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