Thursday, October 19, 2017

PARSHAS NOACH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Noach/ Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan
30 Tishrei 5778/October 20, 2017

What an incredible few weeks it’s been! The tefilllos, special mitzvos, extra family time, trips, and wonderful meals are all part of what makes the Yom Tov season such an incredible experience. But, all good things must come to an end.
Following havdalah on Motzei Shabbos, after the third “3-day Yom Tov” in four weeks, we put our younger children to sleep, began the incessant loading and unloading of the washing machine, and straightening up the house.
Although none of our children complained of any such symptoms, Chani and I both felt slightly lightheaded. It was definitely a possible side effect of the whole Yom Tov experience. But to be sure we went to double check our carbon monoxide detector. It turned out that what I thought was a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector was only the former. So I plugged in a spare carbon monoxide detector from our drawer. After blinking a few times, it emitted a long relentless beep. When we tried it a second time and a third time with the same result I called 9-1-1. I told the dispatcher that we were unsure if our carbon monoxide detector was defective or if we had a serious problem. Within minutes there was a police car, fire engine, and ambulance in front of our home - all with their lights flashing.
As soon as the first emergency responder pulled up, he told us to immediately take everyone out of the house. Most of the personnel were frum Jews and we could’ve had a minyan for maariv if we haven’t already davened. As soon we carried all of our sleeping children outside, the firemen entered our home with their high-tech detector. They searched their house but found no detection of any carbon monoxide, bh.
A few minutes later, a representative of the electric company arrived and did a more thorough inspection, which thankfully also came up with nothing.
Within fifteen minutes, the block was as quiet as it had been a few minutes earlier, save for our twins who were now wide awake and ready to start their day. But, bh, all is well that ends well.
The next morning, I was teaching our Sunday morning post-shachris Mesillas Yesharim class in shul. The Ramchal writes that one of the ways one can achieve yiras shomayim (fear of heaven) is by picturing in one’s mind that when he davens he is literally communicating with the Master of the World, in whose Presence he stands, and Who is hearkening to his every word. Ramchal adds that this is particularly challenging for us because our natural senses cannot help us recognize this truth. Normally we employ our natural senses in order to viscerally experience anything. But to recognize how connected one is with G-d when he prays requires intellectual reflection.
The same reason carbon monoxide is so dangerous, is why we have a hard time realizing how incredible is our power of prayer – we have a hard time believing things we cannot physically see/experience. But just as the toxicity of carbon monoxide is real despite our inability to detect it, so too is the profundity and power of our prayers every time we turn to G-d and seek to connect with Him.
We would be wise to reflect upon that truism every time we begin to daven.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos/ Chodesh Tov & A Gut Chodesh,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SIMCHAS TORAH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Hoshanah Rabbah/Erev Shemini Atzeres
21 Tishrei 5778/ October 11, 2017

A friend related that this year, aside from his other "kabbalos" (spiritual New Year's resolutions), he has also accepted upon himself not to get angry or frustrated if/when he "messes up". 
It's actually a brilliant and integral tactical move. 
We are all aware of how our conscience/evil inclination works against us. We resolve to become better and improve in a certain area, and pledge to accomplish certain feats that have hitherto eluded us. We set out full of gusto and momentum... until!
When we encounter that initial "until" it's usually sufficient to completely unravel us and burst our bubble. The little vexing voice tells us we already blew it, and so we might as well just throw in the towel now, and spare ourselves further aggravation. However, now that my friend had an added resolution to not allow himself to become bent out of shape when unable to fulfill his pledge, he is still keeping a resolution by not allowing it to get to him. It's a counter-tactic to keep himself going. By not allowing himself to give up, he can feel that there is no reason to give up, and to stay the course even after a slip. 
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he had a sign that read "confidence is the feeling you have, until you realize the problem". 
In order to ensure that one will be able to maintain his confidence, he needs to be as proactive as possible. 
This year, this piece of advice is invaluable. Undoubtedly, as we dance and elatedly celebrate the conclusion of another cycle of Torah, and set to begin anew, many will pledge to be more vigilant about reviewing the parsha each week. Perhaps it will be to be ma'avir sedra (review the parsha) which one had been derelict about until now, or to be more vigilant about learning shnayim mikra v'echad targum (twice the Chumash and once a translation), or to learn Rashi, or perhaps to undertake learning an added commentary such as Ramban or Seforno. Regardless of what the resolution is, this year is a 'resolution killer'. After the excited dancing of Simchas Torah ends and one enjoys a restful Friday evening, as he heads home from shul the following morning, he is already a parsha behind. And what a parsha it is!
Parshas Bereishis spans Creation and the first thousand years up to the flood. It also includes the primordial sin and banishment from Gan Eden, and Kayin murdering Hevel. If ever there was a parsha which needed a full week at least, this was it. Instead, in Eretz Yisroel they have a day in a half, and in the diaspora we have barely half a day. 
So as we accept upon ourselves to re-dedicate ourselves to learning the parsha each week, we should also accept to not become discouraged within the first two days of the new cycle. 
The first sin was due to the wily scheme of the snake, we should ensure that we try not to fall prey to his old tricks. 

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

SUCCOS 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Succos
14 Tishrei 5778/ October 4, 2017

Shortly before we left to camp this past June, our landscaper did some cleanup work around our yard. That included clearing pieces of wood that had been stacked on the side of our house for quite some time, left there by a lazy worker who had done construction in our basement a while back.
Our landscaper brought the pieces of wood and boards to the top of our property, where the garbage men would be able to easily clear them away. The problem was that the garbage men did not clear it away. After a few weeks, we inquired and were informed that they do not pick up construction materials, and apparently our few pieces of wood were deemed ‘construction materials’. We were expected to bring it to some other location and to pay for its removal. There was also another unofficial option - to catch the garbage men on pickup day, offer them a few cold beers and twenty dollars, and they would be sure to take it, despite official policy.
Being that we never seemed to be there at the same time as the garbage men, those pieces of lumber sat at the top of our driveway throughout the summer. It became a real eye sore for us, especially when they were still there when we arrived home from camp.
Then, last week, a friend noted that a neighbor of ours is doing construction and has a dumpster in front of his house. He probably wouldn't care if I threw in a few extra pieces. Indeed, our neighbor didn't mind at all. So, on Thursday night, the night before Yom Kippur, I loaded those annoying pieces of lumber into the back of our van, and disposed of them once and for all.
It was a great feeling to finally be rid of the debris that had been there for months.
Someone asked me recently, what is the difference between Aseres Yimei Teshuva and the rest of the year. After all, don't we know that sincere repentance can be accomplished throughout the year? Can't we call out in tefillah to Hashem at all times?
The difference is that throughout the year, repentance is indeed attainable but it requires a far greater initiation and effort by the penitent. During the Aseres Yimei Teshuva however, there is a 'spiritual dumpster sitting on the lawn', waiting for us to cast our sins in there. Undoubtedly, casting away our spiritual debris requires sincere effort; however, it is far easier than the rest of the year when such sins need to be "carted off", and only then cast away. Doing teshuva during these days is part of the zeitgeist, and the atmosphere in the air helps us along.
The next morning, I had a further observation:
The Medrash Tamchuma (Emor, 22) curiously states that the first day of succos is the “first (day) for the calculation of sins”. The Medrash then asks why the day after Yom Kippur isn't the first day for the calculation of sins? It would seem that during the day after we have been forgiven, we have to immediately begin reckoning the sins of the new year?
The Medrash answers that during the days between Yom Kippur and Succos one is so busy readying himself for Succos and all of its endemic mitzvos (erecting his succah and purchasing his daled minim) that he has no time to sin. Therefore, it is only on the first day of Succos that one begins to calculate his sins.
When I arrived home the night after I carted off all the lumber from the top of our driveway, I couldn't fully appreciate the fact that it was gone. But the following morning, as I got into my car, and saw the empty space and how nice it looked after three months, it was a very good feeling.
During the days between Yom Kippur and Succos we are consumed with preparation for the upcoming holiday. But when the Yom Tov begins and we enter our regal succah, and are permeated with a feeling of august holiness, it strikes us that the weight of the sins we carried with us for so long, is gone. It is only then that we can fully appreciate our Herculean efforts throughout the days when we were engaged Teshuva. The first day of succos then, is our first opportunity to begin calculating all of the sins and guilt that we have divested ourselves of.
It is all part of the sublime joy of this incredible holiday, the consequence of taking out the spiritual debris and being cleansed and purified.

