Thursday, January 24, 2019


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


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


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  

Thursday, January 3, 2019


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaera
Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat
27 Teves 5779/January 4, 2019

Last Friday afternoon, shortly after I arrived home, our two-and-a-half-year-old twins woke up from their nap. (They make it known when they are ready to come out).
When I went in to take Michael out of his crib, I was horrified. His right eye was red all around, and it looked like someone punched him in his eye. It took me a minute before I realized that Michael had again gotten hold of his mother’s makeup. He had smeared lipstick all around his eye. Someone had forgotten to tell me about that before I went into the room. It’s a good thing I didn’t call Child Protective Services.
The lipstick was long-lasting and even after a bath and some scrubbing the prominent red mark remained around his eye. It definitely looked a little scary.
I doubt it’s what the Sages had in mind when they formulated the blessing that men say thanking G-d “for not making me a woman”. But I can’t help but feel grateful that I don’t have to color my face with specialized crayons and powders before I leave my house every morning. I also don’t have to discuss with my friends what kind of makeup they purchased and how I love the color of their eyebrows.
There are other benefits too, such as being able to throw on a tie and be ready to go to a wedding. A woman on the other hand, has to undergo an entire ordeal before she is ready to go to a wedding. She has to spend a half hour deciding what to wear, another half hour complaining that she has nothing to wear, and then another forty-five minutes putting on the dress that she doesn’t have.
I tell my ninth-grade students that one of the important differences between men and women is when they announce that they have nothing to wear. When a woman says it, she means she doesn’t know which of the 30 outfits in her closet she wants to wear, or thinks will look good enough. When a man says he doesn’t have anything to wear, it means he cannot leave his bedroom because he has nothing to wear!
There was only one time when I wore any type of makeup. Just before my wedding, I had a couple of small yet prominent pimples adorning my face. A neighbor of my parents who did makeup professionally gave me a small tube of coverup. Presto! No more pimples - at least not noticeable.
Most of us meander through life with a tube of figurative coverup. We don’t like admitting our vulnerabilities, so we pretend they don’t exist.
The whole world of social media is one big coverup. No one posts reality on Facebook or Instagram. On social media every aspect of people’s lives seems perfect, and everyone seems blissfully happy. We may even know that it’s a superficial depiction. Yet when we see other people’s posts, we wonder why our life isn’t as glamorous and as wonderful as our neighbors and friends. In other words, we are jealous of things that aren’t real.
Coverup is a wonderful thing before wedding pictures. It’s also a wonderful thing when we are going about our daily lives. There’s no benefit in hanging our dirty laundry where everyone can see it. But we need to be honest with ourselves and not always hide from the challenging realities of life. We also don’t do anyone a favor - including ourselves - when we pretend our life is perfect and more glamorous than it really is.
By the way, baby oil does wonders to get lipstick off a toddler’s face.

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