Thursday, August 10, 2017

PARSHAS EIKEV 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev
19 Menachem Av 5777/ August 11, 2017 - Avos Perek 5

One shabbos afternoon a few weeks ago here in Camp Dora Golding, I was learning outside at a table near some bunkhouses. There were groups of boys having catches nearby. At one point, a boy came over to me and said that the ball had gotten past him, and rolled just beyond the eiruv. He wanted to know if he could extend a hockey stick from within the eiruv and drag the ball back inside the eiruv. I noted that it was proper for him to ask, but that it was forbidden.
About two minutes later, another ball rolled past me, and into the bushes. When the camper came to the bush to retrieve the ball, and saw where it had rolled, he announced that he wasn't going after the ball, because he was concerned that there was poison ivy in the bush.
I reflected to myself about the contrast, or perhaps similarity, between the two incidents. For a Torah Jew, retrieving a ball from beyond an eiruv, should indeed be viewed like retrieving a ball from a bush with poison ivy, in the sense that the natural reaction should be to feel he must refrain.
On one occasion, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l was walking through the aisles of the Bais Medrash in his yeshiva, when he suddenly stopped and waited patiently. There was a fellow davening shemone esrei up ahead, and the Halacha is that one shouldn't walk in the vicinity of someone davening shemoneh esrei. When the student accompanying him asked Rav Moshe why he wasn't continuing, Rav Moshe smiled and gently replied, "iz duh ah vant - there is a wall." To Rav Moshe, the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch which forbade his proceeding, was like an impenetrable wall.
In order to foster and maintain such an unequivocal attitude toward Halacha, one must constantly ingrain within himself a reverence for Halacha, as his ultimate directive and guide. Perhaps part of the reason it's challenging to develop such an attitude, is because it seems too austere and rigid, and therefore we shy away from it somewhat.
When we bentch Rosh Chodesh the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we recite a moving prayer beseeching Hashem for life, mentioning specific blessings and goodness that our lives should be blessed with.
Curiously, there is one component mentioned twice: yiras shomayim - fear of heaven. First we request "life in which we have fear of sin and fear of heaven". Then a few phrases later we request, "life that contains love of Torah and fear heaven". Why the double mention of fear of heaven?
Rav Asher Weiss shlita explained that, in truth, we aren't asking for the same thing twice. The reason it appears that way, is because the words of the prayer are read incorrectly, the comma being placed at the wrong juncture. It is not a prayer for "life that contains love of Torah, and fear of heaven". Rather it is a prayer for "life that contains love: of Torah and fear of heaven." We are praying, not just to be G-d fearing, but also to love such a lifestyle. We pray to feel the endemic regality, contentment, and fulfillment in living within the dictates and parameters of Halacha. We shouldn't feel constricted by living according to Halacha, but rather privileged.
It may be annoying to be unable to retrieve a ball on Shabbos from outside the eiruv, it may be difficult to not be able to eat at any restaurant one desires, it may be inconvenient to daven three times a day, but if it is a matter of pride to be part of an elite people with elite responsibilities, it will all be worth it.
Rabbi Weiss also noted that there is much worthy discussion in our circles about what we can do to preserve the integrity and religiosity of our youth. There is an emphasis on having proper boundaries and setting worthy limits. There is also an emphasis on giving our children unconditional love. Rabbi Weiss noted that he agrees with both approaches, and they are both vital. However, they are are insufficient. There also must be a feeling of happiness and joy in the home to be Torah observant Jews. It is such a deeply embedded feeling of love for Torah and fear of heaven, that gives a child the will and fortitude to want to maintain the ways of his father and grandfather.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Friday, August 4, 2017

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/SHABBOS NACHAMU 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu
14 Menachem Av 5777/ August 4, 2017 - Avos Perek 4

In past columns of this forum, I have written about the magnificent scenic drive I enjoy each afternoon, along my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali, in New Windsor, NY, where I have the good fortune to serve as Principal.
 At the northern end of the Palisades Parkway, I drive passed the imposing and regal Bear Mountain Bridge, before continuing north on Route 9W.  Route 9W continues adjacent to the Hudson River before sharply ascending a steep mountain. From the peak, the view is breathtaking, and one can see for miles in all directions.
Just past the bridge, there is a historic area, with beautiful paths which include walking bridges over and alongside the Hudson.
During the spring, I like to leave early enough so that I can park and walk along the paths. There is nary anyone around during the week, and I relish those moments of picturesque solitude and beauty.
As mentioned, it is primarily a historic area called Fort Montgomery where wars were fought during the American Revolution. All along the scenic pathways, there are placards which explain the historic events that took place at that very location during the war. There are remains of what once was soldier barracks and the foundation of what once was a mess hall for the soldiers. Atop a platform where there are bronze cannons, the placard details how the revolutionary soldiers valiantly fought off the incoming British soldiers, before ultimately being defeated.
I love history, and I enjoy reading the facts of what took place there. As I read the information, I try to imagine the events that took place on that very spot some two hundred and forty years ago.
On one occasion, while walking the paths and reading some of the facts written there, it struck me that although I found it all very fascinating, it didn't move me emotionally whatsoever. It was all interesting facts, but that's all.
Contrast that with a discussion of any part of Eretz Yisroel, which stirs the heart of any believing Jew.
Every kinnah recited on Tisha B'av is gut wrenching and deeply emotional. There are descriptions of massacres, humiliations, pogroms, public burnings of irreplaceable seforim, murder of righteous leaders, and vivid descriptions of horrors of starvation and siege.
Then there is another series of kinnos which begin with the word "Zion". These kinnos describe the inestimable beauty of Eretz Yisroel, which includes the deep yearning of our people to connect with the hallowed Land.
The first in this series of kinnos (kinnah 36) was authored by the great Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi is perhaps most famous for his declaration: "my heart is in the east, though I am at the end of the west". In that kinnah he unveils his inner longing and love for the Land with incredible prose and rich emotional vernacular.
He describes how he would place the broken pieces of his heart among the broken pieces of the Land, how the air of the Land is filled with living souls of our ancestors, and how he would give anything to wander the land, even barefoot and unclothed. In his timeless words, the national pining of two centuries come to life.
Towards the beginning of the kinnah, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi calls out to Zion itself and rhetorically asks that it seek the welfare "of those bound by longing, shedding tears like dew upon Mount Hermon, wishing to shed them upon your mountains."
His words are based on the pasuk in Tehillim (133:3) states: "Like the dew of Hermon, that comes down upon the Mountain of Zion." The dew which appears on Hermon in the north of the country, flows south, until it reaches Zion itself.
Dew infuses the earth with vitality and verdant freshness. So too, the tears shed "by those bound by longing" flow forth from the peaks of Hermon, spiritually invigorating the land and its people. Those tears are not tears of hopelessness, but tears of yearning and sanguinity. It's therefore those tears that ensure that they will flow down until Zion itself springs forth. It's those tears that ensure that our connection to the land is emotional and personal. Chevron, Tsfas, Teveriah, and Yerushalayim are worlds apart from Fort Montgomery, or even Gettysburg. One is historical, the other is a piece of our soul, one is fascinating, the other a component of our identity.
Through the tears of Tisha B'av we have a renewed sense of connection to the Land, and that itself is part of the consolation.
"Be consoled, be consoled, My Nation, says your G-d".

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 27, 2017

PARSHAS DEVORIM/SHABBOS CHAZON 5777


“RABBI’S AMUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim/Chazon
7 Menachem Av 5777/ July 29, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

When I was eight years old, I needed to have an operation to correct a hernia. I remember davening at home with my father in the wee hours of the morning, and then heading to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital, the receptionist looked at me and exclaimed, “This is the infant?” Apparently, they had written down that I was an infant, and that’s what they were expecting. Thankfully they found an empty bed, and I didn’t have to use the crib they had prepared.
I also remember, the nurse placing a mask on my face, and thinking that it smelled funny. I also was quite sure that it wasn’t helping me fall asleep because I wasn’t feeling the least bit tired. But that’s the last thing I remember before being back in the room where my parents were anxiously waiting for me.
For the duration of that day, my parents switched off sitting at my bedside. My mother read me the entire Frankenstein while I listened from my hospital bed. Thankfully, I was able to come home that afternoon.
Shortly after Pesach a few months ago, our twelve-year-old daughter Aviva had surgery on her hand, which she broke doing gymnastics the Wednesday night before Pesach. Although it was set and casted in the Emergency Room the night she broke it, on a subsequent visit to the doctor a few hours before Pesach, the doctor informed us that it wasn’t healing properly, and she would need surgery.
On the morning of the surgery, I woke up early with Aviva and brought her to the hospital for pre-op. Chani arrived while Aviva was in surgery (it was the first day back to school after Pesach for our other children). We were both there when she woke up from surgery, and thankfully, Aviva was home by midday, and b’h has healed well.
Despite the fact that when Aviva went in for surgery Chani and I were not in physical pain, it was far more challenging to send her into surgery, than it was for me to undergo surgery myself. As any parent can testify, seeing one’s own child in pain is the most difficult experience for a parent.
It reminded me of a powerful thought I heard on Tisha B’av morning a year ago. In Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Noach Sauber, camp’s Learning Director, introduced kinnos by relating the following:
Before Tisha B’av a group of women from the camp families had viewed a lecture given by Mrs. Gail Sassoon, the mother who lost seven children in a devastating fire in spring of 2016 r’l. After the lecture ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and it was dead quiet for a few moments. Then, one of the women turned to another and remarked, “Can you imagine the pain Hashem felt when He needed to cause that to happen?”
It’s an extraordinarily poignant, and very true perspective. We don’t often think about suffering and pain from that vantage point. We know that Hashem is rachum vachanun erech apayim v’rav chesed (compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundance of kindness). Can we imagine how difficult it is for Him when He causes us to suffer, based on His divine reasons?
Rabbi Sauber then added that Tisha B’av is a day of tragedy for Hashem! Hashem is crying over the losses of His House, of His People, and of that intimate closeness. Every iota of pain and suffering we feel is magnified before the King of kings, as it were.
If it was so challenging for us to watch our beloved child endure surgery, even though we were fairly confident all would go well, how much harder is it for Hashem every time He sends His nation, or any individual, for “surgery”!
And if we didn’t leave Aviva’s bedside for a moment, despite the fact that there were wonderful nurses all around us, can we imagine that it is any different with our eternal and ultimate parent?! 
Although we have such an incredible amount of blessing in our lives, we hear about pain and anguish way too often. In just the last few days we are reeling from the death of a beautiful seven-year old who drowned last week, a family losing a married son after losing another son years ago, and yet another savage terrorist attack at a shalom zachor in Eretz Yisroel, to name just a few.
But above all our pain, is the pain of Hashem, who is surely waiting – more than any of us – to fulfill His promise (Yeshaya 25:8), “And Hashem, Elokim will abolish tears from upon all faces, and the guilt of His Nation He will remove from upon the earth, for Hashem has spoken.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 20, 2017

PARSHIOS MATOS-MASEI 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos-Masei
27 Tamuz 5777/ July 22, 2017 - Avos Perek 2
Mevorchim Menachem Av

Camp Dora Golding is located in East Stroudsburg, Pa. It is a beautiful campus with newly renovated bunkhouses, lush fields, and numerous other attractions, which contribute to making it the wonderful camp that it is.
What is also somewhat unique about CDG, is that it is located in the Pocono Mountains, not in the Catskills ("the country"). While in camps in the Catskills boast that they are "the best camp in the mountains", we say that we are "the best camp in any mountains".
Among the advantages of not being in the Catskills, is that it is possible to find an open washing machine at a laundromat the afternoon after Tisha B'av. The disadvantage however, is that our main attraction in "town" is Walmart. We can't run out to town for an hour to grab a slice of pizza or a fleishig supper.
It is therefore an exciting ordeal when there is a Dougies order placed by the staff for delivery to camp. For Dougies to deliver from Woodbourne to East Stroudsburg late at night, there is a five-hundred-dollar minimum on the order.  But that has never an issue. In fact, the orders are easily 3-4 times that amount.
Truthfully, eating Dougies at midnight, hours after it was made and delivered, is quite overrated. Firstly, the food here in camp - thanks to our Chef Yo - is quite good. Secondly, Dougies food is most enjoyable with all its various sauces, when eaten fresh. Still, the excitement of "ordering from Dougies" is strong enough to cause most staff members to want to be part of the order.
The biggest downside to eating Dougies at midnight, is realized the morning after. It is an experience unto itself - one which I shall not elaborate on in this article.
It's fascinating to me that despite the fact that I tell myself that I won't order from Dougies the next time - that it's just not worth it, especially the indigestion- when the next time comes around I find myself ordering anyway. It's such a hype that I feel like I'm missing something by not taking full advantage of having Dougies in the remote hills of East Stroudsburg.
When the new order is being filled, previous experiences are all but forgotten. I assure you that my experience is not unique. Many others tell me that they go through the same internal struggle.
Midnight Dougies may be somewhat unhealthy, but it doesn't have too many ramifications beyond that. The problem is that my Dougies experience is an analogy for various more profound struggles we contend with throughout our lives.
How many times do we tell ourselves that we won't repeat a certain behavior or habit, only to find ourselves doing it again sometime later? The greatness of the human mind is that we are able to convince ourselves of things that may not be grounded in reality. That includes the ability to completely forget the pain or aggravation we felt when engaging in a certain behavior that we promised ourselves we would not repeat.
This is the root of "Addictive Thinking" (the title of one of Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski's books). This type of thinking is the modus operandi of any addict. He knows his behaviors are damaging himself and others around him, and he sincerely pledges to immediately stop his detrimental habits. Yet, he repeats it again.
In a certain sense, we all suffer from this - whether it's with loshon hora, yelling at your children, arguing with our spouses, religious deficiencies, etc.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt'l notes that if only Adam Harishon would’ve been able to clearly recall the acute and indescribable inner pain he felt when he committed the primordial sin, it would ensure that he wouldn't return to sin. But alas, man has a way of forgetting that pain all too quickly, getting swept away by the hype and excitement, even when he innately knows it's futility.
Eating poppers and chicken wings at midnight may be unwise and cause discomfort afterwards, but our other negative habits may be far costlier. Countering that damage begins with cognizance and honesty of the struggle, and then figuring out ways to overcome those engrained habits.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

                         R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 14, 2017

PARSHAS PINCHOS 5777



 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
20 Tamuz 5777/ July 15, 2017 - Avos Perek 1

This past Sunday, Camp Dora Golding hosted it's first (of two) Visiting Days of the 2017 summer season. Hundreds of excited parents packed onto the campus, for a few hours reunion with their sons, and to get a glimpse into their summer experience.
This past Shabbos morning, Rabbi Meir Erps, a veteran of camp, and our talented Night Activity Director, recounted to the campers a story that Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, former camp Manhig Ruchani (Spiritual Director), would relate each summer before Visiting Day:
Years ago, one Visiting Day morning in a different camp, Rabbi Finkelman witnessed a camper running excitedly towards his parents. The eager parents opened their arms in anticipation of a big hug. To their disappointment, their son ran past their open arms, and scooped up their little poodle, who was waddling behind them. While caressing the poodle gently, the boy looked up at his parents and asked, "where is all the nosh I asked for?"
This week, we began the Three Weeks of Mourning for the Bais Hamikdash. The Navi declares in the Name of Hashem: "If I am a father, where is My honor?"
We constantly refer to Hashem in prayer as "our loving/compassionate Father". Hashem, as it were, in turn, asks us why we don't accord Him the respect of a loving father?
It is no coincidence that the month containing the greatest tragedies to befall our people, is called "Av". It's a not-so-subtle reminder that behind all of our past, and current, challenges is a loving Father.
A century ago, a delegation was sent from Brisk to ask the revered Bais HaLevi to become their town's Rav. To their chagrin, the Bais HaLevi refused the position. No argument would persuade him, until one member of the delegation asked him how he could disappoint 20,000 Jews in Brisk who were looking to him hopefully.
At that point, the Bais HaLevi stood up and said that he indeed cannot disappoint 20,000 Jews, and accepted the position.
When the Chofetz Chaim heard the incident, he began to cry. He explained that if the Bais Halevi felt he could not disappoint so many anticipating and hopeful Jews, how could the all-merciful Almighty turn down the insistent pleas of His nation to usher the final redemption?! The only viable solution, is that we don't adequately await and hope for the arrival of Moshiach.
On a daily basis, we pray - as we should - for health, nachas, sustenance, shidduchim, etc. But perhaps the greater tragedy of all - is the pervasive feeling of disconnection.
 If one feels deeply connected to Hashem, He can tolerate almost any challenge that confronts him. It may be painful and tears may flow, but if he feels he is in the embrace of his Loving Father, he can deal with it.
But what of the masses who, for whatever reason, don't have that feeling?
We are taught from our youth that Hashem is everywhere, and that He is always with us. The Three Weeks of Mourning begin with the fast of the 17th of Tamuz. Among other tragedies, it was the day when the Roman forces of the wicked Titus penetrated the previously impregnable walls of Yerushalayim. Three weeks later they burned down the Bais Hamikdash.
In a sense, mourning begins when one feels disconnected. When one feels surrounded by love and warmth, he feels a sense of security and can endure almost anything. But when that feeling of physical, or emotional, security is breached, and one feels vulnerable and unprotected, everything becomes far more painful and complicated.
Isn't that at the root is so much of our pain? Those who wait so long for their bashert, those who lack financial comfort, those who lack shalom bayis with their spouses or children, those with questions on religion, etc. Isn't it all rooted in feelings of loneliness, being ostracized, or disconnected?!
It is not that G-d's love for us is ever diminished (love and disappointment are two vastly different things...). However, a big component of exile is to sort through our inner rubble, to discover and feel the love that's omnipresent.
It is not only about feeling connected ourselves, but about helping others recognize that connection as well.
Once that breach is repaired, our yearning for connection with our loving G-d, will be automatic.
And when we truly pine for the return of the Divine, the all-Merciful will be only too happy to fulfill our centuries-old-prayer, "let our eyes envision Your return to Zion with compassion".

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

                         R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, July 6, 2017

PARSHAS BALAK 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
13 Tamuz 5777/ July 8, 2017 - Avos Perek 6

A few months ago, I went to purchase a new mirror for my tefillin from the Dollar Store. Halacha dictates that one's tefillin shel rosh must be high enough upon one's head that the front of the tefillin is below his hairline, or where his hairline once was.[1] The tefillin must also be placed directly above the space which is "between his eyes".
In order to ensure proper placement of their tefillin, many have a small "tefillin mirror" in their tefillin bag which they use after donning their tefillin, to check that the tefillin shel rosh are in their proper place.
The next morning after purchasing the little mirror, when I took it out to check my tefillin, I realized that it was a magnifying mirror. That basically defeated the whole purpose of the mirror, because now I couldn't see my head and my tefillin at the same time. I had to purchase another mirror a few days later.
The truth is that we all use different types of mirrors in our outlook on life. When we view our own merits and virtues, we hold up 'magnifying mirrors'. When we reflect upon our faults and deficiencies however, we utilize a 'minimizing mirror'. The opposite is true when we look at others. We seem to magnify their faults, but minimize their virtues.
It's not easy to use 'honest mirrors'; it's not easy to get past our natural defense mechanisms to see reality as it truly is. We are quick and good at giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but have a hard time doing so towards others.
A few years ago, a fellow teacher mentioned to me a situation with the family of a student that I had not previously been aware of. I expressed my surprise at not having known about the situation, and noted that I now looked at the student with a very different perspective.
The teacher remarked to me that when we look at other people, all we are really seeing is the tip of the iceberg. As gargantuan as the iceberg appears, the majority of it remains below the surface, obscured from view. When we view the situation of others, all we are seeing is what penetrates the surface. Simple, yet incredibly profound!
We think we know all the facts and, therefore, have the right to assess other people's situations. We feel we have the right to critique how the other person is dealing with his life. We need to remember however, that for whatever we see, the bulk of the other person's motivation, fears, life-experience, and general 'baggage' remains hidden from us. How often do we think we know someone, and only later find out that their life situation is far much more complicated and challenging than we could ever have dreamed?
The mishna in Avos (1:4) states that we should always give people the benefit of the doubt, by judging them favorably.
Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita notes that, at times, it can be very challenging to judge another favorably. Our knowledge of the other person's situation, or personality, may make it challenging for us not to believe the other person’s culpability. How can we bring ourselves to judge him favorably in such a situation?
Rav Nebenzhal's answer is brief, yet incredibly poignant: Who said we have to judge at all?! Why don't we leave the judging to Hashem?!
Our society is quick to meddle in other people's affairs and to pass judgement. This is especially true in our connected and close-knit community. We hold up proverbial mirrors to our neighbors, family, and friends, and have all the answers for how they should be living their lives.
But maybe we need to step back and have the humility to believe that we don't always know what's best for others. What's more, we don't really know what's truly going on in their lives.
Bila'am was enamored that the doorways of our tents weren't aligned with each other, and we, therefore, did not peer into each other's tents. In other words, Bila'am couldn't get over the extent of how much our ancestors minded their own business. That didn't preclude the chesed and love they performed for each other. But they did so without passing judgement.
This week we observe the fast of Shiva Asar B’Tamuz. Although there are five reasons for the fast, the reason repeated in the refrain recited during Selichos is that it is “the day that the enemy overpowered, and breached the city.”
Perhaps, one way to rebuild the breached walls of Yerushalayim, is by respecting the walls that people maintain around their own private lives. There is plenty we can do to help each other without being self-appointed judges and adjudicators.
If we hold up mirrors to ourselves and not to others we will have a far easier time loving and respecting each other, without being so judgmental. Then we will merit the fulfillment of our prayers, “Rebuild the walls of Yerushalayim, because in You we believe.” We believe You – G-d to be the judge, and we can step back and feel secure in Your handling of Your world.

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



[1] (Sadly, it is not uncommon to see people whose tefillin are too low, causing them to unwittingly not fulfill their mitzvah of tefillin and to be reciting a beracha levatala upon donning their tefillin each morning.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

PARSHAS CHUKAS 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chukas
6 Tamuz 5777/ June 30, 2017 - Avos Perek 5

This week, the Staum family has made its annual pilgrimage to East Stroudsburg, PA, to our summer home at Camp Dora Golding.
When making the announcements after davening last Shabbos, our shul President, R' Yossi Goldman, quipped: “Some people send their children off to camp; we send our Rabbi off to camp!”
If I counted correctly – which, to be honest, would be unusual for me - I am now beginning my twenty-fifth summer at Camp Dora Golding. This includes years as a camper, masmid, Junior Counselor, Counselor, Rebbe, Head Waiter, and, my current position for the last decade, as a Division Head.
Camp has grown in many ways during that time. The grounds are stunning, and b’h the camp is at capacity. But the ruach and excitement of camp has not changed in all the years.
Working as part of the camp administration is not always easy. However, it is always a gratifying and wonderful experience, which our family feels very blessed to enjoy and to be part of.
Each summer, for two days prior to the arrival of the campers on opening day, there is “staff orientation”. Staff members arrive a couple of days before the campers, for a mini ‘training’ of expectations and protocols, to help the summer go as smoothly as possible.
One of the salient points mentioned during orientation each summer, is that every staff member must realize that there are campers looking up to him, aspiring to do his job, and to be like him one day. The staff member may only find out about it years later, or he may likely never know about it. But the influence remains.
If being a role model necessitates behaving accordingly, it remains true even if the person being looked up to feels he is not worthy of that image. If others may likely imitate his behavior, the fact that he personally feels unworthy of that admiration is irrelevant. Regardless of his current level, he has a responsibility to try to act the part.
Sadly, there have been numerous sports icons and celebrities who have acted inappropriately on occasion. When asked how they could behave in such a crass and immature manner when so many youngsters look up to them, their inane response was, “I never asked to be a role model”.
Being a role model is not a matter of choice, it's a matter of responsibility! If there is even a chance that others may be imitating us, we have a responsibility to do our utmost to fulfill that role appropriately.
Each morning in shachris, just prior to Shema, we daven that Hashem grant us wisdom “to learn and to teach, to safeguard and to perform, and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah with love.”
Reb Moshe Feinstein zt"l questioned why this prayer is recited by everyone. Most people are not teachers, so why should they pray for the ability to teach with love?
Reb Moshe explained that no matter what capacity one has, every person is a teacher. Others view our behavior and learn from what we say and do, whether we realize it or not.
In that sense, we are all teachers and, therefore, have a responsibility to act accordingly.
It's an idea that is not only applicable to staff members working in summer camp. We can never know the effect and influence our behavior has on others. And that means that we have a responsibility to do the best we can, if not for ourselves, then for those who may be influenced by our example.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, June 22, 2017

PARSHAS KORACH 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Korach
29 Sivan 5777/ June 23, 2017 - Avos Perek 4
Erev Rosh Chodesh Tamuz  

Each weekday afternoon, I head north on the Palisades Parkway, on my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali in New Windsor, NY. As the Yeshiva’s Principal, you can only imagine how devastated the talmidim are if I am not there early enough to send them to class on time.
The Palisades Parkway ends next to the beautiful Bear Mountain Bridge. At that point, I continue north on Route 9W. After a short drive, the highway ascends precipitously, affording a magnificent and breathtaking view. From the summit, one can see for miles. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the panorama.
The first few times I drove up, I stopped to marvel at the stunning view. But with time I no longer stopped, although I was still excited by the view. Within a few more weeks, I hardly thought about it at all. Sadly, that is the way we are. What was once novel and exciting quickly becomes trite and commonplace.
It is only when I am driving a passenger who is unfamiliar with the area, that I again feel a tinge of excitement for the magnificent view. When someone else sees it for the first time and begins to marvel about it, that initial excitement that I once felt, is aroused within me, and I again sense how extraordinary it is.
For the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of being the Dinner Chairman at the dinner of Yeshiva of Spring Valley, our sons’ elementary school. Being Chairman includes introducing the Guests of Honor. This year, I was not previously familiar with the Guests of Honor, but wanted to introduce them affording them the honor they deserved. Well before the dinner, I spoke with some of their friends, family members, and employees. But more significantly, I called the honorees themselves, first the husband and then the wife, and asked each to describe the virtues of their spouse in sixty seconds or less.
I was deeply impressed and moved by both of their responses. Sixty seconds is not a lot of time to relate the uniqueness[DS1]  of a person, all the more so a spouse. But if you’re forced to try to sum up the greatness of your spouse within that time, it forces you to concretize your reflections about their golden qualities.
I realized afterwards that it’s a great shalom bayis exercise. How often do spouses think about the uniqueness of the person they married? How often do they remind themselves of the things that once excited them about their partner in life? It’s vital, for those, who, on a daily basis, contend with annoyances and idiosyncrasies of their spouse.
It’s an idea that is helpful with all those other things which are so precious, but we often fail to appreciate. A friend related that before he goes to sleep every night, he looks at the faces of each of his sleeping children and thinks about how much he loves them, and thanks Hashem for each one. He admitted that when his children are awake, there are days and situations when it can be challenging to fully appreciate all his children. But that’s all the more reason why he makes sure to think about them in a positive manner every night.
Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l noted that complacency is the enemy of growth. When people become fixated with their ideas, life becomes stable and people can become weary and grumpy.
Our nature is to take things for granted. The only way to combat that nature, is to actively reflect upon what makes those things special and dear to us. One can recapture enthusiasm by reminding himself his original emotions for everything he has.
If one is able to recite “Modeh Ani” in his waking moment each morning, with some level of attention, he will set the tone for beginning his day with gratitude.
If we are able to reflect upon the simple gifts of life, we will remember that those simple gifts aren’t simple at all.

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


Thursday, June 15, 2017

PARSHAS SHELACH 5777





“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach
22 Sivan 5777/ June 16, 2017 - Avos Perek 3
Mevorchim Chodesh Tamuz

Back in the days when "being on line" meant you were in a store, and the web was something spiders wove, audio was recorded on cassette tapes. I grew up in that archaic world. I still have dozens of tapes containing recordings of schmoozen (Torah lectures) and shiurim from my years in yeshiva.
Recently, I purchased a device to transfer the recordings as MP3 files on my computer.
Aside from benefiting from the Torah thoughts shared my rabbeim, which I have largely forgotten, there is a great deal of nostalgia that I feel when listening to those lectures. I cannot help but remember where I was and at what stage of life I was, when hearing those lectures live over two decades ago.
Although we are still in denial that we are old enough to have a son heading to high school, our oldest son Shalom is graduating elementary school this week iyh. After the summer, he will enter Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, twenty years after his father graduated High School from there.
Two decades after leaving the yeshiva, a few of my classmates have begun discussing the twenty-year reunion we planned before we graduated.
It's amazing to see how our lives have progressed. Each of us have married and built families, chartering our own unique paths along the roads of life. Some of my classmates have led lives exactly as we predicted professionally and religiously. But there are a few who have shocked everyone, perhaps mostly themselves. Had you told them two decades ago what they were destined to accomplish, and who they would become, they would never have believed you.
I have more than one classmate, who during our high school years was not known for his diligence in learning, to say the least. Today they are scholars of note, with numerous students of their own. [One classmate in particular, has banned me from speaking to his children out of fear of the recollections I may share.]
During hallel, we state the pasuk: "The stone which the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone."
The commentators explain that Dovid Hamelech stated this verse about himself. He was the "stone" that was spurned and rejected, even by his own righteous father and brothers. They wrote him off as a simple-minded shepherd, surely not one worthy of the monarchy. Dovid Hamelech too, viewed himself in a similar vein, never daring to imagine the incredible destiny that awaited him. The rejected stone became the cornerstone, the source of strength for all eternity. "Dovid, king of Yisroel, alive and enduring."
Whenever we recite Hallel in yeshiva (such as on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh) and recite the aforementioned verse, I look around at my students and wonder to myself to which of them will these words apply to. Who will be the student who will surprise us all by overcoming challenges and naysayers, transforming himself into a leader and/or scholar?
Part of being a parent and an educator is to have this sense of vision regarding our children. We must always be able to see beyond what the child is now, and to see what the child can become. It is only once we have that optimistic vision that we can hope to impart it to the child who may have given up on himself.
Noted psychologist, Dr. Robert Brooks, notes that for a child who struggles in school, the greatest thing you can give him is a sense of hope that life can and will be ether. During their school years, a child believes that school is a microcosm of life. He therefore often concludes that he will always have the same challenges and struggles that he currently has. For many children that sense of despondency is even worse than their academic struggles. Conveying to a child that many successful adults struggled mightily in school, and relating one’s own personal struggles, can be invaluable for the struggling student.
Twenty years later, things are often very different than how we expected, for good or for better.
Who better to serve as an example than Dovid Hamelech!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, June 8, 2017

PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5777





“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha
15 Sivan 5777/ June 9, 2017 - Avos Perek 2

The first time I heard one of my students exclaim “he's a sick athlete”, I felt terrible. How sad that such a vibrant and adroit athlete was ill. Before I had a chance to add his name to my tehillim list however, my students explained to me that saying an athlete is sick is somehow a good thing. In fact, it's a big compliment to say that someone is a ‘sick player’, or that he has a ‘sick shot’.
It was reminiscent of the first time I heard someone describe a cheesecake as being “sinful”. Then too, I wondered what was so satanic and devilish about cheesecake. What was even more confusing was when someone else described the same cheesecake as being “heavenly” and “divine”, adding that it was “worth every calorie”.
I couldn't help but wonder when is a cheesecake “sinful” and when it is “divine”.
No doubt, you have been pondering the same thing over the recent Yom Tov of Shavuos.  I will enlighten you to what I think is the difference, based on the following parable:
A couple was married for many years. Life took its toll, including the pressures of raising children, and the rigors of making a living. Sad to say, they didn't spend much quality time together. The conversations they did have were mostly about stressful matters, or arguments about the kids or finances.
Their anniversary was approaching, and the husband decided to go all out, so they could celebrate and enjoy the day together.
After a great deal of planning, the anniversary arrived. They went on an expensive half-day cruise, complete with sightseeing, and a posh lunch and dinner. By the time the day was over, they had spent well beyond their normal allotted budget for such events.
Was it worth it?
The answer depends on what happened afterwards. If the day was merely a momentary respite from their monotonous relationship, and the next day they resumed their aloofness toward each other, then the added expenses weren't really worth it. However, if the day served to reignite the spark of their insipid marriage, and brought back faded emotions for each other, then it was worth every penny. Working towards a better future always requires some investment.
On Shavuos there is a beautiful custom to eat dairy foods, including creamy and delectable cheesecake. The commentators offer numerous reasons why/how eating dairy reminds us of the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah.
If one enjoys all the beautiful customs of the holiday, including eating saturated carbs, and buying expensive flowers, but feels no excitement in the essence of the day and recommitment to Torah learning and Torah living, then his indulgences weren't really worth it.
However, if the customs serve as symbolism that help abet one's excitement and recommitment to Torah, then it's worth every bite, and every penny.
So, the question of whether cheesecake is sinful or divine, has little to do with the contents of the cake, as much as with the attitude of the one eating it.
It all boils down to whether it's a sick cheesecake or if the cheesecake makes you sick!
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum