Thursday, August 31, 2017


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


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


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


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


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