Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pesach 5771

Erev Z’man Chayrusaynu

14 Nissan 5771/April 18, 2011

One of the many recent technological innovations is ebooks. If you have an ipad or smartphone you can upload an app that puts a book onto the device. The book reads itself, with the word being read highlighted. The child viewing the program learns that there is an association between what they are hearing and the words being spoken. If the child touches any of the pictures in the story a description of the picture floats to the top of the page and a voice states the word. For example, if the child taps a picture of a cat, the letters C-A-T float to the top of the page and the narrator says in a clear voice: cat. This helps the child learn picture word association.

There are those who oppose the new ibooks, claiming that they are more detrimental than helpful. Phillip Nel, an English professor at Kansas State University claims that the ibooks aren’t books at all. “In a traditional reading experience, the reader is in charge. The reader acts on the book. With an interactive e-book, the reader does still act on the book, but the book also acts on, and depending on the adaptation, against the reader…. Reading may be involved but there’s more to it than that. We don’t read a film we watch a film. We don’t read a video game, we play a video game… Do we ‘play’ an enhanced e-book?”

The mitzvah of retelling the exodus on the night of Pesach is, “only at the time when matzah and marror are resting before you.” The Seder begins with a declaration about the matzah, “This is the bread of affliction that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt.” Later in the haggadah we describe the matzah as being the bread of freedom that baked on our ancestor’s backs as they marched out of Egypt.

The matzah was eaten both during the bitter years of servitude and as we marched to our freedom. Matzah represents the ups and downs, the failures and triumphs, of despair and perseveration. The matzah at the Seder has a life of its own. It bespeaks memories of horror and pain, of the bitterness of the dark night of exile in Egypt, Spain, Auschwitz, and Siberia. At the same time it symbolizes a story of redemption and salvation, of transcendence and triumph. It represents the human experience, especially the Jewish experience, of the vicissitudes endemic to life.

The matzah speaks volumes but each of us reads the book differently based on our own life experiences. But above all, matzah is a book of hope and anticipation.

Just before we commence the story of the exile at the Seder, we break the middle matzah and hide the bigger half for later. Isn’t that the story of our people? In the darkest and most ominous of times we live with the knowledge and hope that the ‘bigger half’ is hidden away but will emerge in the future, to be eaten as dessert while reclining, in a display of unbridled joy and freedom.

Chag Sameach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Acharei Mos/Hagadol

11 Nissan 5771/April 15, 2011

A friend of mine recently texted me the following (true?) story:

A woman was breathlessly moving her couch so she could clean behind it before Pesach, when a neighbor walked in and asked, “Why don’t you wait for your husband to come home?” The woman kept tugging as she replied, “It’s easier to move it when no one is on it.”

When I forwarded this story to a few of my contacts the best response I received was from a relative who replied, “I’ll have to speak to my wife. That was a private matter.”

Last year our yeshiva, Bais Hachinuch, began its Pesach recess a day later than many of the other yeshivos in the area. Some of the students were quite upset about it. One fourth grader announced to his class his theory (not realizing that his rebbe was standing in earshot). “Do you know why we’re the only yeshiva who has school today? Because the Menahel (Dean) doesn’t want to help his wife clean for Pesach.”

It's been said that, "One of life's greatest pleasures is the anticipation of pleasure."

I love to go shopping Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov. To be honest I have to work on maintaining my patience in the parking lots and at the checkout counters. Still, I love to behold the busyness as everyone prepares for the upcoming special days. I enjoy coming to a store close to midnight on the night of Erev Yom Tov to find the store packed with people as if it was midday. I enjoy the wishes of Good Shabbos and Chag Samayach being exchanged, and the chatter about everyone’s plans and guests for Yom Tov. I love to walk into a home filled with the delectable aromas of Shabbos and Yom Tov, with potato and onion peels littering the area around the garbage can.

I know that women reading this may shake their heads and mutter that I am only saying this because I am not responsible for the cooking and cleaning. That may be true, but I maintain that despite the fatigue and stress of Yom Tov prep, the excitement in the air is something to cherish. When one has to make a wedding, there are undoubtedly myriads of things that have to be taken care of and there is a great deal of pressure. Yet at the same time there is a surge of excitement and anticipation for the great day that is approaching.

It is indeed Erev Pesach and there is much to do and so little time to do it. But every now and then it is worthwhile to stop and appreciate what we are busy with. Don’t wait for Pesach to begin, start enjoying the Yom Tov now.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chag Samaeach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Metzora

4 Nissan 5771/April 8, 2011

On Friday, April 1, 2011, Southwest Flight 812 took off from Phoenix heading to Sacramento with 118 people aboard. As the plane coasted at an altitude of 34,000 feet, the passengers aboard the Boeing 737-300 heard a bang followed by the gush of a brisk wind. To their horror they realized that there was a gaping hole above them.

Oxygen masks immediately dropped down as the pilot hurried to precipitously drop the plane’s altitude. They had about 10-20 seconds to get their oxygen masks on before they would begin to lose consciousness. It took almost four minutes to drop below 10,000 feet. It was a frightening experience but thankfully no one was hurt.

Immediately afterwards Southwest grounded 79 of its planes so they could be rigorously inspected. The problem likely began with a small hole in the fuselage. In a plane flying at such speeds and at such high altitudes subject to such tremendous air pressure one small hole can prove to be calamitous. Eventually the powerful air pressure expanded the hole causing an extremely perilous situation.

Along the road of life we have certain things that we prioritize and are extremely dedicated to. It is those morals, principles, and priorities which largely define us. But there are other areas in which we may claim to prioritize but which in reality we are not quite as resolute as we would care to admit. In regards to such ‘values’ when the pressure is on it becomes tough to stick to those principles, and those lofty ideals are often quickly discarded.

There is no area where this idea resonates more than in parenting. Children have virtual antennas that penetrate all facades. They know what is truly valuable to their parents and they know what areas are not so important.

There is a classic anecdote related about a man who was shopping in one of the major food stores when he heard the commotion of a mother shopping with a few of her young children. The man saw that in every aisle the children would badger the mother to purchase certain items. She tried to keep them calm and quiet but to no avail. Her efforts at reasoning with them were futile. “That’s not healthy”; “But we have a different flavor of it at home”; “It’s too expensive”. Even when she told her child that he was allergic to something he continued to persist and insist that his mother buy it. Then they turned down another aisle and again the children kvetched that they wanted a specific item. But this time the mother said one thing and the children were immediately silent. The magic words, “It’s not kosher”.

In regards to all of the other items the children knew that their mother could be reckoned with and bargained. Even if she said ‘no’ they knew that if they drove her crazy enough she would exasperatedly relent. But they knew that non-kosher was non-negotiable, and so they immediately backed off.

Sometimes leaving the smallest amount of an opening can be deadly. There are surely many areas in which we should be flexible and willing to compromise. But there are other areas in which we must be resolute and obdurate. That is the only way to ensure that we will remain steadfast in our adherence to those values even when subject to the greatest pressure.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum