Thursday, February 23, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar/Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar
29 Shevat 5777/ February 24, 2017

Three of our children have had food allergies throughout their lives. The earliest indication of the allergies, was from eczema that developed on their skin during late infancy. Of course, it’s most challenging for the children who cannot eat what their siblings and peers are enjoying, but it’s also extremely hard as parents, to not be able to do anything about it. Every time we buy outside food, we have to be vigilant about the ingredients, including asking what other foods are made together with the food they are ordering.
Last Tuesday, I took our two daughters, Aviva (just Bas Mitzvah) and Chayala (six years old), to their allergist for a “food challenge”.
Briefly and oversimply explained, every few years someone with allergies will undergo a blood test to determine if his/her “number have gone down”. However, the blood test is not wholly conclusive. Therefore, even if there is an indication that the ‘numbers have dropped’, the next step must be an actual food challenge.
In the doctor’s office, the patient is given a very controlled amount of the food he is allergic to. Following that there is a waiting period to see how the patient tolerates the new food. After about twenty minutes of monitoring, the doctor or nurse will check the patient to ensure that there has not been any negative reaction, such as accelerated heart rate, or a rash, or hives. If all is well, a little more of the food is given to the patient, followed by another waiting period to ensure that there isn’t any negative reaction. After a few cycles of increased amounts of the food being administered, the patient waits a little over an hour. If there has still not been any reaction, the patient is deemed no longer allergic to that particular food.   
After a long morning of food challenges, by the grace of Hashem, we were exhilarated to be informed that both Aviva and Chayala had passed. Aviva is no longer allergic to dairy, and Chayala is no longer allergic to eggs.
When we arrived back in Monsey we went straight to a local pizza shop. For the first time in her life, Aviva enjoyed a slice of pizza, while Chayala finished the French Toast and omelet we had brought along.
It was cute when Aviva asked me why there was some liquid atop her pizza. She never looked at a slice so closely before. (Since last Tuesday she has had a slice of pizza every day.) On Shabbos, for the first time in her life, she had to remind herself not to eat something milchigs because she was fleishigs (until now, everything she ate was fleishigs or pareve).
Later that afternoon, as I was driving, I was listening to a recorded shiur from Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita, about the Aseres Hadibros.
The third of the Dibros states: “You shall not take G-d’s Name in vain!” Rav Matisyahu related a novel explanation from the Ramban in his sefer, Emunah Ubitachon:
 The Ramban notes that often in life we feel inspired or particularly ‘connected’ to Hashem. It may be a feeling of gratitude for a special blessing we have been endowed with. That inspiration/connection/gratitude is a manifestation of the Name of Hashem resting upon us. The Torah is exhorting us to ensure that we not allow that moment to be ‘in vain’.
The only way to take advantage of a moment of inspiration is by ‘putting it into action’, such as by accepting upon oneself to do something with that elevated feeling. As we all know from personal experience, if one tarries before taking on such a commitment, the inspiration quickly fades and will soon be nothing but a nebulous memory, and a lost opportunity.
Rav Matisyahu notes that even a small ‘kabalah’ (spiritual commitment) fulfills this dictate, as long as it’s something that helps us capitalize on the gift of that moment.
I felt that this was a personal message to me that day. Our family had been granted such a wonderful blessing, and it was incumbent upon me to do something positive with that feeling. So, I committed, b’li neder, that at least when I eat pizza and eggs, to think for an extra second before making the beracha, to appreciate the gift that Hashem has given me - not only that such food is available, but that I can enjoy it too.
And if that causes me to appreciate other things that I take for granted every day, even better!
The gemara states that when Adar enters we increase our simcha (Ta’anis 29a). Purim is a celebration of life itself, of a nation doomed to genocide being granted a new lease on life. Part of the joy of Adar and Purim is the joy of living and breathing, appreciating the vital things we generally overlook.
May the joy of these days infuse us with happiness that lasts us throughout the year, and throughout our lives.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro
20 Shevat 5777/ February 17, 2017

Jim Gaboardi is an 89-year-old, former post man, from Danbury, Connecticut, currently living in a local nursing home. While his granddaughter was visiting him recently, the mail was given out to the residents. Gaboardi sighed and told his granddaughter that it had been a long time since he received any mail.
That afternoon, his granddaughter sent out a message, asking people to send her grandfather cards: “Let’s deliver mail to a man who delivered it to us for so many years.”
Her message was forwarded, and then forwarded again. Within days, letters began streaming in from former neighbors, old friends and acquaintances, and people who had been on his mail route. Now, a few months later, 250 letters/cards adorn his room.
Gaboardi’s granddaughter says that despite her grandfather’s failing health, the spark of life has returned to his eyes. 
Thanks to a winter storm that walloped our area last week, we began Pesach cleaning (!!!) in our basement. While rummaging through the clutter in the basement closet (looking for chometz, of course) I found a box full of letters and cards. There were cards and notes from my kallah and birthday cards from my family.
Beyond that, I found a stack of letters I had received when I was a camper at Camp Dora Golding in 1991. Of course, there were letters from my parents, my best friend, and even from my sister. I also found a letter from my Bubby (who should live and be well until 120), and from my Savta a’h. The content of the letters brought me back to a different time and stage of my life. In her letter, my Savta noted that my parents had come to visit her with “the baby”. The baby is my sister Shoshana, who is now married with two of her own children b’h.  
The greatness and uniqueness of a letter is not just the content, but also the handwriting of the writer. In an age of email and electronic communication, the beauty of a handwritten letter may be a rarity, but it still cannot be replicated.
I treasure a few letters that I have from a few Gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Chaim Stein zt’l, Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l and ybl”c Rav Aharon Schechter. The Igros Moshe I have with a personal inscription from Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l - a gift from my Zaydei zt’l- is invaluable to me.
The letter that I received from Rav Pam, was in response to an inquiry that I had sent to a few Gedolim. At the time, I debated if I should even send one to Rav Pam, because he was weak. I was surprised and delighted when I received his handwritten response.
In one of his books, Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates that Rav Pam once wrote a short letter to a fellow who davened in his shul who was hospitalized. Because he was a kohain, Rav Pam did not visit him, but sent him the letter instead. The patient treasured the letter, and showed it to everyone who came to visit him. One of the eulogizers at the patient’s funeral noted that the man was so distinguished that he received a letter from Rav Pam.
When Rav Pam was informed about how much the patient valued the letter, he remarked that the incident shook him. If a hastily written letter could have such an impact, how many other times do we have an opportunity to make such an impact with our words that we don’t take advantage of.
After hearing that story, I wondered if that story was part of what prompted Rav Pam to send me a detailed response in his own handwriting, despite his busy schedule and despite his being so feeble, fifteen months before his petirah. 

Perhaps in today’s world it’s even truer, that there is hardly anything more personal, and hardly any greater expression of closeness, than a handwritten letter. The nonverbalized message to the recipient of the letter is that he is worth the time and effort.
If you want to express feelings of appreciation, or sentiments of love and devotion to another, especially someone who may not know that you feel that way towards them, write them a letter. Put a stamp on it and send it out with the snail mail. The excitement of receiving mail is far greater than email.
One of the halachos of Megillas Esther is that although it is called a sefer (scroll), it is also called an iggeres (letter) (See Megillah 19a). When it’s being read, the Megillah is supposed to be folded like an elongated letter.
Part of the idea is that we recognize that the Purim miracle, and the holiday of Purim is an expression of Hashem’s personalized love for us. The Megillah is a letter to each of us, as it were, reminding us of our personal and collective greatness, and how beloved we are in G-d’s eyes, as it were.
And that is truly reason for celebration.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach
Shabbas Shirah – Tu B’Shvat
14 Shevat 5777/ February 10, 2017

This past Friday morning, after I made my morning coffee, I headed down to my basement office to learn, as I do every morning. About ten minutes after I sat down at my desk, I heard the unmistakable sound of rushing water from nearby. After getting over my initial denial, I jumped up and ran over to the boiler room. As soon as I opened the door, I was met with the dreaded sight of water flowing out of our hot water heater.
My mind began racing as I ran around the house looking for something big enough to hold the flowing water. Truthfully, it wouldn’t help for long anyway, because the water was flowing out so quickly. I posted a mayday text on our neighborhood WhatsApp group and received immediate responses despite it being during the predawn hours. They suggested that I immediately shut off the water. It was great advice, except that I had no idea how to do it. Thankfully, within a few minutes I found the lever and shut off the hot water from entering the tank. The gushing slowed to a trickle, but it was still a steady and consistent trickle. [I should add that one neighbor came over and spent forty-five minutes trying to help me figure out my next move. It’s good to know good people!]
For the next two hours, every few minutes I would empty the pan, which was the only thing that fit directly under the leak, into a bigger container. Then I schlepped the container outside to empty it. Finally, the plumber arrived and changed the tank, ending my tense morning escapade.
During the over two hours that I was emptying and schlepping, the basement looked like a semi-war zone. Everything that had been in the boiler room was thrown around the room hastily. Drenched towels lined the floor and the nearby carpet, with containers of different sizes filled with varying amounts of water all around the defunct, but still dripping, water heater. 
Yet, when I went upstairs to give Chani updates and to quickly take care of things before I had to rush back down for the next emptying duties, it seemed like a regular morning. Our children were eating breakfast and getting ready for school, music was playing in the background, and everything was calm (relatively anyway).
At the time that contrast struck me, but couldn’t think much about it. Now in reflection however, I think my experience serves as a powerful metaphor. In regards to interpersonal relationships, we are only privy to seeing other people’s “ground floor”, as it were. Things often seem to be perfectly in order, serene, tranquil, and full of blissful goodness. But that’s because we do not see what’s happening in the “basement”, beneath the surface. How often in life, do people suffer in silence and we have no idea what’s truly happening in their lives.
On a deeper level, this is true about our own lives as well. We live a finite and temporal existence. We come in the middle of a long story, and we leave well before it’s over. We can hardly know about the deeper meaning behind the workings of this world. We only see the ground floor around us, but we are not privy to the depth beneath all that transpires.
This Shabbos we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, - the New Year for Trees. Aside for writing cards to the trees in our yards (or, if you live in Brooklyn, mailing a birthday card to your favorite tree in the Catskills…), it’s also a day to reflect upon the symbolic connection between mankind and trees.
As we are all aware, for a tree to be healthy, the most basic component is for it to have strong and healthy roots that reach deep in the ground. A tree which seems robust and vibrant to us, may actually be sickly and weak, if beneath the ground its roots are feeble.
In addition, the winter is yet raging around us, and yet we are beginning to celebrate the imminence of spring. It’s not merely what we see and even feel that matters, but what is going on beyond what the human eye can perceive.
So often what we see in front of us belies the depth beneath. So often there is much more energy there waiting to explode if we just stay the course and not give up, and not allow ourselves to become complacent. It’s a great reminder not to judge a book by its cover, a house by its siding, wine by its bottle, or a Falcon by its Patriot.
Apparently, in contrast to what happens at Bubby’s house, what happens in the basement does not stay in the basement!  
Happy Tu B’Shvat and Shabbos Shirah!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
7 Shevat 5777/ February 3, 2017

The Beipanjiang Bridge, suspended 1,854 feet above the Nizhu river in southwest China, is currently the highest bridge in the world. The $150 million crossing links the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou, and has cut travel time by about three hours.
Those of us who live in Rockland or Westchester County, are very familiar with news about bridges, watching the continuing construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, above the Hudson River. The bridge is set to be completed in 2018, costing an estimated $4.5 billion. A thousand steel pipes have been installed into the river to support the foundation of the bridges, and there are hundreds of workers involved in the massive construction project. It is an incredible feat of human engineering.
Why are bridges so important? Because they allow us to connect two otherwise disparate and disconnected components. In sophisticated lexicon, we can say that a bridge allows us to traverse an otherwise impassable terrain. In laymen’s terms, we would say that a bridge painlessly allows us to get from one side to the other. It’s about connection; bridging a gap.
During this past May, Shabbos Parshas Emor, the Biala Rebbe of B’nei Brak visited our community. As he didn’t visit our shul I didn’t think I would have the chance to meet him personally. But as I was walking up the hill to shul, I saw three people walking ahead of me, and realized that the middle one was the Biala Rebbe.  
This was shortly after we were informed that the twins Chani was expecting had a condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Syndrome), which was a serious concern. Being that the rebbe was literally right in front of me, I thought it would be foolish not to introduce myself and solicit his beracha.
The rebbe was very gracious, and when he heard about the twins’ condition, he suggested that we be particular to eat Melave Malkeh every Motzei Shabbos, which should include a hot food or beverage made specifically in honor of Melaveh Malkeh. He then blessed us that the birth be incredibly easy “beyond nature” (“l’ma’aleh min hateva” doesn’t translate well into English).
Every observant Jew does his utmost to maintain the holiness and sanctity of Shabbos, as the holy crescendo of our week. When Shabbos ends however, we often feel itchy to “get out”. After being “bottled up” in the lofty world of Shabbos for 25 hours, there is often a mentality that we just need to “do something”.
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman is not only a tremendous talmidim chochom and Rosh Yeshiva, but is also renown for giving one of the most popular shiurim in the world today. His Motzei Shabbos Navi shiur is viewed (via satellite hookup) by thousands of people each week. What a beautiful way to start the new week! Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l once praised Rabbi Reisman (his talmid) for “transforming Saturday Night into Motzei Shabbos”.
Motzei Shabbos is the spiritual bridge between Shabbos Kodesh and the rest of the week. In the hours after the departure of Shabbos one can quickly lose all the inspiration he absorbed throughout Shabbos. But one who can maintain the spark of Shabbos and infuse it into the new week, will have a far more elevated and spiritually connected week.
Since the Rebbe gave us that suggestion, Chani and I try to be particular to eat Melaveh Malkeh together each Motzei Shabbos. Aside for the great spiritual benefit and honor of Shabbos, spending a few minutes together previewing the following day and week, has been very beneficial.
Throughout the months of Chani’s pregnancy with the twins, each doctor’s appointment – sometimes twice a week - was unnerving and highly anxiety-provoking. We davened with great intensity, gave tzedakah every week, solicited berachos, and davened at kevarim of grandparents and tzadikim. Hashem blessed us with two beautiful healthy twin boys, who had their b’risim on time(!). We would like to believe that all our efforts helped contribute to their healthy birth b’h. Undoubtedly also, the merit of eating Melaveh Malkeh, and thereby displaying honor for Shabbos by seeking to imbue the coming week with the sanctity of Shabbos, helped as well. It is apparently no trivial matter.
The task of bridging the gap from Shabbos to the rest of the week, in a certain way mirrors the task of a Jew’s entire life – to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
May Hashem continue to shower us with His blessings, and give us the ability to raise all of our children to faithfully serve Him and His holy nation by bridging heaven and earth .  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum