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