Thursday, January 14, 2021

Parshas Vaera 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera

2 Shevat 5781/January 15, 2021


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            We, the “United Children At the Shabbos Table” (U-CAST), in Order to form a more perfect Shabbos table, establish our rights, ensure (what we consider to be) domestic tranquility, provide for our common defense from parental demands, promote our general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our siblings, do ordain and hereby establish this Constitution of the Shabbos Table:

  1. The custom is not to come to the Shabbos table when your father calls. You can explain that the gemara relates that two angels accompany a person home from shul on Friday night - one good angel and one bad. You don’t want to join at the table until the bad angel leaves.
  2. There is a mitzvah to make kiddush on whine. We fulfill that by whining and arguing about which seat we were assigned at the Shabbos table. If your parents aren’t listening to your complaints, you can cry out “Give me liberty or give me no dessert!” (You probably won’t be getting dessert.)
  3. It is an obligation to complain about the amount of grape juice you received from kiddush. Like on Seder night, each child aims to have four cups.
  4. The challah is covered at the table to prevent it from being shamed. Therefore, we don’t need to worry about shaming or taunting siblings during the remainder of the Shabbos meal.  
  5. It is praiseworthy when one spreads mitzvos around. To fulfill that, when washing for challah the custom is to flick some of the water left on your hands at another sibling.  If the other sibling doesn’t scream or retaliate, it’s questionable whether the flicker has fulfilled this custom.
  6. “They can lead you to the water cooler or refrigerator, but they can’t force you to serve.” If they do, you can assert your constitutional right to say, “it’s not my job.”
  7. If your parents insist you sing one of the shabbos zemiros before leaving the table, sing “Let it Go” at the top of your lungs and tell your parents it’s a reference to letting go of the yetzer hara.
  8. Shabbos is a day of outpouring of blessings, so one should take too many croutons/noodles to put in the soup, so that he/she has soup with croutons, and not the other way around.
  9. The custom is to take more soda than you can finish. If your parent ever tries to guilt you into finishing your food or drinks because there are children starving in Africa, offer to pack it up so your parent can send it to them.
  10. All desserts must be equal. Federal law prohibits discrimination of any persons by having any pieces of dessert even slightly bigger than others. Although measuring on Shabbos is generally prohibited, this falls under the rubric of pikuach nefesh and therefore is permitted. It should also be noted that if one feels his/her piece is smaller than another’s, he/she can demand a recount.
  11. It is customary to sneak away from the Shabbos seudah to read The Circle/Mishpacha Junior/Zman/Ami Jr/Kid Speak (or Sports Illustrated). or whatever other book is available.  It is proper to fight with your siblings about who had it first, and whether leaving it on the couch is considered “still having it”.
  12. When asked to share a d’var Torah, there are two approaches: Some children look at their parents as if they are from Mars, so that the parents wonder why they are paying so much in tuition. Others proceed to say over every d’var Torah they ever heard from all their teachers until their parents fall asleep at the table. Either approach is appropriate.
  13. After the seudah is over, it is customary to forget about clearing the table. Some conveniently go to the bathroom just prior to bentching with a stomachache and have a miraculous recovery as soon as the table is cleared. Others have the custom to bentch with tremendous kavnah, saying every word with intense concentration, until the table has been cleared. As soon as that happens, they skip the remainder of bentching. Others go to a friend’s house before the meal is over, so they don’t have to clear.



We hold these truths to be self-evident and affirm to maintain these articles of law as can be witnessed in homes throughout the world each Friday Night!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       




Thursday, January 7, 2021




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemos

24 Teves 5781/January 8, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat


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            This past Shabbos our family was discussing that famous Shakespearean bonnet (that’s what Shakespeare wore in the rain when composing his deepest poetry): “Chazak Chazak v’nischasek, my mother baked a chocolate cake and in the cake there was rake and in the rake there was a snake.”

            We were debating the great wisdom invested in this deep rhyme. How did a rake end up in a cake and how did a snake end up in a rake? More importantly, why does it have to be a chocolate cake? And what if my wife made it and not my mother- does that fulfill the obligation? We also wondered why the cake didn’t fall in a lake owned by Jake who just ate a steak?

            In the end, we admitted that the deeper meaning eludes us and we’ll have to add it to the list of “tayku”s which will have to wait for Eliyahu Hanavi.

            The more worthy point that emerges from the silly poem is to have a cake to celebrate the completion of learning an entire Chumash.

            New Years is a time of resolutions, when people commit to accomplish things they may have always wanted to do but haven’t done in the past. Everyone is always looking for the key to help them maintain their resolutions and meet their goals.

            One important tip is to celebrate small accomplishments. One’s ultimate goals are often a long journey away. Celebrating smaller milestones along the way infuses a person with momentum to stay the course until the larger goal is met.

            The same holds true regarding spiritual matters. When we celebrate easier and smaller accomplishments along the way, it gives us added confidence to work towards bigger goals.

            A year ago, Klal Yisroel celebrated the incredible siyum hashas. But every few months there is a siyum on another masechta that also warrants celebration. It’s often a good idea to celebrate completing every chapter along the way, at least in a small manner.

            On Simchas Torah we have a passionate celebration of our completion of the entire Torah. But four other times during the year we mark the Shabbos when we complete a Chumash by rising together and encouraging ourselves to forge onward.

            I recently reread the autobiography of my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, “Teach Them Diligently”. It struck me afterwards that, like many autobiographies, each chapter was formulated based on a period of his life. Each major change in his life warranted the beginning of a new chapter. It didn’t matter whether he was in a certain location/job for 5 years or 20 years. It all fit it into one chapter.

            Most of us dread change. But it seems that it’s those very changes that color the stories of our lives. As long as things remain the same, it’s all part of the same chapter. There can be great accomplishments and growth but all within one basic stage of life. As soon as the situation changes however, it becomes a new stage of life with its own narrative, direction and perspective.

            In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you celebrate with chocolate or vanilla, a cake or a knish, or if the cake is made by your mother or your wife. The main thing is to recognize and celebrate accomplishment. But for goodness sake - keep the snake out of the cake!


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, December 31, 2020




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayechi

17 Teves 5781/January 1, 2021


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            The other week I was looking for a check I had received a few days earlier so I could bring it to the bank to deposit. To my chagrin, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I looked in every drawer in my office and on every shelf. I even went through the omnipresent pile of papers on my desk, but it wasn’t there. I asked my wife and kids if they had seen it but no one had. I uncomfortably asked that the check be reissued, knowing I would only find the old one after I had received a new one. (It’s just another example of Murphy’s law. And to think he is the governor of New Jersey...)

            About a week later, I pulled a Sefer off my shelf that I occasionally use. When I opened it, I discovered the check in the envelope, exactly where I had left it. I often use papers, tissues, business cards, or anything else at my disposal as bookmarks. I realized that when I was using the Sefer a few weeks earlier, the check was in front of me, so I stuck it into the Sefer as a bookmark. That was one expensive bookmark.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, recently published a collection of essays from his years of writing, in a book called “In My Opinion”. He mused that, in preparing the book, he enjoyed reading his old writings because he got a lot of good ideas from them.

            In her wonderful book, “Find Your Horizon”, Elisheva Liss notes that when she reviews her writings from years earlier, she often cringes from her then dogmatic and preachy style. She finds her earlier writings to be bossy, over-confident, and pretentious. What’s more, she often doesn’t agree with her emphatic assertions of decades earlier.

            Her words resonated with me because I recently came to the same conclusion about my own writings. This year, for my weekly Stam Torah essay, I have been revising and resending the first Stam Torahs I wrote before I was married in 2000.

            I have found that twenty years ago I was much surer about myself and was much more preachy. But life has a way of humbling people and these days my suggestions are not nearly as authoritative.

            It’s fascinating that our ideas, beliefs, and perceptions don’t remain fixed or static.

            These days, many people seek ways to make themselves look younger. For our emotional health however, it’s far more important to feel youthful, and that comes from constant growth, and not allowing life to stagnate.

            The noted folk artist, Grandma Moses (1860-1961) is famous for beginning her painting career when she was 78 years old. Since then, her works have been sold around the world and are displayed in many museums.

            Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to learn new connections and behaviors in response to new information, experience, stimulation, development, or dysfunction. While it was once believed that the human brain was only developing in one’s youth, it’s now understood that the brain constantly changes throughout one’s life.

            We are not the same people today that we once were.

            A few weeks ago, a couple in Eastern France was enjoying a walk when they discovered a tiny capsule. They opened it and found that it contained a message sent by a Prussian soldier during World War I using a carrier pigeon.

            At the time it was written the message must have been important. But now, over a century later, it’s an irrelevant relic.

            We constantly write the book and story of our lives by the choices we make and how we live our lives. Where the bookmark was placed yesterday in our book does not determine where it’s placed today.

            What was so important yesterday may not be important today, and what’s important today may be unimportant tomorrow.

            I’m happy with this brilliant essay that I’ve written but by next week I may hate it (in which case I’ll have something else to write about). What keep life colorful is its fluidity, and what keeps our lives exciting is our ability to constantly change and grow.

            The current pandemic has challenged us, but it also has forced us to mold and change our mindsets, behaviors, and attitudes.

            Our personal bookmark and the world’s bookmark have been forcibly and irretrievably moved. Our role is to turn to and embrace the page where the bookmark has been placed and do our best to continue writing the most beautiful story we can.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Wednesday, December 23, 2020




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayigash

10 Teves 5781/December 25, 2020

Fast of Asarah b’Teves


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            After spending a beautiful Shabbos Chanukah with our family in Toms River, NJ, we capped it off with an enjoyable family event on Motzei Shabbos. We ate pizza, played games, ate chocolate coins, laughed, ate latkes, and then ate donuts. But the highlight of the night for our children was undoubtedly receiving individual presents from their grandparents.

            Gavriel and Michoel, our four-year-old twins, received a package of match box cars. They were very excited with their gift and were eager to begin playing with them. The problem was that the cars were secured to the box they came in with what felt like barbed wire. It would have been easier to break out of Fort Knox than to unfasten those cars from their cardboard casing. My real car didn’t come with as much security as those toy cars.

            I took out a pair of scissors and began cutting. It took a lot of effort to cut through one of them. It was then I realized each car had two wrappings around it. I lost patience with the scissors and asked my sister-in-law where her kitchen knives were. In the back of my mind, I thought that it wasn’t such a good idea, but impatience overwhelmed common sense (story of our lives). After I was able to cut through the first cord easily, I was happy with my brilliant idea to use a kitchen knife. But the second ring I tried cutting wasn’t opening as easily. So, I pushed a little harder on the knife. Three minutes later, I was in my brother-in-law’s car where he was speeding down the Lakewood roads towards Urgent Care, while I was firmly pressing a pile of paper towels against the deep wound.

            A tetanus shot and three stitches later, we were back on our way home. I was under strict orders from the doctor to never bathe our children or do dishes ever again (or maybe it was for a week, I can’t remember minor details).

            The worst of all was that my wife told me that right after I left, one of the children at the Chanukah party looked at the match box cars and said, “oh these are easy to open”, and proceeded to open them all in under two minutes. I couldn’t even have the satisfaction of knowing that my pain was for any useful purpose.

            Special shout-out to SYC who quipped right after I left to get stitches that he would probably be reading about the ordeal very soon. Indeed!

            As I sat in the Urgent Care waiting room, I contemplated what lesson I could learn from the experience. Yes Mommy, I know what the obvious and practical lesson is. But I mean an additional lesson connected to Chanukah.

            Historically, the Chanukah story has a rather tragic ending. The Gemara[1] relates that there are no living descendants of the Chashmonaim. The heroic family that fought the Hellenists and saved the Jewish people, eventually Hellenized and died or were killed out.

            Rav Nosson Wachtfogel explained that the descendants of the Chashmonaim destroyed the legacy of their illustrious ancestors. The Chashmonaim/Maccabees carefully portrayed themselves as faithful defenders of the honor of Hashem. They did not depict themselves as militants or fighters for civil liberation. Their sole objective was freedom to serve Hashem and observe the Torah.

            Their descendants however, assumed the throne and portrayed themselves as everything their forebearers did not. In so doing, they essentially destroyed their own legacy and were eventually wiped out physically as well.

            There is a time and place when one must act in an unusual, and sometimes even radical manner. Desperate situations call for desperate measures.

            The Mishnah[2] discusses the concept of עת לעשות לה׳ הפרו תורתך, that there are times when one must “breach” certain accepted Torah norms in order to preserve Torah observance. (The Mishna’s example is when Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi recorded the Oral Torah, which until then was only studied and transmitted orally.)

            However, there is a great inherent danger involved in such breaches in that it can be hard to maintain a sense of balance, and not take it too far. It’s analogous to using a sharp knife to cut through barriers. It doesn’t take much to cut too far and too deep.

            On the calendar as well, the joy of Chanukah seems to quickly segue into days of darkness and tragedy. The fast of Asarah b’Teves commemorates three tragedies - the writing of the Septuagint (which was the precursor to the New Testament), the death of Ezra HaSofer, and the beginning of the siege around Yerushalayim by the Babylonians who eventually destroyed the first Bais Hamikdash. It feels strange to recite selichos and fast with maoz tzur still ringing in the back of your mind.

            The challenge of life is always about finding the proper balance. There’s a time to sing and celebrate and a time to fast and introspect. There’s also a time for unusual and extreme action, but such action must always be tempered and measured.

            On Chanukah we are reminded to be careful with fire, and as Chanukah gives way for Asarah b’Teves, we are reminded of the dangers involved when handling sharp objects.


            Have an easy and meaningful fast,

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] Bava Basra 3b

[2] Berachos 9:5