Thursday, September 17, 2020

Rosh Hashanah 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh - Rosh Hashanah 5781

29 Elul 5780/September 17, 2020


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.



            Teaching is never easy. It requires time, patience, technique, and a lot of caring. Then there’s also preparation, marking, parental feedback and dealing with issues that arise. Teaching with a mask is that much harder. Aside for the discomfort of wearing a mask and the challenge of projecting your voice, it’s immeasurably harder to teach when students cannot see the teacher’s mouth and facial expressions. The same is true regarding the teacher’s inability to see their student’s facial expressions. It also makes it much harder to hear what They are saying. We don’t realize how much we read lips in daily conversations.

            (There’s also the added challenge of having to smell your own breath...)

            The truth is that we spend most of our days wearing masks. Every time we step outside of the privacy of our own home, we don masks which shields others from seeing the real us.

            Social media and on-line presence is even more masked. No one portrays their real lives on social media; they only portray what they would like everyone to see. As a result, social media breeds jealousy, anxiety, and depression. We look at other people’s posts and wonder why their lives seems so blissful and wonderful while we feel like we can barely keep our heads above water. Little do we realize that the other person may very well be thinking the same thing about us and our lives based on our social media posts.

            Rarely do we have the courage to remove our masks and present ourselves to the world as we really are. We are too afraid to be real and vulnerable. We wonder - what if people don’t like the real me? So, we maintain fake veneers, which only serve to make us feel worse about ourselves and our deficiencies.

            Part of the refreshing beauty of the weeks of Elul and the days leading up to Yom Kippur is that during this time we make a supreme effort to peel off our masks, in order to analyze the real essence of who we are.

            Halacha states that one must immerse in a mikvah before Yom Kippur.

            In a sense, the mikvah symbolizes the spiritual drama of death and rebirth. When one submerges himself in its natural water, he enters an environment in which he cannot breathe and live for more than a few moments. It symbolizes the death of all that has gone on before. As he emerges from the gagging waters into the clear air, he begins life anew.

            The mikvah also symbolizes a spiritual womb. A human fetus is surrounded by water. At the time of its birth, the water “breaks” and the child emerges into a new world.

            When one emerges from the mikvah, he should view himself as if beginning life anew. The question is what will he do now? Will he return to the prior life he was living? Will he again don the masks he had been wearing? Or, will he seek to maintain his newfound purity by being true and genuine to himself?

            The pandemic has also addressed the question of what is considered essential? Businesses that were deemed essential were allowed to reopen while those not essential had to remain shut. This led to justifiable aggravation and outrage as people watched their businesses be destroyed, feeling that their business was no less “essential” than others that had been allowed to open.

            The pandemic forced us to rethink what is essential in our lives. There were many things we didn’t think we could live without and we found out otherwise. (Is it really possible to make Pesach without a cleaning lady?)

            We must constantly remind ourselves that we are all essential! If we are here it’s because G-d wants us to be here to fulfill a specific mission and purpose. It’s been said that G-d has no grandchildren. We may disappoint Him but no matter what, we are always His children (Kiddushin 36a).

            We hope that 5781 will be a year of blessing and goodness. We hope it will be a year of health and well-being, of peace and prosperity, a year when suffering and pain, plague and struggle end.

            For us personally, we hope it will be a year when we are able to confidently remove our masks - literally and figuratively, a year when we learn to love ourselves for who we are, a year of rebirth, and one in which we recognize how essential we are in G-d’s world.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Shana Tova & Gut g’bnetcht yahr

Kesiva Vachasima Tova,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Parshas Netzovim-Vayelech 5780



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Netzovim-Vayelech

22 Elul 5780/September 11, 2020

Avos perek 5-6


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.



            A few months ago, Chani bought a bunch of green bananas. The next morning, when Gavriel, one of our three-and-a-half-year-old twins, requested a banana, Chani informed him that he had to wait until they turned yellow. For the next few mornings, Gavriel surmised that the bananas were ‘almost yellow’. He really wanted a banana and when he was informed that they weren’t ready yet, he reassured himself that they would be ready shortly.

            We don’t have much patience these days. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that we have a weakness called “now”. We want “peace now!” and “Moshiach now!” But G-d does not conform to our timetable. He has time and patience.

            On an unholy level, Yankees fans are devastated to learn that just because you demand a “World Series now!” doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Even if the name of your GM is cash-man, it seems money can’t buy a championship after all. On a more serious note, we all want a vaccine now and an end to the pandemic now. But we have no choice but to wait and see what G-d has planned.

We need to learn to be patient, most significantly, with ourselves.

            Part of our impulsive desire for immediacy includes with our own growth and dealing with our deficiencies. We want to master Shas, fix all of our middos, and smooth out all of our challenges tonight. And we want to get a good night’s sleep afterwards. Our generation’s prayer is “G-d grant me patience and give it to me now!”

            In the epic struggle within ourselves between our soul and our base desires, mastery is not attained quickly. It’s a lifelong battle and struggle, and one must be poised and ready for the challenge.

            The Viznitzer Rebbe, the Yeshuos Moshe, quipped that only a person who doesn’t learn mussar fancies himself a truly devout Jew. One who works on character development, however, recognizes his defects and is always trying to improve. The most dangerous predicament to be in is when one doesn’t realize the danger he is in. If a person doesn’t realize that he is infected, he will never take the medicine he needs to cure himself.

            But beyond recognizing his disease, one must be patient in following the prescribed treatment and medicines.

            During the 1980s and early 1990s former First Lady Nancy Reagan created and championed the slogan “just say no”. It was an advertising campaign that was part of the “war on drugs”, aimed at discouraging children from engaging in illegal recreational use or experimentation of drugs. There are varied opinions about the success or failure of the campaign.

            In his wonderful book, Positive Vision, Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger posits that when it comes to our perpetual battle with our evil inclination, there are times when we feel weak and vulnerable. During such times if we seek to “just say no” our yetzer hara will convince us that we cannot squelch our desires forever, so we might as well give up now. In such circumstances, our internal response should be, “just say not yet”. Even if we feel we cannot overcome the yetzer hara, we can delay.

            While our ultimate goal is to overcome our inner voice, which tells us to do wrong, we may not always be successful in our efforts to vanquish it. However, if we maintain the struggle and “keep ourselves in the ring” we have achieved a modicum of success.

            The poignant words of President Theodore Roosevelt should serve as a chizuk for us in our personal struggles:

            “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

            These are great words to bear in kind constantly.

            What does G-d want of us? That we strive valiantly, that even when we inevitably err, we do so daring greatly.

            We need to have the patience to wait for the green bananas within us to turn yellow. But in the meanwhile, to maintain the epic struggle and to recognize our value and greatness in doing so. It is that feeling which will fuel us to continue the struggle and to continue striving valiantly.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Parshas Ki Savo 5780



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo  

15 Elul 5780/September 4, 2020

Avos perek 3-4


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.



            Before our family left to camp a few months ago, and again last week before Yeshiva began, I had to go for a Covid-19 test. It’s not exactly the most pleasant experience, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

            I told my parents that both tests confirmed what they told me years ago - I’m negative!

            It’s been a rough and tough few months for all of us. When I see pictures or videos from pre-Corona, I look longingly at people interacting normally - shaking hands, laughing and generally being social. We’ve all had it with social distancing and the other restrictions, and yet have no idea what the future holds.

            Dr. David Pelcovitz noted that this pandemic may very well have been the first time for many millennials that their parents couldn’t bail them out. Everyone was in the same boat and there was no escaping it, no matter how wealthy or prestigious anyone is .

            We also still don’t know the scope of the emotional damage caused by the lockdown. It’s clear that there has been a major spike in anxiety and depression, but the full extent of the damage is yet to be realized.

            One thing that the pandemic has forced us to do is to live for today. Throughout the last few months, everything has been in tremendous flux with things constantly changing. Even now when there has been a partial reopening, no one has any idea what the immediate future holds. The one thing that we know (or should know) is how little we know. We have learned to expect the unexpected.

            It’s all a perfect recipe for a surge of anxiety. Unlike fear, which is brought about by things that are definitive and predictable, anxiety is all about the unknown. Our minds conjure up all sorts of unnerving ideas and situations, causing us tremendous angst and worry. We want guarantees of security and comfort, but even in normal times there are no guarantees, all the more so during a global pandemic.

            So how do we deal with anxiety? How can we contend with the thoughts that keep us up at night and disturb us during the day?

            Aside for learning how to deal with anxious thoughts by reframing them, one of the most important components for dealing with anxiety is to learn to recognize it and accept it. The problem is that the more we fight it, the more it will fight back, consuming us with even more debilitating and worrying thoughts. It’s not easy, but a person can learn to recognize his anxious thoughts for what they are - anxious thoughts, and then to proceed with his day despite it.

            Here’s a couple of analogies that help put this idea in perspective:

            If a person has a splitting headache and an emergency occurs, the person deals with the emergency and forgets about the headache. It’s not because the headache went away. Rather, because the person was so focused on the emergency, he was disengaged from the headache and was able to not pay attention to it.

            Anxiety can’t be pushed away, but the more a person allows himself to engage in another matter, the more disengaged he will become from the anxiety and the more it will recede into the background.

            A person can also imagine anxiety as a huge wave that builds up intensity to a crescendo before it begins to recede. The best thing to do when feeling anxious is often the hardest - to do nothing; to see the wave and to allow it to pass.

            Anxiety, like all emotions we acutely feel, is very real. But we don’t want to allow it to dominate us. With techniques and practice we can learn to acknowledge it and get past it.

            A critical component is to live in the present and not become overwhelmed by the unknowns of the future, for which we anyway have no control.

            Many of us feel flooded and paralyzed by anxious thoughts, especially during these challenging weeks and months. We need to remind ourselves that “this too shall pass” and that G-d is running the world with precision. Add to the mix some faith and prayer and we can anticipate mental health and contentment, not to mention our hope for a sweet new year full of health and blessing.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum