Thursday, July 27, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim/Chazon
7 Menachem Av 5777/ July 29, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

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

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos-Masei
27 Tamuz 5777/ July 22, 2017 - Avos Perek 2
Mevorchim Menachem Av

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

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

                         R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, July 14, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos
20 Tamuz 5777/ July 15, 2017 - Avos Perek 1

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

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

                         R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Balak
13 Tamuz 5777/ July 8, 2017 - Avos Perek 6

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

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

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