Friday, April 30, 2010

Parshas Emor 5770

NOTE: To view the incredible pictures that were included this week please download the
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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor – Avos perek 4

16 Iyar (31st day of omer) 5770/ April 30, 2010

My recent trip to Eretz Yisroel afforded me the opportunity to recite and receive certain special blessings:

  1. Your browser may not support display of this image. The great tzaddik and halachic authority Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita recently celebrated his one hundredth birthday. He davens Shacharis each morning at 6:15 in his shul on Rechov Admon in the Meah Sharim section of Yerushalayim. I had the merit to daven with him one morning and receive a blessing from him. When he first entered the shul I recited the blessing, ברוך... שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו"- Blessed… Who has apportioned of His knowledge to those who fear Him.”
  2. Every morning in Eretz Yisroel the Kohanim bless the congregation during Shemoneh Esrei (an abridged version of the blessing recited by the Kohanim outside of Eretz Yisroel during the Mussaf prayer of the major festivals). As a Levi that gave me the opportunity to wash the Kohanim’s hands in anticipation of that blessing each day. It was also fascinating that I received a blessing from the Kohanim together with Rabbi Elyashiv.
  3. Your browser may not support display of this image. As part of our tour we visited an area known by its Arabic name, Qasr el Yahud (Castle of the Jews). According to historians it is the place (or very close to the place) where Yehoshua led the Jewish people into Eretz Yisroel at the commencement of their conquest of Canaan. It was the spot where the Jordan River miraculously stopped so the Jews could cross. Because of its extreme proximity to Jordanian territory (at that spot the river is extremely narrow and the other side of the Jordan is literally about twenty feet away) one cannot visit the area without an army escort.

At that spot we recited the blessing, ברוך שעשה נס לאבותינו במקום הזה" – Blessed (is He) Who performed a miracle for our ancestors at this place. [Because we are not absolutely sure that this is the exact place where the miracle occurred, I did not recite G-d’s Name when I said the blessing.]

  1. Your browser may not support display of this image. The Churvah shul in the Old City of Yerushalayim has a long tragic history. It was built to be one of the most beautiful shuls in Yerushalayim but twice during its construction it was destroyed. Merely a few weeks ago the magnificently refurbished shul was opened. When I entered the shul I recited the blessing ברוך מציב גבול אלמנה" - Blessed (is He) Who sets a limit for a widow.”
  2. Although the blessing recited annually on the budding of a fruit tree is not endemic to Eretz Yisroel and is recited anywhere in the world during the month of Nissan, this year I had the opportunity to recite the blessing on a budding pomegranate tree in the beautiful city of Tzippori.
  3. Your browser may not support display of this image. Finally, I wanted to recite the blessing upon removing tithes and terumah, which is exclusive to produce grown in Eretz Yisroel. The majority of produce purchased in the Holy Land must be viewed as if it is in a state of doubt known as ‘demai’ because of the possibility that tithes were taken. [Even if one purchases produce from an Arab vendor it is possible that the Arab purchased the produce from a Jew who may or may not have separated the requisite tithes.] Thus, when purchasing most produce in Eretz Yisroel (unless it was purchased from someone known to be scrupulous about separating the tithes) one must separate terumah and ma’aser and recite the special declaration, but the blessings are not recited.

As a favor to me, Rabbi Avi Berman, the director of the Orthodox Union in Eretz Yisroel and a special Jew, brought me almonds from a tree growing in his yard (I didn’t even know almonds grew in such shells), so that I would have the opportunity to separate tithes and recite the blessings.

Chazal teach us that reciting blessings with concentration helps us appreciate the myriad gifts that G-d grants us on a constant basis. Whenever one has the opportunity to recite ‘unusual blessings’ it helps remind us to appreciate the blessings that abound throughout our lives.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Friday, April 9, 2010

Parshas Shmini 5770

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shmini – Avos perek 1

25 Nissan (10th day of omer) 5770/ April 9, 2010

No matter where you go these days people are taking pictures. We live in a world of “snappers” and just can't seem to stop taking (and emailing) pictures. Today you don't even need a camera in order to take a picture, because most phones today have picture (and video) taking capability.

Why are we so addicted to pictures?

I believe that one of the main reasons we 'snap' is because we want to preserve the moment. When our child does something cute, we witness stunning scenery, we spend time with good friends, or we are enjoying a wonderful vacation or family time, we take pictures to freeze some of those moments so that we can enjoy them and reflect back on them in the future.

The only problem is that we are often so busy trying to preserve the present for the future, that we fail to fully appreciate and enjoy the present.

I write these words knowing full well that I am being somewhat hypocritical, because I myself am a “snapper”. Please do not misunderstand me. I do not mean to say that pictures are a complete waste of time and energy. Our family has many beautiful albums that we enjoy looking at from time to time, and indeed there are many wonderful memories that we are reminded of when looking at those pictures. But I know that I am often too focused on the pictures.

During trips and outings, Chani often nudges me to put away the camera; “We have enough pictures already. Just enjoy the moment.” I struggle to adhere to her wise advice, fearing that I may lose out on a great snapshot.

You can imagine my chagrin then when during one of our Chol Hamo'ed outings last week my sister took out our camera and realized that I had forgotten to replace the camera's battery which was charging overnight. I had no one to be annoyed at other than myself. I wasn't too keen when everyone laughed and said that I would just have to enjoy the trip without the camera. [By the way, they did regret not having the camera when I donned roller blades and tried to keep up with my son. Suffice it to say that I inadvertently ended up seated on the pavement.]

I should add that, although I sometimes wish it wasn't so, I think it is a hidden blessing that it is prohibited to take pictures on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Our family pictures in front of the Chanukah menorah are very beautiful, but there is no question that there is something subtle lost in the fact that we take pictures during those sublime moments. [I know we could just not take pictures. Thanks for your advice but let's be realistic...]

This year our children made a mock Seder a week before Pesach so that we could compile a 'Staum family haggadah' complete with pictures from their Seder on every page, which we dedicated and gave to our children's grandparents. Although it was beautiful and much appreciated there is undoubtedly something gained by the fact that during the real Seder our complete focus is on the moment, since we cannot take pictures on Yom Tov anyway.

I look at it this way: The Seder is an elite and holy night when we must work on instilling in our progeny the most important tenets of our faith. During the night when we are creating memories for the future we cannot be distracted by efforts to preserve the present.

In closing let me just say that we indeed have some very beautiful pictures from that Chol Hamo'ed outing - thanks to my mother who is a certified “Bubby-snapper” and joined us!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum