Thursday, December 13, 2018

PARSHAS VAYIGASH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
6 Teves 5779/December 14, 2018

Gedolei Yisroel often lament that people who request that they daven on their behalf in a challenging situation, never share good news with them when they merit salvation.
Two and a half years ago, when Chani was expecting our twins, there were some serious complications, due to a condition they had called TTTS (Twin to Twin Syndrome). At one point, our doctor in Columbia Hospital, suggested that Chani undergo a “treatment” to alleviate the danger of their condition. However, the doctor cautioned us that the treatment contained risks, including that it might not remedy the situation. He then told us that we had to decide if we wanted to proceed with it or not.
The doctor led us to a conference room and told us we had 15 minutes to decide. It was of the most frightening moments of our lives. We had to make a decision that would impact the lives of our unborn twins within fifteen minutes. How in the world were we to know what to do?
I immediately called our rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, who has always been there for us. But as it was the morning, he was saying shiur and his phone was off.
I made a few phone calls and got the number of a respected Rosh Yeshiva to seek his advice. The Rosh Yeshiva’s secretary took down the information and conveyed it to the Rosh Yeshiva while I was holding on the line. A few minutes later she returned and replied that the Rosh Yeshiva wrote down Chani’s name and would daven for her, he wasn’t familiar enough with the condition or the procedure to offer any guidance.
We grew more desperate as the clock continued ticking. I then remembered that I had the number of Rabbi Dovid Cohen, a renown Gadol and halachic Posek from Flatbush.
When I called his home, his wife answered and informed me that the Rav was unavailable at that time. When I told her it was an urgent life and death matter she immediately put him on the phone.
Rabbi Cohen doesn’t know me at all. He is also extremely busy and spends hours each night fielding complicated halachic questions and giving advice and guidance. Yet he listened patiently to all the details and asked questions for clarity. When he had all the information, he replied that he doesn’t know much about the condition, but he felt that if the doctor feels we should proceed with the treatment, that’s what we should do.
We thanked him profusely for his time and caring ear. A minute after I hung up, Rabbi Schabes called back. When I informed him about what was happening, and about Rabbi Cohen’s suggestion, he concurred and urged us to proceed.
I told Chani then that no matter what would happen, we could never blame ourselves. We had sought the doctor’s advice and that of da’as Torah, and there was nothing more we could do. Now it was in the Hands of Hashem.
Baruch HaShem, the treatment was a success. However, for the duration of the pregnancy there were numerous concerns and tremendous anxiety.
When the babies were born healthy on Friday afternoon, September 9, 2017, it was a tremendous Simcha. I rushed home from the hospital shortly after the birth to be with the rest of our family for Shabbos and to host the shalom zachor. My mother-in-law graciously remained in the hospital with Chani on Shabbos.
On Motzei Shabbos, I returned to the hospital, and for the first time enjoyed holding the twins and allowing the realization of the incredible blessings we were granted to sink in.
While holding one of the twins I decided to call Rabbi Dovid Cohen to thank him for his time and guidance a few months earlier. When the Rebbitzin answered and I told her why I was calling she was so appreciative. After blessing the newborns and our family, she gave the phone to her husband. Rabbi Cohen admitted that he did not recall the conversation, but he too was deeply appreciative of my phone-call and shared his excitement for us as well as his blessing.
I have to say that it was a great feeling for me that I was able to share the good news and to convey to Rabbi and Rebbitzin Cohen their part in it.
If gratitude is so important and healthy for our emotional well-being, why is it so hard to express gratitude?
By nature, we are mostly reactive to life and the things that transpire. We are born selfish beings, with an innate sense of entitlement. To be grateful requires reflection and thought. One needs to be somewhat proactive to be thankful, and to express those feelings with those to whom he is thankful.
Life moves so quickly, and we get bogged down by daily responsibilities. If one wants to live beyond self, it entails time for reflection, a commodity that is rare in today’s day and age.
Another challenge to gratitude is that we tend to take things for granted, especially of the people who matter the most to us and are closest to us.
Former President George Bush, who just died last week, had a beautiful habit of leaving notes of gratitude wherever he went.
On one occasion he used a classroom in a school in Rochester as a temporary makeshift office. When the teacher returned to her classroom after the president left, she found a personal handwritten thank-you note written in chalk on her chalkboard from President Bush. The school kept that board with the message on it when they switched to whiteboards a few years ago.
Little thank-you notes left conspicuously are a wonderful way to express gratitude for things/people we often take for granted.
We are the greatest beneficiaries of being grateful, but to do so we must resist our nature to be self-absorbed and to have a sense of entitlement.
It begins by recognizing and appreciating the gifts of life!

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Parshas Miketz Shabbos Chanukah- Rosh Chodesh Teves


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Miketz
Shabbos Chanukah- Rosh Chodesh Teves  
29 Kislev 5779/December 7, 2018

Last week, I had the pleasure of spending Shabbos in Chicago. I was invited to deliver a parenting lecture on Motzei Shabbos for the Associated Talmud Torahs (ATT), and in order to do so I had to be there before Shabbos.
My children didn’t understand why, if I was taking a two-hour flight during the winter, was I going west and not south?
As I drove out of the car rental garage at O’Hare airport, I was listening to a meteorologist and a sportscaster discussing the upcoming weekend weather. The meteorologist related that Chicago would be hit with a soaking rainstorm on Saturday. The sportscaster then asked what the weather would be like for the Chicago Bears game when they played against the New York Giants in New York on Sunday. The meteorologist replied that the storm that was to hit Chicago on Saturday was heading eastward and would affect the New York area on Sunday.
I enjoyed a beautiful Shabbos in Chicago, though there were indeed heavy downpours throughout Shabbos. When I arrived back in New York on Sunday, I was greeted by rain, which I knew was from the same weather system I had seen the day before in Chicago.
I am always fascinated by airplanes and by flying. It is amazing to me that within seconds after takeoff the solid ground suddenly becomes a shrinking vista as the plane ascends. 
On Sunday morning as we flew above the clouds, beautiful sunshine reflected off the clouds beneath us. Then, as soon as we began descending into New York, the gray dreary rain was back, completely concealing the resplendent sunshine above.
There are people who seem to carry ‘storms’ with them. They are walking emotional tempests, who spread melancholy and gloom wherever they go. They spend most of their time complaining and grumbling about everything from politics, to finances, to their kids and spouses, to rabbis and institutions.
But then there are others who seem to radiate happiness and emotional sunshine wherever they go. No matter what is happening around them or what personal challenges they are enduring at that juncture of their lives, they seem to always be smiling and upbeat. These are the great people who live above the clouds. They see life, not only as it is in the moment, but from a broader perspective, which includes that life is a growth process with purpose and direction.
Most of us probably don’t totally fall into either category, but somewhere in between. We have our days when we feel completely overwhelmed and defeated. The storms above us infiltrate our psyche and we become morose and negative. 
Thankfully, we also have days when we feel so focused that even the greatest challenges don’t seem to deter us.
The good news is that we can constantly grow and don’t have to submit ourselves to the mood we are feeling at any given time. We have the ability to force sunshine through our personal clouds. But we have to be willing to work for it, and not resign ourselves to the exterior events taking place around us. It requires a great deal of reflection and motivation to maintain a positive demeanor on the darkest days.
The beauty of Chanukah is that it is a celebration of small lights that shine in utter darkness. All other holidays of the year transport us into a different realm - a world of that holiday when our entire conduct and schedule changes. But on Chanukah, for the most part life goes on as normal. Yet, the days of Chanukah aren’t just “normal” days. We recite Hallel, focus on gratitude, and light the menorah, creating rays of sunshine in our otherwise mundane existence. 
That is the light of Chanukah. Its ethereal glow is meant to last with us well beyond the eight-day holiday.

            Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom
Chag Urim Sameiach & Lichtigeh Chanukah
R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Thursday, November 29, 2018

PARSHAS VAYESHEV/CHANUKAH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev
22 Kislev 5779/November 29, 2018

For almost a decade I had the great privilege of being the Guidance Counselor in Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch. On one occasion, I was conversing with the yeshiva’s executive director, Mr. Yehuda Avrohom Most. I mentioned to Mr. Most that I was impressed with a particular speaker who was always careful to check the veracity of his stories before he related them publicly. Mr. Most replied that while it’s true that that speaker always researches his stories, the way he says them over may not necessarily be the way the stories actually happened.
As an example, he began relating to me a personal anecdote. On one occasion he was flying somewhere first class and seated next to him was the New York Yankees legendary slugger Mickey Mantle. My jaw dropped, “You at next to the Mick? Did you say anything to him?” Mr. Most nodded, “I asked him to pass me the magazine that was in front of the seat next to him, which he did.”
I couldn’t believe it, “That’s it? You didn’t ask him for his autograph or anything more?” Mr. Most looked at me sharply, “Listen, I met Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l and I met Rav Aaron Schechter shlita. Those are great people. Mickey Mantle didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t care for his autograph or to speak to him.”
That was the story. Mr. Most continued, “I related that experience to a friend of mine who is a public speaker. Sometime afterwards he repeated the story, telling everyone that I had been on a plane seated next to Mickey Mantle but I held myself back from asking him for his autograph because, after having met Rav Moshe and Rav Aharon, I didn’t want to display any honor towards him. Technically, it’s a true story. But that’s not the way it happened. I didn’t hold myself back; I frankly didn’t care at all. Mickey Mantle didn’t excite me in the least bit.”
It’s a great insight. A story can be true in the sense that all the details are technically factual. Yet the way it’s conveyed may not be the way it happened. It can be overly dramatized, and certain parts can be exaggerated or emphasized though when it occurred that wasn’t at all the intent.
In the aforementioned story, the twist is innocuous. But at times the way a story is twisted can completely distort the facts.
Perhaps there is no starker example of this than the holiday of Chanukah. There is no other holiday whose meaning and significance has been so tragically misunderstood. Chanukah is sometimes touted as a seasonal holiday, that has the least bit of connection to the Christian holiday that happens to take place within a few weeks of Chanukah. Chanukah is also often portrayed as a celebration of the underdog beating the odds. We love the stories of the peasant girl being chosen to marry the prince, the unlikely athlete with the prosthetic leg winning the gold in the Olympics, and the failing student becoming the class valedictorian.
Those who view Chanukah in that manner cheapen it to a Hollywood classic. While the details are true, and it was indeed an unlikely victory of the few against the many, that is a gross misunderstanding of the true greatness of what occurred.
Chanukah is the celebration of those who refused to allow their observance to become tainted with outside influences. It is the story of those who were ready to die for the right to maintain their religious beliefs. It’s about those who subjugated themselves to a higher authority and refused to submit to many of their brethren who couldn’t comprehend their obstinacy.
It’s the perpetuation and celebration of the Chanukah story that ensures we maintain our commitments to Torah even in America 2018.
It’s what compels a group of observant Jews to become emotional and excited when trapped on an ElAl flight with the prospect of Shabbos desecration looming. (Yet, despite being repeatedly lied to, they didn’t behave inappropriately at all. Reports that they acted violently was a blatant lie.) They don’t have the choice to relent on their religious obligations so that their non-religious brethren aboard the flight not lose out on their weekend plans by flying directly to Israel. Shabbos is a mandate from on high and it is not within their rights to tamper with it, ever.
Unlike every other holiday, the story of Chanukah does not have an official text which we are obligated to read during the holiday. That is part of the reason why the holiday is so misunderstood. But the essence of the holiday is the celebration of unbroken tradition, and therefore it must transcend text.
It is incumbent upon us to remember the true story of Chanukah, to celebrate it joyfully, and to internalize it, and convey it wistfully to our children. The Chanukah lights contain the secret to our eternity - our refusal to capitulate and to remain loyal to Hashem and His Torah. It’s an eight-day holiday of thanksgiving where we thank G-d for all He bestows upon us. But above all, for the opportunity to be the torch-bearers of His holy Torah.
All the other beautiful aspects of Chanukah - dreidels, presents, gelt, latkes, and donuts - are all merely gift wrapping.

            Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom
Chag Urim Sameiach & Lichtigeh Chanukah
R’ Dani and Chani Staum  

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

PARSHAS VAYISHLACH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayishlach
15 Kislev 5779/November 23, 2018

Check your pockets; if you purchased a lottery ticket a few weeks ago, you may have the winning ticket. As of this writing, the $1.5 billion mega millions jackpot has still not been claimed.
The winner, who beat the odds of 1 in 302 million, has 180 days to collect before the ticket expires. In 2015, a California Powerball winner lost his ticket and his $1 million prize. Despite the fact that surveillance footage showed him making the purchase, because he lost the actual ticket, he couldn’t collect his winnings. Last year, Jimmie Smith of East Orange, New Jersey, found a lottery ticket worth $24 million in an old shirt hanging in his closet just before the one-year deadline.
A few weeks ago, everyone was buzzing about the lottery. It was the one question everyone seemed to be asking – “did you buy a lottery ticket?” Many of my students in both yeshivos that I work in asked me the question. They were surprised when I told them that, even if I bought lottery tickets, I wouldn’t have now because it’s too much money to win.  
Many people feel that they would know exactly what to do if they won the lottery. The many stories of lives destroyed by sudden windfalls notwithstanding, they feel that they would know how to proceed.
In a 2010 article, CNN reported that a British privacy protection firm reported that only one in five Londoners would try to track down the owner of a lost wallet that they found on the street. When asked three fifths of people said they would do so, but when researches dropped wallets in different areas, they found that the overwhelming majority of people did not do so. Only 20 percent of wallets were retuned, and only 55 percent on those returned contained the original sum of money.
The great Chassidic rebbe, Rav Chaim Sanzer, once turned to three of his chassidim who were sitting together. He asked the first one what he would do if he found a wallet that had in it a tremendous amount of money. The chossid immediately replied that he would return it without hesitation. The rebbe waved him off, “Fool!” He then turned to the second chossid and repeated the question. Seeing the rebbe’s response to his friend, the second chossid replied that he would keep the money. The rebbe’s voice thundred, “thief!” Then he turned to the third chossid and repeated the question. The chossid nervously replied, “Rebbe, I would hope that I would have the inner strength to return the money!” The rebbe nodded approvingly. That was the correct response.
We are very confident and perhaps even cocky that, placed in a challenging situation, we would unquestionably maintain our integrity and respond according to our convictions. But a person needs to always be aware of his inclinations. One must constantly worry that perhaps he has not sufficiently developed his sense of integrity and his moral compass to ensure that he would follow his own values even in a compromising situation.  
The truth is that it’s not just about money and winning the lottery. In the July 2017 edition of the Atlantic there was an article published entitled, “Power causes Brain Damage.” The article quotes recent research that demonstrates how the brains of people put into powerful positions actually change. Most significantly, they become less empathic and tend to treat their subordinates with more disregard.  
That only further demonstrates to us the incredible greatness of our Torah leaders. It’s not just that they are humble and the epitome of love, empathy, and caring. It’s also that they reach such levels despite the fact that they are accorded so much honor and deference. That humility is what makes them into a Gadol.
For all of us it is a humbling message that we must always be wary of the effect that all promotions and growth can have on us if we aren’t careful. There are indeed individuals who have become rich and famous who have not allowed their newfound wealth and position to severely alter their personalities. But unfortunately, there are many who did.
Mesillas Yesharim cautions us that everything in life is a test – poverty and wealth. The question always is – what did you do with it?

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

Thursday, November 15, 2018

PARSHAS VAYTZEI 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayetzei
8 Kislev 5779/November 16, 2018

October 26-27 a few weeks ago, was the week of the Shabbat project, when Jews of all affiliations and backgrounds throughout the world were uniting in observing Shabbos.
It has become in vogue at the end of Shabbatons to have a Carlebach style havdala. Before beginning havdala, with the lights off and the glow of the havdala candle reflecting on everyone’s faces, the leader relates a story/poignant thought while strumming gently on his guitar. Then havdala is sung melodiously to very moving tunes.
On that Friday afternoon, I was driving home from Teaneck in the early afternoon. My phone was almost dead, lingering at about 3% in low battery mode.
I received a text from a good friend who lives in Las Vegas. He was going to be leading such a havdala and asked if I had any thoughts that he could share.
I thought for a moment and then replied that after a few strums on the guitar he should ask the assemblage what was the first commandment that G-d gave to Adam in Gan Eden. Undoubtedly someone would answer that it was that Adam not partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. He should then reply that the Meshech Chochma notes that actually the first command was that he eat from all the other fruits in the garden. Only after telling Adam to enjoy the fruits of the garden, did He then add the warning that Adam not eat from the forbidden fruit.
The lesson is that living according to the mandates of G-d is not to confine and restrict, but to ensure that we live an elite connected life within the confines of biblical morality.
I continued that some people view Shabbos as a restrictive day - a day of don’t do this and don’t do that. But that is a very poor understanding of what Shabbos is about.
Imagine an NFL rookie about to play in the Super Bowl. There isn’t an open seat in the stadium, the crowds are screaming and waving. They announce his name and he runs out onto the field high-fiving his teammates as the crowd erupts in raucous cheering.
This is what he has dreamed about since he was a little boy. This is what kept him going when things were really tough. This is his dream come true.
Someone asks him at that moment why he’s so excited when the whole thing seems so overbearing. He has to wear a certain uniform and can’t choose his own clothes. He can’t use his cell phone during the game, and in fact can’t do anything except focus on the game. He can’t go buy a sandwich or get a drink from across the street; he can only drink what’s provided for him on the field. He has to listen to the instruction of the quarterback and the coach, and he has to go out there and work hard. It seems to be worse than prison.
The player will look at the questioner like he fell off the moon. Yes, he can’t do any of those things. But that’s all part of the glory of having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Not only are those things not restrictive, they are part of the excitement of playing in the big game.
Shabbos observance indeed entails maintaining numerous restrictions. However, one who appreciates the essence of Shabbos, recognizes that the prohibitions of Shabbos are a vital component for our ability to gain from the greatness of Shabbos.
Throughout the week we are busy living outside of ourselves, trying to do our part to improve the world and our own lives. On Shabbos however, we turn inwards. It is a one-day honeymoon with our souls when we focus on what is really important in life. To be able to accomplish that we need to shut ourselves out from the outside world. That is accomplished by adhering to the prohibitions of Shabbos.
Immediately after sending that idea in a voice note to my friend, my phone died.
When I arrived home and plugged my phone in, I saw that he asked me to elaborate on what the connection was to havdala.
I replied that after we have spent a full day enjoying and celebrating what is really important in life, then we are ready to venture back out into the world with renewed spiritual strength. It’s kind of like plugging in a phone at the end of the day. After a few hours it’s charged and able to fulfill all of its functions for the new day. Shabbos is our souls plug that charges us up for the week.
After I sent that reply, I took my almost dead phone and that’s exactly what I did.

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

Thursday, November 8, 2018

PARSHAS TOLDOS 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Toldos – Rosh Chodesh Kislev
1 Kislev 5779/November 9, 2018

Last week I had two packages to send out. One was a bar mitzvah gift of a friend’s son; the other was a thank you gift for a person who gave of his time to help me with something. I didn’t want to just send generic messages, so I spent time composing a personal message on each card.
After I sent the thank you gift I came home and found the card I had written for it. I realized that with the thank you gift was the mazal tov card for the bar mitzvah.
I remember that shortly after his bar mitzvah a friend of mine showed me a set of chumashim he had received as a gift from a classmate. Inside the Chumash was a card wishing Mazal Tov to the friend who had given him the set.
It’s always nice to receive a gift, but a personalized note makes it that much more meaningful.
As educators, whenever Chani and I receive a gift from a student with personalized notes attached, we are more moved by the card (which we often save) than the gift itself (though the gifts are of course appreciated too).
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l noted that the goal of tefila is not just to recite the words of the siddur. The goal is to daven in our own words, to open our hearts and express our feelings, worries, and hopes to Hashem.
The problem is that we don’t really feel like we are talking to anyone when we are davening. Rav Pinkus quips that a person only needs a siddur when he’s talking to the wall!
He surely didn’t mean to undermine the value and importance of reciting the holy and ancient words of the siddur. But his point was that tefila must go beyond the printed word. It must include the unbridled feelings of the heart and soul. 
Most women in pre-war Europe were illiterate and didn’t know how to read the siddur. But oh, how they davened. Throughout their day they would constantly speak to Hashem, imploring Him for guidance, insight, direction, hope, blessing, and health. That is the ultimate goal of tefillah – to connect on a personal level with Hashem.
When we just read the words of the siddur, we have unquestionably discharged our obligation to daven and have accomplished a great thing. However, doing so has not achieved the ultimate benefit of prayer. That is only achieved when it is personalized and presented with emotion and feeling, when our true inner self is presented before G-d.
The Chofetz Chaim writes (Likkutei Amarim): “One should not be satisfied with the three Shemoneh Esreis that he prays each day. Rather, on a few occasions during his day, when he is alone at home, he should express prayers and supplications from the depths of his heart. The words of the three prayers are familiar to him, and therefore he doesn’t pay close attention to them. However, when one contemplates his responsibilities, and stresses, and recognizes his vulnerability and helplessness, then his heart will overflow like water before Hashem Yisborach. Such a prayer is expressed with great intent, humility, and sincerity, and surely will not go unanswered.”   
G-d does not need our prayers, yet He cherishes them and hears them. But more profoundly, our prayers elevate us and allow us to live a life of connection with the ultimate Truth!

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

Thursday, November 1, 2018

PARSHAS CHAYEI SARAH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Chayei Sarah
24 Cheshvan 5779/November 2, 2018
Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev

Last year on December 25, 2017, Heichal HaTorah hosted a grandfather-grandson morning of Torah learning. It was beautiful and touching to see grandfathers sitting next to their grandsons learning together.
On that morning, I was about to begin my shiur by saying how touched I was by the event, and that I would give anything to have the opportunity to spend a morning learning with either of my grandfathers. Just before I began, Rabbi Mitch Bomrind, grandfather of my student, Elazar Milstein, said to me, “You know I learned with your Zaydei! He was a very special person!” I was very moved by that statement, and it threw me off for a few moments.
My Zaydei, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, was indeed a great talmid chochom and a beloved personality. He remains one of my greatest influences and inspirations, almost three decades after his passing. 
The following week, Rabbi Bomrind texted me that he had a great story about my Zaydei to share. I called him, and he related the following:
“In the early 80s, I was at a dinner for Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim. Your grandfather was the emcee and he was sitting next to the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, in what may have been the last dinner the aging Rosh Yeshiva was healthy enough to attend.
“The executive director, Rabbi Eidelman, approached the Rosh Yeshiva and mentioned that they had a dilemma- the honoree was a wealthy fellow named Daniel Potkerow. He owned a hosiery store on Orchard Street and was very successful. Although he donated money to the Yeshiva, there were two other donors who had pledged twice the amount of money to the Yeshiva. It would look funny for the Yeshiva if there were two people who gave double the amount that the honoree gave.
“Your grandfather immediately turned to the Rosh Yeshiva and asked for permission to rectify the situation. The Rosh Yeshiva told Rabbi Eidelman to leave it to Rabbi Kohn.
“Your grandfather walked to the podium and related the story at the end of Yevamos (121a): “Rabbi Gamliel said- I was once traveling on a boat and from a distance saw a boat that shattered and sank. I was grieved over the apparent death of the Torah scholar who was on board. Who was it? Rabbi Akiva. But when I disembarked on dry land, he (Rabbi Akiva) came, and sat, and deliberated before me about halacha. I said to him “my son, who brought you up from the water?” He replied to me: דף של ספינה נזדמן לי וכל גל וגל שבא עלי נענעתי לו ראשי - A plank from the boat came to me, and when each and every wave came before me, I bent my head before it. (Thus, the waves didn’t wash him off the board, and he was able to ride the waves until he reached shore).
Your grandfather continued, “The word דף (which Rabbi Akiva held onto) is an acronym for דניאל פאטקרוו. Whenever the Yeshiva has been a dire situation, whenever the waves and challenges have threatened to wash the Yeshiva out, that דף has come to its rescue. The Yeshiva has been able to count on and hold onto its דף and that is how it has been able to endure.”
“Mr. Potkerow was so moved and enamored by your grandfather’s witty presentation, that he immediately tripled his original pledge, which of course solved the problem.”
Rabbi Bomrind then added-
I had the privilege to learn with him on numerous occasions when I was a Rav on the East Side. He had Shas on the back of his hand. But what was more, I learned from him how to deal with people!
This Sunday, 27 Cheshvan, is my Zaydei’s yahrtzeit R’ Yaakov Meir ben R’ Yosef Yitzchok.  May his neshama have an Aliyah!

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

PARSHAS VAYERA 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 Cheshvan 5779/October 26, 2018

On Yom Kippur a few weeks ago, all day long I couldn’t stop thinking about Titus. That may sound strange, being that Titus is one of the infamous villains recounted on Tisha B’av. He was the commanding Roman general who oversaw the destruction of Yerushalayim and the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 c.e.
Upon his return to Rome he boasted that he had overpowered, not only the Jewish people, but their G-d as well. He blasphemed that the Jewish G-d only has power over the waters (as can be seen from historical evets – flood, splitting of the sea, etc.), but is powerless on dry land. Shortly thereafter a gnat flew into his nostril and made its way into his brain.
For the next seven years it ceaselessly pecked away inside his head, causing him incredible pain. The only respite he had was when a blacksmith was banging nearby. The gnat became intrigued by the noise and temporarily stopped pecking. But eventually it grew accustomed to that noise too and resumed pecking until it ultimately killed Titus.
Apparently, G-d’s abilities extend to dry land as well.
So why was I thinking about Titus on Yom Kippur?
As I have for more than the last decade, this year I had the pleasure of davening for the amud at Kehillat New Hempstead on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. When I arrived there on Yom Kippur morning, the building’s alarm was beeping incessantly, and continued doing so throughout the holy day. Although others said that after a while the noise didn’t bother them, I am particularly sensitive, and it exacerbated my usual Yom Kippur afternoon headache.
In retrospect there is a great lesson to be gleaned from the experience. We would like to serve Hashem with a clear mind, when we feel relaxed and calm. In fact, to some degree we expect that when we try to do what is right, G-d should ensure that life is smooth and easy. After all, if we are trying to do His Will, shouldn’t He at least make it convenient to do so?!
But the reality is not that way. When Hashem initially instructed Avrohom to set out and leave behind his family and everything familiar, things weren’t easy for Avrohom. In fact, the challenges seem to only increase in intensity. But it was those challenges that propelled Avrohom to levels of unparalleled greatness, worthy of being the progenitor of the eternal people.
The challenge of life and the road to greatness is paved with struggle and the incessant and often maddening ‘beepings’ of life.
But perhaps there is an additional lesson that is more endemic to our times:
On the third day after his circumcision, G-d Himself visited the ailing Avrohom, as it were. In the midst of their “conversation”, Avrohom noticed three bedouins traveling in the distance. He immediately interrupted his “meeting” with G-d to invite the guests to his home.
The commentators note that Avrohom’s actions demonstrate that it is greater to emulate G-d than it is to speak with G-d. Fulfilling the mitzvah of chesed was even greater than receiving prophecy from the Almighty.
Maybe that’s why there are people who don’t think twice about taking out their phones during davening. With our phones we can instantly be in touch with anyone anywhere in the world. Until a few years ago that was something only G-d Himself could do.
When people text or scroll through messages during davening they may feel they are imitating G-d which - as Avrohom Avinu taught us - is greater than speaking to Him.
Beyond my facetiousness, it’s probably more habit, desensitization, and lack of thinking that causes people to be busy with their phones in middle of davening. If anyone really stopped to think about it, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t agree that it’s disrespectful and inappropriate. No one means to be disrespectful, but we need to realize the truth.
In our lives in order to engage in the important things in life - spending time with our spouses and children, doing our jobs, and of course serving our Creator - we need to be able to ignore the “ringing” that surrounds us. We have to be able to not engage every buzz and ring that we hear or feel. This is not only true during davening, but whenever we need to invest our attention elsewhere.
Titus was destroyed because he couldn’t control the incessant noise in his head. We should make sure the same doesn’t happen to us.

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

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