Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Erev Shavuos – Z’man Matan Toraseinu (49th day of the Omer)
5 Sivan 5777/ May 30, 2017

Last week, as my chavrusa, R’ Yossi Weimer, and I were finishing our morning learning session, I overheard someone on the next table excitedly and passionately exclaim, “Do you understand this sevara (logical argument in the Gemara)? It's even better than cheese cake!”
Just a day earlier, Yossi and I came across the following story in the gemara we were learning, (Shekalim 8b):
“A certain noblewoman noticed that Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai was particularly radiant one day. She said to him: “Old man, either you’re drunk, or you are usurer, or you a pig breeder.” [She concluded that the only way he could be so exuberant was if he was under the influence, or involved in a very lucrative business.] Rabbi Yehuda replied emphatically that, in fact, none of the three were true. Rather, his face was shining because of the fact that Torah was accessible to him, as the pasuk states, “A man’s wisdom brightens his face.”
It reminded me of another occasion during my high school years, when one of my rabbeim was delivering an intense shiur. After relating an intricate explanation, he jumped up and began dancing in his place.
The Medrash[1] questions why the first set of luchos, which were written by G-d, as it were, were destroyed, while the second set of luchos, which were written by Moshe, stood the test of time?
The Medrash explains that because the first luchos were given amidst an incredible revelation, pomp, and circumstance, the corrosive effects of an ayin hara (evil eye) was able to affect them. The second luchos however, were given in a quieter and more modest manner, and therefore were not vulnerable to the influence of ayin hara.
The obvious question is that Hashem knows the future., and obviously knew that giving the luchos during the revelation which included thunder, lightning, and the attention of the entire cosmos, would result in their need to be broken. So why did Hashem give them then?
Sefas Emes[2] explains that, despite the fact that giving the luchos with such fanfare would have such catastrophic results, it had to be given in such a manner. The impression that the revelation made upon the hearts and souls of the nation, endured far beyond the physical existence of the luchos. If the luchos had been given in a more modest fashion, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect upon the nation.
Shavuos is not a celebration of what we received as much as it is a celebration of what we became. Truthfully, what we received on Shavuos did not endure, but the impression created by the revelation continues to inspire us today.
The Gemara in pesachim (68b) makes a startling observation – although during other holidays it is questionable whether one must have physical enjoyment, on Shavuos there is no doubt that there must be physical enjoyment, in order to celebrate the giving of the Torah. We have an obligation to demonstrate that the Torah is not merely a spiritual collection of laws, but also serves as the ultimate guide, in regard to our physical pursuits and pleasures as well. Therefore, the celebration of Shavuos must encompass our physical bodies as well.
At a recent Halacha shiur, my rebbe, Rav Chaim Schabes, noted that the general consensus of contemporary poskim is that anyone who was not raised in a religious home has the status of tinok shenishba[3]. Someone then asked about the status of one who was raised in a religious home, but then ceased observing shabbos, r"l. Rabi Schabes replied that such a person also has the status of tinok shenishba. His explanation was succinct and yet beautiful: “If anyone was raised in a home where Shabbos was observed properly, who wouldn’t want to keep Shabbos?!” 
When he mentioned ‘keeping Shabbos properly’, Rabbi Schabes wasn’t referring to merely keeping the laws properly. Rather he meant with the proper spirit of Shabbos - with joy, serenity, and physical, as well as spiritual, enjoyment. When Shabbos, like religion generally, is forced upon a person, or when it’s observed without meaning, reverence, happiness, or love, it isn’t surprising, although tragic, when one no longer wishes to keep such a depressing and constricting day. But when one is exposed to proper Torah observance – genuine, meaningful, emotional, and uplifting, despite it also being challenging, who wouldn’t want to declare ‘na’ase v’nishma’!
Torah observance isn't about self-abnegation, anxiety, and guilt. Torah grants us direction, meaning, growth, and inner fulfillment. That is why there must be a component of physical celebration on Shavuos, in order to demonstrate that Torah it is the foundation of spiritual and physical life.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, Shavuos must be a day of celebration and joy. We have to exude happiness that living by Torah values, although challenging, is the most meaningful and elevating experience possible.
The luchos may be broken, but the experience of awe and joy that was present at Sinai must forever be etched within us. That is the celebration of Shavuos, and that is far better than cheesecake.

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

[1] Quoted by Rashi, Shemos 34:3
[2] Ki Sisa 5639
[3] literally ‘a child who was captured’ as in captured and raised among non-Jews, and therefore has limited culpability for not observing Torah and mitzvos. See Shabbos 68b; Shavuos 5a.

Thursday, May 25, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar (45th day of Omer)
1 Sivan 5777/ May 26, 2017 - Avos Perek 6
Rosh Chodesh Sivan

·         “Before I got married, I was taught that I have to have more respect to my wife than for myself. So, I make sure to always treat my wife’s in-laws with more respect than my own in-laws.”
-badchan R’ Yankel Miller
·         “The rule in life is, either fix yourself, or your mother-in-law will.”
-Rabbi Berel Wein 

What’s with all the in-law jokes? Why is dealing with in-laws so potentially contentious?
One of the most important components of a healthy and satisfying marriage is the ability to view matters from someone else’s vantage point and perspective.
Often strife is the result of either becoming so emotionally entrenched in one’s own opinion, that he is unable to understand another perspective. Or, it is the result of a bruised ego that seeks validation and reassurance.
It’s been suggested that if couples could follow this one piece of advice, it would eliminate more than half of all marital strife: Whenever there is a disagreement about any matter, after mentioning their opinion, each side should then repeat their spouse’s opinion and the reasons why he/she feels that way. It is not easy to extricate one’s self emotionally, in order to understand another perspective[1].
I was once at a Shabbos table of a friend, when his irreligious aunt asked what a ‘mechutan’ is[2]. My friend’s father immediately replied, “the opposition leader.”     
When I was nine-years old, I was at a family Chanukah get-together for my father’s family. It was shortly after the passing of my Zaydei – my mother’s father. My Sabbah and Sava, my father’s parents, were sitting together and I asked them if they cried when they heard my Zaydei had died. They immediately replied, “of course we did”. 
At that point in my life, I was first beginning to comprehend that, although they were all my grandparents, they weren’t related to each other. [In the immortal words of American philosopher Lou Costello, “My father married my mother, and my uncle married my aunt. So why should I marry a total stranger?”]
Part of the challenge of dealing with in-laws, stems from the feeling that they are “in-laws”, and not parents. There is undoubtedly truth to the fact that in-laws must be very cautious when asserting and suggesting things to their married children. However, just as one is more patient with his/her own parents, there must be a realization that one’s in-laws are their spouse’s parents.
It is quite remarkable that in Tanach there are two instances which are connected to in-laws, and both are inextricably connected to Shavuos and Kabbolas HaTorah.
The story of Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, and his joining Klal Yisroel, directly precedes the Torah’s narrative of Kabbolas HaTorah. In fact, the parsha which contains Kabbolas HaTorah is called Parshas Yisro. The Torah records how after Yisro arrived, he surveyed the situation, and strongly rebuked Moshe with the words, “It is not good the matter which you are doing.” The Torah relates that Moshe “listened to the voice of his father-in-law.”
The other story is that of Rus, who sacrificed a life of aristocracy and nobility to accompany her mother-in-law back to Eretz Yisroel, knowing that a life of poverty and embarrassment awaited them, at least initially. Regarding Rus too, the pasuk states that she did whatever her mother-in-law commanded her.[3]  
The word Shavuos literally means weeks. The Yom Tov of Kabbolas HaTorah is so called, because our acceptance of Torah is based on the preparation we invested during the seven weeks prior – the weeks of Sefiras HaOmer.
The time of Sefirah is also the period of mourning for the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students, who died because they did not adequately respect each other. Preparation for Kabbolas HaTorah entails seeing beyond ourselves and being able to view things from the perspective of others.[4]
Perhaps that is part of the reason both of the most significant stories of in-laws in Tanach are connected to Kabbolas HaTorah. To respect one’s in-laws one must relate to them not merely as in-laws, but also as significant components of one’s marriage. To grow in Torah one must be able to understand that there are other perspectives and understanding besides mine. Not only must one accept that, but one must be able to respect that as well.
They stood at Sinai like one man with one heart - a perspective and feeling that transcended themselves.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

[1] This week, my mother sent the following quote: “Never laugh at your spouse’s choices. You were one of them!”
[2] The families of a bride and groom are ‘mechutanim’ with each other.
[3] It is noteworthy that Yisro and Rus were both converts as well. Although they married (or in Yisro’s case, he allowed his daughter to marry) into a Torah observant family, they both had the personal option whether to join or not.
[4] It’s an important component of Torah study as well as Torah living.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar-Bechukosai (38th day of Omer)
23 Iyar 5777/ May 19, 2017 - Avos Perek 4
Shabbos Chazak! - Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

The Staum family are proud Leviim. We look forward to Moshiach coming so that we will have the great merit of singing in the Bais Hamikdash.
Although it would be an even greater zechus to be Kohanim, there is a juvenile benefit to not being a Kohanim. You see, Kohanim need to be particularly vigilant to make sure they wear nice socks. In Eretz Yisroel that's true every day; in chutz la'aretz it's true on Yom Tov. Before kohanim duchan (bless the congregation with Birchas Kohanim) they remove their shoes. As the kohanim take their place in front of the shul, their socks are quite noticeable. This is especially true if they are wearing colored socks or socks with designs.
Personally, even if my socks happen to match by coincidence on any given day, they always seem to have holes in them (despite my wife's best efforts to constantly replace them). There's also another rather obvious reason why it's beneficial for the Kehilla that my shoes remain on my feet.
Although my socks can remain incognito, my shoes are not as fortunate. Being that in our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead, my seat is atop the podium in front (the congregation feels the need to always keep an eye on me), my shoes are more visible than they would otherwise be.
Now that I have a teenage son who possesses some sense of style (which he inherited from his mother), he recently offered to pick out shoes for me. I agreed, and the shoes arrived a few days later. Since I have begun wearing them, more than one person has complimented the shoes, but added that they are a little too snazzy and stylish for a rabbi.
As we grow older, many of us have the experience of looking at our parent's wedding album and thinking how "out of style" our parents look. My father looked handsome at his wedding, but - seriously Abba - a brown, three-piece suit?!
We are all convinced that we are far more stylish than our predecessors. That holds true until the day our children look through our wedding albums and laugh at us. (For me it came sooner - it was as shortly after we got married and Chani went through my closet and got rid of much of my wardrobe.)
We can take solace, however, that chances are in another generation the styles will come back around. Our grandchildren may be impressed with how stylish their grandparents were, especially because it seems to have skipped a generation. “Abba, how come you don't get a suit like Zaydei had at his wedding?”
I once heard that Rav Avrohom Pam zt"l noted to someone who commented that he had very stylish glasses, that he had them from when he was young, and they were in style the last time around.
A friend of mine often quips that he refuses to pay a lot of money to walk around broadcasting someone else's name, unless that person is willing to walk around wearing clothing that bore his name. (As of this writing Mr. Tommy Hilfiger is still refusing to wear a shirt with the name Goldstein on it...)
Styles are a funny thing. Masses of people will dress in a certain way and wear certain clothes, because masses of people dress a certain way and wear certain clothes.
Someone once asked Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky why yeshiva students always wear the same thing - white shirts and black pants? Rabbi Orlofsky replied that it makes it easier for them to know what to wear in the morning. The questioner retorted that dressing in that manner squelches one's individually. Rabbi Orlofsky replied, “If your clothing is what expresses your individuality, you don't have any real sense of individuality.”
The Torah has a very clear perspective on clothing. Clothing are called begadim, an expression of begidah - betrayal, because our clothing often mask our true identity. At times, we hide behind our clothing, and portray ourselves in a way that differs from who we really are.
Mesillas Yesharim encourages us to dress respectfully, but not aristocratically. Our clothes should remain merely clothing, not a means to define us.
In his fantastic book, 48 Ways to Wisdom[1], Rav Noach Weinberg zt'l, warns that we need to beware the Marlboro man. His urbane and cool appearance has convinced many young people to begin smoking, despite all the warnings against it. “Insanity is contagious, unless you have the courage to remain true to your convictions.” This is true in how we dress as well.
If we truly wish to express our individuality, we need to dig deeper and reveal the true essence of who we are, not just by hiding behind our clothing.
Otherwise we may end up just being the kohain with the wacky socks or the rabbi with the stylish shoes.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

[1] It is one of the greatest “self-help” books I’ve ever read – it’s refreshing, motivating, and inspiring, and it’s based on the wisdom of a Torah giant who lived it. I have been reading one “way” each day of sefiras haomer this year. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor (31st day of Omer)
16 Iyar 5777/ May 12, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

This past week I attended the Torah Umesorah convention on Thursday and Friday. As I was driving up to the convention, it reminded me of my trip to the convention last year. In May 2016, I also attended the convention, but had to come home on Thursday night.
As I wrote a few months ago (musings 371), in March last year we were stunned to find out that we were expecting twins.
We subsequently found out that our twins had a serious condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome).
Our doctor had us transfer to Columbia Hospital, and our first appointment was the Friday morning in May of the Torah Umesorah Convention.
The next week, we had to make a grueling decision whether to undergo a procedure that would sever the connections between the babies in utero with a laser. The procedure is currently only performed in four hospitals in the United States - in San Francisco, Cincinnati, Philadelphia (CHOP), and Columbia in Manhattan. Our doctor in Columbia felt we should proceed, but being that it wasn't absolutely clear that it was necessary (and because it posed it's own risks) he told us that we had to decide.
It was the most difficult half hour of our lives. It was an incredibly arduous decision to have to make under pressure - one that effected the lives of our unborn babies.
We consulted with Rav Dovid Cohen, and our Rav, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, and were advised to proceed.
We then had to wait to see if it was successful. It was a very difficult few months with bi-weekly appointments, fraught with anxiety.
And then, eight months ago, on 6 Elul 5776/September 9, 2016 our beautiful twins were born healthy, a minute apart from each other. Eight days later, b'chasdei Hashem, the brissim were b'zman.
In his Haggadah, Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita asks why Klal Yisroel were commanded to eat marror at the first national Seder, in Mitzrayim, the night before the redemption. It's understandable that such a reminder was necessary for future generations. However, did they really need a symbolic reminder of the painful servitude they had endured, and barely survived, when they were still in the land of their oppression?
Rav Nebenzhal answers that the bitter enslavement ended six months before the redemption. Six months is more than enough time for the human mind to begin to forget what has occurred. Even in Egypt they needed a symbol to help them focus on how far they had come, and what they had suffered through.
When my Bubby - she should live and be well - would recount some of the travails she endured during World War II, including time spent in Siberia, she would quip that she felt as if she was talking about someone else. It was hard to remember that she herself had actually lived through such terrible times.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he was a young boy living in Chicago in 1948, when the state of Israel was declared. Shortly after the declaration, there was a rally in Chicago stadium. Many of his rabbeim, who could have hardly been called Zionists, were present at that rally, and when they raised the Israeli flag, they wept along with everyone else.
Rabbi Wein would lament that later generations cannot relate to the emotions of back then. By now, it has all become politicized, with the main focus on whether you say hallel or tachanun on Yom Ha'atzmaut. But the feelings of humility and gratitude to Hashem for the miracles witnessed in the War of Independence, as well as the gift of Eretz Yisroel, is largely lost.
I just read the book "28 Iyar" by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. It is his personal diary from 1967, when his family spent a year in Eretz Yisroel.
The book provides a small glimpse into the incredible tension and anxiety that wracked the country before the Six-day war, as well as the unbelievable euphoria that was felt by the uncanny miraculous victories, including the reunification of Yerushalayim.
In regard to those events too, we are so far removed and can hardly feel a proper sense of hakaras hatov for what we take for granted, such as being able to visit and daven at the Kosel, Kever Rochel, and Mearas Hamachpeilah.
For us personally, eight months later, we surely delight and can't get enough of the twin berachos that Hashem endowed us with. However, it's so easy to forget the extent of how much gratitude we should have for them, and really for all of our children, and all the blessings Hashem granted, and grants us constantly.
Are those twins really the same beings that were once Baby A and Baby B, for whom we were so worried, and for whom we davened so many tefilos?!
Eight months is ample time to obscure our collective memory. The only way to not lose that sense of reality is by being conscious of it, and trying to maintain the original emotions we felt.
Intellectual memory is only a bunch of facts. It's the endemic emotions that brings those memories to life, and grants them long-lasting meaning.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim (24th day of Omer)
9 Iyar 5777/ May 5, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

Many people feel their lives are spinning aimlessly, without going anywhere. Someone recently made a living model of that experience, patented, and marketed it, and is now raking it in. Perhaps you have seen some of them on the tips of people’s fingers – they are called Fidget Spinners. During the last few weeks there has been an absolute craze for Fidget Spinners, or, as I like to more accurately call them, Fidget Enhancement Spinners.
It’s always helpful to market a toy as something that can help people maintain attention. The fact that there is no empirical evidence to back it up doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, every teacher can attest that the only thing Fidget Spinners do, is make spinning noises while students play with them and not pay attention during class. In my classroom, I have outlawed them. Friends have told me that Fidget Spinners have spread to the workplace, and that adults are using them as much as children.
To be fair, Fidget Spinners are extremely beneficial – to those who have been manufacturing them and selling them. To be honest, they are fun to play with. But don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that they help with concentration.
I am confident that the Spinner craze will pass, and they will go the way of Diablos, Crazy Bones, Rubik’s Cubes, and Silly Bands. But until then, they serve as a great reminder of what life can become when devoid of direction or meaning.
The Jewish year is compared to a circle. Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that the year is a cycle of growth. It begins with our national birth on Pesach, continues with our national entry into mitzvos (bar/bas mitzvah) on Shavuos, and reaches its crescendo with our national union/marriage to G-d on Succos. [The succah is analogous to the chupah, and Shemini Atzeres is analogous to the greatest level of intimacy with Hashem, as it were.] Prior to marriage one’s sins are forgiven, symbolized by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Rav Pinkus further explains that even after a wedding, we cannot yet be confident that the marriage will endure. It’s only when the loyalty of husband and wife have been seriously tested, and the marriage was able to emerge intact, or even strengthened, that we can be confident that it is a strong and lasting union.
That is essentially what transpired on Chanukah and Purim. Our national loyalty was severely tested under harrowing conditions. When we proved that our sole loyalty was to Hashem, redemption occurred.
I recently heard a very moving lecture from Mrs. Tzipi Caton[1], in which she shared her experiences with having, and overcoming cancer, as a teenager. She related that when she was first diagnosed, there was an older girl in her school who was already in remission from the same cancer. That girl came with her parents to visit Mrs. Caton to give her chizuk. Mrs. Caton asked the older girl if she had any pictures from that time period, so she could have an idea of what she should expect. The girl’s father replied that those were six months they were trying to forget, and they definitely did not have any pictures from then. Mrs. Caton noted that she and her family took the opposite approach; they took pictures of everything. She reasoned that if this was an experience she had to undergo, she was going to embrace it, and was not going to try to just forget about it.
It’s a very poignant point, and one we all need to remember. In life, we should never seek to shut the door on past experiences, even negative ones, and even severe failings on our part. We will anyway be unable to do so, because we can’t escape our past. Like it or not, it’s part of our reality. Rather the goal is to use it as a stepping stone for our personal growth and to help others. Successful people use the failings in their past, for current growth, and future inspiration.
Chanukah and Purim are celebratory holidays because we were able to transform terrible experiences into stepping stones for national inspiration and growth.
At present, Tisha B’av and the other fast days, remain days of pain and tears, because we have not yet been able to sufficiently learn their lessons, to transform them into days of inspiration and growth. When we finally do understand their messages, they will indeed be transformed, and will also become yomim tovim. 
Rav Zev Leff notes that the Jewish year is not a circle, but a spiral. The goal is that with each year, when we return to that point on the circle, we are not on the same level as we were the year prior, but have reached new levels of growth. It’s the same time-period, but we have progressed to greater heights.
So, life is not like a fidget spinner which spins aimlessly, or at least ought not be.
Perhaps someone can patent a “Spiral Spinner”, which spins upwards like an upside down slinky. It can be advertised as a device that helps promote spiritual growth.
Just remember to send me royalties for the idea.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

[1] Author of Miracle Ride, by Artscroll/Shaar Press