Thursday, August 25, 2022

Parshas Re'eh 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Re’eh-Rosh Chodesh Elul

29 Menachem Av 5782/August 26, 2022

 Avos perek 5


It’s usually around the beginning of August when the signs appear in convenience stores: “Back to School”. It’s an advertisement encouraging you to purchase all your school supplies in their store.

My children always groan when they see it. “It’s the middle of the summer. Why do we have to see the dreaded “s” word? Camp is barely half way done. Do we really have to start thinking about pencils, books, and angry teacher’s looks?”

But fair is fair. Because at the end of May, there are signs advertising summer supplies as well. It may also be time for school finals, but the warmth of summer can already be felt. In this country, when Thanksgiving is over, and often even beforehand, they start advertising for the holiday season. After Presidents’ Day, there are advertisements for the upcoming spring.

The annual advertising is a reminder that you can’t wake up the day of and think you’ll be ready. You have to prepare in advance and get the needed materials beforehand.

Each of our children, received a list of necessary school supplies. Most of those lists are quite specific, including a specific size binder, certain types of pencils and/or pens, and notebooks. They also require certain seforim from specific publishers. Generally, the common denominator between all the required materials is that they are different than what we have in the house from an older sibling or a previous year.

We do our best to ensure that our children have what they need. There’s a certain excitement they feel when they feel prepared to tackle the new schoolyear with bulging knapsacks containing their materials.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, recently published a relatively short sefer in English about the special Mussaf Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashanah.

When discussing the book, Rabbi Wein related an anecdote that served as his inspiration to write the book:

In 2005, Professor Robert Aumann was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics. Professor Aumann, a proud religious Jew, is a friend and congregant of Rabbi Wein.

Sometime after being awarded the prize, the professor recounted to Rabbi Wein the multi-day events surrounding his receiving the prize. The program included appearing before the King of Sweden. There was a dress rehearsal beforehand about how to properly appear before the king. One does not simply appear before the king. There’s protocol of how to walk, talk, and present oneself before the king. He had to rehearse it until he had it down pat, so it would seem natural when he actually stood before the king.

Rabbi Wein notes that we all stand before the King on Rosh Hashanah. We have a list of things we want that only the King can grant us. The prayers in the Machzor are beautiful and the ancient tunes are familiar to us. Yet, we often present ourselves in a haphazard manner, without rehearsal or prior preparation.

Rabbi Wein explained that he wrote his commentary to address that issue, so that when the reader davens on Rosh Hashanah, he can have some familiarity and understanding of the lofty prayers.

The month of Elul is the dedicated time to prepare for the great days of mercy and forgiveness of the days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.

A person puts on a bathing suit before he goes for a swim.

A person packs his suitcase before he leaves on a trip.

A person prepares a speech before delivering it to an audience.

A person plans a project before he begins.

In the same vein, a person needs to prepare during the days of Elul for the great spiritual journey he is embarking on. The challenge is that most of us feel unsure how to prepare. What do we need for this journey?

The answer has to do with where we want our journey to take us. What positive changes would we like to work towards this year? Once we’ve established that, we can take one small step in that direction and begin, or continue, the never-completed journey of spiritual growth.

Not sure yet to where your destination should be yet? Have no fear; that’s what Elul is for. It’s a month of spiritual and emotional planning and packing, for what will undoubtedly be the greatest journey of the year.


Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, August 18, 2022

Parshas Eikev 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Eikev

22 Menachem Av 5782/August 19, 2022

 Avos perek 4


Part of the beauty of Camp Dora Golding’s learning program is that many of the prizes are sponsored by alumni - former campers and staff members. They have wonderfully fond memories of summers spent in camp years ago and want to give current campers the opportunity to have the same experience.

Camp also has a wonderful alumni association, spearheaded by R’ Avromi Mostofsky, maintaining a connection with, literally, generations of former campers of Camp Dora Golding. Many of those alumni are today grandparents and even great-grandparents.

Every Friday during the camp season, a sign is posted in the back of the camp shul, listing the names of the camp alumni or friends sponsored that week’s voluntary learning in the shul.[1] I often recognize some of the names of the donors, whom I remember from camp a few summers ago.

One Friday, a few weeks ago, I saw that the learning was being sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Allen Komet. The name rang a bell. I remembered that Alan Komet was the name of my counselor in Camp Dora Golding during the summer of 1991. Alan was a great counselor, and I was very fond of him. He lived in Fairlawn, NJ, a half-hour from Monsey. I also remembered that a few weeks after the summer, Alan came to my home and picked me up, along with another camper, and we went out to eat at Deli-N-More, a fast-food restaurant in Monsey at the time.

I asked Avromi to please contact Mr. Komet to find out if he was my former counselor. Avromi inquired and replied that indeed he was. We have since reconnected through the magic of WhatsApp. It’s amazing that even now, over 30 years later, my memories of my counselor from over thirty years ago, are warm and fresh in my mind.

I should add that, my father was a counselor and division head at Camp Magen Av. Over the years different people have commented to me that my father left a tremendous impression on them and had a lasting positive impact on their lives from their summers spent at Camp MagenAv.

For a number of years, Camp Dora Golding was graced with the presence of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. After being the division head of the oldest divisions for a few years, Rabbi Finkelman was the mashgiach of camp. Basically, he would inspire everyone through his speeches, personal conversations and through his sterling example.

Rabbi Finkelman would relate to us that when he was a counselor in Camp Torah Voda’as, his head counselor, Rabbi Nosson Sherman, quipped that his job was to act meshugeh (loosely translated as lively and excitedly) for 21 hours of the day so that his campers will learn during the 3 hours (of learning groups).

Rabbi Finkelman also related that one year, prior to the summer, he brought his staff to the Skulener Rebbe, the Chesed L’Avrohom. The rebbe told the counselors that they have to recognize the incredible influence they can have on their campers. Many children cannot relate to a rebbe in yeshiva because they feel the rebbe is out of their league and is too holy and spiritual. But a counselor who is more relatable to them yet acts as a ben Torah and is careful to attend minyanim, davens like a mentch, and has fine middos, can leave a far greater and more lasting impression on their campers.

Rabbi Finkelman would add that the same is true for every staff position in camp. There are always campers who dream of being a lifeguard, maintenance director, waiter, or night activity director. One never knows who is looking up to him. When a camper sees that the staff member who holds the position he aspires for conducts himself as a ben Torah, it will leave an indelible impression on him.

Rabbi Finkelman also related that when he was 19 years old, he wanted to be a learning rebbe in camp, like most of his friends. But his rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Wolfson, told him that he had to be a counselor. Rabbi Finkelman reasoned that being a rebbe would afford him more time for personal learning and growth. But Rabbi Wolfson replied that campers look up to someone who can write songs and act in plays, like Rabbi Finkelman could. Rabbi Wolfson explained that we want campers to look up to proper role models, who can show them a good time and yet be proud b’nei Torah.

Another aspect of the greatness of camp is that it affords campers and staff members the opportunity to shine in ways they cannot shine in school. They may have dormant talents that they were never able to tap into, including acting and drama, crafts, painting, etc. Someone who feels largely unsuccessful throughout the year, can shine in camp. That’s part of the reason why there are so many tears on the final day of camp.

For the last two summers, I have had the pleasure of working alongside a former camper of mine, Rabbi Danny Konigsberg. Rabbi Konigsberg, our talented assistant head counselor, was my camper for two summers in Camp Dora Golding over two decades ago. He often unabashedly tells the campers how much camp impacted his life as well.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced camp will have a hard time relating to its magic, greatness, and importance. I am very much aware of how much camp, and the great people there, have impacted my life on so many levels.

Now, as we prepare to return to the “real world” as another wonderful camp season draws to a close, it’s gratifying to think how many lives were positively impacted over the last two months. Of course, everyone comes to camp to have fun. But the secret is, that during that fun, without realizing it, there are permanent positive changes and inspirations taking place that will last a lifetime.

If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who attended camp, even decades ago. I’m willing to bet they can still sing the alma mater from the end of color war. Chances are, they already began humming it.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] There’s a half-hour of voluntary learning before Kabbolas Shabbos and three hours of voluntary learning on Shabbos afternoon. Well over 80% of the campers, hundreds of campers, attend. So, it’s no small zechus…

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Parshas Vaeschanan 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan – Shabbos Nachamu

15 Menachem Av 5782/August 12, 2022

 Tu b’Av – Avos perek 3


In October 2016, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Bottle-Flipping Craze Is Fun for Children but Torture for Parents.”

Like many other fads that develop these days, the bottle-flip challenge began based on a video posted online. During a talent show held in a school in Charlotte, North Carolina, a student holding a water bottle, strutted up to a table while music was blaring in the background. With a dramatic pause, he flipped the bottle, which landed upright on the table. The crowd erupted in pandemonium. The video was quickly viewed millions of times. Since then, the internet has been flooded with videos of people imitating the flip.

As a rebbe in yeshiva and in camp, I can testify that the craze has not abated. Students will often start flipping bottles just before, or after, and sometimes in the middle of shiur. My students know that doing so is an easy way to rankle me.

Apparently, I’m not the only adult that can’t stand the bottle flipping. The main issue is the annoying sound it makes, especially when it’s done repeatedly, as it usually is, because the first eight attempts are unsuccessful. Part of the problem is that kids are forever trying to do harder bottle flips, like on faraway places, moving targets, or narrow ledges.

Despite my disdain and annoyance with the bottle flip challenge, I feel that it carries some important symbolic significance. We like when life is smooth and predictable. The problem is that it hardly is. I often tell people that these days I’m trying to find, or even buy, a dull moment. The challenge is how to remain on your feet even after life has cast some harsh curveballs at you. It’s inevitable that events in life “sweep us off our feet” by pulling out the rug of stability from beneath our feet. Being able to maintain our composure and sense of equanimity during such trying times is no easy feat. The challenge is whether we can remain upright even when we feel like we are “on a narrow ledge”.

Whenever camp goes on a trip to an amusement park, my motto is that if G-d placed me on the ground, that is where I’ll stay. I sample the different benches and concession stands around the park and enjoy watching campers on the rides. But you can’t pay me enough to get on a roller coaster. But it seems that many people do enjoy that experience. They are willing to wait on long lines, for the relatively brief ride. They enjoy having their stomach, head and legs get mushed together, while they get shaken up like a lulav.

There’s a thrill in going through loops and backwards at high speed, feeling like you’re in an out-of-control descent, all the while knowing that you’re going to end up back where you started in one piece.

Life is often a roller coaster. The significant difference is that life lacks predictability and we don’t know where we will end up. For that we need faith that life isn’t as random as it may feel.

The history of the Jewish people can aptly be described as a frightening roller coaster. There have been many great moments, but many vicissitudes as well. Our national greatness is that we have never lost our footing. Despite having to endure endless suffering and wandering, through faith, courage, and commitment, we have never abandoned our mission.

So, while bottle flipping may enthrall millions of teens worldwide, I am not so impressed. The Jewish people have been successfully personifying the bottle flip for thousands of years and will continue to do so until the end of time.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Parshas Devorim 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Devorim – Shabbos Chazon

8 Menachem Av 5782/August 5, 2022

 Erev Tisha b’Av


It’s become a rather ubiquitous experience. You walk up to someone’s home and ring the bell. As you wait for a response, you notice that they have a video ring, and you know you’re being watched. What do you do while you’re waiting? Most people try their best to nonchalantly look causal and cool. But there’s no escaping that feeling of being stuck there while you know you’re being videoed.

During the weeks of the covid pandemic, I went to my students’ homes one Erev Shabbos to deliver potato kugel my wife had made. It was an excuse to see them, if even from a distance. I pulled up to one home and got out of my car to hand it to my student. I saw my student and his brother and father pointing excitedly. I thought they were joking until they started screaming “your car!” I turned around to see my car slowly inching towards their dining room window. It seems that the driver, who will remain nameless, remembered to put on his mask and gloves, but must have forgotten to put the car in park. I quickly ran, jumped into the car and stopped it in time. The worst part was that the whole ordeal was clearly captured on their ring. (The Zimermans will be more than happy to show it to you…)

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quipped that, “A Jew should always feel that G-d is looking over his shoulder. If a person feels that way, it’ll save him from a lot of trouble. All the articles in the newspapers that report indictments, and everything lawyers make millions of dollars off of, is because people forget G-d for a moment.”

 We refer to that sense of awareness as yiras shomayim. One fears heaven by being conscience of the fact that heaven is viewing and recording his deeds and actions. This is not to say heaven is watching us to condemn us when we fall short. Rather, heaven is cheering us on, hoping that we will live up to our potential and be the great people we are capable of becoming.

The Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh we recite a passionate prayer in which we beseech Hashem to grant us life. We ask for life of blessing, livelihood, vigor, etc. Curiously, there is one thing we ask for twice: “A life that has in them fear of heaven and fear of sin… life that there is within us love of Torah and fear of heaven.” There are various explanations offered about why we ask for fear of heaven twice.

Rabbi Asher Weiss notes that it is clear to him that the real answer to the question has to do with a misplaced comma. Rabbi Weiss is emphatic that, in fact, we do not request fear of heaven twice. The second request is not for “love of Torah, and fear of heaven” as if they are two separate commodities. Rather, we ask Hashem to grant us a life wherein we feel a love both of Torah and fear of heaven. In other words, we are asking Hashem to help us love being G-d-fearing Jews.

Rabbi Weiss continues that the reason this true explanation is not commonly known is because most people don’t think of fear of heaven as something one can love. Most people view it as a necessary challenge. Most people think that training oneself to recognize that G-d is always watching his every action is an unpleasant reality we have to live with. But the truth is that being G-d-fearing should not be overbearing and unpleasant. One merely needs to look at the state of morality, or the lack thereof, in western society to see what happens when there is a lack of awareness of G-d. It’s reminiscent of the timeless words of Avrohom Avinu who told Avimelech that he wasn’t candid about his beautiful wife’s identity, “because I said only there is no fear of G-d in this place, and (therefore) they will kill me regarding the matter of my wife” (Bereishis 20:11).

We don’t merely ask to fear heaven. We ask that Hashem help us appreciate the virtue of living such a noble life with an awareness of G-d constantly. Our greatest Torah leaders, who epitomize such a life, are princes of noble character, loving and beloved, exuding goodness and examples of humanity at its finest. That virtue and nobility is the direct result of the fact that they are G-d-fearing and live with an awareness of G-d in their lives.

The more fear of heaven we inculcate in our lives, the greater we become as individuals and as a society.

The ultimate place where one was able to glean that sense of fear of heaven was in the Bais Hamikdash. When a Jew entered its confines, he became hyper-aware that he was in G-d’s Presence. When one would witness the Kohanim performing the avodah with vigilance and alacrity, hear the harmonized singing of the Leviim, and see the awesome structure of the Bais Hamikdash, it left an indelible impression upon him. It was when people stopped feeling that sense of awe from the Bais Hamikdash that Hashem caused it to be destroyed.

One of the challenges of exile and not having a Bais Hamikdash is the lack of that added sense of awareness of Hashem in the world.

At the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei we daven that Hashem rebuild the Bais Hamikdash “and there we will serve You with awe.” Although the Bais Hamikdash was a place where one could and should also discern love of Hashem for His nation, our prayer is to merit back the awe that we lack without the Bais Hamikdash and its avodah.

It is an ongoing struggle for us to maintain that sense of awareness that Hashem is with us constantly and is always “looking over our shoulder.” With the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash very soon, we will once again have that omnipresent feeling of connection with Hashem. And when that awareness returns what a different world it will be - a world without pain and suffering. It will be a world of kindness, selflessness, and holiness.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Have an inspiring, meaningful, and easy fast,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum