Wednesday, March 20, 2019

PURIM/SHUSHAN PURIM PARSHAS TZAV 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Shushan Purim
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav
15 Adar II 5779/March 22, 2019

Everyone wants to know the secret to wisdom. I can’t share it with you, because then it wouldn’t be a secret any more. (To be fair, that statement isn’t necessarily true. Everyone wants to know the secret to wealth. Only some people want to know the secret to wisdom...)
Our sages tell us that a wise person is one who contemplates the ramifications of his actions. He doesn’t just look at the here and now, but he thinks through the long-term effects of his decisions before proceeding.
I think about this often during my morning commute to Teaneck. Although from Monsey to Teaneck, the most direct route is with the Garden State Parkway to Route 17 to Route 4, during the morning there is often building residual traffic from the George Washington Bridge on Route 4 that would cost a few extra minutes. Therefore, most mornings I come with the Palisades Parkway. Doing so means driving past Teaneck all the way to the George Washington Bridge, before getting onto Route 4 and traveling west for a few miles.
Just before the GWB, the road splits. For a few feet the lanes run parallel, but then the lane to the right lead to the tolls, after which the road leads directly onto the bridge. To the left the road continues back into New Jersey.
It’s striking that the sudden split in the road leads to two different worlds. One leads into Manhattan - skyline, congestion, city traffic, and all, while the other leads back into rural New Jersey.
Throughout sefer Mishlei, Shlomo Hamelech contrasts the fool with the wise man. According to the wisest of men, the fool doesn’t refer to one with limited intellectual capacities, but rather one who doesn’t think through the consequences of his actions. The fool lives in the moment, driven by the now, and doesn’t contemplate the long-term ramifications of his actions. A wise person on the other hand, weighs his options and proceeds with caution, making a calculated decision that he feels is his best recourse in the moment and for the foreseeable future.
The Purim story contains the story of a fool and a wise man. The fool is Achashveirosh, a man driven by lust, temper, paranoia, and ego. In a fit of rage, he executes his wife, and at a later point his highest-ranking minister. He agrees to genocide of a nation of loyal tax payers because of deep enmity. Then he makes an about-face and humiliates his prime minister, forcing him to lead his archenemy on a massive parade through the streets of the capital. His only credential for queen is exterior beauty that he ascertains through an intimate relationship. Knowing that he usurped the throne by killing his adversaries, he lives in fear that the same will happen to him. Achashveirosh’s decisions are dictated by his whims and emotional temperature at any given time. He lives for now, without considering how it will affect tomorrow.
Mordechai is the polar opposite of Achashveirosh. His every decision is made with forethought and equanimity, even in the face of crisis. When all the citizens of Shushan are invited to a royal feast, he sees through the veneer, and warns the Jews that this is a sinister event. Although it seems that the party is a celebration of the consolidation of the king’s monarchy, Mordechai recognizes that in truth it’s a celebration of the fact that the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash has been halted and the Jews would languish in exile.
When Esther is taken to the palace, he exhorts her not to reveal her identity. He isn’t exactly sure why, but he senses that secrecy is necessary for what will occur later on.
When the evil decree was dispatched, and the nation could have been reduced to panic and terror, Mordechai remains a voice of reason and equanimity. He is able to rally the nation to mass repentance until the decree was annulled.
Our greatest mishaps happen in moments of weakness when we get lost in the moment, and don’t think about later on. How many arguments and fights result from someone jumping to conclusions or allowing even justified frustration to consume him?
Conversely, our greatest moments come when we retain our composure during the most difficult and trying moments.
Purim celebrates the victory of self-control over the lack of self-control, a holiday of wisdom triumphing over folly, of emotional strength over emotional weakness.
Often two paths may set out along the same route and run parallel to each other at the beginning. The wise man looks ahead to see where the road will lead and has the self-control to maintain his direction along that path until he successfully arrives at his destination of choice. Even when the path he chooses is the road less traveled he is undeterred and undaunted!
“And Mordechai will not kneel and will not bow!”

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

PARSHAS VAYIKRA/ZACHOR/PURIM 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra-Zachor
7 Adar II 5779/March 15, 2019

Fall back and spring forward, or is it fall forward and spring back? Or is it fall into a spring and spring out of your fall?
Whatever it is, as of this week we are back on daylight savings time. For most of the world, the night we spring forward is a difficult one, as everyone grumbles about the tragic loss of an hour of sleep. This contrasts with the night at the beginning of autumn when we return to standard time which is a virtual holiday, celebrating an extra hour of sleep.
But for those of us blessed with young children, our experience is quite different. On the morning after we fall backwards, it seems that no one informs our blessed cherubs about the time change, and they are awake an hour early, ready to conquer the day, our pleas for just a few more minutes notwithstanding. When we sprung forward this week on the other hand, we also didn’t tell them and thereby gained ourselves an extra hour before they began jumping up and down in their cribs for liberation.
On Monday after the time change, throughout the day I felt more tired than usual. While I woke up the same time as I always do, my body felt it had been deprived of an hour of sleep. I tried to explain the whole concept to my body, but it wasn’t getting it. It’s a little dumb in that way.
When we think of who we are and what defines us we often think of our physical bodies. Ask someone who he is, and he will generally point towards his heart. But is that really who we are? Is our body what defines us?
Whenever I have attempted dieting, I was told that the first step is to train your body. Sometimes the body will crave food even though it’s not really hungry.
It sounds like such a funny concept. It’s as if my body has a mind of its own and won’t accept my instructions.
On a more extreme level, there are people whose bodies have deteriorated from disease and are no longer physically active. Yet, some of these patients continue to convey their thoughts and produce beautiful essays or even art, through an incredible computer program that can decipher their eye movements. No one can argue that such people, despite being trapped in virtually incapacitated bodies, are still very much alive.
So, who are we really? We must be more than our stubborn, fickle, and unreliable bodies. We all know the answer, but we often forget it. We are a soul - a living spiritual spark which contains our deepest feelings, personality, and dictates our decisions. It’s the piece of us which lives within a body in this world, but ultimately transcends the limits of this world when the body is left behind.
Purim, the holiday which seems to be the most physically oriented, actually touches the deepest part of our identity. Celebrating our physical survival compels us to contemplate what physical life means to us. It forces us to ask if we are celebrating life, exactly what are we celebrating? What does life mean to us? Is it for the pursuit of money and pleasure? Or is it an opportunity to find meaning, to connect with G-d, and to enhance the lives of those around us?
Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis and the almost loss of life before one appreciates what life is about. Purim was and is that annual crisis. We came frighteningly close to annihilation before the incredible salvation took place. As we read the Megillah, it should give us a moment of pause to reflect upon our mortality and what being granted a second chance means to us.
Our bodies may not define us, but it is our lifeline in this world. When it breaks down, we feel the pain, and when it’s healthy it is far easier for us to go about our day. We can’t celebrate soulfully unless we can pacify our body and let it join the celebration. That is why we celebrate physically on Purim. It is so that we can get past our physical inhibitions, so that our soul can truly rejoice.
If we never get past the physical celebration however, we are limiting ourselves to enjoying the gift wrapping and never getting to the real gift inside.
Perhaps after a l’chaim or two one may fall backwards, but ultimately Purim is an opportunity for our souls to spring forward and upward, a celebration of the real essence of live.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2019

PARSHAS PEKUDEI 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pekudei    
Rosh Chodesh Adar II 5779/March 8, 2019

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often quips that all rabbis like to say a few words before they speak.
This week’s Musings is quite a milestone, in that it is the 500th “Rabbi’s Musings and Amusings” I have written. 500 is quite a milestone! I am grateful for this forum and for my loyal readers who indulge this literary presentation of my random thoughts and ideas each week.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the concept behind this weekly essay was directly inspired by Rabbi Wein. I find it remarkable how much of an impression Rabbi Wein has had, and continues to have upon my thinking, perspectives, and world view.
At my high school graduation from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in June 1997, I had the privilege to represent my class in making a presentation to Rabbi Wein. Rabbi Wein had been our Rosh Yeshiva and was making Aliyah that summer. We had dedicated our yearbook to him in gratitude, not only for the inspiration and leadership he provided to our class, but for his two decades at the helm of the yeshiva.
During that speech I related an anecdote that a Shaarei Torah alumnus had told me. He recounted that he was walking on the side of a busy road in Monsey one Friday afternoon, when a familiar car pulled over. The driver was Rabbi Wein who motioned for him to get in so he could drive him home. When he got into the car the radio was on and he heard the following conversation:
“Hey Bob, did you go to the Mets game yesterday?”
“Of course, I went to the Mets game yesterday.”
“But it was raining cats and dogs yesterday?”
“I don’t care if it’s snowing two feet. I don’t miss a game for nothing!”
At that point Rabbi Wein pointed to the radio and quipped, “There’s tomorrow’s speech!”
One of Rabbi Wein’s underlying messages is that life is full of lessons if you are tuned in to them. One need not be a scholar or intellectual. He just needs to have his eyes opened and think about things as they happen. When one mindlessly meanders through his days and weeks, his life is lackluster, and he loses out on the messages that are there for the taking.
I don’t have the opportunity to see Rabbi Wein too often, but I have the pleasure of continually being inspired by his recorded lectures and written messages.
I noticed that one of the words he repeats constantly in many of his lectures is ‘somehow’. That itself is a powerful message. When teaching about history, and particularly Jewish history, so many events are baffling and remarkable. As the adage goes, the truth is stranger than fiction. Jewish history has always been uncanny and unpredictable. It is impossible to understand how and why events have happened. The Jewish people’s revival after the Holocaust, the successful revitalization of Torah, Israel’s success despite the odds and hostile hateful neighbors, and in fact our continued existence, all miraculous and unbelievable. The only appropriate word is ‘somehow’.
Rabbi Wein also notes that the ‘somehow’ is the force of a G-d who doesn’t work by our agenda, and definitely doesn’t read the New York Times. He often quotes the verse in Yeshaya “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, says Hashem.” If it were up to us we would often choose to do things very differently. But that’s why He is G-d, and we are not.
Each time one of our sons were born, I inquired whether Rabbi Wein happened to be in the New York area, and would be able to attend the b’ris. It had not worked out for our first three sons.
But two-and-a-half years ago, the week after our twins were born, I called my friend Heshel Teitelbaum, Rabbi Wein’s grandson and asked again. Heshel replied that Rabbi Wein had actually just landed in New York, but at the time his late wife was very ill, and he didn’t think Rabbi Wein would be up to attending.
The next morning, Heshel called me back and said that his mother thought I could ask. With great excitement, I called Rabbi Wein and notified him about the b’ris. I was careful not to actually invite him (halacha dictates that if one is actually invited to a b’ris they are obligated to attend, so the custom is to ‘notify’ and not actually invite people to a b’ris), but I noted how meaningful and special it would be if he would come.
To my delight Rabbi Wein attended and was the sandek for our older twin, Gavriel Yehuda. It is impossible to put into words how much that meant to me. I found myself becoming overly emotional when I publicly thanked Rabbi Wein for attending and being the sandek. I felt that one of my foremost connections to the past was instilling into one my connections to the future his lifelong mission to perpetuate the glorious chain of Jewish life.
Every one of the five hundred Musings I have merited to write and disseminate has been influenced by this outlook that has been imbued within me by Rabbi Wein. I am eternally grateful to him for his decades of tireless efforts and influence upon our generation of Torah Jewry. He often wryly notes that it is always nice to hear one’s self eulogized while they are still vertical. I consider it a privilege to be able to express these brief sentiments about how much he means to me and undoubtedly to so many of his disciples the world over.
May Hashem continue to grant him years in good health, to reap the nachas and fruits of his indefatigable labor, from the myriads of lives he has influenced in drawing people closer to Hashem and Torah.
He has taught not only Torah itself, but he has made it his mission to impart (in G-d‘s words) “My spirit that is upon you, and My words that I have placed in your mouth”. May he merit the continuation of that verse, “They will not be removed from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children (students), and from the mouths of your children’s children, from now until forever.”
And, as he often concludes, may we all merit nechomas tzion ubinyan Yerushalayim (the comfort of Zion and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim).


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

Thursday, February 28, 2019

PARSHAS VAYAKHEL-SHEKALIM 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayakhel/Shekalim   
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar II
24 Adar I 5779/March 1, 2019

An excerpt of the following article appeared in Hamodia’s Inyan Magazine, November 28, 2018:

THE FLOWING WELLS: WHY RABBI TWERSKI IS MISTAKEN
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski is an incredibly insightful person. He has a vast base of experience and knowledge that he has amassed during his decades of service in the mental health field and to the Jewish world. His courage in facing issues that were often ‘swept under the rug’ and offering guidance and hope to many who suffered in silence, has revolutionized how these issues are dealt with. He has dedicated his life to teaching and educating through his numerous books, articles, and lectures. He has enhanced the lives of parents, spouses, in-laws, children, and friends, and taught invaluable lessons about relationships generally.
That’s a small part of the reason I don’t feel I have any right to disagree with him. Yet this week I took issue with something he wrote, and I feel justified in openly disagreeing. 
On Motzei Shabbos I was reading this past week’s Hamodia magazine. There I came across Rabbi Twerski’s most recent article entitled “My well has run dry.”
In the article, Rabbi Twerski expresses his gratitude to Hashem for his numerous accomplishments throughout his career. He describes the places he had the privilege to visit and how gratified he always felt by his ability to teach.  He then adds that he is currently disabled, suffering both physically and emotionally, and is no longer able to accomplish and do what he has done throughout the previous decades.
Rabbi Twerski acknowledges, “I cannot lecture the way I used to. I must search for words. I do not remember things I wish to discuss. I cannot reach for a sefer, nor can I recall where in the sefer I can find the item I want. I must change the idea of what is important to me.”
Rabbi Twerski uses the remainder of the article to discuss the great chesed of Hashem, and how one can, and must, acknowledge and appreciate it always. He concludes: “My well has run dry, but Hashem’s well is overflowing.”
It was painful to read. A man who has done so much for so many, expressing his sadness in his ability to continue what he has once done, and yet expressing his limitless gratitude to G-d for the opportunities. After I read the article, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was moved by the courage and candidness of the article. Rabbi Twerski was characteristically open about his personal struggle and shift in perspective. But beyond that I was very bothered by his conclusion that his well has run dry. I would like to explain why I humbly and respectfully disagree. 
This week I heard a powerful thought in the name of Rav Avigdor Miller zt’l. In parshas Chayei Sarah, when Eliezer arrived at the well in search of a shidduch for Yitzchak, he was completely overwhelmed by the incredible chesed of Rivkah. Here was a young girl who was excited to perform incredible acts of chesed, even as robust and capable men stood around and watched her.
Rabbi Miller wonders from where Rivkah learned such behavior? She grew up in a home devoid of such righteousness, and her community definitely did not promote such extreme acts of chesed. He concludes that such extreme and even fanatical devotion to chesed could have been learned from only one source, i.e. her great-uncle Avrohom.
Travelers from Canaan would relate stories about the incredible chesed of Avrohom and how at a hundred years old he sat outside in extreme heat searching for wayfarers with whom he could perform chesed. The travelers spoke of an orchard that Avraham planted, into which he brought his guests, where he would treat them royally. He served them and inspired them to serve G-d.
Rivka internalized the stories and she pined to that level of chesed. It is noteworthy that the words describing Rivkah’s chesed are exactly the same words that the Torah used to describe the deeds of Avraham: “And she hastened…and she ran.”
It emerges that essentially Eliezer’s ability to find Yitzchak’s wife was a direct result of the chesed of Avrohom. Metaphorically, the spiritual waters from the spiritual wells that Avrohom dug in Canaan, were drawn in Mesopotamia by his great niece Rivka.
Throughout our lives we seek to live in ways that benefit others. The mission of a Jew is to make the world a better place in any way he/she can: “l’saken olam b’malchus Shakkai - To perfect the universe through the sovereignty of G-d.” In his introduction to Nefesh Hachaim, Rabbi Yitzchok of Volozhin writes that his father would constantly reiterate to him that a person is not created for himself and his own welfare. Rather, he is created to do his utmost to help others and improve the quality of their lives.
What we do for others are the wells we dig which provide nourishment for their souls.
It is superfluous to list all of Rabbi Twerski’s incredible accomplishments through the decades. Being a rabbi and doctor, Rabbi Twerski is comfortable in the world of Torah, chassidus, education, and medicine. He followed the advice of the Steipler Gaon when he went to medical school and in developing his career.  He did not back down in the face of adversity and criticism when he felt something had to be said and taught. He never stopped writing and teaching as long as he had the strength to do so.
As a rabbi and therapist myself, Rabbi Twerski is one of my foremost role models in trying to navigate the world of education, rabbanus, and mental health, and to use my abilities to benefit Klal Yisroel. I must add that I do not know Rabbi Twerski personally. I am just another one of the masses who has much to be grateful to him.
Rabbi Twerski has dug so many wells throughout his fruitful and incredible career, and the Jewish People will continue to benefit from his ceaseless efforts for many generations.
It is a reminder to all of us that we need to do our utmost throughout our lives to dig wells that can provide nourishing waters for others to drink from. If we do so, then the wells will continue to provide water long after we have dug them.
So, I conclude by saying that although Rabbi Twerski may be unable to dig any new wells, the ones he has invested so much into digging will continue to produce life-sustaining waters for many years to come. His wells have not run dry, far from it.
May Hashem grant him the health and years to enjoy the fruits of his labors and continue to inspire Klal Yisroel by his mere presence.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

PARSHAS KI SISA 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa   
17 Adar I 5779/February 22, 2019

Our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, embarked on a special project to compile our own yeshiva siddur. The siddur will iyH include insights and explanations from our talmidim and rabbeim. It’s quite an undertaking, but it has already had a positive effect in elevating the focus of the students towards something which plays such a vital role in our lives, and to which we devote so much time to each day.
I warned our students that there is a very significant drawback to this project, because it will generate frustration and at times guilt.
Years ago when I was a student, one of my teachers was frustrated with the ignorance of our class about what was being taught, and exasperatedly quoted the famous like that ignorance is bliss. When one of my classmates asked what bliss means, the teacher replied, “and that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”
This past Monday, President’s Day, our children’s school district did not provide bus service, and it was our family’s turn to drive the Shaarei Torah minyan carpool for our tenth-grade son Shalom. It was a snowy and icy morning, and it took some time to clean off the car. The roads were also slick, and I had to drive slower than usual. By the time I picked everyone up and drove to Yeshiva, we were a few minutes late to davening. As I was davening with the yeshiva, I quickly donned my talis and tefillin. But I realized I was going to have to skip most of Pesukei D’zimrah in order to catch up. I never liked doing that, but on Monday I found that I was more upset about it than I had been in the past.
Having worked on the siddur for the last few weeks, I have personally learned many new insights about the structure of tefilla and the rich depth and meaning behind every paragraph, and how they were precisely enacted by the sages throughout the ages. There are numerous lecture series on tefilla from various rabbonim that literally offer full classes on one single phrase from davening.
Suddenly, missing out on a tefilla feels like a significant loss.
When one isn’t aware of the significance or deeper meaning, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to miss a few paragraphs. But the danger of learning about something is that you start to realize the wisdom behind it.
Ignorance is indeed bliss. But far more blissful is the one who garners wisdom and is able to bask in it.
The Gemara says that tefilla is something which “stands at the height of the world, but people disregard it”. Like all invaluable commodities, appreciating tefilla is the result of an investment of effort to ascertain it. But being that prayer is key to the fulfillment of our hopes, it’s well worth the investment. It’s a relatively small deposit which allows for major constant withdrawals.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

PARSHAS TETZAVEH – PURIM KATAN 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh   
10 Adar I 5779/February 15, 2019

This past weekend, our family enjoyed a wonderful Shabbos at my parent’s home in the Forshay section of Monsey.
Shabbos morning was very cold, with a biting wind making it feel even colder. At about 7:20 am, I left my parents’ house to daven at the hashkama minyan nearby. When I arrived at Forshay Road, a busy thoroughfare, there were groups of chassidim with sons hurrying past me. As far as I could see there were groups chassidim approaching from the same direction.
I had heard that the Gerrer Rebbe was in Forshay. His wife had needed surgery a few weeks back and afterwards had to stay in New York for a few weeks for rehab. The rebbe had accompanied her and they were staying nearby. When I asked one of the chassidim if he was heading to the Gerrer Rebbe, and he answered that he was, without having much time to think about it, I joined him.
The fellow I walked with is a Gerrer chassid who lived in Staten Island. His parents live in central Monsey where he was staying for Shabbos, and he had walked a great distance in the cold to have the opportunity to daven with his rebbe. He explained to me that davening was from 8 am until about 9:30 am. There was no kiddush or tisch, just davening. He also told me that at the minyan in the main Gerrer Shul Yerushalayim, there is a one-hour break in the middle of davening for learning, but as the davening was held in a large heated tent there was no break last week.
Ger is not known for externalities. They are known for punctilious adherence to halacha, but without fanfare. At exactly 7:59 am the Rebbe emerged from the house and took his place at the shtender prepared for him, and the chazzan began davening.
After mussaf, there was a b’ris. The Rebbe sat down in the seat that was brought in a minute before, and the baby was immediately brought in. Within five minutes the b’ris was over, the final kaddish was recited, the Rebbe wished everyone a Good Shabbos, and by 9:45 he returned to the house.
It wasn’t easy standing on bleachers throughout the davening holding a siddur and Chumash, with a couple hundred people packed into a tent. But there are always things/people who are distinguished enough to us that we will endure some discomfort just to be in their presence. People wait outside all night before Black Friday for significant monetary bargains, others wait for hours after a game or will arrive extremely early before a game just to get an autograph from a professional player.
The people/things that excite us and for which we are willing to sacrifice for, have a deep effect on us.
Our former neighbor, Yoni Halper, who recently made Aliyah, presented at the Torah Umesorah President’s conference last winter. Yoni related that on Motzei Shabbos of the conference, he saw Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky walking with his Rebbitzin. He approached them and told him that a couple of decades earlier, when he was a young boy, he had met Rav Shmuel and asked him to autograph the “Gadol card” he had of Rav Shmuel. Yoni told Rav Shmuel that it made a deep impression on him and he was very grateful when Rav Shmuel agreed to do it. Yoni reported that Rav Shmuel and his Rebbitzin had a good laugh.
When Yoni told me that he still had the card, I told him that I had to see it. It took him a few weeks to find it, but he did show it to me. It may be the only autographed copy of Reb Shmuel’s gadol card in the world.
Our society glamorizes celebrities, sports icons, and the rich and famous. There may not be anything wrong with trying to imitate the way a player excels the way a singer sings, or the way an actor acts. But somehow it seems to go far beyond that. People who know how to play ball or are great actors don’t have any greater insight to life, politics, or relationships. In fact, it’s often au contraire!
It’s important that we stress that our true role models in life are people who are selfless, loving, and devote themselves to bettering themselves and others. Those are people worth emulating and watching how they conduct themselves, even if there’s no kiddush afterwards.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

PARSHAS TERUMAH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah  
3 Adar I 5779/February 8, 2019

For all our technological innovations and uncanny advancements, there is still one thing we have absolutely no control over - the weather. Last week a polar vortex – whatever that is - enveloped much of the United States, bringing dangerously frigid temperatures. Although New York’s weather wasn’t as severe as that of the Midwest, where temperatures dipped to unprecedented lows, 20-30 degrees below zero, it was still bone-chillingly cold. The front page of last week’s Hamodia had a picture of a thermometer with the mercury reading below zero with the caption, “Global Warming?”
And now just a few days later, we enjoyed a couple of days of bright sixty degrees sunshine - unusually warm for early February. Go figure.
Last week, on Friday morning, when the temperatures were in the single digits and windchills still well below zero, I pulled into a gas station in New Jersey. (The state of New Jersey doesn’t trust its citizens to fill up their own gas, so there is no self-service anywhere in the state.) The attendant, dressed in a few layers, was jumping around and practically dancing as he approached my car. When I rolled down my window, I heard blaring music. The attendant gaily asked me how he could help me. When I asked him to fill up, he spun around and jumped up and down as he inserted the nozzle into the tank.
As I drove away, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dancing gas attendant. It was a freezing morning, a perfect day for someone who works outside to be grumpy and miserable. Yet he was chipper and energetic. Why? Because instead of grumbling about the reality, he embraced it.
How often do we try to live life on our terms, even when the reality of the situation is clearly otherwise?
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was once walking with a group of his chassidim. At one point he asked his assemblage, “Do you know what I would do if I was G-d?” The group stopped walking and it was dead silent. Everyone leaned in with wide eyes to hear the great secret that the rebbe would reveal. After a long moment the rebbe smiled and announced, “If I were G-d, I would... do exactly what He’s doing!”
The Rebbe’s insight is very compelling. If he were G-d, he would understand how everything happening was exactly as it needed to be. The reason we struggle so much is because we are not privy to the divine knowledge and therefore cannot understand how everything is for the best and is exactly as it should be.
In his typical humorous fashion, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky once quipped: “I don’t want to be G-d; I don’t like the hours!”
We want things to go our way and to be comprehensible and logical to our finite minds. But the reality is more often not that way.
One of the most important keys to living a life of inner peace is to be able to have acceptance. That in no way precludes the need for one to do all he can – an adequate hishtadlus. But once one has done so, once he has done his research, invested all the energy he could, and has davened (and davened again) he can have peace of mind and rest assured that G-d knows exactly what He’s doing, and things are as they should be.
This is by no means an easy level to achieve. But those who seem to live with serenity are those who accept life on its terms, for good or for better. They aren’t frustrated by their futile attempts to force things to be how they feel it should be. They know that G-d loves them and only wants the best for them, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
When I grow up, that’s what I want to be!

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

PARSHAS MISHPATIM 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim  
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar I
26 Shevat 5779/February 1, 2019

For years, the Tappan Zee Bridge connected Rockland and Westchester Counties. It was a very impressive structure, with much of the bridge being more like a highway just above the water. Towards the Westchester side, the bridge sloped upwards to become a suspension bridge, so that boats could travel freely beneath it.
It was determined that after decades of use, the bridge was beginning to fall apart. A new bridge was constructed and completed a few months ago. It was renamed the Mario Cuomo bridge, in memory of the late former governor of New York. 
The question then became what to do with the old vacant bridge. The original plan was to dismantle it with hydraulic cranes, and cart it away piece by piece with a barge. But engineers soon determined that the bridge was too unstable and feared it could be dangerous to leave standing for the time it would take to slowly dismantle it.
The new plan was to dynamite the main structure and collapse it into the Hudson River. It was decided that it was best to do so during the winter when it would have the least effect on the marine life in the river.
The detonation was originally scheduled for a weekend but had to be postponed because of high winds. 
On January 15, 2019, at 10:52 a.m. the explosives placed on the old bridge were detonated, and the east anchor span of the bridge dropped into the Hudson River in a cloud of smoke. Hundreds of spectators on both sides of the river witnessed the event.
It is fascinating to think that what had been the road to cross the Hudson River for so many years is no longer. If one tried to drive along the same route that had driven for so many years, he would find himself in the Hudson River. The new bridge was built close to the old one, but it required entirely new structure with updated technology for its construction.
In life, we are constantly seeking out the proper path to follow. But this world is somewhat fluid and unstable, with new challenges and vicissitudes arising constantly. What was the road to greatness yesterday - spiritually, economically, technologically, in parenting, educationally, etc. - yesterday, perhaps for many decades, may no longer be the proper course to follow today. That old road may have fallen into disrepair requiring a fresh new path, sometimes over uncharted waters, in order to forge ahead.
When Devorah the Prophetess uttered her magnanimous song after the miraculous defeat of Sisra and his armies, she described how when the enemy invaded the roads became deserted because they were dangerous for travel. When the enemy was vanquished, the roads were reopened and the nation was once again able to travel freely (See Shoftim 5:6-7).
It is reminiscent of what occurred in 1967, when the road leading to Yerushalayim was reopened to Jews, after having been blocked off for 19 years, with the fall of the old city to the Jordanians during the War of Independence.
Sometimes we need to rediscover old roads by seeing what worked in the past that may again be the key to success. At other times, we need to be courageous enough to admit that the old road is no longer suitable for travel, and a new road must be constructed. Einstein once quipped that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.
Ultimately, the Torah is the path of truth - unalterable and indomitable. Our struggle is to figure out how to ensure that our path in this world is always in confluence with Torah.
Happy and safe travels.

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

PARSHAS YISRO 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro  
19 Shevat 5779/January 25, 2019

Joe McConnen was a husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, activist, and philanthropist. But above all, he was legendary as an absolutely diehard New York Giants fan. They said he bled (big) blue. He was obsessed with everything football and his schedule surrounded the NFL schedule.
Joe’s father Phil had raised him on football. Though all their friends were more into the Yankees and baseball, Phil and Joe’s first love was football. But as fanatical as Phil had been about football, Joe was far more invested.
All week long he would talk about the games. He was the quintessential Monday morning quarterback. He would review every play ad nauseum and was a regular caller on all the local sports talk shows.
Joe was meticulous about casting his predictions for the coming week, after hours of contemplation and agonizing over every statistic and strategy. On Saturday and Sunday, no one was able to talk to Joe about anything else. He had season tickets and didn’t miss a game, no matter whether the Giants were playing at home or anywhere else in the country. He didn’t miss a Super Bowl since he was eight years old. Even when Jenna, his beloved wife of sixty-three years, died two days before the big game, Joe made it to the game. He knew that that’s what Jenna would have wanted him to do.
Joe invested tremendous amounts of his wealth in various football endeavors. The strange thing about Joe was that despite his incredible love for football, he never included his son Mike in any of his football dealings. He never took him to a game and never discussed the game with him. In fact, Mike didn’t know the difference between a fullback and a wide receiver.
On his death bed, when Joe begged Mike to carry on the McConnen family’s devotion to football Mike begrudgingly agreed.
The problem was that after years of being neglected by his father because of football, Mike didn’t have any love for the game. Still, despite his resentment towards football he loved his father, and so after Joe’s passing, Mike began to attend every game. He would come late and leave early, and during most of the game he kept busy texting and checking social media. He never cared to discuss the games and he cast his predictions without giving them much thought. As per his father’s final request, Mike also made sure to bring his own sons, Eric and Joe Jr., to every game.
To Mike’s chagrin, as his boys reached adolescence, they began to refuse to attend the games. All of Mike’s reasoning, yelling, cajoling and discussion about family tradition and respect fell on deaf ears. They were simply not interested.
Mike tried everything. He got them special passes to be on the field, and even to meet some star players, but it was all to no avail. Even the frenzied excitement of the playoffs and Super Bowl did nothing for them. The more he pushed the more they seemed to resist.
One day, Mike was speaking with one of his father’s close friends. After reminiscing about his father and his unquenchable love for the game, Mike poured out his heart. He tearfully related how frustrated he was with his children for not valuing the family tradition. He admitted that he was at wits end and didn’t know what else to do.
The friend replied that he wasn’t really surprised. After all, it wasn’t really hard to see that Mike himself didn’t care much for football and was only interested in assuaging his guilt and fulfilling his promise to his father. His children didn’t want to have any part in a time-consuming superficial endeavor.
If he really wanted his children to value the game, then he had to value the game. If he got into it and didn’t just attend passively and disinterestedly, he would become emotionally attached to the game like his father was. Then his children may begin to love the game too.
We don’t give over values with words, lectures, or guilt trips. We convey values through living them and demonstrating emotional attachment and personal connection. When we see that others find meaning and purpose from their involvement in something then we yearn for that connection as well. This is surely true about parents as well.
While Mike McCannon and his issue may be fictitious, our ultimate desire to instill love and deep connection to Torah and Judaism is very real.
We want our children to “go long” in transmitting the Torah to their children, and to always “remain in bounds” of halacha. (The desire to always get the “quarter back” is just a nasty joke....)
To accomplish that we must make sure that our observance is not just a matter of doing what we were taught and fulfilling our obligations, but something we are passionate about because we recognize that it is where fulfillment lies. 
Our ancestors emotionally called out “na’aseh v’nishma”. Their words have remained ingrained within us until today, thousands of years later and worlds apart.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

PARSHAS BESHALACH/SHABBOS SHIRA 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach
12 Shevat 5779/January 18, 2019

On Chol Hamoed Succos a few months ago, the Staum family attended a concert in Teaneck, NJ, featuring Mordechai Shapiro and the Yeshiva Boys Choir. It was a wonderful nice show and our children really enjoyed it.
As we were taking our seats the irony struck me. Mordy Shapiro was a camper in Camp Dora Golding for a number of years, and was in my learning group when I was a learning rebbe there the summer after I got married.
Mordy was always an energetic and fun kid. Still, I couldn’t have imagined that a decade later I would be paying $36 for each of my children to watch him perform for an hour. [Back in the day, during learning groups I might have paid him that much to stop performing…]  
A few weeks ago, I saw a video from a recent Chai Lifeline Dinner of a young boy singing on stage with Shulem Lemmer. When I saw the boy’s face, I almost fell off my chair. The boy, Dovid Hill, was a former student of mine when I was a fifth grade rebbe at Ashar. Although he is very pleasant, Dovid is also relatively quiet. I had no idea that he had a beautiful voice, nor could I believe that he had the courage to sing in such a public forum.
When I was in high school, I had a classmate who was legendary for crazy antics and wacky behavior. He was fun to be around as long as you weren’t his target. The things he did were wild, including running halfway up the yeshiva walls. Today, he is a respected educator teaching Torah in Yerushalayim. He laughingly told me that I am never allowed to speak to his wife or kids about his yeshiva days.
I had another classmate, who in ninth grade seemed to be opposed to everything Jewish. Every time our rebbe mentioned a halacha, he would debate it. He argued about everything. Today, he is a Rosh Kollel, who has authored sefarim and gives shiurim in Yerushalayim.
In Heichal HaTorah, where I am privileged to be a rebbe, there is a fellow rebbe there who was my camper in Camp Dora Golding a few decades ago. I remember him wearing a green (Shawn Kemp) Seattle Supersonics Jersey with no undershirt and a backwards cap. He is today a talmid chochom and a beloved rebbe.
We usually look at the world with our physical eyes. Insightful people, however, have the foresight to not only see what is, but also what could be.
Rabbi Shais Taub related that when he was a young boy his mother took his family to a farm where they produced maple syrup. The trees all had what looked like spikes wedged into them with a bucket hanging from the spike. The sap was drawn from the trees and collected in those buckets.
The guide explained that they began ‘tapping’ the trees in late January or early February. In the autumn, the sunlight weakens causing the leaves to change color and eventually die. At that point, the trees stop producing. But in the dead of winter, although indiscernible on the outside, inside the tree the sap begins to ascend and can start to be collected.
Late January to early February is about the time when we mark and celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the new year for trees. To the naked eye the trees appears bare and dead. But those who understand the workings of the tree know that internally there is sweetness that can be extracted.   
I often joke with my students that the most dreaded and trite words a child can hear from his parents/teachers is, “You have so much potential! If only you would use it!”
The greatest challenge is to recognize one’s inner greatness and get past all the impediments that get in the way of that growth.
Tu B’Shvat is a holiday for all those – children and adults - who have greatness within them that they aren’t yet aware of, or haven’t quite figured out how to utilize. It is a holiday which celebrates not so much what is, as much as what can/will be.
The most insightful parents and teachers their children and students with a Tu B’shvat perspective. The child may cause them aggravation and grief, and they may feel frustrated at times. But they never give up on the child because they know that inside the soul of the child there is sweet sap ascending that must be tapped into. The challenge is figuring out how to tap into it and draw it out.
Great people can see future fruits, even when the tree seems dormant and hopeless.  
Happy Tu B’Shvat!

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

PARSHAS BO 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
5 Shevat 5779/January 11, 2019

During the last few years I have perused the advertisements in our community’s wonderful weekly publications. Based on those advertisements, I have come to a realization of the ideal manner in which a person in our community should spend his year. I may have missed some events, so don’t take any omission to mean they shouldn’t be on this list:
In September one should go to the Hidabroot convention weekend in Connecticut where he can enjoy Elul inspiration.
Rosh Hashanah is spent in Uman by the kever of Rav Nachman. Then one should fly off to Eretz Yisroel where he will spend a lofty Yom Kippur and Succos at the holy places and visiting Gedolei Yisroel.
A few weeks after returning home, he should return to be at Kever Rochel on Rochel Imainu’s yahrtzeit, and perhaps stick around a few days so that he could be in Chevron for Parshas Chayei Sarah. The Shabbat Project hosts a weekend at the end of October in Stamford which cannot be missed.
Of course, one should attend the entire Agudah Convention during Thanksgiving weekend.
For the final week of the secular year the Nefesh conference for mental health professionals is a must. New for this year one can travel to the kever of the Ba’al Hatanya on his yahrtzeit, and to the kever of Rav Shayala Keristerer on his yahrtzeit. The yarchei kallah in the Mir in Yetushalayim is an incredibly inspiring event where one can recapture some of the spiritual magic of his yeshiva days.
Shabbos Parshas Vaera is the Ohr Naava convention, followed by the Dirshu convention the next week, Shabbos Parshas Bo.
Shabbos Shira and Tu B’shvat should be back in Eretz a Yisroel where one can attend the tish of a rebbe or two. Parshas Mishpatim is the Keravtuni shabbaton.
If one’s children attend a Modern Orthodox Yeshiva, he should bring his family down south for Yeshiva week, where they will enjoy water sports and hot weather in a posh hotel with a daily daf yomi shiur. If he’s in Miami he, or his wife, might also run in a marathon for tzedakah. If one’s children attend more yeshivish yeshivos he should bring his family to a fancy hotel down south the following weekend, and only stay from Thursday to Sunday night.
At the end of Adar, he should head off to Lizhensk for Reb Elimelech’s yahrtzeit. Pesach can be spent at Gateways or one of the other upscale hotels that provide incredible programs, featuring the most elite speakers and entertainment our community has to offer.
The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation weekend and the Project Inspire weekend are both incredible, and of course he can’t miss the Torah Umesorah Convention during Memorial Day weekend.
Shavuos with Greenwald Caterers is an amazing experience. Then Tisha B’av must be spent back at the Kosel, followed by a special Shabbos Nachamu event in the Crowne Plaza.
What a year!
Before I continue, please don’t misunderstand the point of this article. I am absolutely not discounting the importance, value, and incredible chizuk that can be gleaned from the various shabbatons and events listed above. They are each beautiful events that spiritually (and physically) elevate all those lucky enough to be in attendance. They are all extremely inspiring and enjoyable experiences, and anyone who is able to attend such a weekend will not regret it.
But I doubt I’m the only one who sometimes feels remiss that I am unable to afford to attend these events, each of which costs a considerable amount. For the masses who struggle mightily to pay tuition, send their children to summer camp, and afford daily life in our community, most of these wonderful events are beyond their means.
Not only do we need constant chizuk, but we often need chizuk about getting, or not getting, chizuk. We need to remember that ultimately chizuk comes from within – based on what we choose to internalize and focus on. While momentary chizuk is easier to glean from beautiful and heartwarming events, lasting chizuk is dependent on the efforts of the recipient.
Chizuk is potentially all around us, if we are seeking it. The rabbonim in our communities expend much effort each Shabbos to deliver powerful messages in their derashos. Sometimes we can gain chizuk from a comment or from an event that happens. It’s all in how we view life around us.
I would love to have the opportunity to attend more of the events mentioned above, and those who are fortunate to attend should appreciate the opportunity. But for the rest of us, we should not be discouraged that we cannot take part. Although the ads in the local Jewish papers may unwittingly make us feel that our lives are incomplete, and our Judaism is remiss if we aren’t there, that is hardly the truth.
Chizuk is in the heart of the beholder! 

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