Thursday, February 15, 2018

PARSHAS TERUMAH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah
1 Adar 5778/February 16, 2018
2 Rosh Chodesh Adar

I don’t know if there’s anything worse than being a sock. Socks are put on hastily in the morning and have the inauspicious task of wrapping around a person’s smelly foot. They quickly become smelly, and often get wet. Then, at night, they are pulled off, and in the best situations cast into a hamper, if not just left on the floor. 
Of all articles of clothing, socks have the highest mortality rate, and the shortest life span. They can easily develop fatal holes which no longer enables them to protect the big toe, or they can become stretched out. For those who are sensory, socks take even more abuse, constantly getting pulled up and stretched out.
Another thing about socks, is that they are only worth anything if you have two of them. Their value lies in their being a pair. I think everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of socks never returning from the wash. The washing machine becomes like a black hole and Bermuda Triangle for socks. You put them in with the rest of the clothing, but then when you take out the clothing, somehow a few socks seem to escape, and are never seen again. The greatest tragedy is for its fellow sock who now remains widowed and alone. If you’re like my family, then you have a drawer full of widowed socks, that will continue to remain there dormant forever, or at least until something impels us to clean the drawer.
In the Mishkan, and subsequently in the Bais Hamikdash, the holiest of all the vessels was the Aron which was placed in the Kodesh Kodashim (Holy of Holies). Atop the Aron was affixed the golden Keruvim, and from within them emanated the voice of G-d, as it were. The Torah relates about the Keruvim, the two angelic faces of children, “their faces was each to his brother.”
The Mishkan was covered by a few layers of yerios – curtains/tapestries. The Torah relates that the yerios were not constructed as one long cloth. Rather, it was made into two parts, and then they were connected to each other. In the words of the pasuk, “Five curtains shall be attached – a woman to her sister – and the (other) five curtains shall be attached – a woman to her sister.”
What incredible imagery. The holiest place on earth was created by keruvim facing each other, and the Mishkan was covered by curtains connected – each woman to her sister!
Last week, Mevorchim Chodesh Adar, we read Parshas Shekalim, which details the mandatory half-shekel tax that every Jew contributed annually.
The commentators explain that the half-shekel represents that although every individual is valuable (or invaluable), our ultimate worth is when we bond together. That, in fact, is the introduction to the subsequent special reading of Parshas Zachor, read the Shabbos before Purim. Parshas Zachor recounts our defeat over our nemesis, Amalek, and our obligation to remember his virulent hatred, his mission to destroy us, and his ultimate desire to obliterate all G-dliness from the world. Such evil can only be overcome with the synergistic power of our unity.
Sadly, there is a beautiful demonstration of this concept, in an article in Times-of-Israel, February 6, 2018, by Jacob Magid:

HAR BRACHA, West Bank — Less than a month after her husband Raziel was gunned down in a terror attack outside the Havat Gilad outpost, Yael Shevach arrived in the neighboring Har Bracha settlement Tuesday to console Miriam Ben-Gal, whose husband Itamar was murdered in a stabbing terror attack on Monday.
In a statement on the widows’ meeting outside the Ben-Gal home, Yael Shevach said the two traced the eerie similarities in their respective tragedies:
“Both Raziel and Itamar loved life; they both loved to dress and eat well. Raziel was killed on his way home from a circumcision, and Itamar was on his way to a circumcision. Raziel’s sister will be getting married in less than a month, and Miriam’s sister will be getting married in less than a month,” Yael Shevach added. “We are both educators, both Raziel and Itamar were Torah scholars, and both of us feel that we were chosen for this role,” Yael Shevach said, explaining that “role” as one responsible for strengthening the settlement movement in their husbands’ honor.
Raziel Shevach was shot dead by Palestinian terrorist on January 9. The father of six had known Ben-Gal, a father of four, through mutual friends.
Hours after 29-year-old Itamar Ben-Gal was stabbed to death while hitchhiking at the Ariel Junction in the central West Bank on Monday, Yael Shevach posted on Facebook that she felt “as if she gained a new sister.”
“We will get through this together. Alone,” she wrote.

The only way to adequately achieve “Zachor” - remembering and overcoming the heinousness of Amalek from time immemorial until contemporary times, is through the message of “Shekalim” – through unity and with chizuk from each other.
The miracle of Purim occurred when the Jews gathered together, adhering to Esther’s clarion call to Mordechai: “Go, gather all of the Jews…” That unification was the beginning of the end for Haman.
Purim is a national celebration of sanguinity and faith. It is that spirit which Amalek can never destroy!

Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, February 8, 2018

PARSHAS MISHPATIM/SHEKALIM 5778



“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim/Shekalim
24 Shevat 5778/February 9, 2018
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar

Someone once noted that it’s not easy being the child of a therapist. Everything that happens in the child’s life is psychoanalyzed - why did you do that? How did that make you feel? For my children that’s compounded by the fact that I’m also a rabbi, so the psychoanalysis is followed by a derasha. The only exception is that my lectures to my children are followed by them asking me for money, and not vice versa.
Last Shabbos, when we read Parshas Beshalach, on Friday evening, one of our children, who shall remain nameless for the sake of future shidduchim, came to the Shabbos table reading a book. The rule in our home is that no books may be brought to the Shabbos table, so that, at least once a week, we can try to promote actual face to face conversation (which includes arguing over seats and everything else that comes up). When I asked the child to please remove the book, he proceeded to place it under his chair.
We proceeded singing Shalom Aleichem, until two minutes later when I noticed him peering down at the open book, now somewhat inconspicuously placed on his chair. When I reminded him that the book is not supposed to be at the table, he looked up and said “I know, I know! I’m putting it away and listening right now!”
Not surprisingly, within a short time he was again reading the book, which was now opened under his chair. When I looked at him he again reassured me that he was listening and putting it away
I replied that I believed he really did want to listen to my directions as he claimed. The reason he was having such a hard time doing so was because he didn’t know an important lesson to be gleaned from the parsha.
The opening pasuk states that when Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim, Hashem did not lead them through the land of the Pelishtim, despite the fact that it was closer, “for Hashem said, lest the nation become frightened when they see war, and they will return to Egypt.” Rashi explains that the concern was that upon confronting adversity, the nation would immediately seek to return to what was familiar, i.e. Egypt.
Rashi’s explanation contains an integral strategy necessary for changing habits. One of the reasons it’s so difficult to effect real change, is because we naturally gravitate towards what is familiar and comfortable. If a person wants to genuinely change habits, he needs to make his old habits inconvenient, and his new habits more convenient.
For example, for one who wants to lose weight and is beginning a new diet, before he begins he should have the new foods that he is permitted on his new diet available and in front of his cabinet. Otherwise, as soon as the first rumblings of hunger set in, he’s going to go right back to the old foods he was used to.
Hashem led the young nation on a circuitous route, so that they wouldn’t be able to run back to Egypt as soon as they were confronted by challenge.
I told my son that he really did want to listen to my instruction not to read at the table. But by leaving the book in close proximity, as soon as curiosity set in he causally looked back at the book. The proper response would be to remove the book from the room, to remove the temptation.
I’m not sure if my point was well taken, or if it was just to make sure I was finished my lecture, but my son removed the book from the room.
The following day in shiur in Yeshiva, a boy came into class eating. I told him to put it away, so we could begin learning. When he placed it in his bag next to him open, I told him I had a thought on the previous day’s parsha to share with him.
That’s a lot of mileage from a truly great insight into human psychology, that Rashi indirectly mentions in passing.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, February 1, 2018

PARSHAS YISRO 5778

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Yisro
17 Shevat 5778/February 2, 2018

I am always amazed by airports. It’s incredible that from every gate throughout the terminals, planes depart for different places all over Earth. One gate off, and you can end up in Frankfurt, instead of Honolulu, Istanbul instead of Tel Aviv.
Airports are designed to be a microcosm of its country. As soon as arrivals walk into the terminal they are greeted with signs and sights that clearly display where they are.
Last week, I and my daughter Aviva, had the opportunity to visit our friends, Rabbi Menachem and Shifra Moskovitz, in their home in Las Vegas, Nevada. As soon as we walked off the plane, we were greeted by slot machines, and the endemic bright lights. That was even before we encountered the trademark “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.
We very much enjoyed the warmth and vibrancy of the burgeoning Jewish community. I had the opportunity to speak at the Mesivta of Las Vegas on Friday, and in the Las Vegas Kollel on Shabbos morning. I noted in my speech that the only thing in Vegas that is definitely not a gamble, is the warmth of the community. 
On Sunday morning, Aviva, Ahuva Moskovitz, and I visited the Hoover Dam, which is fairly close to Las Vegas. It’s quite an imposing and breathtaking structure, built in the 1930s. From there we headed to the Western Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Standing before the Grand Canyon is a humbling experience. The sheer majesty of the incredible canyon is breathtaking. It is hard to fathom how gargantuan it is, and it is surely impossible to describe. They are so vast, that it is quite noticeable from the window of a plane flying overhead. All of the beautiful panoramic sceneries and beautiful views that I have seen during my life, are dwarfed by the ‘opulent depth’ of the Grand Canyon. 
The next day I saw a picture of a beautiful scenery. My immediate reaction was to think that the picture was nothing in comparison with the Grand Canyon! “If you think that’s anything, you should go to the Grand Canyon!” But the truth is that such an attitude is a mistaken perspective about that experience.  
There is a fundamental passage in the Ramban at the end of Parshas Bo, in which he details important ideas about faith and service of Hashem. He writes there that “from the great and widespread miracles, man will come to admit/thank (G-d) for all of the hidden miracles, which is the foundation of the entire Torah, for no one has a portion in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until he believes that all of our happenings are miracles, and that there is no nature…”
Seeing the Grand Canyon, or any other incredible sight, should not make its viewer feel unimpressed by anything less. Au contraire! It should fill him with a sense of wonder at the beauty of G-d’s creation, and bring him to feel love and appreciation for every facet of His incredible creation. My experience at the Grand Canyon should lead me to feel a greater appreciation for the mundane of nature, not the other way around.
I type these words in the waning moments of Tu B’Shvat. It is a minor holiday when we do not recite tachanun, try to eat some fruits, and perhaps daven for our esrog on Succos. On a practical level, it is a day to contemplate the miracle of fruits, and nature generally. The fact that we are able to partake of numerous fruits with various textures, colors, and tastes, during the dead of the winter is itself incredible.
Tu B’shvat is a celebration of the miracle of nature. It is also thirty days before Purim when we celebrate the uncanny miracles which were also cloaked in natural events. From there we set out for Pesach, the holiday of redemption, when G-d displayed His power of nature and bent all its rules, to demonstrate His unmitigated love for us.
Tu B’Shvat is celebrated after the reading of the parshios which detail the exodus and all of its miracles. As Ramban states, the open miracles help us appreciate the hidden miracles. Reading the Torah’s account of those miracles serves as an appropriate introduction to Tu B’shvat. Then, we continue the progression, until we actually celebrate those open miracles on Pesach. In that sense, it is a beautiful elevating circle – from the miraculous to the natural, back to the supernatural – all a combination of G-d’s Hand.
I should conclude by saying that when we arrived back in Newark Airport, I knew we were home when I found my shoes sticking to the sticky and dirty floor. Like I said, every airport wants to make you feel what its city is like. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 25, 2018

PARSHAS BESHALACH - SHABBOS SHIRAH - TU B’SHVAT 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beshalach/Shabbos Shirah
10 Shevat 5778/January 26, 2018

As I was leaving shul one morning recently, a fellow stopped me and asked me the following question:
“I’m a BT (Ba’al Teshuva)”, he began, “I learn Gemara, and it’s quite challenging for me. I know that I’m not going to be a great Torah scholar, and Gemara is particularly challenging and daunting. I have learned that Torah study brings a feeling of internal happiness and joy. Indeed, I feel uplifted and can’t get enough of mitzvos, and I love being a religious Jew. But, where is the joy in learning Gemara for someone like me? It’s an uphill battle every day, and I find it very arduous and challenging. I would appreciate any chizuk you could give me.”
My immediate response was that it was too important a question for me to give him a flippant answer on my way out of shul. I told him I wanted to give his question worthy thought and then I would reply to him.
The truth is that it’s a question many of our yeshiva bochurim grapple with as well. They may know that one day their learning can, and hopefully will, bring them a surge of joy and internal happiness. They hopefully see it on the faces of older students and rabbeim – the unique blissful happiness that Torah study brings.
However, especially when beginning, and trying to decipher a combination of Aramaic and Hebrew discussions involving precise analysis of biblical interpretation, that often requires abstract thinking, it can be extremely challenging. This is all the more true in a world which has a hard time sustaining attention for more than a three minute, humorous, or incredible You Tube clip. Where is the joy to be found in the intense struggle? Sure, anything great requires patience and the ability to delay instant pleasure. But is there a feeling of happiness and satisfaction that can be felt just from the mere participation in this challenging, spiritual endeavor?
I believe the answer to the question connects with a more fundamental question regarding religion itself. If all of Torah Judaism had to be summarized in one word - all of our constant efforts to improve our davening, learning, doing chesed, performing mitzvos, keeping halacha, etc. - I would venture to think that the word is connection!
Our goal is to live a connected life - where we feel uplifted, through a feeling of connection with Hashem and to our fellow Jews, via Torah observance.
Imagine if somehow, we were able to meet our great-great-great grandfather for a few minutes. Our lives couldn’t be more different. We try to communicate, but the language barrier is the least of it. He comes from a primitive world without electricity, a life of abject poverty, subjected to blatantly anti-Semitic laws that confine him to a ghetto, and render him a second-class citizen at best. His days are filled with difficult physical labor, and he spends his nights immersed in Torah study.
I, on the other hand, live in a democracy, in relative affluence and comfort, where if a child doesn’t go to Florida for midwinter he is deprived. My world’s greatest challenge is its inability to appreciate what it has, and its struggles with mental health.
What do we have to talk about? He tries to tell me about the latest decrees against the Jews, and I try telling him about the upcoming Super Bowl, and whether Brady can pull it off for New England, and if the Yankees have a shot this year.
But then suddenly after a moment of awkward silence, my ancestor asks “parsha?” I answer what parsha it is, and he begins rattling off the words of a Rashi I am familiar with, and am excitedly able to finish offThen he says, “Gemara?” I reply “Kesubos”. He suddenly smiles and starts talking about a discussion in the Gemara and Tosafos’ comment. We are at once literally ‘on the same page’.
Suddenly, despite being generations and worlds apart, we have found holy common ground, and a point of connection.
That is part of the joy of learning Gemara, or any part of Torah. No matter what we are learning, when we engage in the study of those ancient texts, we are connecting to our people traversing time - past and future. Of course, we are also connecting to our Creator in the most sublime manner possible as well.
There is undoubtedly joy in accomplishment and achieving mastery of Torah. But, even learning a few lines on a random page contains the joy of connection, which is ultimately what all our efforts in Avodas Hashem should lead us to feel.
When we open a page of Gemara, we are staring at the same hallowed words that Rav Saadiah Gaon, Rashi, Rambam, Vilna Gaon, Chasam Sofer, Rav Hirsch, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman learned.
It’s the same words that were, and are, taught in Babylonia, Persia, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, France, Germany, Australia, Chili, Eretz Yisroel, New York, and Los Angeles.
That joyous feeling of connection can imbue in a person a feeling of internal connection, even as he gruelingly tries to decipher the challenging Aramaic code-like concepts in the gemara. It’s the joy of transcending time and place, discovering and fostering the greatest feeling of connection that one can attain.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum