Thursday, June 1, 2023

Parshas Naso 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Naso

13 Sivan 5783/June 2, 2023




In the month of June, the word commencement seems to pop up a lot, because graduations are known as commencement exercises. I had a colleague who would say that the only exercise he gets all year is when he attends commencement exercises in June.

I was recently speaking with a friend who insisted that commence means end. Why else, he argued, would graduation be called commencement? Despite his logical reasoning, to commence means to begin. So why indeed are graduations called beginnings when they mark the end of one’s schooling?

Some offer a historical explanation. During the Middle Ages, students and teachers ate in large halls, with students sitting together at long tables and teachers at a separate table on a raised podium. When students completed their studies, graduates would sit with their teachers as equals at a common table (from Latin com – “common” and mensa – “table”). The celebration of that transition became known as the “commencement.”

Others argue that commencement is metaphorical. The end of the academic journey marks the beginning of the next phase of one’s life. A graduation ceremony marks the beginning of the journey that will bring the graduate to new vistas and opportunities.

In 1942, the British army routed the previously unstoppable forces of German General Rommel at El Alamein, driving the German troops out of Egypt. The battle marked a turning point in Northern Africa during World War II. Shortly afterwards, in a speech delivered at London’s Mansion house, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill quipped: "Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

During my years in rabbanus, at the Neilas HaChag at the conclusion of Simchas Torah I often shared the following with my congregation: “We set out on a journey that began almost two months ago with the first blowing of the Shofar on Rosh Chodesh Elul. It continued with Selichos, Rosh Hashanah and the shofar, followed by Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, Tashlich, Kappraos, the holy day of Yom Kippur with all its prayers, building the succah, choosing a lulav and esrog, celebrating the joyous holiday of Succos, Simchas Beis Hasheivah, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeres, bentching Geshem, culminating with the intense dancing of Simchas Torah. And now, after traversing that glorious journey of introspection, growth and spiritual commitment, we have finally arrived…. at the beginning!”

The same can be said regarding the Yom Tov of Shavuos. After the regal Seder Night and the Yom Tov of Pesach, followed by seven weeks counting the Omer, and culminating with the Yom Tov of Shavuos, we have finally arrived at the beginning.

If someone is preparing to take part in a major bike race, during the prior weeks he will work to build up his endurance and train himself and properly pace himself to ensure that he is agile enough for the race. He will also spend a tremendous amount of time choosing his bike, painstakingly choosing the best tires, and ensuring that he has the most comfortable bike seat and that all the parts of his bike are top quality and best suited for his comfort and performance.

On the day of the big race, he will eat a hearty breakfast and then ride his bike to the starting line along with the other contenders. All his work was to get to that point. From that point onward he is on his own. His trainer, family and friends can only watch from the sidelines. Now it’s up to him to complete what he set out to accomplish.

Pesach, Sefirah and Shavuos are all training to bring us to the starting line. When Shavuos ends it marks the end of the beginning. At that point it is incumbent upon us to continue our mission without the added reminders and encouragement of Sefiras HaOmer. Now comes the real challenge of living life based on Torah.

The same is true when Simchas Torah ends. It is then that the real challenge and goal begins – to live daily life with the commitments and newfound spiritual levels attained during the previous weeks.   

The Klausenberger Rebbe (Divrei Yatziv 1:94), quotes Rabbeinu Gershom, who explained that an important reason why one celebrates a siyum is because when one completes one section of Torah study, the custom is to immediately begin the subsequent study, in a never-ending quest for more Torah learning.  

Every spiritual accomplishment should be celebrated not just because of what one has achieved, but because it gives him the ability to achieve more in the future, “From strength to strength” (Tehillim 84:7).

Now that Shavuos has ended and we have finally arrived at the beginning, we set out for the real journey ahead.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, May 18, 2023

Parshas Bamidbar 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bamidbar – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

Avos perek 6 – 43rd day of Omer

28 Iyar 5783/May 19, 2023 – Yom Yerushalayim




My esteemed colleague, Rabbi Dr. Joel Berman related the following story from his years as a soldier in the IDF:

“One day I was part of a 9-man team lying in a rare daytime ambush in Southern Lebanon near the Christian town of Hula. We would lay quietly in place with our guns poised for many hours. It was mostly boring and quiet, but we had to be ready at all times. There was a rotation where three were able to sleep while the other 6 remained awake.

“I was lying next to Salach, a singularly skilled and well-trained Druze soldier. He was peering into his pair of binoculars. Suddenly, he handed me the binoculars cupped his hands to my ear and whispered, “Berman, tistakel v’tagid li mah atah ro’eh - look and tell me what you see.” I looked and told him that I see a tree. He kicked me in the foot and told me to look carefully again. I did so and replied that I still only saw a tree. This time he smacked me and told me to look again, noticing a perfectly straight stick going up and down. I looked again and this time I indeed saw a perfectly straight stick moving up and down ever so slightly among the branches. Salach then explained, “it is a fact that nothing natural is perfectly straight. If something is perfectly straight, it is man made. If we see a straight stick in the distance, it clearly means that the enemy is there with a radio and the protruding antenna is what we are seeing.”

“Salach then took out a plastic-covered map, unfurled it and figured out the exact coordinates of the antenna. He then radioed the coordinates back to our base. Moments later a shell was shot from Israel at that precise location utterly decimating the enemy.”

It’s an amazing concept. Hashem did not create anything perfectly straight in nature. Rivers, sticks, flower stems, blood flowing through our veins, our bones, etc. - nothing is perfectly linear. Yet, we want our lives to be perfect and we want to plan our lives and that everything should work out perfectly. But we should note that if nature itself doesn’t follow straight lines, our lives also cannot be perfect. The circuitous route of the trajectory of our lives is the path which Hashem leads us on. It may often be challenging but it builds and molds us into the great people we are meant to be.

In addition, we are not angels. Angels have nothing to work on because their path and mission is indeed perfectly straight and predictable. But humans have challenges that force us off our intended paths. An angel is referred to as an omed – one who stands, in the sense that it cannot grow, while we can use our challenges as opportunities to grow, potentially to levels greater than angels.


With all this in mind, it is intriguing that regarding the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer the Torah states, “Usafratem lachem… sheva shabasos timimos tehiyenah – And you shall count for yourself… Seven complete weeks they shall be” (Vayikra 23:15). Does the path to Kabbolas HaTorah require perfection and completion? There are so many statements from Chazal lauding the value of teshuva, even saying that “Teshuva preceded creation of the world.” (Medrash Tehillim 90) is Kabbolas HaTorah contingent on perfect adherence?

In Major League Baseball there are certain numbers that are hallowed and special. True fans are aware of the significance of two of those numbers: 56 and 2,632.

56 is the number of consecutive games in which Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio got a hit during the 1941 season. What’s not always realized is that after the streak was snapped, DiMaggio got at least one hit in each of the following 15 games as well. In 73 games there was only one game in which he didn’t have a hit. The Yankees went on to win the AL pennant that year by a 17-game margin and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series. DiMaggio was voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League, beating out Ted Williams, who had hit over .400 that season. The second longest hitting streak is 45 games set by Willie Keeler in 1897.

2,632 is the longest streak of consecutive games played in by a player, not only in major League Baseball, but in any professional sport. That record is held by Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles who didn’t miss a game between May 30, 1982, and September 19, 1998. He broke the previous record of Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig who had played in 2,130 consecutive games. The third longest streak is 1,307 games held by Everett Scott.

It is believed that neither DiMaggio’s streak nor Ripken’s streak will ever be broken.

Sometimes we think that to be worth anything we have to be at our best and feeling spiritual and connected every day. We think we have to be like DiMiaggio, getting at least a hit in every at bat. But the reality is that we don’t feel spiritually charged and energized every day. Does that make us a failure?

There is another type of streak that is different but no less impressive. It is the streak of Cal Ripken Jr. who showed up ready to perform every day. Such a streak requires endurance and persistence to give it your best even on days when you don’t feel like it and may be fatigued or burned out. The ability to do so is rooted in a feeling of responsibility, conviction, dedication and focus on the long-term.

When the Torah states that the days of the Omer must be complete, it doesn’t necessarily mean complete in a “DiMaggio” sense. It doesn’t demand that we suddenly reach perfection and top-level performance. Rather it requires “Ripken” completion – courageously showing up, stepping into the ring and daring greatly. That is the path that must be undertaken to arrive at Sinai to receive the Torah.

If someone missed an entire day of counting the Omer, the halachic consensus is that he can longer count with a beracha. People in that situation often erroneously say “I am out!” or “I can no longer count!” That is a big mistake. Although he can no longer count with a beracha he still performs a mitzvah when he recites the Sefirah count for that night.

Nature does not produce perfection, because Hashem does not demand perfection of us. But we are bidden to ‘show up’ and give it our best shot, every day of our lives. Even those days when we don’t feel like being there, we remind ourselves of the great value of suiting up, stepping into the batter’s box, and readying ourselves to do the best we can with whatever life hurls at us.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chodesh Tov & Gut Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum