bulls had won the first of six championships under the leadership of Michael Jordan, who was also the season's MVP and the Final’s MVP.
The commercial depicted a blissful atmosphere of children rallying around Jordan, shooting hoops with big smiles on their faces. Interspersed were highlights of some of Jordan's finest moments in big games. Throughout the commercial Jordan could be seen with his head cocked back drinking a cold bottle of Gatorade. The background music played to the lyrics “Sometimes I dream that he is me... If I could be like Mike!”
It wasn't just Jordan's success as a player, it was also his suaveness and popularity as an iconic personality. The underhanded message of the song was that if you drink Gatorade you can indeed be like Mike.
During the years when the commercial was popular, my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Berel Wein quipped, “What can you expect from a generation whose slogan is to 'be like Mike'?”
Rabbi Wein would often encourage us to have positive role models in our lives, because who we aspire to be like plays an important role in how we aspire to live our lives.
One of the “hats” I wear is as Principal of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor. This week, like high school students throughout New York State, our students took the State Regents exams. For the second section of the English Regents, the students were instructed to write an essay based on various provided readings. The topic for the readings was about “The Celebrity Solution”, i.e. the fact that celebrities are used increasingly to promote issues of politics and ethical matters. “Stars – movie stars, rock stars, sports stars – exercise a ludicrous influence over public consciousness. In recent years, stars have learned that their intense presentness in people’s daily lives and their access to the uppermost realm of politics, business and media offer them a peculiar kind of moral position…”
The article named specific personalities, including Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Bono and Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt. 
For our yeshiva students, even IF they are familiar with these names, they definitely do not hail any of them as their heroes, to say the least.
What’s even more ironic is that the Regents were offered the day after Shavuos, when the yeshiva students spent hours engaged and immersed learning the teachings of those who are truly their greatest heroes – Abaye and Rava, Rashi and Rambam, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Reb Chaim, to name a few.
If we had our way we might indeed have the yeshiva students write about how iconic heroes have an immensely deep influence on politics, ethics, outlook, and everything in between. But the names of the heroes would be worlds – nay, universes - apart!
“If I could be like Rebbe!”  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

     R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar – Erev Shavuos
Pirkei Avos perek 6 – Kinyan Torah
4 Sivan 5776 (48th day of Omer)/ June 10, 2016

I have written a few times in this forum about the wonderful trip to Eretz Yisroel, that I enjoyed along with our bechor Shalom, this past winter in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. While there we had the zechus to meet a few of the Gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Aron Leib Shteinman shlita. It wasn’t easy even getting into Rav Shteinman’s home, as we literally had to be pulled through the crowd waiting by his door. Even when we were inside we had to wait some time. When Rav Shteinman finally emerged from his room we had a few precious moments to receive a beracha from the aged Gadol Hador.
Our connection there - Reb Ephraim Landau ( - told Rav Shteinman that Shalom had just become a Bar Mitzvah and wanted a beracha for a “chayshek in lernen” (desire/excitement to learn Torah). Rav Steinman replied, “He should have a chayshek, but the Yetzer Hara won’t allow it so easily.” Rav Landau responded that the Rav should then give him a beracha that he should conquer his Yetzer Hara. Rav Steinman countered, “ubber der Yezter Hara hut ah shverd – But the Yetzer Hara has a sword.” Rav Landau answered that the Rosh Yeshiva should then give him a beracha that Shalom be able to take away the Yetzer Hara’s sword.” Rav Steinman smiled and replied, “Vet zayn gut – It should all be good.”
Later during that week I went to visit the home of the late ‘hidden tzaddik’, Rav Zundel Kroizer zt’l. In an earlier Musings (#245) I wrote about my unsuccessful attempt to visit and receive a beracha from Rav Kroizer during a previous visit to Eretz Yisroel. In the interim Rav Kroizer had been niftar, but I was told that I could purchase his seforim at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, where the Rav had lived during his last years.
After being informed of the address, we made our way to the simple home. We arrived there just as Rav Kroizer’s daughter-in-law came home. I told her about my failed attempt to visit the Rav a few years prior, and that I wanted to purchase some of his seforim. After she brought out some seforim, I told her that we had come to Eretz Yisroel for Shalom’s Bar Mitzvah. She then proceeded to give him a warm and beautiful beracha that he grow in Torah, Yiras Shomayim, etc. She concluded that he should be “כובש את רוחו ומשל ביצרו – conquer his spirit and dominate his inclination”, in a perfect quote of the vernacular of the Mishna (Avos 4:1).
We are now in Graduation season - replete with caps, gowns, smiling graduates, teary-eyed camera(phone)-wielding parents, and long-winded commencement speeches. Ivy-league colleges often invite successful and famous personalities to address their graduates and relate some of the life lessons they learned along their road to accomplishment and achievement. Invariably the talks include reflection about some major struggles and failures that the celebrity faced early on in their career. They then tell the graduates that they have to expect setbacks and challenges in life, for in the struggle lies the path to greatness. 
A few years ago, our shul honored one of our worthy members, Mrs. Sandy Friedbaum. In her speech, Mrs. Friedbaum related that it is well known that Hashem gave the Torah to us on Har Sinai, because Sinai was “the humblest of the mountains”. She then added another personal lesson that she gleaned from the fact that Hashem gave us the Torah on the humblest mountain:
Living entails aspiration for growth and great effort to get there. But sometimes we strive to accomplish too much in too little time, and thereby set ourselves up for frustration and failure. Success in life and growth occurs when we set ourselves attainable goals that allow us to feel accomplished. We always have to be striving to climb our personal Har Sinais – a climb to the peak which is not too overwhelming and daunting to the top. Then, when we arrive at the peak of our Har Sinai, we can begin the climb up the next Har Sinai.
Our Yetzer Hara has a sword, but as long as we are ready for the struggle and aren’t overly intimidated by the uphill climb we can triumph. On Shavuos we celebrate our connection to Torah - the ultimate spiritual climbing guide, and prepare ourselves to climb our personal Har Sinai every single day.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

      R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechukosai
Pirkei Avos perek 5 – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan
26 Iyar 5776 (41st day of Omer)/ June 3, 2016

As technology becomes increasingly faster and more convenient, we expect to be able to do more and have more in less space. But everything has its limits.
A few months ago, I opened my email only to find that I had no more available space. They informed me that it was not a problem and for a mere $1.99 a month I could purchase ample additional space.
My phone is also quite frustrating, as it seems to never have any available space. These days when phones are used more for pictures and videos, I have to constantly transfer data to my computer before deleting it from my phone. Even my trusty laptop, from which all of these brilliant articles emerge, constantly notifies me that it has no more available space. From it too I have to transfer pictures and videos to our home computer. I hope it will be some time before that computer too informs me that it has no more available space.
As we only have a limited amount of space, we have to decide what we want to fill our space with. This is not only true about data and “stuff”, it’s true about our relationships as well. It’s up to us to show those we care about that they have ‘space’ in our lives.  
The Mishna (Avos 4:14) extols the greatness of the Jewish People by stating: “Yisroel is beloved because they are called sons to the “Makom – Omnipresent.” In Pirkei Avos, generally Hashem is referred to as Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Why here is He referred to as ‘the Place’?
Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky notes that in the post-Holocaust years there was an un-verbalized message conveyed to every child that he/she was vital to the Jewish cause. As a nation we had lost so much and had endured such utter devastation and destruction that every individual was crucial for our efforts to rebuild. In the decades since then we have witnessed incredible growth and unimagined success. The rebirth of Torah and Judaism is nothing short of a miracle. But our success has presented us with a great challenge. Often there is an underhanded message unwittingly conveyed which says, “We don’t need you! If you are not exactly what we are looking for than we could find five others who are better suited for us!” This is felt most acutely when our young students look for High Schools and Seminaries, and even very painfully when young women are ‘in shidduchim’.
When we go on Chol Hamoed trips and have to wait some time before even getting in to the building because there are so many Jews who had the same idea as we did, we start to think that there are so many Jews out there. But the truth is that every Jew is vital and we have none to spare. Every adolescent on the streets, every soldier hurt or worse, G-d forbid, is an absolute tragedy.  
This is perhaps why the Mishna says that every Jew is precious to “Makom”, because every one of us has a place around G-d’s table, as it were.
With our technological devices we can purchase more space, or get a better device, but with people we have to make sure that they know there is always space for them. We have to convey to everyone how valuable and vital his/her contribution is to our nation.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

      R’ Dani and Chani Staum