Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Parshas Behaloscha 5784

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

 

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha

15 Sivan 5784/ June 21, 2024

Pirkei Avos – Perek 2

NO KETCHUP

People take their food very seriously. We are blessed to live in a society of plenty and we expect our plenty to tantalize our taste buds exactly how we like it. Who isn’t a food critic these days? Debates about which restaurant is better or what is the best dish in a particular eatery can be surprisingly passionate.

In the United States one of our national pastime foods is the hotdog. It’s estimated that Americans consume about 7 billion hotdogs each summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day. (As no one is counting, anyone can make up whatever number he wants. The bottom line is Americans eat a lot of hotdogs.) Various places have different practices about which toppings they like on their hotdogs.

Chicagoans classic hotdog has mustard, neon-green relish, raw onions, a full pickle, tomatoes, a bit of celery salt on a poppy seed bun. But there’s one thing you won’t find anywhere near a Chicago hotdog - ketchup! Former President Obama once quipped that it’s not acceptable to put ketchup on a hotdog once a person is older than 8 years old. There are many hotdog vendors in Chicago that won’t even carry ketchup and will become annoyed if a customer dares to ask for ketchup for their hotdog. In fact, there is even a book entitled, “Never put ketchup on a hotdog.”

Why the ketchup hate? And why is it okay for children?

Ketchup is sweet and kids like when their food is sweet. To appreciate the taste of meat one must have some modicum of culinary sophistication. Even a hot dog, the basest of meats, has a distinct meaty taste. Children like to douse their food in ketchup to make it sweet. But not every food is meant to be sweet.

It’s been said (by me) that if someone is dousing steak in ketchup, it may be a better idea to just eat a candy. He’s anyway not appreciating the taste of the steak and it’s a lot cheaper.

Ketchup may be okay with french fries, because they don’t have much taste anyway and are more eaten for their texture. But food that has “culinary depth” is wasted when its taste is overwhelmed with the taste of ketchup.

For a young child who prioritizes sweet over all other tastes, we can give him a ketchup pass. But for someone who should have more of an appreciation, ketchup obscures the taste of the hotdog and is insulting to the meat.

 

Chumash Bamidbar begins with great anticipation. The nation of former slaves were elevated to greatness when they accepted the Torah at Sinai. They began to travel through the desert in regal formation preparing for imminent entry into the Holy Land.

But then disaster struck. And then disaster struck again, and again, and again.

It’s not pleasant to read about the nation’s repeated foibles. The people that had so recently been compared to angels was soon complaining about the lack of pickles. Then they denigrated the Holy Land, joined the rebellion of Korach, and caused Moshe to strike the rock, etc.

In the writings of other religions their saints are portrayed as perfect and infallible. Why does the Torah include these unflattering stories?

The Torah is the book of life and ultimate truth. Therefore, by definition, it must teach us about dealing with struggles and failures in that they are an integral part of the human experience. Nothing is whitewashed in the Torah and no one, even our greatest leaders, gets a free pass.

In our lives, we make mistakes, both on a personal and a national level. Instead of erasing the past, our mistakes and our sins can become “Torah” If we learn from them. They then become transformed into steppingstones towards growth.

Perhaps that is why the Torah relates about the loshon hara Miriam said about her brother Moshe. I’ve often wondered why the Torah telling us about that ordeal isn’t itself loshon hora about Miriam?

Very often successful people relate times of struggle early on in their career. They share how they grew from a foolish mistake, an embarrassing moment, feelings of inadequacy, or the like. Now that the experience has become part of their growth and path to success, it is no longer embarrassing for them to share it. In fact, it becomes a dramatic part of their story and subsequent success.

Miriam undoubtedly internalized the message of her exacting punishment. What greater honor could she have then to have the Jewish people eternally learn from her mishap!

The Torah doesn’t sugarcoat challenges, struggles or foibles. That is a lesson for us on a personal level as well. If we can grow from our mistakes they can become “delicious” in their own right, but it requires a level of sophistication to appreciate its taste.

And they don’t need ketchup to taint their elite taste.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Shavuos 5784

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

 

Erev Shavuos  

5 Sivan 5784/ June 11, 2024

49th day of the Omer

NAMING STARS

As I get older it seems to only be getting worse. I’m really bad at recognizing names and faces. In this regard my wife and I are opposites. She doesn’t forget a face, or a name and I don’t remember them. We’ll go shopping together and she’ll say hi to someone who looks at her confusedly. My wife will then tell her that they were in preschool together. Meanwhile I have embarrassing encounters with people I know that I don’t recognize or have totally forgotten their name.

My generation also takes longer to come to terms with new technology than my children’s generation. It took me a while to get the hang of using Siri in my car and Alexa on our device at home.

One afternoon I came home and was annoyed that our new voice command device wasn’t working. My wife and children found it hysterically funny as they watched me shout “Hey Siri” to our Alexa device and then become frustrated that I wasn’t getting any response. My children explained to me that if I didn’t address the device by her correct name she won’t reply. Silly Abba!

We state in davening each morning, “He counts a number for the stars. For each He calls by name.”

From our perspective on earth, the greatness of the stars lies in their multitudes. One star in the sky isn’t too impressive. But when we look up at night and see endless stars in every direction we are awed.

To Hashem however, each individual star is precious. He calls each by name to demonstrate their significance and uniqueness.

Dovid Hamelech tells us about the stars because they serve as a metaphor for ourselves. Hashem told Avrohom Avinu that his children would be like the stars in the heavens. That refers not only to our collective light that shines even in the darkest of times, but also to the light and value of each individual.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks related that he once asked Paul Johnson, the catholic author of A History of the Jews, what had impressed him the most about Judaism?

Johnson replied that historically there have been societies that emphasized the individual, such as the contemporary Western world. There have also been societies that overemphasized and prioritized the collective, such as communist Russia or China.

Judaism, however, was successful at maintaining the delicate balance between giving equal weight to individual and collective value and responsibility. Judaism was a religion of both strong individuals and strong communities. That balance is rare and difficult. Johnson suggested that it is one of our greatest achievements.

In Parshas Bamidbar, Klal Yisroel is counted and Rashi notes that the count was an expression of Hashem’s everlasting love for His nation. At first glance it may seem that the purpose of the count was only to ascertain the final tally. However, Ramban writes that each individual felt personally valued by the count. When donating towards the census, each individual Jew appeared before Moshe and Aharon and introduced themselves to the venerable leaders. “One who came before the father of the prophets and his brother, the holy one of Hashem, and introduced himself (to them) by name, it would be for him a merit and boost of vitality” (Ramban 1:45). As each individual was counted, he also was made to feel special and valued.

This week we witnessed the incredibly daring raid that brought home 4 of the hostages from Gaza. We are fighting a nation that glorifies and celebrates murder and hate, while we glorify and prioritize life.

The IDF invests incredible energy, manpower, resources and the ultimate sacrifice of heroic soldiers killed in battle to save every individual of our people.

It’s a reminder to us of how invaluable every Jew is and how vital we are all in Kabbolas HaTorah.

Each Jew has a name, a purpose, and a mission. We need to remember that about our fellow Jew and we need to remember it about ourselves.

May we all merit to reaccept upon ourselves the Torah with awe, love and joy.

 

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

stamtorah@gmail.com 

 

 

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Parshas Bamidbar 5784

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

 

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar

Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5784/ June 7, 2024 – 45th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 6

FACE THE MUSIC

Shortly after I became engaged to my future wife, I attended a b’ris in Lakewood. Being that it wasn’t far from my kallah’s home, she met me there. When I saw her, I asked her if I could get her anything to eat. She smiled and politely declined.

A few minutes later, I met a rebbe of mine. When I told him that my kallah was at the b’ris he asked me if I brought her anything to eat. I proudly explained that I had offered her some food as soon as she walked in, but she didn’t want anything. My rebbe pointed towards the food and instructed, “Bring her a bagel, cream cheese, some eggs, vegetables and lox.” I did as I was told and was surprised when my kallah indeed enjoyed some of the food. When I saw my rebbe a few minutes later and told him what happened, he put his hand on my shoulder and quipped, “And there’s your first lesson about marriage.”

 

People communicate with words. However, we also communicate without words, such as with nonverbal communication. To really understand another, one must also hear the non-verbalized message. In fact, one’s tone of voice and body language can give a very different message than what is actually being verbalized.

As a simple example, if someone tells his friend that he really cares about him while he is mindlessly scrolling and typing, the non-verbalized message that he doesn’t really care, will be louder than what he is saying.

In addition, at times, there is also a strong message conveyed by what is not being said, more than what is being said.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter once went to visit a young student who was sitting shiva for his parent. When Rabbi Yisroel sat down, there was silence in the room. After a couple of minutes Rabbi Yisroel initiated a conversation with his bereaved student.

After he left the house of mourning, Rabbi Yisroel’s students asked him why he began the conversation when halacha states that one may not speak until the mourner speaks first. Rabbi Yisroel replied incredulously, “Did you not hear his heart? He was practically screaming in pain.”

Rabbi Yisroel heard the cry of his student, despite the fact that his student had not said anything.

In all relationships it is important that we be keen listeners to hear what is being said and what is not being said or being said in other ways. Very often the real message one wishes to or needs to convey is the hidden one, beyond the words being said.

 

There is a poignant example of this concept in Megillah Rus. After their husband’s deaths, Rus and Oprah decided to remain with their (former) mother-in-law Naomi. At that point Naomi tells them that they have nothing to stay for. “Return, my daughters, why should you come with me? … Return my daughters, go, for I am too old to have a husband… no, my daughters, I am very embittered on account of you…” (Rus 1:11-12).

Orpah hearkened to Naomi’s message and indeed returned, but Rus stubbornly persisted and returned to Eretz Yisroel with Naomi.

How could Noami’s message have had such a different effect on her two daughters-in-law?

The Minchas Yosef explains that Rus and Oroah heard different messages in what Naomi said. On the surface, it seems that Orpah listened to Naomi by leaving, while Rus defied her by remaining with her. But Chazal relate that the opposite was true: “Orpah turned her back (oref) to Naomi, whereas Rus saw (ra'asah, i.e. heeded) her words" (Rus Rabbah 2:9).

Rus listened to Naomi on a deeper level. When Naomi entreated Rus and Orpah to leave her, Rus recognized that Naomi had addressed them as "my daughters" twice (instead of "my daughters-in-law"). A mother, protests notwithstanding, does not abandon a child. Orpah heard the words alone, and they were clearly telling her to leave. Rus, however, heard the inner emotion behind those words. Rus heard the expression of a mother who desperately wants to hold onto her children. It was the tune, not the lyrics, that expressed Naomi's true intent.

Hearing the emotion behind the words and non-verbalized messages goes one step further.

The Torah is referred to as a “Shirah - song”. “And now write for yourself this song; teach it to B’nei Yisroel, place it in their mouths.” Perhaps part of the idea behind the song of Torah, is to recognize that Torah is not only about the actual words. The Torah wants to teach us ethics and values. Being a good Jew entails not only fulfilling the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law.

Ramban writes that one can be a disgusting person without violating any laws. The Torah therefore instructs us to be holy. We must be noble and distinguished so that it is apparent that we are a divine people. Being holy entails living according to the values of the Torah, beyond the actual words. It means hearing the underlying message and direction that Torah instills in its adherents.

The Torah teaches us how to see beneath the surface and dig deeper to understand and decipher the implications and hidden messages.

Such knowledge is invaluable not only for Torah study but in all relationships as well.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

stamtorah@gmail.com 

 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Parshas Bechukosai 5784

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

 

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechuksai – Shabbos Chazak

23 Iyar 5784/ May 31, 2024 – 38th day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Perek 5 – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

FOREVER HOME

Last winter while visiting Yerushalayim, I had the opportunity to tour the Old City with Daniel Luria, Executive Director of Ateret Cohanim.

Ateret Cohanim was founded by Mati Dan in 1979. Its goal and mission was, and is, to redeem and reclaim land and homes in Eastern Yerushalayim from Arabs. In so doing they strengthen Jewish life in the heart of the Old City of Yerushalayim and its environs.

In the mid-late 1800s, there were close to 19,000 Jews living in the Old City of Yerushalayim, out of a population of 28,000. Along with the Jewish majority population, there were 21 shuls and six yeshivos in the area today known as “The Muslim Quarter”. Due to its proximity to Har Habayis, it was the main center of Jewish life.

Throughout my tour with Daniel Luria, he referred to the Muslim Quarter as the “Old Jewish Quarter”. Many other residents of the Old City that I spoke to use the same title. The current four-quarter division of Yerushalayim was created by the British during the years that Eretz Yisroel was a British Mandate. Arab pogroms in 1920, 1928-1929 and 1937-1938 decimated Jewish life in the Old City. At that point the British urged Jews to leave, promising the Jews safe return as refugees. That promise was never fulfilled.

During the Six-Day war in 1967, when Yerushalayim was reconquered and united, the Jews returned to the Jewish Quarter but not to the “Old Jewish Quater”.

During the late 1800s the Chayei Olam Yeshiva had been located in the Old Jewish Quarter. When Mati Dan approached the Arab living in the building to try to retrieve it, the Arab immediately told him that it was a Jewish building, and if they compensated him, he would immediately leave.

One of the most incredible stories Daniel Luria related was that of the Beit HaTzalam - Photographer’s House.

During the mid-1990’s when Mati Dan was giving a tour of the Old City, he arranged for a photographer who lives in the Old City to join to take pictures of the tour. A few weeks later Mati called the photographer. When the call was answered, Moti asked if he was speaking with the photographer from the Old City. The man on the line replied in a deep middle eastern accent, “I live in the Old City but I’m not a photographer. What do you want blease?” Mati immediately realized that the man on the line was an Arab as Arabs don’t pronounce the letter ‘p’. Instead of please the man had said blease.

Half-jokingly, Mati answered that he wanted the man’s house. The Arab hesitated before he replied, “Who told you we sell? Are you Jew or Arab? I cannot discuss details with a Jew on the phone.”

They arranged to meet at a coffee shop. The Arab arrived at the meeting holding official documents showing that he owned 90% of a large property in the Old City. The property had a courtyard and a magnificent rooftop view of the Old City and the Temple Mount. The Arab clandestinely informed Mati that he would be amenable to sell the building if Mati arranged for him and his family to emigrate to the United States, and if they would secure a job for him in America. (The Arab had to leave the country out of fear of an official Arab law called Fatwa that an Arab who sells land to a Jew is killed.)

A poster with a city in the background

Description automatically generatedMati agreed and the deal was secured. Currently, four Jewish families live in that building.

I had the pleasure of going up to the roof of Beit HaTzalam and enjoying the clear view of Har Habayis from there.

A few days later, Mati realized that when trying to dial the photographer’s number, he had mistakenly switched around the last 2 digits. That providential mistake ended up with a reclaimed Jewish property in the Old Jewish Quarter.

As we walked through the streets and congested alleyways of the Old Jewish Quarter, it was heartening to see so many Israeli flags hanging from so many windows and doors. Each flag marks that a Jewish family or yeshiva is now located in that reclaimed building.

As I stood near the Yaffa gate, I was pleasantly surprised to see countless Jews, including young Jewish mothers pushing strollers, yeshiva boys with payos, and even young children, walking fearlessly through the Arab Shuq through the Old Jewish Quarter.

I was told that if a Jew is ever lost while walking in the Old Jewish Quarter, he should just make sure he doesn’t look lost. As long as he walks with confidence through the streets he is not in danger. There are hundreds of security video cameras throughout every road and alleyway in the Old City that are monitored 24/7.

The Jews who live in the Old Jewish Quarter walk through the streets with a sense of confidence and pride, exuding a message that this is our home, and we aren’t going anywhere.

To date, there are 1000 Jewish residents living in the old Jewish quarter including four yeshivos.

The holy work of Ateret Cohanim extends beyond the Old City walls as well. Among others, they have reclaimed 130 Jewish homes in the gated and protected area of Maale HaZeitim, located above the graves of Har Hazeisim, and 41 families in Silwan, in what was formerly the Jewish Yemenite Village, and currently a very hostile Arab area, and 10 families in Kidmat Zion, a strategic neighborhood at the eastern municipal border of Yerushalayim.[1]

 

In Shemoneh Esrei we bless Hashem as the One who is, “Bonei Yerushalayim- building Yerushalayim.” We do not say that He built or will build, but that He builds Yerushalayim. Since the day it was destroyed, Hashem has never ceased to use the merits of Klal Yisroel to slowly build Yerushalayim. But for generations our ancestors were unable to witness the building of Yerushalayim.

Unlike any other time since the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in 70 c.e. however, we can witness the ongoing building of Yerushalayim. Our ancestors would have given anything just to walk through Yerushalayim, never mind to see it as the beautiful city that it is today.

The sound of construction is always discernible in Yerushalayim, along with the sight of cranes and closed off construction areas. One must appreciate the significance of the signs hanging by every Jerusalem construction site: “Kan bonim atid Yerushalayim - Here the future of Yerushalayim is being built.”

The city is still far from our ultimate dream, when the Beis Hamikdash will stand in the heart of the city, and we once again have the avodah. But we are remiss and foolish if we fail to appreciate the blessing to have access to the holy city.

This week, 28 Iyar, marks the anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim, the day when Har Habayis was recaptured and Yerushalayim was unified under Jewish dominion. We can hardly imagine a world in which we couldn’t visit and live in Yerushalayim. It’s a perfect time to thank Hashem for the incredible gift we take for granted, even as we await its ultimate completion.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

stamtorah@gmail.com


 



[1] To learn more about Ateret Cohanim and the holy work they do, visit: Ateretcohanim.org.