Thursday, January 31, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar



The inspirational video “Inspired Too” produced by Aish Hatorah, documents the experiences of secular Jews who were guided to a life of Torah observance. One of the interviewees, Stephen Coleman, then a law student in Florida, recounted his first Shabbos experience. He had been invited to a family for a Shabbos meal and came to shul for davening. He didn’t know what to do or expect, so he took a siddur and inconspicuously sat in the last row in the back of the shul and imitated whatever he saw everyone else doing. Then suddenly (at the end of lecha dodi) the entire shul stood up and turned around to face him. Stephen froze and thought to himself “Oh my gosh, they’ve found me out!”  

“He said to Moshe, ‘I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you, with your wife and her two sons with her’.[1]
Rashi explains Yisro’s statement: “If you do not come forth (in greeting) on my account, come forth on account of your wife. And if you do not come forth on account of your wife, come forth on account of her two sons.”
What was Yisro’s intent by uttering this statement? Was he so insecure about his standing in the eyes of Moshe that he needed to remind him that his wife and sons were coming too?
Rabbi Bentzion Kokis[2] offered the following explanation: When Yisro heard about the great miracles that G-d had performed for Klal Yisroel he had a sincere desire to join the nation. But Yisro was unsure if he would be accepted. His last encounter with his son-in-law was when he was still a humble refugee, who lived in fear of Pharaoh’s revenge. But now Moshe had risen to become the great prophet and leader, revered by the entire world. Yisro, on the other hand, had an ignominious past as a former priest of idolatry. Perhaps Moshe’s current stature would no longer allow him to speak and relate to Yisro.
Therefore, Yisro proclaimed that if Moshe could not greet him, Moshe should at least greet his wife. Still, Yisro was unsure about the relationship between Moshe and his wife. Perhaps Moshe’s newfound greatness precluded him from speaking or interacting with his wife. So Yisro concluded that at the very least Moshe should greet his sons, to whom he had an obligation to educate and teach.
Yisro’s apprehension represents a common feeling among outsiders of the Torah community who are peering in. They wonder uneasily how things are different, about the radical changes they will need to make, and about expectations and standards. How accepted will they be and are they destined to remain social outcasts?   
The Torah continues “Moshe went out to greet his father-in-law.[3]” Moshe unhesitatingly demonstrated tremendous respect for Yisro. “He bowed and he kissed him, and they inquired, one man to the other, about the other’s well-being.” At that moment when Moshe accorded his father-in-law the greatest respect and honor Yisro felt accepted.
A person who has not been raised in our community and decides to accept upon himself/herself the incredible commitment of becoming Torah observant fears not only the changes themselves but what their social standing will be. Moshe’s respectful and loving conduct towards Yisro is an integral lesson about drawing others closer to a life of Torah and mitzvos.
We must demonstrate to others that a life of Torah draws a person closer to his inner self, and doesn’t alienate him from his past. There are unquestionably significant changes in one’s conduct and lifestyle, but one’s sense of identity and connection to their inner self, including their talents and strengths, need not be inhibited or discarded. Au contraire, they should be channeled and utilized for a higher purpose, to bring happiness and joy to others. That is the greatest development of one’s self.
When Moshe went out to greet Yisro he validated Yisro’s search for meaning. Similarly, that sense of validation is integral to any outsider who seeks entry into a new lifestyle.

At the conclusion of the aforementioned video, Inspired Too, Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l, the legendary founder of Aish HaTorah, discusses the vital importance of outreach to our uneducated brethren. He says, “We cannot fail; the Almighty is with us! We have a Torah that is beautiful beyond compare. We just have to present it the right way. We have a people who are thirsty for meaning, for truth, idealists in every way… they want truth and meaning. We have to do our job. We cannot fail if we do our efforts.”
When the interviewer then asked Rav Noach what he prays for, he replied emotionally with moist eyes, “I say ‘Almighty G-d, I know you care about this much more than me and I know You want me to succeed. I know that if You help me we can change the whole world! I know You want to help me. I know I just have to want it enough! Please help me… to want it – to feel this pain (of the lost souls of our brothers and sisters) the way you feel it. Please help me to want to feel this pain, so that you can help me accomplish’.”

In one of his impassionate speeches about the importance of kiruv, Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l[4] lamented the fact that most Jewish children today, in Eretz Yisroel and in America, are in Public Schools. G-d is saying to us, “You cry out to me, calling me ‘Father! Father!’ Bring home My children and then you’ll see what kind of a father I can be!”
There is no greater joy and gratitude that a father can have than when a lost child is led home. It is incumbent upon us to open our hearts to pave that road and to welcome those souls home[5].
“I, your father-in-law Yisro, have come to you”
“He bowed and he kissed him”

[1] Shemos 18:6
[2] Va’ad To Avreichei HaKollel of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, Parshas Yisro 5765
[3] Shemos 18:7
[4] Moreh Derech, P. 54
[5] That welcome entails that we discard the silly labels which classify us into different groups, including BT, FFB, etc. 


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro
21 Shevat 5773/Febuary 1, 2013

The buzz is in the air. Get your hoagies and chips ready. It’s ‘Erev Super Bowl Sunday’. You may not even know which teams are playing; you may not even like football at all. But if you’re a good American, your gearing up for the great event.  
On Sunday our family enjoyed a pizza lunch with our friends, the Kraus family. They mentioned that after lunch they were heading to Saperstein’s Purim store to pick out costumes for their children. Later that afternoon I met my Rabbi Saperstein himself and I wished him a “Happy Erev Purim”. He smiled and replied that it has been Erev Purim for him since the last day of Chanukah.
A few hours later I met Menny Schwab, the director of Camp Fun. I wished him “Happy Erev Camp”. He smiled and replied that indeed that was true for him. He was busy with his reunion and was already accepting applications. This past Shabbos we hosted some friends from Camp Dora Golding, where we spend our summers. One of our guests was Binyamin Daiches, assistant director of the camp. Talking to him over Shabbos makes it apparent that it’s been Erev Camp for him for a few months already.
For many women the holiday of Tu B’Shvat ushers in Erev Pesach, as they begin to anticipate the great chometz purge. [I know there are women who begin Erev Pesach right after Chanukah, but we aren’t talking about those people right now. Their poor families are forced to live in a succah behind their home throughout the winter to ensure that they don’t bring any chometz into the house.]  
Although the word ‘Erev’ literally means ‘eve’, we refer to the entire excited frenzy that precedes any Yom Tov as ‘Erev’.
There are people who spend years thinking that they are ‘Erev retirement’, and that’s how they get through their day.
The most fulfilling life of a Jew is when he/she lives the entire week as if it’s Erev Shabbos. This does not necessarily refer to buying food, setting the table, or he other necessary physical preparations for Shabbos. Rather, it refers to one who lives his week in anticipation of the sanctity of the day and what it stands for, as well as in reflection of the growth of the previous Shabbos. 
Ultimately we know that the greatest merit is for one to attain the eternal shabbos, in a world where one spends eternity ‘delighting in the splendor of His Shechinah’ (Mesillas Yesharim – chapter 1).
The bottom line is that whatever we live our lives in anticipation of becomes our Erev. It’s that erev which ushers in the ‘boker’ – the subsequent day which lights up and becomes an integral part of our lives.

EREV Shabbat Shalom & Good EREV Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum
720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425 

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar



          Benjamin Franklin – letter to Madame Brillon, 1779 :
When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children; and being charmed with the sound of a whistle, that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, and sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth; put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money; and laughed at me so much for my folly, that I cried with vexation; and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.
“This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind; so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.
“As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.
“When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, this man gives too much for his whistle.
“When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, "He pays, indeed," said I, "too much for his whistle."
“If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, "Poor man," said I, "you pay too much for your whistle."
“When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, "Mistaken man," said I, "you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle."
“If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, "Alas!" say I, "he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle."
“When I see a sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, "What a pity," say I, "that she should pay so much for a whistle!"
“In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.
“Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.”

The Shiras Hayam concludes after recording the great song which the nation proclaimed and adding that the women too sang together with Miriam. The following verse states “And Moshe urged Yisroel to travel from the Yam Suf; they went out into the desert of Shur, and they went three days and didn’t find water.[1]
Rashi notes that there was a tremendous amount of valuables that kept washing up on the sores of the sea. These were the adornments that the vanquished Egyptian army had placed upon their cavalry as they pursued Klal Yisroel.  Moshe had to urge the nation away from the sea because they were so consumed trying to amass as much wealth as they could.
Rabbi Mordechai Druk[2] relates that his grandfather once went to visit a wealthy man who lived in Yerushalayim. He was ushered into the ostentatious home where numerous maids and servants were rushing in all directions. The breakfast table was set with an elaborate spread of delectable foods. However, the wealthy man sat down and only ate half a piece of bread. Rabbi Druk’s grandfather was informed that his host suffered from an illness which did not allow him to digest food properly, and therefore he had a very restrictive diet.
Later that day, Rabbi Druk’s grandfather walked past a water carrier who was eating a vegetable sandwich and was apparently enjoying it.
Rabbi Druk’s grandfather related that it is obvious that money isn’t everything. Someone can be blessed with wealth and affluence, but cannot enjoy it because of emotional or physical reasons. Another person may have far less, but if he is able top appreciate what he has he is more privileged.  
With that in mind Rabbi Druk explained the juxtaposition between Moshe urging the nation away from the sea after they sang the shirah and the debacle with the bitter water. Klal Yisroel had just left Egypt amidst great joy and miracles. After eating the Pesach offering exactly as proscribed and circumcising themselves, they marched into the desert with uncanny faith in G-d. Then at the edge of the sea they suddenly became intoxicated by gold, silver, and pearls, so much so that Moshe couldn’t pull them away. They had instantaneously become wealthy. And immediately after G-d demonstrated to them that in reality they had nothing! With all their gold and silver they had no water water; you can’t drink money.
There is a classic quote which reads, “He spent his health to acquire wealth, and then he spent his wealth to get his health back again”.
People often think that all they are missing is ‘just a little more’ and then they can be truly happy. But the reality is not that way. Very often money and materialism becomes a person’s ‘whistle’ and subsequently too often they pay dearly for their whistle.
To paraphrase the expression of Shlomo Hamelech in Koheles, one who ‘pays too much for his whistle, “gam zeh hevel - this too is futile”; a tragic waste of energy and effort.   

Rav Chaim Epstein[3] shlita noted that the verse states “Emes kinay v’al timkor- Acquire (purchase) truth and don’t sell it.” The verse is obviously not referring to ‘fun’ because that is transitory. The only thing that can be deemed ‘truth’ and will last forever is Torah and mitzvos.
          How does one purchase truth? Some cars cost 10,000 dollars. But a really expensive car may cost 50,000 dollars. Some cameras cost fifty dollars, but a really good camera can be upwards of five hundred dollars. If I really want the better quality camera I am willing to pay the added expense. The more I have to give up for something the more I will feel that thing is worth. If one sacrifices a great deal to acquire something, it will be all the more valuable and precious to him.
          In order to purchase truth one must sacrifice falsehood. The price of acquiring Torah is to give up anything that is falsehood. To become proficient and gain mastery in Torah one must be prepared to sacrifice some of the pleasures and conveniences of life. Doing so however, will help a person to realize the invaluableness of the Torah and that it’s worth the effort and sacrifice. “We acquire truth” by sacrificing falsehood and then we won’t sell it, i.e. we won’t ‘let it go’ because we will feel that it is the most precious and valuable thing we can have.

During the first moments after they became prosperous, G-d engrained in them that the only whistle worth the sacrifice and investment is Torah and Avodas Hashem, for all else is fleeting. The more one sacrifices the more he will appreciate and value his efforts.
Shirah is always sung after national salvation, which includes triumph over adversity. The greater the peril is the greater the subsequent song and rejoicing. It is those things which we sacrifice which become the content of the shirah of our lives. The Torah exhorts us “And now write for yourselves this song; teach it to B’nai Yisroel, place it in their mouths.” Torah must be the shirah of our lives; our guide through life’s adversities and uncertainties.    
          The holiday of Tu B’shvat serves as a jolting reminder to analyze, contemplate, and appreciate the greatness of G-d’s natural world. We also consider the analogies between humankind and trees. It takes great effort to grow a tree. Aside from all the effort entailed in planting itself, the tree must have the nurturance it needs to be able to develop strong healthy roots so it can grow upwards and tower above the ground. There is a price to be paid for such august growth. But the payoff is well worth the effort.   

          “Moshe urged Yisroel to travel from the Yam Suf”
Acquire truth and don’t sell it”

[1] Shemos 15:22
[2] Darash Mordechai
[3] Rabbi Epstein is the Rosh Yeshiva of Zichron Melech in Brooklyn N.Y. He delivered this thought during a lecture to the fifth grade students of Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch on 8 Iyar 5767/April 26,2007


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach (Shabbos Shirah/Tu B’Shvat)
14 Shevat 5773/January 25, 2013

I remember my Bubby – may she live and be well - once emphatically telling me that I should never trust Polish people. When I noted that she herself was Polish, she immediately replied, “And you think I trust myself? Not for a minute!”
This past Shabbos we were visiting my in-laws in Lakewood. Although it’s a relatively short walk to shul and although during a regular Shabbos morning I remove my hat before walking into shul (I wear my talis over my head during davening) I still wear my hat while walking to shul on Shabbos morning. But last week I left my hat in my in-laws home. After what happened last time I wasn’t taking any chances.
The last time we were in Lakewood for Shabbos a few months ago, upon arriving in shul Shabbos morning I placed my hat on the rack in the anteroom alongside many other hats. However, when I came to retrieve it after davening, I found that there was only one hat left and it didn’t look familiar. It was a Borsalino-Spinetta and there was no name inside. I immediately concluded that someone had switched hats with me. How annoying. Since most people had already gone home I could only hope that ‘the mysterious klutzy exchanger’ would realize his mistake later that afternoon and would return my hat to the rack. 
I came to Mincha a few minutes early, and waited. No one returned my hat. I began to carefully scrutinize everyone else’s hats. A few neighbors who knew I was on the prowl helped me in my search. But to no avail. Davening began and still no hat. I rationalized that is the exchanger was wearing my hat I could wear his. I put in and it fit perfectly. No wonder the exchanger made the mistake. It had the same design and was the same size as mine.
After I concluded Shemoneh Esrei I decided to look inside the hat one more time. There had to be some defining feature in the hat. As I stuck my hand under the rim I pulled out the tag still attached to the string. How do you like that? There was someone else besides me who left the tag and string inside his hat? What are the chances? Maybe he wasn’t such a klutz for making the mistake.
That’s when it dawned on me. The reason the hat shared so many features must have been because it was my hat! I never bothered to study the inside of my hat so carefully and didn’t remember the name of my hat.
As I left shul a few neighbors noted that they were happy I had gotten my hat back. It was easier just to nod and keep walking.
But when I returned to Lakewood for Shabbos this time there was no way I was going to wear my hat. How can I trust myself not to exchange my hat again? In the words of one wise man “Wherever I go, there I am!”
Human nature is that we spend much of our lives focusing on our own weaknesses and admiring other people’s strengths. We berate ourselves for our inadequacies and don’t give ourselves enough credit for our accomplishments. This is a sure way to keep us from feeling successful, and if we don’t feel successful we lack the inspiration to strive for greater growth and accomplishment. If we don’t recognize and believe in ourselves then who will? The painful truth is that if we don’t don our own hat it will just be left on the shelf, or worse it may just be left at home.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar



          One day a man was walking in the woods when he noticed the cocoon of a butterfly. It was a most spectacular sight and the man stopped to marvel at it. Each day after that, when he would walk by he would stop to look at the cocoon.
One day he noticed a small opening. He watched as the butterfly inside struggled to force its body through the small hole. At one point it seemed as if the butterfly had gotten as far as it could and could go no further. The man decided to help the butterfly so he took out a pair of scissors and cut off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly soon emerged easily but it had a swollen body and small-shriveled wings. The man expected that at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the entire body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings and was never able to fly.
          In his misplaced kindness and haste the man did not realize that the restricting cocoon plays an important role, and that the butterfly needs to struggle to push itself through the tiny opening. He did not understand that this was G-d’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight as soon as it emerged from the cocoon. He had unwittingly restricted the butterfly’s quality of life by helping him avoid the necessary struggle.

          Medrash Shocher Tov[1] states, “Just as a fetus is within the womb of an animal and the shepherd sticks his hand inside to remove it, so did the Holy One, blessed is He, miraculously take one nation (Klal Yisroel) out of another nation (Egypt).
What is the meaning of this Medrash? How is the exile from Egypt comparable to a fetus emerging from its mother’s womb?
          Maharal[2] explains that while a fetus is within its mother’s womb, it has no self-identity. Its nourishment is wholly dependant of the mother, drawn through the umbilical cord. The fetus continues to grow and expand within the mother until it is ready to be born. At the moment of its birth, it becomes a new life and takes on its own identity.
          As long as Klal Yisroel were in Egypt they had no real self-identity. They were a people without direction or purpose who spent their day trying to escape the crack of the Egyptian whip. They were slaves to Pharaoh and did not know of any other purpose or ideal in life.
When G-d redeemed the nation from Egypt, it was a mental and psychological redemption as much as a physical one. With the exodus, an enslaved people became a “nation” in every sense of the word. They now had a goal and a purpose as G-d had informed Moshe[3] “This is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.” 
          Although it wasn’t until the Giving of the Torah at Sinai that they truly achieved nationhood, with the exodus from Egypt they were ‘born’. At that point they had severed their dependency on their former captors and were free to ‘breath on their own’.
          The purpose of the tribulations and oppressions of Egypt were to train Klal Yisroel in achieving complete servility. They had to learn how to be completely dedicated to a cause so that when they were finally freed from bondage they would be able to channel that servitude toward G-d. Without the initial pangs of exile, they could have never become the greatest nation on earth and G-d’s representatives of morality and higher purpose in this world.    
When G-d initially instructed Moshe to assume the leadership of the burgeoning nation and to be the ‘liaison’ between G-d and Pharaoh, Moshe was reluctant. It was only after a week of circuitous discussion that G-d became angry with Moshe and insisted that he proceed with the mission.
When Moshe and Aharon appeared before Pharaoh and delivered G-d’s message however, Pharaoh was hardly forthcoming. In fact, he was enraged by the audacity of their request. He imposed new inhumane demands on the hapless slaves. The elders were awaiting Moshe and Aharon when they returned and sharply censured their efforts: “May G-d look upon you and judge, for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us.[4]
Moshe felt exasperated and turned to G-d, “My Lord, why have you done evil to this people, why have you sent me? (ומאז) And From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he did evil to this people, but You did not rescue Your people.[5]
G-d responded curtly that everything would transpire in due time, “for through a strong hand he (Pharaoh) will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them from his land.”
At the foot of the Sea of Reeds when the army of Pharaoh had been vanquished, Moshe led Klal Yisroel in the ‘Song of the Sea’. The Torah commences its repetition of that song with the words, “Az yashir Moshe uv’nei Yisroel” which literally means, “Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang.”
The Da’as Zekeinim read the pasuk homiletically: “Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang about the ‘Az’ “; i.e. at that point all of their pain and suffering was able to be put into context. They had become a new nation because of the Egyptian servitude. There was a reason and a point to every iota of their suffering and it was not in vain.  At that point, Moshe and Klal Yisroel sang about the ‘Az’, as in what Moshe had originally complained to G-d utilizing the terminology, “Umayaz basi el Pharaoh,’ he now transformed into a song of gratitude and praise using that same expression.    

It’s never easy to see the good in the bad. Nevertheless, struggles are often the key to growth and development. If life would be free of worry or struggles, it would cripple us and we could never achieve our full potential.
Perhaps there is no more profound example of this than childbirth. All of the pain and discomfort of nine months and the labor itself is all worth it as the mother cuddles her baby in her arms for the first time. 
Without the bitterness of the Egyptian exile we could never have become the Chosen Nation[6].

“Why have you done evil to this people?”
“Then Moshe and the B’nei Yisroel sang.”


[1] Tehillim 115
[2] Gevuros Hashem, chapter 3
[3] Shemos 3:12
[4] Shemos 5:21
[5] Shemos 5:22-23
[6] The following was the conclusion of this Stam Torah when I first wrote it in 5763 (2002):
This week, Hashem in His infinite kindness granted my wife and I a window of understanding and appreciation into the words of the Maharal. For the last nine months every kick and movement that could be felt in my wife’s stomach was exciting. Yet (the numerous doctor visits, sonograms, blood tests, heartbeat monitors etc. not withstanding), it was difficult to fathom that there was really a life growing and developing within my wife’s womb. To us, it was merely an extension of my wife to which we became accustomed to
There are no words in the world that can describe the first moment when a baby leaves the womb to begin its new life. All of a sudden, there is another breathing human in the room. The umbilical cord is cut and with it the baby’s dependence on the mother. Miraculously the baby’s body takes over and its own blood begins rushing throughout its tiny body.
At 4:26 A.M. in the wee hours of last Monday morning, December 30, 2002/25 Teves 5763, our son was born and we were transformed from a couple into a family. This week on Monday morning, 3 Shevat 5763, our son joined the elite members of our holy and priestly nation when he had his B’ris. We named him Yaakov Meir Sholom after my mother’s father (Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn z’l) and my mother-in-law’s father (Mr. Yaakov Meir Sholom Kawer z’l).
We hope and pray that G-d  will guide us to raise Yaakov Meir Sholom in the ways of his great-grandfathers and that we will indeed be zocheh to raise him l’Torah l’chupah ul’ma’asim tovim.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bo
6 Shevat 5773/January 18, 2013

The first day of ninth grade is unquestionably a big milestone. I remember my first day vividly. Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in Monsey would become my second home for twelve years, but on that first day it was anything but home.
After shacharis I walked into the gym/cafeteria feeling pretty good about myself, as I reached for the ladle to scoop up some orange juice to drink with my breakfast. Before I did another hand grabbed the ladle. I peered up into the eyes of a tall eleventh grader who looked down at me disdainfully. “Staum, first of all, I was here first. Second-of-all you’re a freshie. So get lost!”
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Throughout eighth grade, my rebbe, Rabbi Yanky Horowitz, would often rib us, “You guys walk around this building like you’re so tough. I can’t wait until next year when you enter mesivta. Suddenly your bravado disappears as you cower before the older students.”
Truthfully, that represents the upward climb of life. We are constantly struggling to achieve, and when we finally reach a level of mastery, we find ourselves at the bottom of the next level. It’s like an apartment building where the top of one floor is the bottom of the next floor.
At that point we are faced with the choice of resting on our laurels or goading ourselves onward to the next level, accepting the renewed discomfort as par for the course of growth. 
A number of years ago I was part of an organization which had been very close-knit and friendly. As the organization began to grow they were looking into bringing in new members and new resources. At a luncheon during that time, the director lauded our accomplishments and successes, and also prepared us for the changes that were to come. He wisely noted that “With all growth comes a certain measure of distance.” There can no longer be the same camaraderie and closeness as there once was. Procedures and styles have to change. It is a further challenge of expansion and ascension.
Oftentimes we know we have to grow and change but we aren’t prepared to accept the inevitable challenges. Alfred Hitchcock, the noted playwright, spoke about a ‘MacGuffin’ as an important component of any good story. A MacGuffin is something that occurs which draws the hero/heroine into the story. It is what starts the process and gives it meaning, impelling the characters onto a journey from where there is no shying away.   
Often we don’t grow until a MacGuffin arrives in our lives. It is the proverbial kick in the pants. We often want to fight it, so that our lives can remain status quo, in the comfort zone we have grown accustomed to. But MacGuffins are persistent and force the journey upon us.
If you never undergo the challenges of ‘freshie-hood’ you can never become a senior. And if you never become a senior you never get to take orange juice first.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar

          Rabbi Avigdor Miller zt’l was a respected and revered leader in the Torah world. He was legendary for his lectures in which he animatedly expounded upon the beauty of the world, the gift of each moment of life, and how close one can feel to G-d if he takes the time to contemplate that beauty and blessing.
          One day, Rabbi Miller’s son-in-law entered his father-in-law’s house and was greeted by a most peculiar sight. Rabbi Miller had plugged up the sink and had filled the sink with water. He proceeded to immerse his head completely in the water for a few seconds until he could no longer hold his breath. Then, he would quickly pull his head out and gasp for air. After a few moments he repeated the procedure a second time, and then a third time and a fourth time.
After Rabbi Miller completed this strange ritual his baffled son-in-law asked him for an explanation. Rabbi Miller explained that earlier that day he had been on a train and someone had blurted out that the air smelled badly. Rabbi Miller continued, “When I heard the comment I concurred that indeed the air was indeed foul-smelling. Afterwards, I was annoyed with myself for failing to appreciate the gift of air. I decided to remind myself of its preciousness by depriving myself of air by keeping my head under water until I was about to pass out. Then, when I picked my head up and air filled my lungs, I was able to remember what a great gift air is and that I should never complain about it.”

          Six plagues ravaged Egypt and severely vitiated the country’s economy and morale. But Pharaoh continued to renege on his promise and refused to grant Klal Yisroel freedom.
G-d commanded Moshe to appear before Pharaoh to warn him of the impending plague of hail. “You are still oppressing My people, by not sending them out. Behold, at this time tomorrow I shall rain a very heavy hail, such as there has never been in Egypt, from the day it was founded until now.[1]” Rashi explains that Moshe made a scratch on the wall in Pharaoh’s palace and declared, “When the sun reaches this point, at that moment the hail will begin to descend.”
          Rain is always preceded by the formation of clouds which darken the skies. If so, how was it possible for the sun to be out at the moment the hail began without any prior cloud cover? How could Moshe use the sun as a marker for the precise moment when the hail would begin? 
          Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[2] offered the following explanation: What is the point of a mechitza (‘divider’)? Although prima facie, it appears to be a separator, in truth a mechitza serves to allow disparate commodities to come as close as possible.
For example, the halacha is that men and women may not sit together while praying so that they can maintain concentration on their prayers. However, we want to ensure that every Jew has the ability to pray in shul. How can we accomplish that if men and women cannot be together? The solution is to erect a mechitza. If there is a proper mechitza then the men and women can sit within a few inches of each other and pray because there is a sufficient division between them.
          Similarly, when Klal Yisroel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai for the awesome revelation that would transpire, there was a problem. G-d was about to reveal His Presence in this world in an unprecedented manner. How would the world be able to withstand such a revelation? The only possibility was to create strong mechitzos/divisions that would obscure some of G-d’s Greatness, as it were.
That was the purpose of the three layers of intense darkness that enveloped the mountain at the time of Kabbolas HaTorah. Just as sunglasses shade a person from the blinding light of the sun, so did that intense darkness allow Klal Yisroel to be exposed to such a potent revelation of G-d’s Presence.
          A number of years ago, while Chani and I were vacationing in Florida we spent a day in the Everglades. The Everglades are a swampy area where alligators live in their natural habitat. At one point we found ourselves less than a foot away from a full-size twelve foot slumbering alligator. The reason we were not alarmed by our close encounter was that there was a concrete barrier six inches thick separating us from the massive reptile. The secure barrier actually allowed us to get far closer to an alligator than we would have otherwise dared.     

When it rains the world is being revitalized and replenished. Without constant flow of water eventually all life in the world would cease to exist. For such an intense outpouring of divine blessing to descend into this world there must be a mechitza to allow such intense blessing to descend into this world. The darkening clouds before rain serve as the mechitza to allow G-d’s bounty to come so close to us.
          This is all true in regards to normal natural rain. However, the plagues that ravaged Egypt were anything but blessings. The hail that descended upon Egypt did not require a mechitza as is necessary when there is nurturing rain. Therefore, it was unnecessary for there to be any clouds at the onset of the plague of hail. Therefore, Moshe was able to tell Pharaoh that the hail would begin as soon as the sunlight reached his scratch on the wall.

          The beauty of Rav Pinkus’ penetrating thought - aside from being logical - is that it reinforces to us how great of a blessing rain is though we often take it for granted. If we began with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, the ‘quintessential appreciator’ who taught us not to take anything for granted, than it is only apropos to conclude with another vignette from his life.
          In his book, ‘Walking with Rabbi Miller’, Rabbi Mordechai Dolinsky, a devoted disciple of Rabbi Miller, relates the following: “In my memory I am walking with the Rebbe, and dark, ‘threatening’ clouds in the distance are closing in on us. Before you know it we feel actual precipitation, intermittent and gentle at first, then turning into a very wet downpour. All this is marked by an increase of action on the street, people running helter-skelter and being very vocal with their complaints. We continue walking together, and the Rebbe changes the topic and addresses the subject of the raindrops. He focuses on the vegetation, the colorful, flavorful fruits that we enjoy and indulge in, and explains that they are actually “coming down” right now in the form of raindrops. Then he continues to enumerate other gifts of Hashem, including the wonderful world of sefarim that are in the making at this moment, as they are printed on paper that grows in the forest. He then points out that “people” are falling; all the new babies, our own children and grandchildren – Klal Yisroel, the tzaddikim!
          “Now to see the Rebbe’s face – the joy, the excitement and ecstasy… It is one thing to sit in a dry, comfortable home, lecturing about the wonderful blessings of rain, repeatedly verbalizing this concept. But to be in the wetness of the rain pouring down, and then to be in a state of ecstasy, certainly reflects one’s true feelings.”     
Rabbi Avigdor Miller lived every moment of his ninety plus years with joy and serenity. He saw the same world we see and the same events that we witness, but he perceived them differently. When Rabbi Miller saw rain and clouds he saw divine love, even as the rain soaked him!
When one lives with such an attitude the world, all of its pain and suffering not withstanding, is a very beautiful and joyful place.

“Behold, at this time tomorrow… a very heavy hail”
“Behold I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud”

[1] 9:17-18
[2] Tiferes Torah

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaera, Erev Rosh Chodesh Shevat
29 Teves 5773/January 11, 2013

As we were preparing for our shul Chanukah Chagigah in our home a few weeks ago, I went into the garage to find a rather heavy table that we keep there. Despite the bulkiness and heaviness of the table I have carried it up and down the steps myself numerous times, and I was confident that this time would be no different. I’m not sure if it was the added fatigue of the holiday or the extra latkes weighing me down, but as I turned to head up the windy staircase from our basement the table headed in the opposite direction. It went right through the wall with a terrific thud.
Aside for my ego, I thankfully was not hurt. Now it appears that we are extra stringent in the law which requires that one have a ‘zecher l’churban’ in his home.
There are times in life when we feel like we can handle things. We tell others that we have the situation under control and they need not be concerned about us; we can handle the pressure and everyone should stop making a fuss. But then without warning we can find ourselves overwhelmed, as pressure brings us to our knees.
It is at those times that one really needs the support of his/her friends and family. It is those who will rush to your aid in your lowest and most vulnerable moments that are your real friends.
I once saw a beautiful quote about friendship: “A friend is someone who really knows you, and likes you anyway…” Oprah Winfrey once quipped that “anyone will ride with you in the limousine, but only a real friend will walk with you in the pouring rain.”
A real friend will help you lift the table after you’ve unwittingly dropped it. Then they’ll open the table and sit next to you.
We know Hashem doesn’t test challenge a person with any test he can’t handle. Sometimes the ability to handle a situation may include his social supports.
The ultimate marriage is when spouses achieve that level of dedication and devotion for each other. During sheva berachos we describe the choson and kallah as rayim ha’ahuvim – beloved friends. We pray that throughout their lives they will support each other so that neither ever feels alone, that they carry their table together so that they can sit beside it together.
Mazal Tov Joe and Danielle!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Good Chodesh,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          The Rodazover Rebbe had a dedicated chassid who was childless. The chassid frequently begged the Rebbe to bless him that he merit a child. Although the Rebbe gave him numerous heartfelt blessings, they never came to fruition.
          One time, the Rebbe’s brother, the Zhikover Rebbe, came to spend time with his brother in Rozadov. When the chassid met the Zhikover Rebbe he began to pour out his heart expressing all the pain and anguish he felt because he had not been blessed with children. The Rebbe listened patiently and then replied that if the chassid would join him in Zhikov for Rosh Hashanah that year he would be guaranteed a child. When the chassid recounted the conversation to his own Rebbe, the Rodazover Rebbe replied, “If my brother assured you that you will merit a child if you spend Rosh Hashanah with him, it will surely materialize. Do as he says!”
          Yet on the first night of Rosh Hashana after davening the chassid stood on line to wish the Rodazover Rebbe a good year. “What are you doing here?” asked the Rebbe, “Why are you not with my brother in Zhikov?” The chassid meekly replied, “I was thinking that everyone is well aware that I have been bothering you for a blessing for children for many years now and I have still not blessed with a child. If I went to your brother for Rosh Hashana and was blessed with a child during the year, what would people say about you? They might say that your brother is greater than you and that his blessings are more potent. That might cause you some pain and embarrassment. Just because I am waiting for a child does not give me the right to cause the holy Rebbe pain.”
          The Rodazover Rebbe was moved by the words of his chassid and guaranteed that he would merit a child that year. Within the year the chassid was the father of a baby boy.
          When referring to this story, the Rodazover Rebbe explained that it was not his blessing that brought about that child. “Do you think I am a miracle worker? I am surely not one to interfere with the celestial courts. It’s just that when a person demonstrates such incredible selflessness and care for another even at the risk of forfeiting his life’s dream, there is no doubt that G-d will hearken to his prayers. It was the chassid’s own merit that granted him a son, not my blessing!” 

          Moshe Rabbeinu was raised in the lap of Egyptian luxury, on the lap of Pharaoh himself. But Moshe was not content in the opulence of the palace while his brethren were suffering mercilessly. He left the palace to witness the pain of his people. When he saw an Egyptian beating a Jew, Moshe killed the Egyptian, and hid his body in the sand. With uncanny ingratitude, the Jew whose very life Moshe had saved, reported what Moshe had done to the Egyptian authorities. It was only through miraculous intervention that Moshe escaped death and was forced to flee Egypt.
          The Torah[1] states, “Pharaoh was informed about this incident[2] and he wanted to kill Moshe. Moshe fled from Pharaoh and dwelled in the land of Midyan and sat at the well.”
Truthfully, Moshe did not go directly from Egypt to Midyan. The Medrash relates that Moshe’s trek to Midyan was long and eventful. Moshe first fled south to Kush where he helped its king, King Kinkos recapture his kingdom from Bila’am, the infamous nemesis of Klal Yisroel.
After Kinkos died, Moshe was appointed king of Kush where he remained for forty years. He was given the given the young widow of King Kinkos as a wife. However, since she was a descendant of Canaan, with whom marriage was prohibited to Abraham’s descendants, he always maintained a certain distance from her.
Finally the queen complained to the councilmen that her son was the legitimate heir to the throne. When Moshe was informed of her complaint he cordially abdicated the throne. It was only then that he trekked northward and arrived at the well in Midyan.
This being true it is noteworthy that the Torah breezes over this entire sixty-year saga with nary a mention. It is incredible that in between the letter 'ה' of the word פרעה and the 'ו' of the word וישב sixty years have passed. By recording Moshe’s escape from Egypt as well as his arrival in Midyan in the same verse, there must be some connection between the two events.[3]

          I once heard the following insight[4]: By juxtaposing these two events the Torah is demonstrating an important facet of Moshe’s greatness. Pharaoh wanted to kill Moshe because he had killed an Egyptian officer. Moshe had done so because he could not bear the sight of a Jew being made to suffer needlessly. The consequence of Moshe’s action was a prolonged exile away from his family and his people. He was forced to be a loner and a refugee for decades, all because he had tried to help a fellow Jew.
By the time Moshe arrived in Midyan, one would think he would have learned to mind his own business. Judging from what happened to him the last time he righteously meddled in someone else’s affairs one would think when he witnessed the shepherd’s mistreatment of Yisro’s daughters he would leave them to their fate. But Moshe would not do so. Ignoring his own welfare, he immediately jumped to his feet and came to their aid, endangering himself yet again.
Following this second incident too Moshe suffered for his good deed. The Medrash relates that when Yisro was informed of Moshe’s past he feared Egyptian reprisal for harboring an Egyptian refugee and so he promptly imprisoned Moshe. It was a number of years before Yisro released him and offered him his daughter Tzipporah as a wife.    
          Why was Moshe worthy to be the greatest leader of Klal Yisroel? Because he was selfless! Sixty years of exile not withstanding, Moshe was ready to help a stranger in need without hesitation. To Moshe it was as if there was no gap between his escape from Mitzrayim and his arrival in Midyan. In that sense, he did not learn his lesson; he refused to learn his lesson! He understood that there is a price to pay in order to foster kindness and achieve justice, and he was willing to pay that price.
It was that drive which made him worthy to be the leader of Klal Yisroel that would soon transmit G-d’s Holy Torah to His Holy Nation.   
Recently I was talking to Ari, a young student, who told me that he has a classmate named Moshe that many of his peers, himself included, found very annoying. While many of his classmates shrugged Moshe off and kept their distance from him, Ari would occasionally invite Moshe to his home and spend time talking to him. Ari confided that it was hard for him to talk to Moshe and it would be much easier for him to shrug him off like many of his classmates had done.
I told Ari that others see him as a boy with fine middos, an example for his peers. That encomium comes with a price tag. I told Ari that he should be proud that he is willing to sacrifice of himself to help another. It may be easier for the other boys to ignore Moshe but it inevitably has a negative effect on their personality.    

There is an old sarcastic quip that “No good deed goes unpunished”. One who strives for greatness has to be ready to pay that price. He must remind himself that it is par for the course of leadership.

“Moshe fled from Pharaoh…”
“…And dwelled in the land of Midyan and sat at the well”

[1] Shemos 2:16
[2] that Moshe had killed an Egyptian
[3] It is not difficult t understand why the Torah does not relate this story. The Torah is not a story book. There are many similar fascinating accounts that are only mentioned in Medrash (e.g. Avrohom Avinu in the furnace of Nimrod). Only select stories are included in the Torah if they are timeless accounts.
[4] Heard from Rabbi Yosef Templer, Shabbos Kodesh Shemos 5765

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemos
22 Teves 5773/January 4, 2013

Dear Principal
I am writing to you out of deep aggravation and frustration. Last night my son came home from school and reported to my wife that the boys in his class didn’t allow him to play in their game during recess. He said that his teacher made him miss the first few minutes of recess because she felt he was being mean to his classmates.
That itself is an outrage! When I asked my son to tell me what really happened he said that all he did was call another boy a loser a few times. So what if it was front of other kids, is that called being mean? Kids have to be able to deal with things. They gotta tough it up and be able to handle it. You really have to help out that kid.
But that’s a separate problem. Because my son was inappropriately denied his rights to recess, he came out late, whereupon his classmates told him he had to find someone else to split up with because they already made teams. I have no doubt that they knew all too well there was no one else to split with him.
I don’t know what you call that behavior, but in my book that’s called bullying. As you know, using any authority or power to get something unwarranted or to push around someone else is bullying. This includes using threats, ultimatums, or exerting strength or power to get what you want, without taking consideration of the victim or his perspective on the situation.
I don’t send my son to school so that his self-esteem could be shattered. How can a group of kids be allowed to gang up on my son and not allow him to play just because one of them was immature enough to complain about a harmless tease and he was forced to come out late?
The school claims that bullying is absolutely not tolerated. Is that just a nice quip you write in the handbook and preach to the parents? Where are you now that my son is being bullied?
I will absolutely not stand for this! I’ll have you know that if you do not act on this matter immediately to rectify this problem, I will publicize the incident. I will write to the local newspapers and tell them about this and my other grievances with the school, and your deficient handling of it. Other parents will join me in bringing this matter to the attention of the school board. So you better get to it and address the situation.
With everything else going on in our crazy society I cannot allow anyone to bully my son. I will not tolerate his being given any ultimatums or threats. So either fix it or face the consequences.
I wait to hear your response and I expect that everything will be taken care of immediately.

Inherent Paradox

Dear Principle: Don’t expect your child’s school to be able to teach your son lessons you don’t live by!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
   R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425