Thursday, October 25, 2018


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


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


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


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