Thursday, October 18, 2018

PARSHAS LECH LECHA 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Lech Lecha
10 Cheshvan 5779/October 19, 2018

It’s not just proper protocol and good manners, but it’s actually an ancient custom mentioned in the gemara. When someone invites you to their home, it’s proper to give them a gift. The gemara (Megilla 26a) states “Abayei said: we learn from here that it is proper etiquette for a person to leave his flask of wine and the hide (of the animal he slaughtered) at the inn where he is staying.”
 On one occasion a few years ago, our son Shalom invited a classmate for Shabbos. Most of the time friends who come for Shabbos bring a bottle of wine or a candy platter, but this boy didn’t. We didn’t think much of it, in fact, we wouldn’t have even noticed that he didn’t bring anything. But then on Sunday night we discovered many candy wrappers on the floor and an empty platter. It turns out that his mother indeed sent him with a very nice candy platter, which he enjoyed immensely upstairs throughout Shabbos.
When I was the Social Worker in Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, the yeshiva was once graced with a visit by Rav Yitzchok Sheiner shlita, the Kaminetzer Rosh Yeshiva from Yerushalayim. Rav Sheiner addressed the students with characteristic warmth and love. I typed it up afterwards and disseminated it to the students, so they would remember it.
The following are the opening words of that speech:
“I’m very thrilled to be in this holy makom (place of) Torah. I’ve been living in Yerushalayim for 60 years, and seventy years ago I went to school in Spring Valley. So we are classmates. I’m just a bit older, and I’m happy to meet my classmates. This is where I began learning Torah in Monsey and Spring Valley, so I want to see how my new classmates are getting along. That’s why I came here.
“I want to give you all a beracha that you should all become big talmedei chachomim and tzaddikim and you should all be good.
“Do you know what good means? Good means somebody who makes someone else happy all the time.
“I want to quote for you two lines from one of the most important seforim every printed – Nefesh HaChaim. It was published by Rav Chaim Volozhiner. In the introduction to the Nefesh HaChaim, his son whose name was Yitzchok, and was also very great, writes – ‘I want you to remember these two very important lines which are one of the most important lines to know:
וכה היה דברו אלי תמיד  - this is what he (my father) always taught me – every day he told it to me again so I shouldn’t forget it, because he considered it the most important lesson he can teach me –
האדם לא לעצמו נברא – a person was not born only to take care of himself
אלא להועיל לאחריני  - only to help the people around him, to make them happy and to make them feel good’.”
            I have heard this quote on various occasions, but whenever I do I picture Rav Sheiner with his eyes closed and finger wagging as he emotionally conveyed it that morning to the young students of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch.
We aren’t in this world for our own selfish needs and wants. Of course we have to take care of ourselves, but that cannot be our main objective. Rather we are here for the betterment of others, to help make other people’s lives better in any way we can.
The candy platters we have – our talents and capabilities – were not given to us merely for own selfish needs and pleasure. They were given to us to help enhance the lives of those around us. Those ‘candy platters’ weren’t granted to us so we can consume them ourselves upstairs where no one else benefits from them. 
I have a good friend who loves to walk around with open packages of candy, offering some to everyone he passes quipping, “Can I make your day a little sweeter?”
Imagine if the world lived by that creed. Imagine if our society wasn’t so selfish and focused on its own immediate gratification and development of its superficial image? What a different world it could be!   

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

PARSHAS NOACH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach
3 Cheshvan 5779/October 12, 2018

In Boston they are rejoicing, in Queens they are breathing a sigh of relief, and in the Bronx they are grumbling morbidly. The Yankees season is over! 2018 will not be the year the Yankees win their 28th Championship! To lose on a reviewed play to their hated rival Red Sox just makes it worse.
The fact that the Yankees almost made an uncanny comeback, being down 4-1 going into the ninth, and losing 4-3 with runners on first and second, will largely be forgotten within a short time. The fact that they ended the season with the second-best record in baseball also proves meaningless. Alas, for proud (and spoiled) Yankees fans, anything less than a championship is worthless.
If the Red Sox don’t win it all (hopefully :), their incredible best record in baseball this season will also largely have been for naught and will end up being a forgotten accomplishment.
The truth is that this attitude is not limited to baseball. It’s true about our society generally. People want to see results, and anything less is a failure; only production matters.
In our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, during the first few weeks of the school year, we enjoy a very beautiful event each morning after shachris. Students who have undertaken to review an entire masechta of Gemara during their summer break, make a siyum in front of the entire student body. The siyum is followed by brief but energetic dancing, celebrating the student’s admirable accomplishment.
The words that the mesayim (one making the siyum) recites beautifully laud the greatness of Torah and our privilege in meriting to study its timeless wisdom.
He also recites a passionate declaration: “I am thankful before You Hashem... that you have placed my portion among those who sit in the Bais Medrash, and you didn’t place my portion among those who sit at the corners...”
As I heard the words recited repeatedly, one morning it struck me - what does it mean to “sit at the corners” and how is that contrasted with those who sit in the Bais Medrash?
The world of financial growth, economics, and entrepreneurship is built on an insatiable drive and ambition. No matter how much one has achieved, there is always more to be acquired. Time is money, and as long as there is time, there is more money to be made.
The Gemara says that the more one has, the more one wants. Therefore, the pursuit of wealth is without limit.
One who is stationed at a corner is always wary about what lies just beyond the turn. He cannot quite see what there is, but he anticipates it.
The world of commerce and business is a world of corners, in the sense that, unless one actively strives to be otherwise, he will never be satisfied with what he has. Our society is inundated by advertisements which seduce us into thinking we need, we can have, and we deserve the next best innovation.
The study hall is called a Bais Medrash - the House of Seeking. Those who grow spiritually and learn Torah also are never satisfied with prior accomplishments. The more one earnestly learns, the more one realizes how little he knows and the more he desires to accomplish and learn more. But the stark difference is that in the world of spirituality the journey itself is the destination. The effort and struggle is the greatest accomplishment. True, we only make a siyum when we complete, but everything along the way is itself an eternal attainment and an integral component of our growth process.
Thus, at a siyum we thank Hashem for granting us a portion in the house of seeking - where the seeking itself is praiseworthy, and not from those who sit in the corners, where the only excitement is in the next million.
There’s always next year Yankees fans. But (l’havdil) there’s today, tomorrow, and the day after for those who learn Torah and serve Hashem.

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

PARSHAS BEREISHIS 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis
Mevorchim Chodesh MarCheshvan   
27 Tishrei 5779/October 5, 2018

Every year on Shabbos Parshas Bereishis, I would begin my brilliant sermon (I only gave brilliant sermons) in the following manner:
“We set out on an incredible journey seven weeks ago. It begin with shofar blowing and reciting l’Dovid on Rosh Chodesh Elul. The week of Rosh Hashanah we begin selichos, on Rosh Hashanah we heard shofar, recited the unique tefillos and reaccepted Hashem’s eternal monarchy upon ourselves, recited tashlich, fasted on Tzom Gedalia, engaged in personal penitence including teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka, heard inspiring derashos especially on Shabbos Shuva, performed kapparos, fasted and observed the holy day of Yom Kippur, built and decorated our Succos, meticulously picked out and purchased our daled minim, joyously observed Succos with the ushpizin, recited Hallel each day of the holiday, celebrated at Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, recited the prayers of Hoshana Rabba and geshem on Shmini Atzeres, and danced energetically on Simchas Torah. 
And now we have truly arrived... at the beginning.”
It is the beginning - not only of our annual Torah reading which we recommenced with Bereishis - but the beginning of our efforts to effect lasting changes. It is the beginning of an opportunity to really make this the year we truly hope it will be.
Rav Shalom Schwadron zt’l quipped that our evil inclination is very wily and patient. He essentially declares “I’ll give you the month of Elul and I’ll give you the month of Tishrei. I’ll let you have your time to be inspired. But I’ll bide my time. Just wait until Cheshvan and Kislev, and then you’ll be mine.” 
Our evil inclination quickly lures us back into the familiar default mode of habit, so that all of our wonderful intentions for growth and change are quickly left at the wayside.
A friend who owns a bakery related that prior to the Shabbosos after Succos and Pesach, he bakes many extra whole wheat challos. With the end of Yom Tov’s constant delicious meals, many people commit to lose weight and eat healthier.
But, he reported, by the following Shabbos the demand for whole wheat basically diminishes. 
What ends up happening is that most people hold onto the calories while the spiritual inspiration flitters away. If only we could get the calories to fade away while we held onto the spiritual inspiration.
It can be done but only if one is able to maintain his commitment by writing down his goals, mentally picturing success, and keeping his eye on the end goal. 
Rosh Chodesh each month is a wonderful time for a “check-in”, to assess whether we are holding true to our goals.
It is in that sense that we have arrived at the beginning. In the beginning, G-d declared “Let there be light” and there was light. Our arduous task is to ensure that the light doesn’t fade.

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos   
19 Tishrei 5779/September 28, 2018

Contemporary halachic authorities rule that one may not run a washing machine or dishwasher in his home during Shabbos. One may not even leave it on before Shabbos so that it will continue to run after Shabbos begins, nor may one allow a non-Jew to run it during Shabbos, because having a machine running demeans the spirit and honor of Shabbos.
Gavriel and Michael Staum – age 2 - disagree. Forget about a non-Jew, they themselves turn on many of these devices on Shabbos. (Chani wants to know if she can put soap in the dishwasher and soap in the washing machine before Shabbos, because the odds are that it will be turned on by little fingers sometime during Shabbos.) All of my efforts to explain to them about the honor of Shabbos, and that they aren’t on the level to challenge the opinion of the leading Poskim of our time have thus far been unsuccessful.
What’s more, they hold that they are allowed to turn lights on and off on Shabbos, use the phone, turn the heat up - especially when the air conditioning is running - and play with electrical toys that make noise.
The Tur famously asks why we celebrate the holiday of Succos at this time of year, and not shortly after Pesach? If the reason we sit in succos is to commemorate the fact that G-d protected us in succos (huts) throughout our sojourns in the desert, that journey began as soon as we left Egypt?
(Let’s stop for a moment to wonder what the women would have said if Moshe Rabbeinu announced that shortly after Pesach ended there was to be another weeklong holiday of Succos with more meals and holiday preparation...)
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the Torah states that we sit in the succah “So that your generations will know that I caused the B’nei Yisrael to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt...” (Vayikra 23:43)
Part of the succah experience is to contemplate and internalize the lesson of the succah - the idea that the same G-d who protected them from the vagaries and perils of the desert, is our sole protector as well.
There is no time during the year when we have greater spiritual clarity than immediately following Yom Kippur. After the great days of awe have afforded us the opportunity to analyze our lives and refocus on our priorities, we are able to recognize what’s truly important, before we are overwhelmed and distracted again by our daily affairs.
That is why Succos - the holiday that requires knowledge and understanding - must directly follow Yom Kippur. 
We are hopeful that as Hashem continues to bless Gavriel and Michael with maturity and intellect, they will come to understand the infinite value and opportunity that Shabbos grants us each week, and that it is our greatest merit to desist from all weekly affairs during the holy day. Until they attain that intellectual maturity, I guess there will be empty dishwashers and washing machines running on Shabbos. And if you see a missed call from us on Shabbos, you’ll understand why!

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva
5 Tishrei 5779/September 14, 2018

With tremendous gratitude to Hashem, we just celebrated the second birthday of our twin sons, Gavriel and Michael. They started the ‘wonderful twos’ early and definitely have been keeping us on our toes, to say the least.
One morning in camp a few weeks ago, the dynamic duo decided to attack the Keurig coffee K-Cups. After moving over the kitchen chairs to the counters, they climbed up and proceeded to empty all the K-Cups from their container. They felt the toaster oven was a far better place for them to be kept.
When Chani went to put her breakfast in the toaster, she had to empty out all the K-Cups. But one of the K-Cups was tucked away and lodged into the bottom of the toaster, so she didn’t see it. When she turned on the toaster the bungalow was instantly filled with a misty smell of burnt coffee and plastic. She quickly shut the toaster and, when it cooled, removed the melted, burnt K-Cup. But the odious smell lingered for a couple of days, a reminder that we are outnumbered by double trouble.
Whenever we commit a sin, the problem is not merely the negative action that we have committed. There is also a spirit of impurity that envelops us and causes a spiritual barrier between us and Hashem.
In the physical world, we are often warned that smoke kills before fire. In the spiritual world too, the spiritual smoke generated by our sins is more noxious and damaging than even the sins themselves. Therefore, when we seek to do teshuva, it is not enough for us to merely purge the action of sin from our account. We also must seek to reverse the incorrect mindsets and attitudes which we have developed before and after we sinned. Inevitably, when one commits a sin he becomes more cavalier to the severity of his actions and less sensitive to the spiritual damage he has caused.
When the prophets speak about teshuva, and when the Rambam codifies the laws of teshuva, they speak about the sinner returning from his errant ways. It is not enough to cease the negative actions he has done. He must also reverse course and ensure that he realigns himself with his true aspirations and goals.
When a couple is struggling in their marriage, it’s rarely one point or disagreement that is the overriding issue. Invariably, the problem is the general lack of communication, or a feeling in the air of rancor and resentment. It’s not enough to deal with the petty issues they are presenting. The real issue is the lack of relationship and the negativity that hangs in the very air between them.
Numerous times during the Yom Kippur prayers we state the verse: “For on this day He will atone for you, to purify you. From all of your sins, before Hashem you will be purified.” The pasuk clearly alludes to two components of teshuva - atonement - the actual purging of the sin, and purification, wherein one is purified from the spiritually deleterious effect of his sins. Meriting divine purification is far more challenging than achieving atonement. After all, it is far easier to dispose of the burnt and melted K-Cup, than it is to get rid of the smoke that it generated.
We spend a great deal of time during Yom Kippur confessing specific iniquities. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Yom Kippur is not just about specific sins. It is also an opportunity to refocus ourselves, and to clear the (spiritual) air.
May we all have the wisdom to take full advantage of this arduous yet majestic day.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
G’mar Chasima Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, September 6, 2018

PARSHAS NETZOVIM 5778 ROSH HASHANAH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Netzovim - Avos perakim 5-6
27 Elul 5778/September 7, 2018

A few years ago, Chani took our younger children to one of the local Jewish owned shoe stores to buy shoes. The store had a section with slides and climbing toys for children.
Our (then) 5-year-old daughter Chayala was playing on the slides happily until a chassidishe boy approached her and starting chastising her in Yiddish about why she wasn’t allowed to play there. Bh Chayala doesn’t have an issue asserting herself. She looked the chassidish boy in the eye and emphatically proclaimed “I don’t speak Spanish!” At that point the boy became more animated and repeated his demands. Undeterred, Chayala looked him in the eye and repeated, “I said, I don’t speak Spanish!”
Whenever Chani tells over the story she laughs and adds that Chayala’s namesake, her beloved ‘Babby Chaya’, is undoubtedly turning over in her grave that her great-granddaughter mistook Yiddish for Spanish.
There are many people who feel similarly about selichos and the many special tefilos recited during this time of year. It’s not easy reciting added prayers, many of which contain unfamiliar words.
Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky, eighth grade master rebbe in Ashar, tells his students that when they feel challenged by selichos they can utilize the advice he gives students before they have to speak. Whether it’s a bar mitzvah or at a graduation, speaking publicly can be daunting and nerve-racking. What’s worse, when one stands up and faces the crowd his mind often goes blank and he can’t remember anything.
But he knows that the speech written in front of him is a good one, worthy of the crowd’s attention. Therefore, even if his mind is blank, he can be confident that if he repeats the speech with the same feeling as when he practiced it, the assemblage listening to his words will be impressed.
The “men of the great assembly” comprised of 120 of our greatest sages, composed many of our tefillos. In addition, great paytanim (liturgists) authored magnificent poetic prayers to be said as part of our supplications during selichos. Even if we aren’t sure exactly what we are saying, we can be confident that if we recite the prayers with earnest humility and a desire to connect with Hashem, the words will accomplish great things in heaven. Undoubtedly, knowing the meaning of the words is far greater. But the most important component of prayer is the feelings in one’s heart, the desire to connect with the divine.
In my youth I found selichos to be a very frustrating ordeal. I always tried to recite every word of the selichos with the congregation but was never able to finish the entire paragraph before the congregation moved on.
The halacha however clearly states that the quantity of prayers is not so important. What truly matters is the extent of how much one is able to direct his heart to his Father in Heaven. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:4), “Better few supplications with concentration than many without concentration.”
Whether selichos seems Greek to us or Spanish, more important than the words we say is the sincere desire to achieve forgiveness. What matters is the aspiration to continue to ascend the rungs of spiritual growth and live a life of spiritual connection.
That is the type of life we beseech G-d to grant us during these days: “Remember us for life, King who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, living G-d.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Kesiva Vachasima Tova & Shana Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 30, 2018

PARSHAS KI SAVO 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Savo - Avos perakim 3-4
20 Elul 5778/August 31, 2018

It’s the million-dollar question - why do we feel like we never change? The truth is that the question itself is a fallacy. Who doesn’t change over time? The experiences of life invariably effect and change us. We aren’t the same people we were a year ago, and definitely not who we were five and ten years ago. But there is justifiable frustration in our inability to effect the changes we want, or to the extent that we want. We often exasperatedly feel frustrated that we are still struggling with components of ourselves that we hoped we would have mastered long ago.
Many adults can relate to the struggles of dieting. It has become in vogue for people to go on crash diets. There are no shortages to the different types of crash diets out there. Atkins, South Beach, Slimfast, Fit for Life, Cracker, Pickle, balls behind the ears, etc. I myself have tried some of them.
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that the problem with crash courses is that they usually crash. The same can be said about crash diets. The greatest challenge is that it’s not nearly as hard to lose the weight as it is to maintain the weight loss.
The only way to lose weight and to keep it off (says the guy who hasn’t successfully done so yet...) is to have a mental/paradigm shift. One must begin with the end-goal in mind and he be prepared for, and undaunted, by slip-ups.
One of the simplest yet most profound pieces of advice I ever heard is “you don’t drown by falling into the water; you drown by staying there.” I repeat it to my students all the time. It’s not the fall that hurts us, as much as our becoming dejected by our failing.
A couple of years ago I was dieting and had a great “mentor” with whom I would check in with constantly. I started after succos (like many people do) and did quite well for a few months. Then came Chanukah when the evil Greeks forced me to eat some latkes and a donut.
As was protocol, I had to admit it to my mentor. I loved his response so much that I printed it and kept it:
“Okay, that was the past. Just have in mind that it could take 2-4 days to get back into fat burn mode, so you might experience the starting over symptoms - headache, hunger, etc.
“Obviously it’s your choice. But is that worth a few minutes of ‘happiness’ and indulgence?
“The idea of the program is to train ourselves to sever the emotional connection we have with food. it should not be something we use as a reward, or rely on. We sustain our weight loss by remembering that this is a lifestyle of healthy eating.
“Everyone takes a different amount of time to come to that realization. Whenever I am personally faced with a food craving, I think to myself “look how far I’ve come. Do I want to ruin all the hard work and sacrifice now?”
“Your choice to make. I’m just here to help you make the best ones.”
I reread the email three times. He had essentially related to me the Yom Kippur speech I tell my congregants and students (and hopefully myself). The only difference was that he was writing about food, instead of personality defects or foolish habits:
·         The past is the past!
·         You will experience some starting over symptoms, but they will pass!
·         Look how far you’ve come!
·         The choice is yours; I’m only here to help!

The first step to any sustainable change is to visualize the end goal. Stephen Covey calls it “Beginning with the end in mind”. That goal has to carry the person throughout his journey, especially during times when he feels frustrated.
We would be wise to also remember that beginning the journey is itself perhaps the most challenging part of reaching the destination.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
Let’s get moving!

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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

PARSHAS KI SETZEI 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei - Avos perakim 1-2
13 Elul 5778/August 24, 2018

Sometimes it’s the simplest events that leave the greatest impressions. Several summers ago, a camper crossed the line and needed to be disciplined. I was the camper’s division head, but I felt the situation warranted the intervention of someone higher than me in the hierarchy of camp’s administration. I brought the camper to an administrator and recounted the situation.
After the administrator dealt with the situation and the camper walked away, I told the administrator that I was somewhat surprised by his reaction, and the way he handled the situation. I thought he had been too soft.
The administrator looked at me and said, “Dani, I do the best I can with the brain the Aibishter gave me!”
I was very taken by those simple words. They left no room for debate or discussion. He essentially admitted that it may or may not have been the optimal response, but he had done the best he could.
Had he started rationalizing and proving to me why that was the correct response, I may likely have argued the point. But when he put it in such humble terms, how could I argue? In fact, how could anyone argue with someone honestly saying that he had done his best.
I have thought and repeated those words on many occasions and it has given me chizuk.
More than once a mother has consulted with me that she was struggling with feelings of inadequacy as a parent. She felt guilty about everything she did, and was always second guessing herself, and feeling miserable about it. I recounted this story and told her that Hashem demands nothing more of us than that we do our best. Undoubtedly, we must always try to improve and grow. However, if we are generally doing so than we can do no more than trying our best in the situation we find ourselves in.
I feel that this is an important perspective to bear in mind during these weeks of Elul and Tishrei. Often, we feel dejected with ourselves during these weeks. We look at another year that has passed and wonder if we will still be exactly where we are next year as well.
We must always remember that our goal is growth, not perfection! As long as we can honestly state that we are doing the best we can with what the Aibishter has given us, we can feel confident that we are doing our part. There is no doubt that we can, and must, always strive higher. However, we have to appreciate our accomplishments and efforts, as the Aibishter does.
We have a habit of unwittingly downplaying our accomplishments and growth. It is in fact a favorite tactic of our evil inclination, which wants to bring us to despair so that we give up before we even start.
On the one hand, we must never stop aspiring for growth. On the other hand, we must always be realistic about our current spiritual and emotional level and be realistic about what we can expect of ourselves. In that way we will value and appreciate our past accomplishments and will spur us on to continue to climb the rungs the ladder of avodas Hashem.

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

Thursday, August 16, 2018

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim - Avos perek 6

7 Elul 5778/August 17, 2018

 

I have been attending summer camp for almost three decades. I have been a camper, masmid, office boy, junior counselor, counselor, learning rebbe, head waiter, and the division head of almost every age. But I have a confession to make: as a camper I absolutely abhorred color war. I hated the change of schedule, the loud cheering, the unusual splitting of my bunk and the whole camp, having to go to team time to learn and then to sing songs, etc.

But I remember that the last year that I was a camper in Camp Torah Vodaas (of blessed memory), I had a different experience. That summer during color war, I was invited to have a major part in the grand play. I had never acted on stage before, and I was quite skeptical about my acting abilities. (Since then I have acted in numerous plays. That probably would never have happened if Baruch Wein, who wrote our team’s play, didn’t have the confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself.)

Acting in that play made me a sudden celebrity in camp that summer, and gave me a surge of confidence. The following evening, when a few staff members convened to write the alma-mater[1], I joined them. I didn’t think I had any ability to write lyrics. However, when they were stuck on a line I suggested “as I ride the bus staring out the window, tears well up inside my eyes”. The eyes of the person in charge of the song lit up, and he wrote my suggestion down. (That was the beginning of a camp career writing lyrics for songs).

I don’t even remember if my team won color war that that year. But I do remember feeling sad when it ended.

I had always dreaded color war; what had suddenly changed? The obvious answer was that for the first time I had been involved in color war. It wasn’t something dictated and imposed upon me, but something I had invested in and contributed to. That was why, despite the tremendous exertion and effort it entailed, I enjoyed the experience and didn’t want it to end.

Now that the month of Elul has begun, we are all anticipating the imminence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many dread the experience of reciting long, unfamiliar tefilos and having to contend with so many halachos, and introspection. How can one not only not dread these days, but even excitedly anticipate the exquisiteness of these lofty days?

One possibility is that it depends whether we are passive or active towards these days. If the tefilos and laws are imposed upon us, then we see it as a necessary inconvenience that we have to survive. However, if we are proactive and prepare ourselves somewhat for the coming days - by learning the halachos, studying some of the meaning and depth of the tefilos, it can become an enjoyable, inspiring, and uplifting experience. We can actually feel excited for the Yomim Noraim, despite the challenges it brings.

If we “step into the Yom Tov” and build up excitement for the opportunity that it presents, we will look forward to it.[2]

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum      



[1] the alma-mater song is sung during the grand sing - the crescendo of color war and the summer season
[2] This is part of the first lecture I was privileged to present in Yeshiva Heichal HaTorah, September 19,2017/28 Elul 5777

Friday, August 10, 2018

PARSHAS RE’EH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Re’eh
Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Elul - Avos perek 5
29 Av 5778/August 10, 2018

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I attended three weddings. Thankfully, they were all within a half hour of each other. Each was special and wonderful, but it was a long and draining day.
The last wedding was held in a shul in Bergenfield, NJ. Before I left, I walked into a side Bais Medrash. At first I thought there was no one there, but then I noticed a teenage boy bent over a Sefer in the front. I was there for about ten minutes, and he didn’t look up once. I don’t know who he is, but he inspired me. A wedding was going on in the building, people occasionally walked in and out of the Bais Medrash, and yet that young man clad in a tee shirt and sports pants was completely immersed in his learning, oblivious to anything else going on around him.
A couple of days later, I was driving with one of my sons on a very hot day. We drove passed a yeshiva bochur walking uphill, clad in his hat and jacket clutching a Gemara in hand. It’s not an unusual sight in Monsey, but at that moment it inspired me. I remarked to my son how beautiful it was to see a young man whose life revolves around the Gemara in his hand hurrying to learn Torah on a hot day.
When I walked into the pizza shop not too long ago, I noticed two high school girls holding bentchers and reciting beracha acharona meticulously. It was a chizuk to me about the importance of reciting berachos carefully even in a public and somewhat harried setting.
In Camp Dora Golding each summer, the season begins with two days of staff orientation. During his address to the staff during orientation this year, camp’s learning director, Rabbi Noach Sauber, asked the staff how many people were hired to be learning rabbeim. As can be expected, only a few hands went up.
Rabbi Sauber then looked around the room and announced that, whether they were informed of it or not, in fact every single staff member who came to camp to work in whatever position that summer was also hired as a rebbe.
Why was that true? Because, no matter what one’s position is in camp, inevitably there are campers who are going to be looking up to him and emulating him. There are campers who dream not only of one day being a counselor, but also of running the canteen, overseeing maintenance, writing and acting in plays, painting banners, or being in charge of the go-carts or zip-line. If someone is being looked up to, he has an obligation to strive to be a proper role model.
I remember once reading about a celebrated and famous athlete who was found to be involved in unethical and illegal behavior. When asked how he could act in such a manner when kids looked up to him, his inane reply was that he never asked to become a role model.
If people look up to someone, he has a responsibility to do his utmost to try to inspire. It is irrelevant whether he wanted that role or not.
The truth is that every one of us is a role model. We can never know how we impact others, and we usually are never aware how much an act or word we did or said affected another. 
The reality is that we learn from, and influence our surroundings, for good or for better.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l noted that it is for that reason that we pray each morning (just prior to Shema) - “Our Father, the merciful Father... place in our heart understanding to learn and to teach, to guard and to do and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah with love.”
How can we ask Hashem that we merit to teach with love when most of us aren’t teachers? The obvious answer is that we all do teach - whether we mean to or not, and whether we like it or not.
If a person is particular to guard himself from loshon hora, or to not speak during davening, etc. not only will he spiritually elevate himself, but he has also become a rebbe for others in ways he may never realize.
The frightening part is that the opposite is true as well.
As the month of Elul begins we seek to grow spiritually and become even greater than we already are. We do so not only for ourselves but also to inspire others to come closer to their living Father in Heaven.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

PARSHAS EIKEV 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev
Mevorchim Chodesh Elul - Avos perek 4
22 Av 5778/August 3, 2018

I wonder if others have had this experience too.
Before Tisha B’av I was listening to a lecture about the importance of being nosei b’ol im chaveiro (sharing the burden with one’s friend). Essentially, it refers to our obligation to empathize with the plight of others. In some instances, it motivates us to do all we can to help alleviate the pain of others, while in other situations it at least ensures that those going through challenges don’t feel alone, but that there are those who care about their plight. 
But, it goes beyond even that. On a metaphysical level, our feeling and sharing the pain of others demonstrates to Hashem that we care about our brethren, an important key to bringing about the future redemption.
The renowned speaker shared some incredible anecdotes which demonstrate the unparalleled love and care that great Torah leaders have even for strangers, including that a Gadol couldn’t sleep or eat normally because he was so disturbed by the pain of others.
But the strange thing was, the more I listened to those stories the more deflated I felt. Instead of being inspired, I felt dejected. I have a hard enough time balancing all of the responsibilities in my own life. Am I obligated to strive to fully internalize the pain of others? If I am, how can I ever be happy and dance at a wedding or appreciate a sunny day, when there is so much suffering and sadness in this world?
I reminded myself of a conversation I had with our family’s rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes. Rabbi Schabes is not just a scholar and Rabbi of note, but also a selfless person who gives freely of his time for the needs of Klal Yisroel, well beyond those of his own kehilla. I am constantly astounded when I hear from numerous friends and acquaintances that when there were communal issues or personal struggles they turned to Rabbi Schabes for advice, even though he is not their “rabbi”. I cannot understand where he has the time in his day for his kehilla, the multitudes of others who seek his counsel, and to prepare and give derashos and shiurim.
Throughout the years, whenever we have met privately with Rabbi Schabes to consult with him about various family matters, he always gives us his full attention, as if nothing else was going on. The only interruption is from the incessant buzzing of his phone which indicates that there is plenty of other matters vying for his attention beyond our meeting.
I once asked Rabbi Schabes how he is able to deal with all of the painful stories he hears on a constant basis. How does he always exude so much simcha despite all the tragedies he is privy to?
He replied that when one hears painful news, and surely when one is listening to another relate a personally painful experiences, at that time he is obligated to try to be nosei b’ol and empathize with true care. Then when he davens, he should include heartfelt prayers on behalf of the suffering person and his situation. But beyond that, one must live his own life, and cannot allow himself to be overwhelmed by the suffering of others.
(Of course, that doesn’t include doing what one can on behalf of the person. This only refers to one’s emotional investment. Rabbi Schabes noted that he believes he heard this perspective in the name of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer zt’l.)
When my rebbe related to me this idea, I was very moved. I suggested that it’s a mitzva to publicize it to others in order to alleviate the needless guilt many of us feel that we are not nosei b’ol. He nodded affirmatively.
It is no small order to truly empathize with another when he is sharing his pain and you have other things to do. Nor is it easy to remember his plight when you are davening, to add tefillos on his behalf. But if one has done so he has fulfilled his obligation to be nosei b’ol. At that point he should strive to be b’simcha with the feeling of the words we say in bentching - “And for all Hashem, our G-d, we thank You and bless You.”

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/NACHAMU 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan
Shabbas Nachamu – Avos perek 3
15 Av 5778/July 28, 2018

During one of Abbot and Costello’s famous comic routines, Lou Costello was on trial in court. At one point he made a disrespectful remark towards the judge. The judge reprimanded him and said, “you can’t speak to me that way young man! Why, I’ve been sitting on this bench for twenty years!” Costello immediately snapped back, “naturally lazy, aren’t ya!”
A few weeks ago, at the end of June I stepped down from my position as Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead. In my final sermon in the capacity of Rabbi I related the above anecdote. I continued that I had been standing at that pulpit for eleven wonderful years, but it was definitely not out of laziness.
Over the years, I had shared many Torah thoughts, celebrated many wonderful occasions, including many of our own familial milestones, introduced some well-known Jewish personalities who spoke in the shul, and developed very strong and personal connections. On occasion, I had been tasked to deliver eulogies, some for dear friends. That is of the most difficult components of being a Rabbi.
Stepping down was a very grueling and difficult decision, but based on various personal factors, we decided that the time had come to move on. The fact that the shul has a scholar of the caliber of my dear friend Rabbi Shimon Kerner, who immediately assumed the role as Rabbi, mitigated the difficulty of my departure, albeit only somewhat.
An educator once told me that the greatest mashgiach (spiritual supervisor) for a rebbe is his talmidim. The fact that the rebbe knows that his students are looking up to him, and that he serves as an example for them, compels him to act the part, even if he would not otherwise do so.
What’s more, a rebbe/Rav is blessed with insights and greater Torah understanding in the merit of his students and congregants. Conveying a thought forces the presenter to crystallize the subject matter in his mind and ensure that he has clarity about the matter before he seeks to convey it to others.
Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l related that when he became a rebbe and would prepare shiur, in shmone esrei he no longer davened for knowledge only in the beracha for knowledge (atah chonen). He began to also daven for insight and wisdom in the beracha for livelihood (barech aleinu), being that it was now part of his job.
On another level, on numerous occasions I would have an epiphany wherein I would think of an insight to add to my sermon while I was walking to shul on Shabbos morning. When I would share that added perspective or insight in shul, I would relate that I was blessed with the insight in the merit of the tzibbur.
This is of course besides the many insights and thoughts that congregants themselves have shared, as well as intriguing questions they asked which forced me to ponder and understand many topics on a higher and deeper level than I had previously.
In that sense, the ending of my rabbanus in Kehillat New Hempstead means the loss of my “mashgichim”, and losing out on that special level of siyata dishmaya granted to a Rav.
The one thing that will always remain part of me is the feeling of closeness and the wonderful relationships that I, and my family, forged with the membership of mevakshei Hashem (seekers of G-d) who comprise the Shul’s membership. I will always be grateful to Kehillat New Hempstead for accepting me - a then inexperienced novice - to be their rebbe and for placing their confidence in me eleven years ago.
At present, I am unsure where my rabbinical career will lead me, as I explore options. But I do know that Kehillat New Hempstead, and the wonderful relationships we forged during the over a decade that we were part of the shul, will always remain part of us!

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