Thursday, January 11, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaera
25 Teves 5778/January 12, 2018
Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat

Everything is relative. Someone forwarded a copy of the memo sent home to the parents of Torah Academy of Boca Raton, Florida, last week, which read: “With predicted temperatures in the 40s and 50s tomorrow, we ask you to please be sure to send a coat or a jacket tomorrow with your children…. Stay warm!”
Here on the upper east coast, we braced ourselves for a walloping storm this past Thursday, which they titled a “Bomb Cyclone.” Giving such dramatic names definitely helps engender hysteria, which the news stations love to promote.
  It dumped a few inches of snow, forty mile an hour winds, and was followed by days of Arctic weather, where daytime highs were in the single digits, and nighttime lows were below zero. Safety and precautionary notes were sent around to prevent frozen pipes and other such issues.
Meanwhile, out in Minnesota, they were experiencing the same weather, and were trying to figure out what everyone on the North-East Coast was getting excited about.
During Thursday morning’s storm, after davening shachris in shul, our oldest child, Shalom, and I headed home in my non-four-wheel drive. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, but the roads had not been salted or paved well by that point.
Someone asked me for a ride home. I told him I would be glad to do so, as long as the car could make it up the steep hill going up to his street. I didn’t really think that would be an issue, until I made it a third of the way up, and could not proceed any further. The wheels spun but we weren’t moving at all. I drove back down the hill, and apologized, and let him off at the bottom.
Then, we had the challenge of trying to make it up the steep hill leading up to our home. As soon as we began heading up the hill, the car seemed to struggle mightily with the road. However, we were moving, though literally inch by inch. I shifted gears, turned the wheels, floored it, and then let up, as we continued to make our painfully slow ascent. As we continued to inch our way up I doubted that we could actually make it to the top, but without much choice, I continued to try.
As we were nearing the top, I noticed in my icy rear-view mirror, a taxi, which obviously had four-wheel drive, fairly easily cruising up the mountain. In another minute he whizzed by us, and proceeded on.
Thankfully, we made it home, though the normally four-minute drive, took almost five times as long.
In my first position after graduating with my degree in Social Work, I had the privilege to be the School Social Worker in Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch, a yeshiva for boys who struggled academically in the main-stream schools. What is most remarkable about the yeshiva, is the positive atmosphere and general happiness that is apparent on the faces of the students.
The founder of the yeshiva, Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz, explains that as a rebbe in a mainstream yeshiva for many years, he always had a few students who couldn’t keep up with the class. Despite the great effort they invested, at times even with tutors and outside assistance, they just couldn’t keep up with their peers.
I could not imagine what it would be like to have the feeling I had driving up the hill so painfully slowly, with another car passing me effortlessly, every single day. Often the deep pain and shame of those precious students emerges during their adolescence in unpleasant ways.
It was for that reason that Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch was founded, to offer those students a supportive and nurturing environment, where they could feel accepted with their academic challenges, and taught how to be successful despite them. The yeshiva continues to be that wonderful haven and services our community, living up to its lofty mantra of building and educating every neshama.
Although my role was to emotionally support the students, I learned many things from those students and from the incredible rabbeim that I was privileged to work alongside.  
This will probably sound unbelievable, but this article isn’t an appeal, nor was I even asked to write it. (Of course, I have no doubt that the yeshiva could benefit greatly from donations....) But my experience during the snow storm, reminded me of the yeshiva and its students and the amazing work they, and their dedicated rabbeim and teachers do, in trying to reach the soul of every student, in his/her unique manner.
Bais Hachinuch was my first real employment. Consistent with their goal of building people, the menahel Rabbi Naftali Eisgrau, offered me my first position, and never stopped encouraging me. (He still does!)
In recent months, I have met a few of our former Bais Hachinuch students in different locations. At times, I recognized them instantly, while other times they introduced themselves. What’s remarkable to me, is how happy they are to see me. I have heard from other Bais Hachinuch rabbeim that they have had the same experience when meeting former talmidim. No matter whether the talmid has gone on to learn in yeshivos, or has gone out to work, they seem to recall those nurturing years in Bais Hachinuch with fondness.
Could there be a more beautiful goal than to seek to help every child climb the hills of life, no matter what kind of tires or engines they were born with?!
Personally, I am still deciding whether it’s worth the added expense of four-wheel drive, or maybe to just move to a place where they must send a note home to parents to tell their children to bundle up because it’s considered unusually cold at 50 degrees.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 4, 2018



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos
18 Teves 5778/January 5, 2018
On Wednesday, March 2008 our family moved to our current home at 3 Landau Lane. That Shabbos two of our close friends – the Kraus and Schulgasser families, came to visit us and welcome us to our new home.
Until then we had been living in apartments. For the first few months of our marriage we lived in an apartment in Flatbush. [The year we married, Chani was in a one-year post-Israel seminary program. The day she took her last final, was the day we moved to Monsey.] When we moved to Monsey we had lived in two different apartments.
It was exciting for us to be able to host our friends with their children in our first home, if even for a few hours. Sometime during the afternoon, one of the children used the downstairs bathroom and the toilet overflowed. I immediately went to fix the problem, but the water did not recede. One of our guests, who had been living in a house longer than three days, showed me how to shut off the water behind the toilet. Problem solved, or so we thought.
When someone used one of the upstairs bathrooms a few minutes later, the toilet downstairs again overflowed. Then, when someone washed their hands in the kitchen sink, that same toilet again overflowed. Luckily the downstairs bathroom is a top the garage, because very quickly, the overflowed waters soaked the towels we laid down, and was trickling into the garage below. We came to the realization that water draining from anywhere in the house, was overflowing from that toilet.
On Motzei Shabbos we called an emergency number for a plumber who responded to a late-night weekend call. Luckily for us, our realtor had gifted us with a one-year warranty on all home appliances, and we were able to find a plumber who accepted that insurance.
The plumber arrived at midnight and began assessing the problem. That night I received an education about how our sewage line works. When the plumber snaked out to the street there was no interference, so the problem was clearly not outside the home. However, when he tried to snake from the pipe in the garage back into the house, it could not get through. There was something significant blocking the pipe, causing all draining water to come up from the downstairs toilet, instead of continuing down the pipes and into the outside sewer.
The plumber tried a few times to break through, but was unsuccessful. He informed me that he was going to try one more time, and if that didn’t work he would be forced to remove the downstairs toilet, which would cause an even bigger mess. He told me to bring over all our garbage cans, remove their contents, and place them beneath the stubborn pipe.
After doing so, I recited a silent prayer, as he began to send his snake back up. With a mighty push, the snake broke through. I will spare you the details of what came out, but it was not pleasant. After the backed-up sewage drained, he began drawing out pieces of plaster and whole bathroom tiles.
The former owner of our home had moved out a few months prior, leaving the house in possession of a relocation company. The company had hired workers to paint and redo some of the tiling. Being that no one was living there anyway, the workers took the liberty of dumping the waste down the toilet. When we had moved in on Wednesday, the blocked pipes began to fill. By the time Shabbos afternoon came around, the only place the water could escape was from the downstairs toilet. It made our first Shabbos in our new home that much more memorable.
Throughout Chumash Bereishis there is considerable discussion of berachos (blessings) – receiving and, in some cases, usurping berachos.
Every one of us, by virtue of being endowed with a holy neshama, are a source and conduit to bring blessing into this world. The problem is that we often ‘stuff up’ the spiritual pipelines which carry those blessings, with all sorts of impeding debris, which doesn’t allow the blessings to reach their destination.
We seek the blessings of the holy and righteous in the belief that, due to their spiritual efforts and focus, they have a clearer pipeline, and their souls are more connected to the source of blessing. When they confer their blessing upon us, it can open channels we inherently possess, but have blocked up.
Although blessings from great individuals are always wonderful and are also encouraging, we should remember that every one of us is a source of blessing. The more we keep our spiritual channels clear the more connected we are. However, a blessing from any Jew - no matter what level he or she is on - carries weight and helps. This is especially true when a beracha is conferred with emotion and love. That feeling of connection is itself a tremendous boon, and at time can accomplish more than an unemotional blessing from a greater person. The blessings we wish each other are far more powerful than we realize.
Those who have the custom to bless their children on Friday night, should recognize the great power they wield in giving that blessing. Realistically, as the Shabbos seudah is set to begin, children can be unruly and restless, and it can be hard to give a blessing with full concentration. When giving our younger children those blessings, I try to get all the words out before they throw my hands off and try to slink away.  Yet, it is such a beautiful custom, and the blessing of a parent should never be undervalued, even if given in a somewhat harried manner. 
May Hashem bless every one of us with only health, goodness, and happiness, and the wisdom to appreciate all our blessings.     
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
              R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayechi
11 Teves 5778/December 29, 2017

During one of my visits to Eretz Yisroel a few years ago, I was getting ready to shave before Shabbos. Although my shaver was wired for American outlets, I had purchased a bunch of converters that would enable my devices to work in Israeli outlets as well. I plugged the shaver into the converter, which I then plugged into the outlet. As soon as I turned it on, I heard a pop and saw a bit of smoke. I had clearly blown the fuse.
It reminded me of a more dramatic story about “outlet woes” that I once read. Shortly after their marriage, Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, and his wife, Rebbitzin Pessie, moved from New York to the village of Mir in Europe, so Rav Scheinberg could attend the famed Yeshiva there. (This was before World War II when traveling from New York to Europe to learn Torah was virtually unheard of.)
During her first week there, Rebbitzin Scheinberg plugged the hairdryer she had brought from home, and blew the power... in the entire village!
(As an aside, it’s worth taking a moment to marvel at the self-sacrifice of Rebbitzin Scheinberg a”h for the sake of her husband’s Torah learning. She gave up the standard comforts of New York, to move to prewar Europe, where they didn’t even have indoor plumbing.)
I’m far from being an electrician, in fact, I can hardly do more than change a lightbulb. However, I understand that if a plug’s wattage is not matched up to the wattage in the outlet, it won’t work.
In his book “The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 secrets to turning on the tuned-out child”, Rick Lavoie explains why some children (and adults) seem to be unmotivated. The core issue may be a lack of understanding of “what makes the child tick”, particularly if his motivation differs from that of his parents and/or teachers.
There are eight forces of motivation: gregariousness, autonomy, status, inquisitiveness, aggression, power, recognition, and affiliation. Lavoie explains in detail the character traits and personality associated with each type of motivator. This this is surely not an exact science, because no one fits perfectly into any one category. However, understanding patterns helps us understand inner workings, and grant much insight into how we can best motivate a child (and ourselves).
Why is this concept so important? Very often a parent, teacher, (or employer), may struggle to understand why there is a seeming disconnect between him/her and a specific child (or employee). At times, it may be a matter of undertaking how the child’s motivation differs from the educators.
A plug can only draw energy if it is compatible with the outlet. If not, an electrician may be able to adjust the wattage by altering wires (or whatever they do when they play with the wires behind the wall, as it appears to this ignorant writer).
As educators, we often need to adjust our own perspective and understanding about what motivates our children. Sometimes it’s a matter of recognizing that the child is not unmotivated, as much as he is motivated in a different way than we are.
Changing the wiring isn’t easy, but it can be done with patience and expertise. The alternative of just letting things remain as they are, can result in blowing the fuse.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayigash
4 Teves 5778/December 22, 2017

As I was preparing the wicks and oil for the menorah during one of the mornings of Chanukah, our four-year-old son, Dovid, commented that he would like to light with oil too. I replied that when he becomes an Abba, he’ll light with oil. He replied emphatically, “I don’t want to be an Abba; I want to be a superhero!” I asked him why he was so sure that I wasn’t a superhero besides being an Abba. He looked at me quizzically, and then wisely decided not to reply.
That conversation led me to think about what makes someone a superhero. Is it about wearing clothing that’s three sizes too small and seems to be glued onto the superhero’s body? After eight days of consuming latkes and donuts, my pants are definitely starting to feel that way.
If a superhero is defined by having superhuman and unnatural abilities, then I would venture to say that not only am I not a superhero, but that genre of superheroes is about as real as the tooth-fairy. (If you still believe in the tooth-fairy, then don’t discard your delusions of Superman being able to fly and having x-ray vision either).
But perhaps a superhero isn’t about having unnatural abilities, as much as it is about pushing oneself beyond normal limits. Maybe it’s not about being born gifted, as much as it is about living one’s life as if he’s a gift for others!
If that’s the case, then, although there aren’t many, we do have some superheroes around, who we can emulate and aspire to be like.
Last week, the Jewish people lost a superhero. Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman zt’l lived a physically meager, yet highly spiritually enriched life. He sought no honor or accolades, in fact he disparaged them, and requested in his will that none be accorded him after his passing. He had no desire for money or physical comfort, yet found immense joy in Torah study and serving Hashem. His door was open to the hundreds and thousands who sought his advice and blessing, and he never took a penny for that selfless service.
He may not have flown over the city fighting crime by beating up bad guys, but he sure soared above the world, spreading light and love, by building thousands of good guys.
The truth is that we don’t have to be Rav Shteinman to be heroes. The more selflessly we act for the betterment of others, the more we became a greater superhero.
The Torah relates that performing the mitzvah of caring for the dead (ritually purifying the body, and ensuring proper burial according to Halacha) is called “kindness of truth”. This is because it is an absolutely thankless job. When it’s completed, the recipients of this arduous mitzvah are unable to express their immense gratitude for the kindness performed for them. The members of this holy group (aptly called the “Chevra Kadisha”) are on call at all times, and perform their holy work modestly and completely out of the limelight.
Are they not true superheroes?!
Those who build others selflessly are the ones who keep our world going. This includes our educators and, in fact, every parent who is there for his/her children at all hours of the day or night, for anything they might need. The fact that parents are partially responsible for their children coming into the world does not minimize the heroics they display in caring and loving them constantly.
So, Dovid, aside for the fact that at the present moment I am wearing clothing that may be too tight (let the post-Chanukah diet begin!), I strive to be your superhero (second only to your super-mommy), and you are one of my super Chanukah gifts!
I daven, and am confident, that when the time comes that you are an Abba and lighting Chanukah candles with oil, you too will be the superhero for your children.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum