Thursday, September 28, 2017


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


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


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


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