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh -Yom Kippur
9 Tishrei 5778/ September

In our home, we take the custom of eating challah with honey during this time of year, very seriously. If having honey is symbolic to have a sweet, new year, we aren't taking any chances of abrogating that symbolism.
In our family, the challenge is to douse the challah with the perfect balance of honey - the most that the challah can tolerate before the honey starts dripping down the sides, all over the plate and onto the tablecloth. To do so requires squeezing out the honey, and then quickly biting into the challah. If the honey pourer is not agile and quick enough, he's liable to end up with a sticky mess.
Recently, my mother gave our children a book called "Tootles" as a gift. It was a book I grew up with, but hadn't seen in many years.
The story is about a young locomotive named Tootles who dreams of one day pulling the big express. He, and the other locomotives, are taught many rules and regulations in school. But the most important rule emphasized is that they must never ever leave the tracks.
The problem is that Tootles enjoys the fields and the sunshine, and he veers off the tracks. The story relates how the engineer got Tootles to realize that if he aspires to be a famous locomotive one day, he must learn to always stay on the tracks.
The concept of teshuvah entails that we get ourselves back on track. During the vagaries of our daily routines, we sometimes stray off track. Often, it's the result of chasing the proverbial butterflies into the meadow, which causes us to veer off the straight path. Doing teshuvah requires us to evaluate how true we have been to ourselves. To "get back on track", we must be willing to let go of the negative habits we have formed.
We are blessed to live in a land of plenty. Pleasures and enjoyment abound, and there is little to stop us from indulging. This is not only true about sinful and forbidden pleasures, but even regarding enjoyments that are acceptable within reason. For example, there is no dearth of eateries of all different types, each constantly updating their menus with tantalizing new dishes
Our challenge is to learn how to have our cake, and hold ourselves back from eating it too. We have to discipline ourselves to stop trying to grab as much honey as we can, by enjoying with a proper balance.
Dovid Hamelech states in Tehilim (147:13): "For he strengthens the bolts of his gates, his sons are blessed in their midst."
The Torah imposes upon us many gates/limitations, but within those gates one can enjoy life and be elevated by its blessings. When one learns how to live comfortably and happily within those confines, his progeny will feel blessed, and will thrive as well.
The greatest life is lived by someone who remains on track and is constantly progressing towards his ultimate destination. The great day of Yom Kippur helps us recognize in which areas of life we have indulged, and must reverse course to get back on track.
So, turn your train around, stand clear of the closing doors, and proceed as planned.
Next stop: the intense joy of Succos and Simchas Torah!

G’mar Chasima Tova & Good Yom Tov
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

               R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ROSH HASHANAH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Rosh Hashanah
29 Elul 5777/ September 20, 2017

One morning this past week, a photographer came to yeshiva to take pictures of the beginning of the new z’man (semester). As can be imagined, as soon as he entered the classroom, all the boys looked at him. He motioned that everyone should keep learning, and act as if he wasn't there.
The truth is that although the learning in our class has been great b’h, I can't say that every student sits upright with perfect attention at all times. But with the photographer snapping away, every student was sitting up in his seat, bent over his Gemara, finger on the place, following intensely.
The same occurs whenever a photographer comes to take pictures during davening. Suddenly, everyone seems to be davening with intense concentration, fully engrossed in every word being said.
I was thinking about it afterwards - Is it all just a ploy? Is it just a facade put up for the camera? I don't believe it is. The truth is that we all have a mental image/picture of what we would like to be. We all have aspirations to achieve certain levels of accomplishment, based on our values and goals. The problem is that in the day-to-day happenings, lethargy sets in, and we don't live up to our own ultimate mental image. Perhaps the greatest rationalization we offer ourselves is, if I allow myself a little leisure and leeway right now, it won't take away from my ultimate goal. After all, does it really matter if I'm not at the top of my game on a random Tuesday in November?
The problem is that we seem to use that same rationalization day after day, month after month, year after year. The result is that the elite mental picture we have of ourselves becomes increasingly elusive.
A picture captures a moment, and freezes it. When the photographer is taking pictures, we act as we truly want to be viewed, so that that image becomes frozen in time. It may not be who we are, but it generally is who we want to be, or at least how we want to be perceived. We act a certain way in front of the camera because that's who we truly want to be. The challenge is for us to become the person we posed as in the picture.
From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur we try to be on top of our spiritual game. In a sense, the celestial photographer is taking a snapshot of us, based on which the heavenly courts will decide our future.
At times, we may feel that our superior behavior during these days is just a silly charade, because we can't fool G-d anyway. However, that superior behavior can encourage us to realize who we truly pine to be. We really do want to live a more elevated and meaningful life, and we really do want to be the person in the heavenly snapshot taken during these days.
Our challenge then is to constantly remember that the only way to become the person in the picture, is by taking advantage of every day, and doing our best constantly. Every random Tuesday in November indeed matters along the journey to become the greatest person we can become.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova
Good Yom Tov & Shana Tova,

       R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, September 14, 2017

PARSHIOS NETZOVIM-VAYELECH 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Netzovim-Vayelech
24 Elul 5777/ September 15, 2017 - Avos Perek 5-6

This week marked the sixteenth anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. A few years ago, on September 11, I was teaching my fifth-grade class at Ashar, and was reminiscing about that fateful and tragic day. As I was talking to them, it suddenly dawned on me that the boys sitting in front of me hadn’t been born before September 2001. When I shared that thought with the class, one boy called out without thinking, “I was pregnant at the time.” When the boy behind him said that he would have liked to have seen that, the first boy replied, “oh, you know what I meant.”
One of the things that stick out in my mind from the days and weeks after the attacks, was that everyone and everything was consumed, and completely focused on what had occurred. Not only was it a front-page story for quite some time, but even issues of business and sports magazines spoke about the events. The front page of a noted sports magazine had a quote on its front cover, “The day that sports stood still”, with a picture of an American flag draped over empty stadium seats.
The events forced the nation to consider and reflect upon its own values and ideals. The freedoms which were taken for granted, were suddenly appreciated again. In the face of heinous evil, the value of human life, unity, self-sacrifice, and compassion took center stage. Political barriers were cast aside as everyone viewed themselves simply as Americans, proud of their identity, who would not cower in the face of evil.
The shocking events compelled the entire country to step back from all of its bustling busyness and self-consumed, materialistic lives. In the quiet of the shock of what happened, Americans rediscovered latent patriotism and love for what their country stood for. 
On Tisha B’av morning, as we sit on the floor to recite the painful words of kinnos, we commence with a quote from Megillas Eicha, in fact a single word: “Shovas – everything came to a standstill!”
When the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash occurred, the bustle of life and vibrancy in the spiritual capital, came to an abrupt halt. Each year, on Tisha B’av, we step back from the busyness of our lives to reflect upon the national tragedies that have occurred throughout the millennia.
On Shabbos morning, following Kerias HaTorah, we read the haftorah, a passage from the Nevi’im. For most of the year, the passage reflects and parallels at least one section of the parsha. However, for a period of about three months, the focus of the haftorah is not primarily based on the parsha (though there are always subtle connections), but on the events commemorated during that period of the year. During the Shabbosos of the Three Weeks of mourning between Shiva Asar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’av, we read three ‘haftoros of punishment’, in which the prophets forewarned the nation of the impending doom that was imminent if they didn’t repent. The following seven weeks – from Tisha B’av until the Shabbos before Rosh Hashana – we read shiva d’nichemta, seven emotionally stirring haftaros of consolation from Yeshaya HaNavi.
This demonstrates that there is an inextricable connection between the painful days of mourning and the days of repentance. Although by now, Tisha B’av may seem like it faded into the limelight, it actually continues in a sense throughout the month of Elul. As we are readying ourselves for the great days of judgement, G-d is still consoling and comforting us for the destruction we recently mourned.
This week, Hillary Clinton published a new book entitled, “What Happened?” about her failed bid for the presidency last year. Her shocking loss was a deeply humbling experience for her. The dress she had planned to wear to her first meeting as president, she wore when she delivered her concession speech to Donald Trump.
Clinton described how after losing the election, she took long walks in the woods near her home and reflected upon what went wrong. In her book, she takes responsibility for the loss and for deeply upsetting her supporters, and discusses the mistakes she made. 
The truth is, that not only should such a book be written from the vantage point of the loser, but the victor too should reflect upon “What Happened” so that he can capitalize on what went right.
The unfortunate reality however, is that we become more reflective and introspective in the shadow of tragedy and loss. When things are going well, we have a much harder time stepping back to analyze and contemplate the reason for our success.
Perhaps that is part of why the weeks of consolation stretch through Elul. Those feelings of contrition and humility that welled up within us during the reflective moments of Tisha B’av, need to guide us into our quest for spiritual growth and repentance.
We would be wise to not only ask ourselves “What Happened” in regard to our failures and mishaps, but also regarding our successes and triumphs.     
As 5777 comes to its conclusion, we hope we can learn its lessons – for good and for better – as we anticipate great accomplishments and events during 5778.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, September 7, 2017

PARSHAS KI SAVO 5777

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo
17 Elul 5777/ September 8, 2017 - Avos Perek 3-4

This past Wednesday, parents in the Tri-state area gleefully celebrated the return of their children to school. No doubt they are thrilled that their children will be learning Torah and broadening the horizons of their mind again. But on a more practical level, after a couple of weeks of “Ma, I’m soooooo bored”, mothers were more than willing to wake up early to help send their children off to school. Now, they have a few weeks reprieve before the Chol Hamoed morning pestering begins: “Ma, where are we goooooooing today?”
On Tuesday evening, as she was going to sleep, I was talking to our daughter Chayala about beginning second grade. I told Chalaya that I remember vividly my first day in second grade. Our family had just moved to Monsey from the Lower East Side during the previous summer. For me, it wasn’t just a different school, it was a different world.
As I sat down in my seat in Yeshiva of Spring Valley that first day, I vainly tried to restrain my tears. My rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Trenk, immediately noticed my discomfort, and told me he had special medicine for someone in my situation, and he proceeded to pour a few candies into my hand. Aside for being a great rebbe, I remember the warmth and care he displayed during those first few challenging days. Within a week, coming to school became part of my routine, and those initial pangs of anxiety and discomfort dissipated.
Despite being settled in Monsey and in the yeshiva for a few years, at the beginning of every school year, I would still feel some anxiety on the first day. Truthfully, even now as a rebbe, those same feelings still crop up each year. I am confident that most students and teachers feel the same way.
Unfamiliarity always breeds anxiety and discomfort. It’s all the more so, when that unease is combined with expectations and fear of not living up to those expectations.
Last week, our oldest son Shalom began High School in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, my alma mater. At the same time, I began a new position in Yeshiva Heichal HaTorah, a prominent High School in Teaneck, New Jersey, as a rebbe and Guidance Counselor. I felt like a yeshiva bochur again when people asked Shalom when he was starting, and then asked me when I was starting.
New beginnings are exciting, but they are never easy. Accepting a new position entails learning the culture of the environment, figuring out expectations, and getting to know new personalities.
During these first few days of school I have also seen a lot of new shoes. Wearing new shoes is exciting but it’s also uncomfortable. It’s only when the shoes adapt to the wearer’s foot, that they become truly comfortable.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we begin to think about areas of our life and personality that we would like to improve upon. To do so requires change, and even minute changes make us feel uncomfortable. It helps to bear in mind that the discomfort is only temporary, because with time the change we work so hard to create, becomes part of our routine, and eventually part of our identity
So the question is are we willing to bear that temporary discomfort to experience the changes we want for ourselves[DS1] [DS2] ?
The answer depends on just how badly we want it!

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


 [DS2]k

Thursday, August 31, 2017

PARSHAS KI SEITZI 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei
10 Elul 5777/ September 1, 2017 - Avos Perek 2

It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the first birthday of our twin boys, Gavriel Yehuda and Michael Binyamin.
As has been noted in earlier columns, their pregnancy was fraught with challenges, to say the least. About midway through their pregnancy, Chani underwent a vital procedure. I wasn’t allowed into the operating room, and she felt very alone there, despite the presence of a team of doctors and nurses. She kept her morale up by singing to herself the words recited after the bedtime Shema, “In the Name of Hashem, G-d of Yisroel: To my right is Michael, to my left is Gavriel, before me is Uriel, and behind me is Refael, and above my head is the Divine Presence of G-d.” Those words gave her comfort throughout the grueling and painstaking procedure.
We decided to name the babies Michael and Gavriel, to remind ourselves constantly that we pulled through those harrowing months with faith and the constant refrain that “Hashem and His malachim are always with us.”
After the procedure, the doctor warned us that it could conceivably cause premature labor, which could be dangerous for the babies. We prayed daily, and nervously counted as days and weeks passed. As Chani neared her seventh month, the doctor informed us that it would still be highly beneficial for the babies to remain within her for a few more weeks. However, should the babies be born at that point they could survive, though it would necessitate their spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Again we prayed, and watched gratefully as the weeks passed. Despite weekly, and often bi-weekly visits to Columbia Hospital, and a very challenging summer, we made it through the entire camp season – which coincided with the beginning of her ninth month - in camp. Shortly after we returned home, the doctor informed us that he was delighted with the progress, and the time had come for them to be born.  
It was Friday night of Parshas Shoftim, the Shabbos before we knew the babies were going to be born. I was perusing the Medrash at the end of the parsha, when one particular Medrash caught my eye and made me very excited:
 The Torah instructs that prior to the Jews going to war, they must extend overtures and offers of peace to their enemy. It is only if those efforts fail or are rebuffed, that they may proceed into battle. Based on that law, the Medrash launches into a lengthy discussion about the merits of peace.
The Medrash quotes the verse (Iyov 25:2 - it is also recited at the end of most forms of kaddish) “He makes peace in His heights.” In its third explanation of how G-d ensures peace in the celestial heights, the Medrash states: “Michael is composed entirely of snow; Gavriel is composed entirely of fire. Yet, they stand next to each other and do not harm each other.”
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l explained that Michael and Gavriel, like all ministering angels, have unique G-d given missions. Gavriel is the angel of Divine Justice, while Michael is the defender of Klal Yisroel. Yet, their diverse missions do not at all impede their sense of unity. They both fulfill their missions with alacrity, as well as respect the mission of their counterpart, knowing that each is doing as he is instructed.
Peace is not the absence of strife, but rather a synergetic wholesomeness that entails respect.  
Seeing that Medrash that Friday night, was an incredible chizuk to us, and further encouraged us that the names we had chosen were ever so appropriate.
The following Friday, just a few hours prior to Shabbos, our twins were born, miraculously healthy and beautiful, one minute apart from each other. A week later, the next Friday, on the eighth day following their birth, we were incredibly blessed to enter them into the b‘ris of Avrohom Avinu.
It was a very emotional and special event. My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, had just arrived in Monsey a day prior for personal reasons. I was able to fulfill a dream of him being sandek at the bris of one of my sons, as he held Gavriel during his b’ris. We were then blessed that my dear Uncle, Rav Yaakov Cohn, was sandek at Michael’s b’ris.
In between the two brissim, we sang together the words “B’shem Hashem” which had given us such chizuk throughout the previous months, and based upon which we had named our sons. At the seduah following, I related the above Medrash that I had seen the previous Friday night, along with the beautiful explanation from Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky.
This past Friday night a year later, when I again came across the Medrash, it brought back a flood of memories from a year ago. It’s amazing that a year has passed.
I guess in a sense that’s what Elul is about. It’s not just about taking inventory of the mistakes we made during the previous year, and how we want to improve in the coming year. It’s also a review of the events of our lives – how G-d directed our lives, and how in tune we were to the hashgacha we experienced – for good or for better. The lessons, challenges, and blessings of the past set the foundation for our direction and goals in the future.
May it be a year of only blessings!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, August 24, 2017

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim
3 Elul 5777/ August 25, 2017 - Avos Perek 1

During the last couple of weeks, our three-and-a-half (and one quarter) year old son, Dovid, wakes up every morning and asks if it's Shabbos Kodesh. I wish I could say that he's so drawn to the sanctity of the day, that he can't stop asking about it. But the truth is, that it's because on Shabbos morning he gets to eat "his favorite cereal in the whole wide world" in honor of Shabbos.
I recall from my youth, that breakfast cereals are not just about the cereal, but also about the boxes. Some time ago, there was a study (Cornell Food & Brand Lab Researchers) conducted about the influence cereal boxes have on children. The study revealed that when cereal boxes are stocked on the shelves of supermarkets, they're placed on the bottom two shelves, and at an angle. Doing so ensures that the character displayed on the box is making eye contact with the child walking down the aisle. (Don't ask me why anyone studied this, I'm just reporting the facts.)
In the Staum home when we were growing up, there was great competition about who gets to look at the cereal box while eating the cereal. I'm not really sure what the appeal was to read the nutrition facts, but for some reason, it became a goal to read the entire box while eating. The greatest mornings were when we were able to surround ourselves with a few different boxes, like an impenetrable fort.
One of our greatest deficiencies that all of us suffer from today, lies in our inability to focus on the present moment. Our distractibility is out of control. We live in a world which worships multi-tasking. The price of doing so however, is the forfeiture of living in, or at least living with, the present moment.
According to a study of 5,000 people by psychologists Mathew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert (Harvard), adults only spend 50% of their time focused on the present moment. That means that we are mentally checked out half of the time. The study also showed that people were happiest when they were fully engaged in whatever they were doing at the present moment. That means, people were happier when they were engrossed in something they didn't enjoy, than when they were only half engaged in something they did enjoy.
Chazal say that "now" is an expression of teshuva. The literal definition of teshuva is to return. In all of our day-to-day busy-ness we tend to become distracted from our life goals and direction. By "returning" to Hashem, we are really returning to ourselves as well. The first step towards that is by turning inwards, deciding whether we are living up to our own expectations. That comes from living in the moment, and not becoming weighed down by the past, or hyper-focused on the future.
If we don't stop to fully experience the things we do enjoy - such as eating - it's no wonder that we have such a hard time living in the moment. We seem to be so busy reading the boxes that we never fully enjoy their contents.
So, in a nutshell, the message of Elul is to stop reading the cereal boxes, and to enjoy the cereal!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Friday, August 18, 2017

PARSHAS RE’EH 5777



“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo
17 Elul 5774/September 12, 2014
Pirkei Avos – Perek 3-4

One Shabbos afternoon during the summer of 2010, in the Staum bungalow at Camp Dora Golding, a four-year-old boy (whose last name happens to be Staum) decided to jump off the top bunk bed. I would imagine he thought he would land comfortably on the floor. Well, land he did, but he was no Clark Kent, and did not very comfortably.
Despite his shrieks of pain, at first it didn’t seem like it was anything more than a bad bruise. But when he still wasn’t moving his hand properly after three days his parents brought him to the local Emergency Room for x-rays. The prognosis confirmed that he could not fly, and his hand was fractured and needed a cast. When the nurse asked him what color cast he wanted, he answered immediately that he wanted a red cast because (he decided) he was on the red team for color war.
This same child however, is not too shabby when it comes to the pool. He has no problem jumping into the water, coming out, and jumping in again. Why are the results so vastly different when he jumps in the pool from when he jumped off his bed? Because when he jumps in the pool his landing has been wisely and safely planned.
On February 3, 1999, Mario A. Zacchini, the last surviving member of the original generation of human cannonballs died. Zacchini was routinely explosively launched at a speed of 90 m.p.h. from a cannon across a circus tent into a net, usually three times a day.
He often said that ''flying isn't the hard part; landing in the net is.''
Every year as Rosh Hashana approaches, we accept upon ourselves kabbalos – resolutions for the new year. We have all experienced the frustration of not following through on our goals, and feeling we are right back where we started. But hopefully we have also experienced some modicum of success and self improvement. Wherein lies the difference?
Often it’s dependent on whether we think through our ‘landing’. The Yetzer Hara is a master of making us feel like our resolutions are inadequate and inefficient. He convinces us to take on too much, and to accept upon ourselves to completely rectify all of our character defects in one year, or even in one week! So we take the plunge from our high horse and end up crashing into the pavement, bruising our self esteem and further convincing ourselves that we can never change.
The Ba’alei Mussar urge us that our kabbalos must be accepted be in moderation. Small steps of self improvement are tremendous personal victories and should be valued as such. They infuse us with confidence and encourage us to proceed further.
When we jump in to comfortable waters, then as soon as we acclimate ourselves we are free to swim out yonder, as far as we can swim and the tide will carry us.  

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


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

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