Thursday, May 26, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bamidbar

23 Iyar 5771/May 27, 2011- 38th Day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 5

There may be justifiable fear of shortages of natural resources, shortages of space for the burgeoning world population, and shortages of programs and funds to help all those who need. But there definitely are no shortages of imbeciles and fools. And now another person has added his name to that distinguished list.

Harold Camping, a well-known radio-show host for a christian radio program, empathically predicted that May 21, 2011 would be a doomsday of judgment for the world. The fact that he erroneously made another such inane prediction over a decade ago did not deter him from insisting that this time he was certain of the veracity of his calculation. Mr. Camping said he is simply shocked that he was wrong. He insists that there must have been a celestial judgment that we were not privy to realizing.

A fellow in Oregon wanted to see just how sure Camping really was. Sol David Cuddeback of Eugene, Oregon offered to take possession of everything Camping owns for a total of $1 on May 22. A few weeks ago he sent him the following letter: "According to your 'prophecy,' you and all the other believers will have departed the Earth the day before, so you will have no need for your possessions any longer… I want your home(s), car(s), cash, investments, other real estate, contracts, accounts payable, securities, any position of leadership that you occupy, and any interest in any form of business (sole proprietor, non-profit, corporation). If you refuse, then I must take that to mean that you don't really believe your own words to be true, which would make you a false prophet." Would you believe that Camping did not reply? Cuddeback remarked that he was, “intensely angry with him because his stupid, self-serving heresy may cause some who are weak or new in the faith to become disillusioned and fall away, after his 'prophecy' fails to come to pass.”

There is a well-known story about a town that was experiencing a severe drought. The elders of the community decided to hold a mass prayer gathering in the town-square. Every man, woman, and child from the town gathered under the beating sun and prepared to begin their prayers. Suddenly a little girl called out, “Mommy, where is your umbrella?”

Throughout our day we proclaim our faith in G-d, our unwavering belief in His Torah and our mission as His Chosen Nation. But do we really listen to ourselves and believe what we are saying?

The first Rashi in the Torah explains that the purpose of the entire book of Bereishis (Genesis) is to demonstrate that G-d owns the world and therefore has the right to take it away from the Canaanites and give it to the incumbent Jews. Many of the commentaries explain that that message is not for the nations of the world, as much as it is a message for us! We have to believe in our own legitimacy to the Land. Tragically, how many of our own brethren don’t really believe that.

We have to stop being apologetic for our observance and faith. We have to be proud of who we are and what we represent. We have to realize our greatness and our eternal mission. It is not for naught that we are always making the news’ headlines, for good or for better.

We must listen to the words we ourselves proclaim. In our minds we are believers. But we have to ensure that that knowledge makes its way from our minds to our hearts. And that’s a long journey.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bechukosai

16 Iyar 5771/May 20, 2011- 31st Day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

Osama is dead. “With the destruction of the wicked is joy” (Mishley 11:10) “May the name of the wicked rot.” (Mishley 10:7)

Your browser may not support display of this image. The now-famous photo of President Obama and his team in the White House ‘Situation Room’ has received remarkable attention:

For one, Secretary Clinton claimed her facial expression and the positioning of her hand in front of her mouth may have been caused by seasonal allergies and was not necessarily an expression of anxiety over what they were viewing live.

The other woman in the background received much attention too. Who is she and why was she there? Suddenly the nation was introduced to Audrey Tomason, the director of counterterrorism. One reporter noted that, “the fact that we can see her face could potentially jeopardize her career”.

The Yiddish newspaper, Der Tzitung came under heavy condemnation for illegally tampering with a government photo by photoshopping Secretary Clinton and Mrs. Tomason out of the picture. It was also was viewed as discriminatory and chauvinistic, which the newspaper vehemently denied.

France 24 News reported that the photo was analyzed with software called Tungstene, produced by French company eXo maKina. The software uses various filters to detect the different stages of alterations a photo may have undergone. Among their findings was that the left side of Obama’s strained face was highlighted, apparently to further stress the tension of the scene. In addition, the light on and around Secretary Clinton was enhanced, while other parts of the photo were slightly darkened. That may have been done because Clinton’s stricken expression is what conferred the most intensity to the photo.

The article concluded that, “None of the elements in the photo (apart from the tie of the man standing behind Clinton) are actually fake, but the alterations the image underwent all aim for the same effect: to enhance the impression of tension, but at the same time of efficiency and power, that the White House hopes to convey.”

The Chofetz Chaim explained that G-d allowed the invention of pictures and videos to strengthen people’s belief in the words of the Mishna (Avos 2:1) “Know what is above you: an eye sees, an ear hears, and all of your actions are written in a book.”

Today whenever something interesting or unusual occurs, or when any noted personality is in view, multitudes of cameras (or more likely camera phones) suddenly appear, and clicks and flashes ensue. Everything seems to be captured in pictures (or videos). So it seems that once a picture is taken the moment is captured forever. The picture is undeniable proof of what occurred. Just gaze at the photo and you can relive the moment. But today’s advanced technology has demonstrated that pictures are no longer trustworthy.

The Torah tells us that our sins and mishaps are not eternal and we can rectify our iniquities. Pictures can be altered, touched up, photoshopped, and censored. In the World of Truth too there are second chances. Every ‘celestial picture’ can be changed or deleted, depending on our subsequent efforts.

The holiday of Pesach Sheni symbolizes the idea that there is always a second chance in regards to spiritual matters. Even when the ‘picture’ is lucidly incriminating and condemning, it can be revised and modified. Those who were impure or (spiritually) distant the first time have the opportunity to rectify their recalcitrant attitudes. In the words of Rabbi Nachman, “If you believe you can destroy, then believe you can fix.”

There is unquestionably an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and a hand that records. However, we have a G-d granted ability to influence exactly what is heard, seen, and written, even after its been recorded.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 12, 2011

BEHAR 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Behar

9 Iyar 5771/May 13, 2011- 24th Day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 3

This week Justin Verlander, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers threw his second career no-hitter, becoming the twenty-sixth pitcher in Baseball history to do so. Does that make Verlander one of the best pitchers ever?

“In the final game of the 1965 World Series you could see that Sandy Koufax had almost nothing. You could see that his curve was hanging high in the early innings and, as the game went on, you could see that he pretty much tucked the curve ball away and stuck to the fast ball. And yet you also knew he was going to win.” (Article by Ed Linn, Boy’s Life, March 1967)

No pitcher in baseball goes undefeated all season. What’s more, no pitcher in baseball has ‘his best stuff’ every time he takes the mound. Even the greatest pitchers have their off days when their command is weak and they can’t seem to throw the ball how and where they want it to go.

Sandy Kofax once quipped that any pitcher should be able to win when he has his best stuff. But a good pitcher can keep his team in the game even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

Even during a shaky outing a truly great pitcher has enough momentum and confidence to mix his pitches and battle the opposing team. He knows he’s going to give up more hits and runs then he’d like and he knows he’s not going to be all he can be that night. But he doesn’t allow that to overwhelm or deter him. He forges on, one pitch at a time, doing the best he could to give his team a chance.

We live in a society that doesn’t like second best. We want perfection and we demand perfection, and we are unsatisfied with anything less. But the bottom line is nothing in life is perfect. Our homes aren’t perfect, our cars aren’t perfect, our spouses aren’t perfect, our spouse’s spouse aren’t perfect (with one notable exception J), our vacations aren’t perfect, our schools aren’t perfect, our jobs aren’t perfect, and our children aren’t perfect.

Above all, we are not perfect. But our ‘all or nothing’ mentality seeps in and enervates us. We often have the feeling that if our davening isn’t as passionate as it is on Yom Kippur (which is just about every day), our learning isn’t as perfect as Shavuos night (which is just about every day), and our performance of mitzvos isn’t as enthusiastic and passionate as Seder night (which is just about every day) then what’s the use of even trying?!

The true Servant of G-d is not one who is always nearly perfect or is always on a spiritual high. Rather it is the person who can ‘stay in the game’ even when he doesn’t have his best stuff. He may have twenty things weighing heavily on his mind, including deadlines at work, mortgage payments due, and a child sick at home with a high fever, and he’s absolutely exhausted. Yet he doesn’t throw in the towel on that morning’s shachris. He knows it may not be ‘his best outing’ but he is confident that if he does his best he can ‘stay in the game’ and pull off a win.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, May 5, 2011

EMOR 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Emor

2 Iyar 5771/May 6, 2011- 17th Day of the Omer

Last week after Pesach was over I was doing some pre-Shabbos shopping with our eight year old son Shalom. While we were driving to the store we were listening to the weather report which called for a chance of severe storms, including hail. Shalom became very concerned and began asking me a whole bunch of questions about when and how the hail would fall.

I realized that he understood hail as the hail which struck Egypt during the Ten Plagues. I explained to Shalom that, although not so common, it was relatively normal for hail to fall. I also explained that the hail we experience does not contain a mixture of fire and ice, as it miraculously did during the plague in Egypt.

It is always fascinating to view things from the perspective of a child. There is an earnest sincerity and innocence in their perception of the world, which is often vastly different from the way we view things. Although at times it is humorous, at other times it can be unnerving at how they view events and people around them, and at how literally they believe what they are taught.

Our three year old son Avi kept telling his Morah in school that he didn’t like Pesach or the Seder, and that he hated karpas. To us it was an enigma, who isn’t excited about the Seder and what is there to hate about a small piece of potato dipped in salt water? Over the course of Yom Tov we realized that he was afraid of Pesach because he was taught that on Pesach we go out of Mitzrayim, and he didn’t want to leave home. He was also taught that the Karpas is dipped in salt water because it’s like tears. Avi didn’t want to eat the Karpas if it would make him cry.

A number of years ago Shalom learned that when Moshiach comes all the Jews in the world will fly to Yerushalayim on the wings of eagles. That day he had a slew of questions for us. “Will there be seat belts? Will I be able to take my tennis racket? What if I fall off the eagle? Will my friend Aryeh be able to come with me on my eagle?”

Our Sages explain that there are many levels of emunah, faith in G-d. But there is a level of faith which is often overlooked, i.e. emunah peshutah- simple faith. It is unequivocal belief that there is an omnipotent and omnipresent Creator who runs the world according to a divine plan. That faith requires child-like belief, without sophistication, analysis, or discussion.

There is much our children need to learn from us about life and the complex world we live in. But in matters of faith in G-d, in the Torah, and in the veracity of our mission and destiny, we should learn from our children how to simply truly believe!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum