Friday, October 25, 2019


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bereishis
   25 Tishrei 5780/October 26, 2019
Mevorchim Chodesh Cheshvan



            What a beautiful Yom Tov season. I can’t believe how much I’ve grown in these last few weeks. Now I have the whole winter to try to undo all that growth. Well, at least until the latkes and donuts in a few weeks. I’m jealous of little kids whose parents get so excited and make a grand announcement - “look how beautiful he/she is eating!” I eat better than all those kids combined and no one ever compliments me on my eating...
            On a separate note, Arnold Fine a’h is renowned for his running column in The Jewish Press, entitled “I remember when”. It is composed of his memories, many nostalgic and humorous, of yesteryear and his life growing up. Since his passing a few years ago, the Jewish Press has been printing archives of columns he wrote decades ago.
            I was thinking about the column recently because I was thinking about my own experiences of “I remember when”.
            As a child, I remember when Gameboy first hit the scene. Until then my peers and I played individual hand-held games likes Donkey-Kong and Zelda. But when the Gameboy came out it was all the rage. It came with Tetris, but you could buy many other games and insert them in the back of the Gameboy. The most popular game was undoubtedly Super Mario.
            I also remember that throughout my youth esrogim were wrapped in brown sandpaper-like hair. Removing your esrog each day of Succos was an experience. You had to take it slow, so that when you finally unwrapped it enough it didn’t fall out and drop onto the floor. Then afterwards, you had to wrap the esrog until it was sufficiently covered, and quickly put it back in the box before the whole thing unraveled and you had to start all over. Even worse, were the strands of esrog hair that got all over the place, especially all over your suit. But today that’s all changed. I haven’t seen esrog hair in years. Now esrogim come wrapped in their own private tempur-pedic foam casing, that conforms to the contours of each esrog.
            The one thing that has not changed is how careful we are and need to be when handling an esrog. The Medrash relates that the esrog symbolizes the heart, which reflects our emotions. We always have to be vigilant and mindful of the feelings of others, and we also need to be cognizant of, and honest about, our own emotions.
            Rabbi Elimelech Biderman relates that there was a Rebbe in the Gerrer yeshiva who sold esrogim before Succos. In order to do so, he would take off the month before Succos from teaching so he could dedicate that time to selling esrogim.
            One year, he came to the Gerrer Rebbe, the P’nei Menachem, to receive a beracha that his esrog business be successful. The P’nei Menachem replied that the rebbe was actually an esrog dealer all year long. He explained that the students he taught throughout the year required the same tenderness and attention that he devoted to each esrog. Just as he was so careful when handling an esrog to ensure that he didn’t scratch it or leave any marks, so must he be careful not to leave any negative marks or impressions upon the hearts of his students. If there is a blemish on an esrog, he would be extremely cautious, to ensure that he doesn’t make it worse. That is the way he must relate to the shortcomings and “blemishes” of his students as well.
            The things that excite us and cause the blood in our hearts to pump faster, is constantly changing. The Gameboy that excited my generation would hardly generate a yawn from my children. Conversely, I couldn’t imagine the graphics in today’s PS4 games that my children enjoy.
Human emotions however, never change, and never cease to require tender loving care. Perhaps the casing for the esrog has changed, but the idea that an esrog - symbolizing the human heart - needs protection, has not and will never change.
            Learning how to be sensitive to the feelings of others is something that constantly needs chizuk, especially with those we love most. That’s one area in which I truly would like to grow!
            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Erev Succos – Z’man Simchaseinu
    14 Tishrei 5780/October 13, 2019

            Last week, for Shabbos Shuva, the ninth graders and Bais Medrash of our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, enjoyed a special shabbaton (the rest of the yeshiva had a shabbaton a few weeks prior). The shabbaton was held on the grounds of Camp Nageela in the Catskills Mountains, in Fallsburg, NY. On Friday afternoon, not long before Shabbos, there was a very professional sounding announcement over the building’s PA system welcoming the yeshiva and everyone who came for the shabbaton, especially Rabbi Dani Staum. No one seemed to know who had made the announcement and why I merited a personal shout out., except me.

            Ironically, the announcement was made from Chesterfield, Missouri. My older brother, Rabbi Yitzie Staum, is the head counsleor of Camp Nageela during the summer. He therefore has access to the PA system, as well as all the security cameras from his cell phone. He heard that Heichal was having a shabbaton and that I would be there. After confirming that I had arrived, he made the announcement from his home in Chesterfield, MO.

            It was quite fascinating (and a bit unnerving) to have been welcomed and viewed from afar.

            The mitzvah of succah is most unique. It is the only mitzvah one performs with his entire body (with the exception of living in Eretz Yisrael). The Kotzker Rebbe quipped that in the succah even the mud on one’s boots become holy. (Symbolically, that means that even with a person’s spiritual mud - his failings and sins, he can enter the succah and bask in its holiness.)
            The Gemara Succah details many fascinating and unique leniencies that apply to succah, including lavud, (gaps of three tefachim are halachically considered sealed), gud achis and gud asik (gaps between the ground and the bottom of the wall or gaps between the top of the wall and the s’chach - even sizable gaps - are considered non-existent), and dofen akumah (invalid covering of a succah such as an overhang doesn’t invalidate a succah because it’s considered like “a bent wall” and not part of the succah). As long as there is a halachically valid succah, even if it combines all of the aforementioned leniencies, it possesses the incredible sanctity of the succah. As soon as one steps out of the confines of the succah however, none of that kedusha is present.
            Like the public address system at Camp Nageela, the holiness of the succah only extends to its own borders. As long as I was in the main building of Camp Nageela, I was within range to be able to hear my brother’s announcement, despite the fact that he was a great distance away. But as soon as I left Camp Nageela’s campus, I could no longer hear his voice or be viewed on their cameras.
            There is another mitzva we fulfill on Succos - taking and shaking the Four Species. The Gemara explains that when we shake the Four Species we are symbolizing that G-d controls the winds in all four directions of the world.
            It’s inconceivable that these two encompassing mitzvos performed during the same holiday have no connection with each other. In fact, the Arizal cites a custom to shake the Four Species specifically in the succah.
            The Succah symbolizes that there are special designated places and times that contain added levels of Shechina, places where the soul can bask and absorb added layers of sanctity and connection with its Creator. In time, we have Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. In place, there is Eretz Yisroel and Yerushalayim, and every Shul and Bais Medrash throughout the world. On Succos, that level of Shechina can be found wherever one erects a succah according to the dictates of halacha.
            The deeper symbolism is that our homes too can and should be places of kedusha. Perhaps better said, our homes can be islands of sanctity in an often spiritually impoverished society. Wherever a family strives to build a home according to the dictates of halacha, and whenever a family yearns and strives to make their home a place where G-‘s Presence feels “at home”, the Shechina is manifest.
            Indeed, the avodah of Shemini Atzeres is most challenging and formidable - to take the kedusha of the succah into our homes, where it will remain all year.
            In a different vein, the Four Species remind us that G-d’s “watchful eye” is over the entire world. There is no place in the world beyond His purview. Every tempest, blizzard, thunderstorm, and falling leaf is part of His divine hashgacha. Not every place is holy, but every place is within God’s view, as it were.
            In a sense, one can choose to embrace the message and significance of the succah. It’s up to us to try to absorb and imbibe the holiness of the succah. But there is no escaping the divine eye of Providence, which is the poignant message of the Four Species. (It should be added that Rekanti, an early commentator, notes that each of the four species correspond to one of the letters of G-d’s Four-Letter Name.)
            While I love my brother and admittedly don’t see him and his family enough, it would be too invasive if he would be able to project his voice wherever I go. But it was cute to have that feeling of closeness, even at a distance, while I was on the grounds of Camp Nageela.
            On a far more profound level that is the experience we pine for on Succos. What an opportunity! May we all use it well.
            Let me conclude by saying, R’ Yitzie, thanks for the personal shout out, and for giving me an idea for yet another brilliant Musings.

Chag Sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Erev Yom Kippur
    9 Tishrei 5780/October 8, 2019

               A couple of weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, our oldest child, Shalom, felt some pain on his arm. It was then that he noticed a small mark - presumably a bug bite - with redness surrounding it. When he showed it to Chani, she drew a line around the redness so that we could monitor whether it was spreading.
              On Friday evening, right after davening, he showed me that it had spread. Knowing the potential danger of a spreading infection, particularly if it starts to spread, I showed it to Yisrael Kaplan, a friend and neighbor who is a medic for hatzalah. Yisrael immediately agreed with our concern. He also noted that his daughter had had a similar issue a week earlier and that she was prescribed an oral anti-biotic and cream, which she no longer needed. He suggested that we go together to a local pediatrician so that she could guide us. After examining the affected area, the pediatrician said that those were the exact medicines she would prescribe, and Shalom should take them during Shabbos. She cautioned us that if we did not see improvement, we should come back to her.
              Unfortunately, the following day there was no improvement. When we returned to the doctor right after Shabbos, she felt we should have the wound drained and the anti-biotic changed. We immediately went to Refuah - a nearby clinic that is open late on Motzei Shabbos. After numbing the area, the doctor made a small incision. He then firmly and vigorously pressed and pushed the surrounding areas to ensure that all the pus had been drained. He also extracted a sample to have it cultured to make sure the medicine prescribed was correct for that infection. Finally, he wrote out a prescription for a different oral anti-biotic.
              Famed psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow once said that one who only has a hammer, tends to see everything as a nail. As it is the ‘season of teshuva’, I was thinking about that experience as it connects to the process of teshuva.
              Our evil inclination makes its initial entry subtly and gently. It doesn’t try to convince us to commit grave sins all at once, knowing that in our hearts we want to do what’s right and don’t want to get lost in the morass of sins. Instead it plants a thought in our minds to “push the envelope”, to do something that’s “not so bad” even though it may be improper or unbecoming. At first it only seeks to stick its “foot in the door” by making a small entry or “bite” into our soul. But then it quickly seeks to spread its venom, causing spiritual infection to spread to other areas. The greatest danger is when it spreads into the spiritual blood stream and makes its way towards the heart.
Rav Huna warns that if one repeats a sin, he becomes numb to its severity and begins to feel that it’s not such a big deal (Kiddushin 40a). When that happens, the sin becomes that much more lethal.
              To rectify sins, one needs to ‘drain the evil’ in the sense that he first desists from performing those iniquitous actions. But beyond that he also has to think about how the sins have impacted him generally. Once someone has breached his own boundaries, it requires greater vigilance and self-imposed restrictions to ensure that the infection not return, or in this case, that he not return to the inflection.
              Along with dealing with the sins themselves, there is also a need for oral antibiotics. With regards to teshuva our oral anti-biotic is tefilla and viduy (confession). There is a required dosage needed to ensure the infection has been properly overcome, as prescribed by the ultimate soul doctors - our Sages. As it says in the Haftorah for Shabbos Shuva “take with you words and return to Hashem” (Hoshea 14:3).
              Our main argument for forgiveness is that our sinful behaviors do not define us; they are an aberration, an external infection as it were, that has invaded our essence and masquerades as a core component. Teshuva, literally, means a return, a harmonization of our external behaviors with our true inner being. I will conclude by saying that there is one more point that connects Shalom’s ordeal with the process of teshuva. As soon as the yetzer hara lures us into sin, he assumes his other capacity as Satan and ascends before G-d to claim our guilt and culpability. The power of teshuva is that it nullifies and neutralizes Satan’s prosecution.
              Where does that parallel in Shalom’s experience? A few days later we received the insurance bills. Like Satan they waste no time claiming our culpability and guilt, and why they don’t have to pay. If only there was a process of teshuva that would help us nullify them...
G’mar Chasima Tova
Good Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum