Thursday, August 26, 2021

Parshas Ki Savo 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo

20 Elul 5781/August 26, 2021

Avos perek 3-4


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            I have been a member of the Camp Dora Golding administration for almost two decades. During those years, the administration has not had any vocal Mets fans. Yankees fans have ruled the roost which means that announcement of scores during meals has always been Yankees biased, which suited me.

            That changed this past summer when Rabbi Danny Konigsberg, my former camper, returned to CDG as the assistant head counselor. Rabbi Konigsberg brought many innovative ideas and programs, and it was great to have him as part of the team. But, as mentioned, he is a Mets fan.

It should also be noted that at the beginning of the summer the Mets were sitting comfortably in first place and playing well, while the Yankees were struggling, languishing in third place.

            To be honest, by fandom standards, I’m not so much of a sports fan. I grew up in a home of Yankees fans and I enjoy listening to games when I’m in the car and finding out the scores. But I’m not so in the know beyond that. I can’t tell you the starting lineup or all the names of the Yankees pitching rotation.

            But even though I’m not such an extreme fan, I am very competitive. So, when Rabbi Konigsberg showed some highlights of New York Mets victories early in the summer and was bragging about how well the Mets were playing, I felt that it couldn’t go unanswered.

            I procured a clip of one of the most infamous moments for Mets fans from June 12, 2009. It was during a subway series when the Yankees were playing the Mets in Yankees stadium. The Yankees were batting in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets had a 7-6 lead. With two runners on and two men out, the batter for the Yankees was Alex Rodriguez who popped up to shallow right field. It was a routine fly ball and Mets fielder Louis Castillo was perfectly positioned to catch the ball and end the game. But Castillo didn’t catch the ball; he dropped it! His shocking error allowed two runs to score, which gave the Yankees an underhanded victory. It was a very bitter moment for the Mets and their fans, and definitely one that they don’t like being reminded of. Perfect!

            For the last many years, I have the microphone during breakfast in camp because I run the “CDG morning show” during breakfast.

            The following morning, before beginning the morning show, I played the clip from the blundered play, with the announcer screaming, “pops it up… Castillo…. DROPPED THE BALL! HE DROPPED THE BALL! OH MY GOODNESS… AND THE YANKEES WIN IN THE MOST IMPROBABLE FASHION!”

            Then I played the same clip again the next day, and then the next day, and then the day after that.

            Basically, it became a fixture throughout the summer. Mets fans would groan and roll their eyes while I laughed to myself when I played it again.

            As the summer wore on and the slumping Mets slipped out of first place while the Yankees surged ahead, it became that much more vexing for Mets fans.

            Aside for the opportunity to rub it in again, why would I share this here in my musing’s column?

            As the days of Elul rush by and we move closer to Rosh Hashanah, we often feel somewhat despondent. We know there’s a lot on the line, and the judgement is serious, but we wonder what we should be doing practically. The shofar blasts after shachris just make us feel worse.

            In an uncertain and volatile world, we don’t need much to fuel our anxiety. It’s inconceivable that Elul is only about feeling unworthy, anxious and uncertain. It’s clear that Elul is somehow supposed to prepare and initiate the foundations of the process of teshuva that we hope to engage in as Yom Kippur approaches. But how exactly? Many of us feel we just wish someone would tell us what to do. How can we feel we are taking advantage of Elul in a positive way that elevates and energizes us?

            I would like to share an approach I have been considering this year.

Why did Louis Castillo, a professional Major League Baseball player, drop a routine fly ball, a play he has made so easily so many other times?

I would venture to think that as the ball was making its descent, Castillo was already picturing himself pumping his fist in the air in victory and running over to his teammates to high-five them. In other words, he got ahead of himself and lost focus. He closed his glove a second to soon and that made all the difference.

            Sound familiar?

            How often do we try to juggle twelve things at once in our own lives? We may feel we are doing a great job, but, in reality, our fragmented focus causes us to sacrifice quality in every area. This is especially damaging when it comes to relationships, especially with the ones we love most, as well as in our spiritual endeavors.

            In a word, Rosh Hashana is about malchus - accepting upon ourselves the divine monarchy.

            The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped, “Where is G-d? Wherever you let Him in.”

Accepting G-d’s monarchy upon ourselves means letting Him into our lives by recognizing that He orchestrates and guides every facet of our lives. One of the many symbolisms of shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah is that it symbolizes the sound of the King’s coronation. In that sense, it is a joyous call.

            If one begins the mental process of accepting Hashem as King on Rosh Hashanah, he is late in the game. On Rosh Hashanah one spends most of his day immersed in prayer and being spiritually focused. Truly accepting the monarchy of G-d however, requires doing so in the mundane as well.

            In a nutshell, Elul is about focus and awareness. It’s about reminding ourselves throughout the day that Hashem is always with us - at work, on vacation, in the pool, on the basketball court, when we are surfing the net, when we are alone in our bedrooms, and when we are eating. The more we focus on G-d, the more we allow Him into our lives, which helps us live accordingly.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quipped that a Jew should always feel G-d is looking over his shoulder. If one has such an awareness, it will save him from trouble. The negative publicity and terrible indicting stories published periodically in newspapers and on blogs about Torah-observant Jews committing shameful acts is the result of the fact that, for a few moments, those people forgot that G-d was looking over their shoulder.

            Elul is a time to strengthen our awareness that G-d is always looking over our shoulder. We shouldn’t perceive this in a condemning and punitive manner. Rather, in a manner that helps us maintain the path we desire in being and becoming the great people we want to become.

            In our daily lives we are often guilty of dropping the ball, because we don’t adequately focus on what we are doing at the moment. Elul is about not dropping the ball. In everything that we do, especially when we daven and perform mitzvos, we need to increase our focus and knowledge that we are performing His Will.

            If we do so, then accepting the Kingship of G-d on Rosh Hashanah will feel like a natural result of our previous month’s efforts.

            When we feel connected to G-d and feel we make a difference, then it naturally becomes easier to do teshuva as well, in our quest to continue growing ever higher.

            It all starts with us making sure that we don’t drop the ball!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Parshas Ki Seitzei 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei

20 Elul 5781/August 19, 2021

Avos perek 1-2


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            As another wonderful camp season came to an end, and all the campers boarded buses to return home, the camp families also packed up their bungalows and headed home.

            Our family’s trip to Monsey takes around an hour and a half. But many families travel much further distances in order to spend their summers at Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA. There are families that drive from Pittsburgh (300 miles, five hours), Cleveland (400 miles, almost 6 hours), Miami (1300 miles, 19 hours), Dallas (1500 miles, 21 hours), and Las Vegas (2500 miles, over 33 hours).

            To be honest, I have a hard time doing the drive from Monsey to Lakewood when we visit my in-laws, which is under two hours. I can hardly imagine those multi-hour drives in a car packed to the roof with luggage and restless children.

            I often joke with friends who live in out of town communities that cities 3/4 hours away are practically next door. But they don’t really see the humor. They claim that that is truly how they feel. A ten hour trip is a bit long, but 3-4 hours isn’t bad.

            More than one friend who grew up in the tristate area and now lives “out of town” noted to me that there is a shift of mindset that takes place when one moves out of town. Trips that were almost unbearably long when they lived on the east coast, become not only tolerable, but even pleasant. They related that it takes some time to get used to living out of town, but then one starts to accept that common destinations are more distant, and it becomes part of life.

            For those of us who still live in the tense New York world and its environs, this is a foreign concept. But being that I’ve heard this same idea expressed by so many out-of-towners, it must have validity.

            During the month of Elul, we set out on a spiritual quest towards self-improvement and growth. One of the biggest impediments is our desire for quick-fixes and instant accomplishments. The long road intimidates us, and we lack patience for it. But true accomplishment requires patience, resilience, and perseverance.

            The preliminary requirement for spiritual growth is a shift of mindset. If one expects and demands to get to his destination in a minimal amount of time and has no patience for traffic or the long road, he will be severely limited in how far he can travel. Only when he recognizes and accepts that the long road is par for the course, can he really effect true change and growth.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that on one occasion he was invited to speak in Pittsburgh. When Rabbi Wein arrived in the terminal, a woman was waiting to drive him to his hotel.

            The woman said that she had a white Honda Civic which was parked in row three, stall four. They walked together through the massive airport to the parking lot. But when they arrived at row three stall four, her car wasn’t there.

            They then walked through the entire parking lot looking, but there was no white Honda Civic. The woman was very distraught and told Rabbi Wein that she would call a taxi to drive him to the hotel while she tried to figure out what to do about her car.

            While they were walking back to the terminal, a car pulled up alongside them.  A man rolled down the window and said he couldn’t find a parking spot, so he would gladly drive them to their car so he could take their spot. When Rabbi Wein explained the problem, the man asked to see the parking ticket the woman received when she parked her car. She handed him the ticket and he took one look at it and said that he knew what the problem was. Her car was parked in the long-term parking lot, and she was looking for her car in the short-term parking lot.  He drove them over to the long-term parking lot and, sure enough, in row three stall four was the white Honda Civic. 

            When they were finally on their way, the woman asked Rabbi Wein what he thought about what had occurred. He replied that it’s a great moral lesson. Most people look for their happiness, fulfilment, and future in the short-term parking lot, but it’s parked in the long-term parking lot.  The disaster of modern man is that everybody is parked in the short-term lot and fails to realize the long-term consequence of behavior, actions, and attitudes.

            Elul is not about insincere or unsustainable resolutions. It’s about long-term growth. Our task and goal in Elul is to set out on the journey with an eye on the destination and a plan of how we want to get there.

            Safe and uplifting travels!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Parshas Shoftim 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shoftim

13 Elul 5781/August 12, 2021

Avos perek 6


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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            We reached a new milestone in parenting this week when our oldest child, Shalom, departed for Eretz Yisroel for the year to learn in yeshiva. On Sunday, the day of his flight, we came in from camp to Monsey to take care of all the last minute things.

            On Sunday night, Shalom and I headed out for JFK airport with plenty of time to spare. According to Waze, the trip would take us under an hour and a half. We were cruising along until we reached the George Washington Bridge and encountered heavy traffic. At that point Waze suggested that instead of proceeding into the traffic going directly onto the bridge, we go through the nearby streets of Fort Lee, NJ, for an alternative entrance onto the bride. Big mistake! After crawling along at a snail’s pace on the streets of Fort Lee, the police blocked entry to the bridge, and we had to go all the way around. And then traffic stopped moving altogether. I watched in a panic as the destination time on Waze kept getting later and later. I had images in my head of returning to camp with Shalom, having missed his flight. Shalom and I said some tehillim together and tried to keep each other calm. After a grueling while, we finally made it onto the bridge and across. Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously), from there the trip was relatively smooth and Shalom was able to make his flight.

            A friend informed me about an app called Flightradar24, which allows you to track every flight in the world. I entered the number to Shalom’s flight and was able to follow the exact location, speed, and altitude of his plane. In addition, it showed the plane’s route until that point, as well as the plane’s projected trajectory.

            I was aware that planes do not fly in a straight line across the globe, but rather fly in an arc shape. But I had never seen it so acutely. Before I went to sleep on Sunday evening, I saw that Shalom’s plane had traveled very far north, adjacent to the to the northern edge of Canada. Then, when I awoke the next morning, I saw that the plane was heading south past the tip of Great Britain, before continuing over Switzerland, Italy, and over the Mediterranean, until it finally landed in Tel Aviv.

            Planes travel in an arc because that is really the shortest route. The earth has a spherical shape and, therefore, the circumference of the Earth is far longer around the equator than it is as one moves closer to the north and south poles.

            Another important reason why planes fly in what appears to be a more indirect route has to do with jetstreams. Jetstreams can sometimes have tailwinds above 200 miles per hour. If a plane flies along a jetstream it will be able to burn far less fuel and arrive at its destination quicker.

            Flight paths are mapped out before aircraft take off, to calculate the shortest and most efficient route. At times, flight paths can change during the flight depending on weather, wind, jetstreams, and other factors.

            This all got me thinking about the other more important component of Shalom’s trip. The reason he went to learn in Yerushalayim was for his growth in his spiritual journey, which is fueled by his physical journey to the Holy City. He set out on that journey on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the same day that every Jew commences that annual journey.

            We spend most of our lives gazing and trying to move outwards, trying to expand our assets, garnering more accomplishments and prestige, and achieving financial success. But during the month of Elul, we try to look and direct ourselves inward, taking spiritual stock of ourselves and ascertaining if we are being true to our own aspirations and potential.

Although the teshuva process is not limited to this time of year, during Elul there is a jetstream that fuels our efforts and helps us move in that direction. If we are willing to invest the effort to take off and fly towards the jetstream, it will help propel us forward to reach our personal destinations, burning less fuel and in less time.

            The other equally important idea to remember is that the path towards growth and accomplishment doesn’t follow a straight line. In fact, there isn’t one uniform path to follow. Each of us have our own arc, our own journey and our own process to arrive at our charted and coveted destination. It doesn’t follow a neat and even straight line. There are inevitable curves and turns and we must have patience for them.

            Throughout the year we try to drive forward. We encounter much traffic - internal as well as external impediments that impede our growth. But during the great days of Elul and Tishrei we seek to achieve liftoff. From that spiritual altitude we soar above the mundane traffic below, in order to achieve greater heights than we can when we are crawling ahead on the ground.

            Have a safe and beautiful journey.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Parshas Re'eh 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Re’eh

28 Menachem Av 5781/August 6, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh Elul

Avos perek 5


To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.


לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל


            This past spring, our son Avi’s Pirchei baseball team made it to the championship. The final game was played in Boulder Stadium, a ten minute drive from our home. Boulder Stadium is the equivalent of a minor league stadium, with a beautiful, manicured field, a couple of concession stands, a massive sound system, and the capacity to hold a few thousand fans.

            The Pirchei championship game was played on a Sunday afternoon, shortly after the home-team Boulders had finished a game. When I arrived at the stadium with Avi, there was still a few thousand fans in the stadium from the Boulders game. The music was still blaring, and select fans were lining up to run the bases or have a catch in the infield.

            When the stadium finally cleared out, it was time to play Pirchei baseball. The game was nice, and it was definitely exciting to play on such a professional field. But it lacked the energy and excitement that the Boulders had generated during their game an hour earlier. There were only a few hundred spectators, no open concession stands, the scoreboard was off, there was no announcement of players, music played or fun competitions between innings. It was like playing a regular game just on a more beautiful field.

            It was clear that part of what makes it to so exciting to attend a Boulders game is the hype and energy generated by all those side things. Although the priority, and the only thing that really matters, is the game itself, those additives make it more fun and exciting. It helps the home team play harder and the fans enjoy the game more.

            Our family has had the good fortune of spending our summers at Camp Dora Golding for over two decades. Among the many other wonderful assets camp offers, is that Camp Dora Golding boasts an unparalleled learning program. Aside from the fact that we have almost perfect attendance at daily learning groups, more than 80% of the campers learn voluntarily for three hours in the camp shul on Shabbos. In addition, a half hour before mincha on Friday (and we all know what that time is like each week) a couple hundred campers come to the shul, dressed and ready for Shabbos, to learn. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. In addition, this summer there was a celebration for 291 campers (!) who completed a masechta of mishnayos during the summer.

            What’s the secret of our success? Our incredible learning director, Rabbi Noach Sauber, raises thousands of dollars for top notch prizes. Prizes that in some places would be grand prizes barely make it to the medium level in our prize auction. Prizes include tickets to sports events - Yankees, Mets, Giants, Islanders, etc. a Jacob DeGrom autographed baseball, Luka Doncic autographed basketball, and a Devin Booker autographed jersey. In addition, there is a music package, football package, baseball package, hockey package, relax package, music package, and a talmid chochom package. Each package includes numerous items connected to that theme. This year top prizes included an Oculus, 3D printer, basketball hoop, electro bike, x-box, Nintendo switch, and a PS5.

            But there’s more to the program’s success than just the prizes. Rabbi Sauber is a master of hype. At the beginning of the summer, he introduces the learning program, mentions some of the prizes and how campers can be eligible to win. He calls winners from previous summers on stage to talk about what they won. Throughout the summer, camper progress is posted weekly, and Rabbi Sauber reminds the campers of the great prizes awaiting them. At the end of the summer, there is a massive barbecue for all those who achieved the maximum points. Then, on the last day of camp, every camper has a chance to put raffle tickets in for the various prizes, depending on what level they had achieved. The entire camp gathers in the camp theater for two prize drawings. It’s a major event with music, cheering and tremendous excitement.

            The prizes speak for themselves, but the hype generates the excitement that propels the event to a different level. In fact, the only reason the prizes have become as extraordinary as they are, is because of all that hype. Many, if not most, of the prizes are donated by current staff members and camp alumni, including some who were in camp over a decade or two ago. They were inspired by the program, at a time when the prizes were impressive, but far more “modest”, and now want to contribute to giving that inspiration to the next generation of campers. Back then, the program’s success was more clearly the result of the hype and excitement Rabbi Sauber, and his predecessor, Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, generated.

            It’s been said that anyone who says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, never tried to sell a book. Although ideally one should only judge a book by its contents, the reality is that most people wouldn’t even pick up the book unless it has a cover that catches their eye.

            When I mentioned the idea for this brilliant essay to our wonderful camp neighbor, Rav Hersh Kasirer, he recounted a thought from his rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l: In various places in Shas, the gemara relates that an amora “stood up on his feet and said” (see Shabbos 26a, Bava Metzia 59b, Sanhedrin 68a, Bechoros 36a). If the gemara wants to relate what was said, why add that he stood up on his feet?

            Rav Henoch explains that the gemara is teaching us an integral lesson about education. Teaching is not merely about transmitting information, but about trying to ingrain those lessons upon the hearts and souls of one’s charges. To do so, rabbeim and moros need to be innovative and resourceful, wisely employing ploys and incentives and, at times, theatrics to engage their students.           The gemara is subtly demonstrating that it wasn’t enough to just state his viewpoint. Rather, “he stood up on his feet and said” with dramatic emphasis.

            In a sense, Torah and mitzvos are like a beautiful stadium, a perfect and magnificent structure. But it’s up to us to provide the sounds system, the scoreboard, and the music. Our task is to invest emotion and instill the passion and excitement that makes the stadium come alive.

            Torah speaks for itself, but we can make the Torah stand on its feet and proclaims its piece directly into our hearts and souls.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum