Thursday, June 23, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Korach

22 Sivan 5771/June 24, 2011

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 3

I know people are busy so I’m going to try to keep this short.

The month of June is a wonderful time of year. By now the flowers and leaves are in full bloom, and summer is already in the air. The world has come back to life in its annually miraculous way.

June also usually includes many weddings, as the mourning period of sefiras haomer has concluded and the Three Weeks (of mourning for the Bais Hamikdash) are still a few weeks away. Weddings are followed by sheva berachos which include good food, an amicably joyous atmosphere, and speeches. June is also often chock full of fundraising dinners for yeshivos, charitable organizations, and shuls. Formal dinners are replete with smorgasbords and good food (hopefully), and speeches. The end of June also means graduation season. As our ultimate expression of devotion to our loved ones we sit through their graduations which include speeches, speeches, and then a few more speeches.

[Someone once quipped that the point of commencement speeches is because we should never send graduates into the world to face the challenges of life until we can be sure they are well rested.]

There is one theme that seems to repeat itself in all forums of speeches. Speakers will often begin by saying “I know it’s late…” or “I was asked to speak briefly…” Yet I have yet to hear any speaker who has begun with such a statement who actually speaks briefly. In fact, I have realized that when a speaker begins his speech by speaking about the length of his speech it is usually his way of warning the audience to get comfortable because he will probably not speak briefly. What he really is saying is “I know it’s late but it’s about to get later” or “I was asked to speak short but I probably won’t. Still, as a bit of a compensation, here’s a cute opening joke about how boring speeches are, (perhaps such as the one you are about to be subjected to).”

When the conclusion of a speech is followed by a raucous applause, I often wonder if the applause is for the speaker and/or his speech, or if it’s for the fact that he has finally concluded.

If you really want to keep your speech short don’t speak about your speech, just say your message and conclude. The audience will love you for it and will forgive you for not relating the story about the lion who didn’t devour his victim because after the meal comes the speeches, or about the fellow who got up to get a haircut during a speech because he didn’t need one before the speech started.

May we all be blessed with wonderful occasions. May we enjoy weddings and sheva berachos, wonderful receptions that raise much money for their worthy organizations, and graduations of our family members and friends. And may every speech at these events be inspiring and enjoyable, and short enough to bear. As the old saying goes: A good speech has a good beginning, a great end, and not much in between. Amen!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shelach 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach

15 Sivan 5771/June 17, 2011

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 2

“Efforts to ban circumcision gain traction.” The aforementioned headline is not a quote from a 1933 German newspaper or a 1920 Russian newspaper. The last two words of the headline read “in California” and is actually a quote from a New York Times article dated June 4, 2011. Welcome to progressive and liberal America, 2011.

Truth be told, it come as no shock that San Francisco, the very city which first legalized same-gender unions is now bonding together to “protect children from an unnecessary medical procedure” which they term “male genital mutilation”. It’s no coincidence that the same city which legalized immoral and sinful living has a problem with an ancient religious ritual which symbolizes morality and self-control.

Although a human being is created with incredible brilliance and intricate detail, he is far from perfect. His mission in life is to strive for perfection borne out of Torah observance and living a moral and elite lifestyle. Circumcision is an innate reminder that sometimes we must ‘cut away’ from our desires to achieve self control (see Tanchuma, beginning of parshas Tazria). It comes as no surprise that those who advocate freedom from scruples and morals oppose circumcision.

Perhaps you’ll argue that the proposed ban has nothing to do with morals and symbolisms. Maybe we will even contend that the vile comic books that have been circulated which depict the villain named ‘Monster Mohel’ have nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and that these are simply earnest individuals who are advocating for exercising “Human rights” and “protecting these innocent boys”. But before doing so please read on.

In truth, I am thinking of beginning my own campaign to ‘protect our children’. I feel that it is disgraceful that in liberal progressive America today parents are allowed to have the ears of their infant daughters pierced. This ‘feminine lobular mutilation’ is simply horrendous and we must put an immediate stop to it. How can we allow young baby girl’s ears to be pierced just for the sake of ‘aesthetic cuteness’? I propose that a girl should be at least 18 years old before she can decide about getting her earlobes pierced (naval rings are okay at 8 years of age).

I am skeptical that I won’t be able to acquire the requisite signatures for such a proposal to even be raised. It seems most people feel that the momentary pain which leaves no permanent damage to the infant’s ear is well worth it, considering how adorable and cute she’ll look in those charming little earrings. Yes it may be painful for a moment but there are always certain special things in life we are willing to endure some suffering in order to achieve.

Apparently circumcision is totally different. Why? Perhaps it has more to do with what circumcision symbolizes than it does about “male mutilation”!

Welcome to progressive San Francisco 2011, o’er the land of the free hypocrites and the home of the morally depraved!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Monday, June 6, 2011


Erev Z’man Matan Torasaynu

5 Sivan 5771/June 7, 2011- 49th Day of the Omer

Perhaps you heard about a major event that took place a few weeks ago in London. A million people were on hand while an estimated two billion people in more than 180 countries around the world watched or listened to reports about the ‘royal wedding’ between Prince William and Catherine Middleton on April 29, 2011. Over 8,500 journalists were on hand to cover the event.

Facebook calculated that 2.8 billion people in America and Britain alone had written status updates about the royal wedding during the 24 hours prior, while Twitter users were posting 237 tweets per second.

There was tremendous discussion generated during the weeks prior about many of the details of the wedding, including such trivialities as the clothing the bride and groom would wear, and how the procession would proceed.

There are, and have been, many events that seemed to capture the world’s attention but this one seems to have taken the cake. Two billion people in 180 countries!

Is there more to it than just everyone wanting to know the business of the rich and famous? Why was the world so hooked on this wedding?

The final of the Ten Commandments – “You shall not covet!” - seems rather peculiar. How can the Torah forbid us from feeling a natural emotion? If a person likes his neighbor’s home and feels a tinge of jealousy, is it his fault?

The great commentator Ibn Ezra notes that the emotion of jealousy is indeed within the purview of our control. He explains that a sensible villager who sees a beautiful princess passing before him with her royal entourage is not jealous and he doesn’t desire to be close with her because he realizes that he is ‘out of her league’. She would never give him a second look and he has absolutely no connection with her.

So too, if one understands and believes that G-d has given him whatever he is supposed to have and that whatever he does not have he is absolutely not supposed to have, he will not feel any envy or jealousy for someone else or someone else’s things. He understands that his neighbor’s car, home, and wife, is as foreign to him as a royal princess.

But what happens when the princess is not a princess at all? Kate Middleton was born to working class parents in Berkshire, England. Her parents built a successful mail order company that sold party supplies and decorations. The profits they made from their business allowed them to send their eldest daughter to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she met Prince Williams. There was quite a stir when the couple announced their engagement. How could the prince agree to marry a commoner?

Is the massive interest to the wedding due to covert envy? Did the wedding awaken within the hearts of every commoner the hope and possibility that she may yet be a princess one day?

Kate and William’s wedding may very well have tainted our generation’s ability to understand the poignant parable of the Ibn Ezra. For now it seems that anyone has a fair shot at joining the royal family. So let the envy flow.

For those who have enough sense to realize that they will never be the prince or princess of Wales, England, or even Boro Park, all is not lost. In fact, au contraire! The Mishna (Avos 6:5) states “Do not lust for the table of kings, for your table is greater than their table, and your crown is greater than their crown.” You already are part of the Royal Family, the genuine Royal Family. And this week you are invited to participate in the renewal of the vows we uttered at the Royal Wedding 3,323 years ago at Sinai.

And so we wish you a joyous holiday, Your Majesty!

Chag Kasher V’samayach & Good Yom Tov,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NASO 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Naso

Rosh Chodesh Sivan 5771/June 3, 2011- 45th Day of the Omer

Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l would say that a conversation he once overheard between two young boys made him realize just how entrenched we are in American culture. A boy was telling his brother what he learned in yeshiva about the Kohain Gadol, his eight special clothes, the Service he performed, and the great responsibility he had, especially on Yom Kippur. The younger boy was fascinated and replied, “Wow! How much do you think he got paid?”

Shaquille O’Neill, the well-known basketball star (who just announced his retirement), once quipped, “The problem with our world is that it’s too materialistic.” The profundity of his statement is that he uttered those words shortly after he signed a fourteen million dollar contract. When asked about the glaring incongruity he explained that the contract “aint about the money.”

Perhaps it takes one to know one, and maybe only someone making as much money as Shaq can truly appreciate just how enslaved one can become to money, but I think it’s more likely that he didn’t realize how ridiculous his statement was.

There is a well-known truism that today’s luxuries become tomorrow’s necessities. Our drive for materialistic pursuits is insatiable, and one can easily become controlled by his money, rather than the other way around.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman tells his young students, “I want to offer you an invaluable piece of advice, which is key to living a happy life. I hope G-d will bless you and your businesses will be successful and prosperous. When that happens, don’t raise your standard of living! If you are blessed with extra money save it, put it away, and enjoy it moderately. But don’t up the quality of your life by looking for a bigger house, a fancier car, more extravagant vacations, etc. If you do, you will never be able to enjoy what you have.”

A rebbe of mine told me that his grandmother would often repeat that in Europe they would mockingly say, “Upon three things the world stands gelt, gelt, oon noch gelt money, money, and more money” (a distortion of the Mishna (Avos 1:2) which says the world stands on three things – Torah, Divine Service, and good deeds).

Often money becomes an end instead of a means. Like everything else, money needs to be placed in the proper perspective. Without money we cannot give charity, support our families, purchase mitzvos, etc. But the million dollar question (or maybe the priceless question) is: Do you control your money or does your money control you?

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum