Thursday, January 21, 2021

Parshas Bo 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo

9 Shevat 5781/January 22, 2021


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            Last week, the article I sent entitled, “The constitution of children at the Shabbos table” seems to have really resonated. I was gratified that it was read and forwarded many times. I also received numerous comments in response, the most common of which was, “Do you have a video camera in our house on Shabbos? How do you know about all the stuff that happens in our house on Shabbos?”

            Although I technically can only speak for myself, that never stopped me from speaking for others as well. My sense is that many parents suffer from a parenting inferiority complex. That coupled with our natural Jewish guilt makes for an uncomfortable combination.

            We know the struggles we face in our own homes trying - sometimes more successfully than others - to educate, discipline, guide, and not lose patience with our children. For some silly reason we live under the false and silly notion that all our neighbors have it down to a science and that their Shabbos table is the epitome of holiness and chinuch.

            If nothing else, it’s incredibly validating to know that one is definitely not alone in these struggles. Most likely, the neighbor’s kids also fight over who sits where, and they too struggle to get their kids to help serve and clear.

            But wait, we think to ourselves! What about all those depictions of the beauty and pristine holiness of the Shabbos table? What about the fact that ba’alei teshuva have often recounted that they became Torah observant because they were so enamored by experiencing a Shabbos meal? A friend of mine once jokingly, but dolefully, quipped that if an irreligious person saw his family’s Shabbos table - forget about becoming religious - he would probably want to leave Judaism altogether.

            Firstly, we don’t appreciate the greatness of our Shabbos meals - struggles, frustrations and all. In our society, most families hardly ever sit down to a meal together, and when they do it’s with electronic distractions. The very fact that our families sit together for two meals each week, without any electronic distractions, discussing and sharing Torah thoughts and ideas, and hopefully singing and laughing together makes it an invaluable gift, even with all of the challenges that are par for the course.

            A large part of the guilt is the result of living under the delusions of the social media effect. Everyone’s life is perfect on social media. On Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook everyone is smiling, daily life seems dreamy, and marriages and relationships are perfect. But it’s basically a big lie. No one posts what their life is really like. Rather, they post what they want others to think and what they wish their life was like.

            In addition, it has been noted that the biographies of our Torah leaders, despite containing many factual inspiring and beautiful stories, are also guilty of giving a faulty perception. The books are a snapshot of the glorious moments of the lives of great people. However, they fail to depict and describe their struggles and “bad days”. Those struggles are what makes them relatable and makes them more inspiring, not less. But at times those depictions leave us feeling like absolute failures.

            When we have impossible ideals such as perfection, we set ourselves up for inevitable frustration.

            Life is challenging and child-rearing is an ongoing struggle. But engaging in that struggle is the most noble and important task we have in life. Our Shabbos tables are incredible places, even if they aren’t as perfect as we would like them to be.

            Tu B’Shvat reminds us that the real fruit of our efforts is beyond what the eye can see. During this minor holiday, we celebrate and express our gratitude to Hashem for the beautiful variety of fruits that He created, despite the fact that it is still winter. The trees are barren and there is no trace of the bounty that we know is to come in a few short weeks.

            Chinuch too is a long-term endeavor. In the short-term there are numerous frustrations and annoyances. So, we have to remind ourselves to look beyond what we see in front of us. When the fruit is not yet ripe, one must remember that it’s a process.

            Not that I would know yet, but I have been told that the day will come iy”H when I will miss the squabbles and annoyances of our Shabbos table. My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quips that G-d pays back children by making them parents. That’s when the former children get to deal with their own children’s constitution of the Shabbos table. That’s the price we pay to produce beautiful fruits.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



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


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.


            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