Thursday, May 18, 2017

PARSHIOS BEHAR-BECHUKOSAI 5777



“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar-Bechukosai (38th day of Omer)
23 Iyar 5777/ May 19, 2017 - Avos Perek 4
Shabbos Chazak! - Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

The Staum family are proud Leviim. We look forward to Moshiach coming so that we will have the great merit of singing in the Bais Hamikdash.
Although it would be an even greater zechus to be Kohanim, there is a juvenile benefit to not being a Kohanim. You see, Kohanim need to be particularly vigilant to make sure they wear nice socks. In Eretz Yisroel that's true every day; in chutz la'aretz it's true on Yom Tov. Before kohanim duchan (bless the congregation with Birchas Kohanim) they remove their shoes. As the kohanim take their place in front of the shul, their socks are quite noticeable. This is especially true if they are wearing colored socks or socks with designs.
Personally, even if my socks happen to match by coincidence on any given day, they always seem to have holes in them (despite my wife's best efforts to constantly replace them). There's also another rather obvious reason why it's beneficial for the Kehilla that my shoes remain on my feet.
Although my socks can remain incognito, my shoes are not as fortunate. Being that in our shul, Kehillat New Hempstead, my seat is atop the podium in front (the congregation feels the need to always keep an eye on me), my shoes are more visible than they would otherwise be.
Now that I have a teenage son who possesses some sense of style (which he inherited from his mother), he recently offered to pick out shoes for me. I agreed, and the shoes arrived a few days later. Since I have begun wearing them, more than one person has complimented the shoes, but added that they are a little too snazzy and stylish for a rabbi.
As we grow older, many of us have the experience of looking at our parent's wedding album and thinking how "out of style" our parents look. My father looked handsome at his wedding, but - seriously Abba - a brown, three-piece suit?!
We are all convinced that we are far more stylish than our predecessors. That holds true until the day our children look through our wedding albums and laugh at us. (For me it came sooner - it was as shortly after we got married and Chani went through my closet and got rid of much of my wardrobe.)
We can take solace, however, that chances are in another generation the styles will come back around. Our grandchildren may be impressed with how stylish their grandparents were, especially because it seems to have skipped a generation. “Abba, how come you don't get a suit like Zaydei had at his wedding?”
I once heard that Rav Avrohom Pam zt"l noted to someone who commented that he had very stylish glasses, that he had them from when he was young, and they were in style the last time around.
A friend of mine often quips that he refuses to pay a lot of money to walk around broadcasting someone else's name, unless that person is willing to walk around wearing clothing that bore his name. (As of this writing Mr. Tommy Hilfiger is still refusing to wear a shirt with the name Goldstein on it...)
Styles are a funny thing. Masses of people will dress in a certain way and wear certain clothes, because masses of people dress a certain way and wear certain clothes.
Someone once asked Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky why yeshiva students always wear the same thing - white shirts and black pants? Rabbi Orlofsky replied that it makes it easier for them to know what to wear in the morning. The questioner retorted that dressing in that manner squelches one's individually. Rabbi Orlofsky replied, “If your clothing is what expresses your individuality, you don't have any real sense of individuality.”
The Torah has a very clear perspective on clothing. Clothing are called begadim, an expression of begidah - betrayal, because our clothing often mask our true identity. At times, we hide behind our clothing, and portray ourselves in a way that differs from who we really are.
Mesillas Yesharim encourages us to dress respectfully, but not aristocratically. Our clothes should remain merely clothing, not a means to define us.
In his fantastic book, 48 Ways to Wisdom[1], Rav Noach Weinberg zt'l, warns that we need to beware the Marlboro man. His urbane and cool appearance has convinced many young people to begin smoking, despite all the warnings against it. “Insanity is contagious, unless you have the courage to remain true to your convictions.” This is true in how we dress as well.
If we truly wish to express our individuality, we need to dig deeper and reveal the true essence of who we are, not just by hiding behind our clothing.
Otherwise we may end up just being the kohain with the wacky socks or the rabbi with the stylish shoes.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum



[1] It is one of the greatest “self-help” books I’ve ever read – it’s refreshing, motivating, and inspiring, and it’s based on the wisdom of a Torah giant who lived it. I have been reading one “way” each day of sefiras haomer this year. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

PARSHAS EMOR/LAG BAOMER 5777



“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor (31st day of Omer)
16 Iyar 5777/ May 12, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

This past week I attended the Torah Umesorah convention on Thursday and Friday. As I was driving up to the convention, it reminded me of my trip to the convention last year. In May 2016, I also attended the convention, but had to come home on Thursday night.
As I wrote a few months ago (musings 371), in March last year we were stunned to find out that we were expecting twins.
We subsequently found out that our twins had a serious condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome).
Our doctor had us transfer to Columbia Hospital, and our first appointment was the Friday morning in May of the Torah Umesorah Convention.
The next week, we had to make a grueling decision whether to undergo a procedure that would sever the connections between the babies in utero with a laser. The procedure is currently only performed in four hospitals in the United States - in San Francisco, Cincinnati, Philadelphia (CHOP), and Columbia in Manhattan. Our doctor in Columbia felt we should proceed, but being that it wasn't absolutely clear that it was necessary (and because it posed it's own risks) he told us that we had to decide.
It was the most difficult half hour of our lives. It was an incredibly arduous decision to have to make under pressure - one that effected the lives of our unborn babies.
We consulted with Rav Dovid Cohen, and our Rav, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, and were advised to proceed.
We then had to wait to see if it was successful. It was a very difficult few months with bi-weekly appointments, fraught with anxiety.
And then, eight months ago, on 6 Elul 5776/September 9, 2016 our beautiful twins were born healthy, a minute apart from each other. Eight days later, b'chasdei Hashem, the brissim were b'zman.
In his Haggadah, Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal shlita asks why Klal Yisroel were commanded to eat marror at the first national Seder, in Mitzrayim, the night before the redemption. It's understandable that such a reminder was necessary for future generations. However, did they really need a symbolic reminder of the painful servitude they had endured, and barely survived, when they were still in the land of their oppression?
Rav Nebenzhal answers that the bitter enslavement ended six months before the redemption. Six months is more than enough time for the human mind to begin to forget what has occurred. Even in Egypt they needed a symbol to help them focus on how far they had come, and what they had suffered through.
When my Bubby - she should live and be well - would recount some of the travails she endured during World War II, including time spent in Siberia, she would quip that she felt as if she was talking about someone else. It was hard to remember that she herself had actually lived through such terrible times.
My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he was a young boy living in Chicago in 1948, when the state of Israel was declared. Shortly after the declaration, there was a rally in Chicago stadium. Many of his rabbeim, who could have hardly been called Zionists, were present at that rally, and when they raised the Israeli flag, they wept along with everyone else.
Rabbi Wein would lament that later generations cannot relate to the emotions of back then. By now, it has all become politicized, with the main focus on whether you say hallel or tachanun on Yom Ha'atzmaut. But the feelings of humility and gratitude to Hashem for the miracles witnessed in the War of Independence, as well as the gift of Eretz Yisroel, is largely lost.
I just read the book "28 Iyar" by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman. It is his personal diary from 1967, when his family spent a year in Eretz Yisroel.
The book provides a small glimpse into the incredible tension and anxiety that wracked the country before the Six-day war, as well as the unbelievable euphoria that was felt by the uncanny miraculous victories, including the reunification of Yerushalayim.
In regard to those events too, we are so far removed and can hardly feel a proper sense of hakaras hatov for what we take for granted, such as being able to visit and daven at the Kosel, Kever Rochel, and Mearas Hamachpeilah.
For us personally, eight months later, we surely delight and can't get enough of the twin berachos that Hashem endowed us with. However, it's so easy to forget the extent of how much gratitude we should have for them, and really for all of our children, and all the blessings Hashem granted, and grants us constantly.
Are those twins really the same beings that were once Baby A and Baby B, for whom we were so worried, and for whom we davened so many tefilos?!
Eight months is ample time to obscure our collective memory. The only way to not lose that sense of reality is by being conscious of it, and trying to maintain the original emotions we felt.
Intellectual memory is only a bunch of facts. It's the endemic emotions that brings those memories to life, and grants them long-lasting meaning.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 4, 2017

PARSHAS ACHREI MOS-KEDOSHIM 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos-Kedoshim (24th day of Omer)
9 Iyar 5777/ May 5, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

Many people feel their lives are spinning aimlessly, without going anywhere. Someone recently made a living model of that experience, patented, and marketed it, and is now raking it in. Perhaps you have seen some of them on the tips of people’s fingers – they are called Fidget Spinners. During the last few weeks there has been an absolute craze for Fidget Spinners, or, as I like to more accurately call them, Fidget Enhancement Spinners.
It’s always helpful to market a toy as something that can help people maintain attention. The fact that there is no empirical evidence to back it up doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, every teacher can attest that the only thing Fidget Spinners do, is make spinning noises while students play with them and not pay attention during class. In my classroom, I have outlawed them. Friends have told me that Fidget Spinners have spread to the workplace, and that adults are using them as much as children.
To be fair, Fidget Spinners are extremely beneficial – to those who have been manufacturing them and selling them. To be honest, they are fun to play with. But don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that they help with concentration.
I am confident that the Spinner craze will pass, and they will go the way of Diablos, Crazy Bones, Rubik’s Cubes, and Silly Bands. But until then, they serve as a great reminder of what life can become when devoid of direction or meaning.
The Jewish year is compared to a circle. Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l explains that the year is a cycle of growth. It begins with our national birth on Pesach, continues with our national entry into mitzvos (bar/bas mitzvah) on Shavuos, and reaches its crescendo with our national union/marriage to G-d on Succos. [The succah is analogous to the chupah, and Shemini Atzeres is analogous to the greatest level of intimacy with Hashem, as it were.] Prior to marriage one’s sins are forgiven, symbolized by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Rav Pinkus further explains that even after a wedding, we cannot yet be confident that the marriage will endure. It’s only when the loyalty of husband and wife have been seriously tested, and the marriage was able to emerge intact, or even strengthened, that we can be confident that it is a strong and lasting union.
That is essentially what transpired on Chanukah and Purim. Our national loyalty was severely tested under harrowing conditions. When we proved that our sole loyalty was to Hashem, redemption occurred.
I recently heard a very moving lecture from Mrs. Tzipi Caton[1], in which she shared her experiences with having, and overcoming cancer, as a teenager. She related that when she was first diagnosed, there was an older girl in her school who was already in remission from the same cancer. That girl came with her parents to visit Mrs. Caton to give her chizuk. Mrs. Caton asked the older girl if she had any pictures from that time period, so she could have an idea of what she should expect. The girl’s father replied that those were six months they were trying to forget, and they definitely did not have any pictures from then. Mrs. Caton noted that she and her family took the opposite approach; they took pictures of everything. She reasoned that if this was an experience she had to undergo, she was going to embrace it, and was not going to try to just forget about it.
It’s a very poignant point, and one we all need to remember. In life, we should never seek to shut the door on past experiences, even negative ones, and even severe failings on our part. We will anyway be unable to do so, because we can’t escape our past. Like it or not, it’s part of our reality. Rather the goal is to use it as a stepping stone for our personal growth and to help others. Successful people use the failings in their past, for current growth, and future inspiration.
Chanukah and Purim are celebratory holidays because we were able to transform terrible experiences into stepping stones for national inspiration and growth.
At present, Tisha B’av and the other fast days, remain days of pain and tears, because we have not yet been able to sufficiently learn their lessons, to transform them into days of inspiration and growth. When we finally do understand their messages, they will indeed be transformed, and will also become yomim tovim. 
Rav Zev Leff notes that the Jewish year is not a circle, but a spiral. The goal is that with each year, when we return to that point on the circle, we are not on the same level as we were the year prior, but have reached new levels of growth. It’s the same time-period, but we have progressed to greater heights.
So, life is not like a fidget spinner which spins aimlessly, or at least ought not be.
Perhaps someone can patent a “Spiral Spinner”, which spins upwards like an upside down slinky. It can be advertised as a device that helps promote spiritual growth.
Just remember to send me royalties for the idea.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] Author of Miracle Ride, by Artscroll/Shaar Press

Thursday, April 27, 2017

PARSHAS TAZRIA-METZORA 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tazria-Metzora (17th day of Omer)
2 Iyar 5777/ April 28, 2017 - Avos Perek 2

I feel blessed and privileged to have many wonderful rabbeim and mentors who have had a strong impact upon my life. I have learned from them not only how to learn Torah, but also how to live my life within the guidelines and blessed confines of a Torah lifestyle.
One of those rabbeim was my eleventh grade rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Feuer. His meticulously designed shiurim, his ability to get lost in thought when asked a question, and the way he explained deep ideas, had a profound influence upon me.
Over the years, I have maintained a relationship with Rabbi Feuer. He was present at our chasuna in Lakewood, and was at the brisim of our sons.
Rabbi Feuer is a talmid of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, and has a very close relationship with the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Schechter shlita. Throughout eleventh grade, whenever Rabbi Feuer quoted "my rebbe" it was understood that he was referring to Rav Aharon.
This week, I attended the chasuna of Rabbi Feuer’s daughter. Rav Aharon, who requires a wheelchair for mobility, was there. Despite his apparent weakness, his smile was as radiant as ever.
For me the highlight of the night was watching my rebbe dancing with his rebbe. Rav Aharon was mostly being supported by Rabbi Feuer, as he held his hands with noticeable joy and a smile upon his face. Rabbi Feuer’s eyes were tightly closed, during what was obviously a deeply emotional moment. It gave me an interesting feeling of connection - a personal link to prior greatness.
In March 2013, the New York Times published an article entitled “The Stories That Bind Us”. The article seeks to understand the age-old question of what holds families together? “What are the ingredients that make some families united, strong, resilient, and happy, while others are in disarray, fractured, broken, and fragile? Why are some families functional and others utterly dysfunctional?”
The article quotes the research of Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, who concluded that those who know a lot about their families do better when facing challenges. Children have the most self-confidence and resilience when they have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. 
Dr. Duke therefore recommends that parents pursue opportunities to convey a sense of history to their children.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Rabbi of Boca Raton Synagogue, writes: “When I saw this article and read about Duke’s research, all I could think of is the Pesach Seder and the wisdom our sacred tradition. This new research simply affirms what we knew and have practiced for millennia. When we sit at the Seder and tell the story of our people, our children feel part of something larger than themselves. When they hear our personal stories of ups and downs, bitterness and sweetness, they feel part of something larger and greater than themselves. They don’t see their own circumstance in a vacuum or feel the need to face their challenges alone. When they see themselves as part of our collective history and our family’s personal narrative, they are encouraged, strengthened and uplifted.”
I would venture to add that, as Torah Jews, we actually have two senses of tradition that we connect with. Our initial connection is with our physical, nuclear family - our biological roots. That is what we celebrate and revitalize on Pesach. The korbon pesach had to be eaten with a pre-arranged chaburah (group), which consisted primarily of one's family. Redemption and hope for the future can only occur when we are able to create and foster strong families.
But we also have another component of connection, and that is the tradition of Torah transmission, from rebbe to student.
For those raised in Torah observant homes, there is an obvious overlap between these two senses of tradition and connection with the past. One’s parents are an obvious vital link to one’s spiritual past. But being part of the transmission of Torah traverses our biological families. Our rabbeim and Torah teachers ensure that we are a link on the continuing chain or Torah transmission.
My older brother, R' Yitzie, is a student or Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt'l. Like all of Rav Leibowitz's talmidim, he is proud to recount how he is part of the tenth generation of Torah transmission (rebbe-student) from the great Vilna Gaon. Such knowledge infuses a person with an equal sense of pride and responsibility.
Like Pesach, the Yom Tov of Shavuos, also celebrates and revives our personal story. However, while Pesach reconnects us to our physical past, Shavuos reconnects us with the story of our spiritual past.
Father to son represents one unbroken chain, while Rebbe to student represents an equally unbroken chain. The intertwining and confluence of those two chains is what has maintained our eternal nationhood, the Torah people, from Sinai until the end of time.
It's a story that transcends all time and place, a story we must never forget.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum