Friday, September 28, 2018

Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos 5779

Erev Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos   
19 Tishrei 5779/September 28, 2018

Contemporary halachic authorities rule that one may not run a washing machine or dishwasher in his home during Shabbos. One may not even leave it on before Shabbos so that it will continue to run after Shabbos begins, nor may one allow a non-Jew to run it during Shabbos, because having a machine running demeans the spirit and honor of Shabbos.
Gavriel and Michael Staum – age 2 - disagree. Forget about a non-Jew, they themselves turn on many of these devices on Shabbos. (Chani wants to know if she can put soap in the dishwasher and soap in the washing machine before Shabbos, because the odds are that it will be turned on by little fingers sometime during Shabbos.) All of my efforts to explain to them about the honor of Shabbos, and that they aren’t on the level to challenge the opinion of the leading Poskim of our time have thus far been unsuccessful.
What’s more, they hold that they are allowed to turn lights on and off on Shabbos, use the phone, turn the heat up - especially when the air conditioning is running - and play with electrical toys that make noise.
The Tur famously asks why we celebrate the holiday of Succos at this time of year, and not shortly after Pesach? If the reason we sit in succos is to commemorate the fact that G-d protected us in succos (huts) throughout our sojourns in the desert, that journey began as soon as we left Egypt?
(Let’s stop for a moment to wonder what the women would have said if Moshe Rabbeinu announced that shortly after Pesach ended there was to be another weeklong holiday of Succos with more meals and holiday preparation...)
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the Torah states that we sit in the succah “So that your generations will know that I caused the B’nei Yisrael to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt...” (Vayikra 23:43)
Part of the succah experience is to contemplate and internalize the lesson of the succah - the idea that the same G-d who protected them from the vagaries and perils of the desert, is our sole protector as well.
There is no time during the year when we have greater spiritual clarity than immediately following Yom Kippur. After the great days of awe have afforded us the opportunity to analyze our lives and refocus on our priorities, we are able to recognize what’s truly important, before we are overwhelmed and distracted again by our daily affairs.
That is why Succos - the holiday that requires knowledge and understanding - must directly follow Yom Kippur. 
We are hopeful that as Hashem continues to bless Gavriel and Michael with maturity and intellect, they will come to understand the infinite value and opportunity that Shabbos grants us each week, and that it is our greatest merit to desist from all weekly affairs during the holy day. Until they attain that intellectual maturity, I guess there will be empty dishwashers and washing machines running on Shabbos. And if you see a missed call from us on Shabbos, you’ll understand why!

Good Shabbos & Shabbat Shalom
Good Moed & Chag Sameiach,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva 5779

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva
5 Tishrei 5779/September 14, 2018

With tremendous gratitude to Hashem, we just celebrated the second birthday of our twin sons, Gavriel and Michael. They started the ‘wonderful twos’ early and definitely have been keeping us on our toes, to say the least.
One morning in camp a few weeks ago, the dynamic duo decided to attack the Keurig coffee K-Cups. After moving over the kitchen chairs to the counters, they climbed up and proceeded to empty all the K-Cups from their container. They felt the toaster oven was a far better place for them to be kept.
When Chani went to put her breakfast in the toaster, she had to empty out all the K-Cups. But one of the K-Cups was tucked away and lodged into the bottom of the toaster, so she didn’t see it. When she turned on the toaster the bungalow was instantly filled with a misty smell of burnt coffee and plastic. She quickly shut the toaster and, when it cooled, removed the melted, burnt K-Cup. But the odious smell lingered for a couple of days, a reminder that we are outnumbered by double trouble.
Whenever we commit a sin, the problem is not merely the negative action that we have committed. There is also a spirit of impurity that envelops us and causes a spiritual barrier between us and Hashem.
In the physical world, we are often warned that smoke kills before fire. In the spiritual world too, the spiritual smoke generated by our sins is more noxious and damaging than even the sins themselves. Therefore, when we seek to do teshuva, it is not enough for us to merely purge the action of sin from our account. We also must seek to reverse the incorrect mindsets and attitudes which we have developed before and after we sinned. Inevitably, when one commits a sin he becomes more cavalier to the severity of his actions and less sensitive to the spiritual damage he has caused.
When the prophets speak about teshuva, and when the Rambam codifies the laws of teshuva, they speak about the sinner returning from his errant ways. It is not enough to cease the negative actions he has done. He must also reverse course and ensure that he realigns himself with his true aspirations and goals.
When a couple is struggling in their marriage, it’s rarely one point or disagreement that is the overriding issue. Invariably, the problem is the general lack of communication, or a feeling in the air of rancor and resentment. It’s not enough to deal with the petty issues they are presenting. The real issue is the lack of relationship and the negativity that hangs in the very air between them.
Numerous times during the Yom Kippur prayers we state the verse: “For on this day He will atone for you, to purify you. From all of your sins, before Hashem you will be purified.” The pasuk clearly alludes to two components of teshuva - atonement - the actual purging of the sin, and purification, wherein one is purified from the spiritually deleterious effect of his sins. Meriting divine purification is far more challenging than achieving atonement. After all, it is far easier to dispose of the burnt and melted K-Cup, than it is to get rid of the smoke that it generated.
We spend a great deal of time during Yom Kippur confessing specific iniquities. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Yom Kippur is not just about specific sins. It is also an opportunity to refocus ourselves, and to clear the (spiritual) air.
May we all have the wisdom to take full advantage of this arduous yet majestic day.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
G’mar Chasima Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, September 6, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Netzovim - Avos perakim 5-6
27 Elul 5778/September 7, 2018

A few years ago, Chani took our younger children to one of the local Jewish owned shoe stores to buy shoes. The store had a section with slides and climbing toys for children.
Our (then) 5-year-old daughter Chayala was playing on the slides happily until a chassidishe boy approached her and starting chastising her in Yiddish about why she wasn’t allowed to play there. Bh Chayala doesn’t have an issue asserting herself. She looked the chassidish boy in the eye and emphatically proclaimed “I don’t speak Spanish!” At that point the boy became more animated and repeated his demands. Undeterred, Chayala looked him in the eye and repeated, “I said, I don’t speak Spanish!”
Whenever Chani tells over the story she laughs and adds that Chayala’s namesake, her beloved ‘Babby Chaya’, is undoubtedly turning over in her grave that her great-granddaughter mistook Yiddish for Spanish.
There are many people who feel similarly about selichos and the many special tefilos recited during this time of year. It’s not easy reciting added prayers, many of which contain unfamiliar words.
Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky, eighth grade master rebbe in Ashar, tells his students that when they feel challenged by selichos they can utilize the advice he gives students before they have to speak. Whether it’s a bar mitzvah or at a graduation, speaking publicly can be daunting and nerve-racking. What’s worse, when one stands up and faces the crowd his mind often goes blank and he can’t remember anything.
But he knows that the speech written in front of him is a good one, worthy of the crowd’s attention. Therefore, even if his mind is blank, he can be confident that if he repeats the speech with the same feeling as when he practiced it, the assemblage listening to his words will be impressed.
The “men of the great assembly” comprised of 120 of our greatest sages, composed many of our tefillos. In addition, great paytanim (liturgists) authored magnificent poetic prayers to be said as part of our supplications during selichos. Even if we aren’t sure exactly what we are saying, we can be confident that if we recite the prayers with earnest humility and a desire to connect with Hashem, the words will accomplish great things in heaven. Undoubtedly, knowing the meaning of the words is far greater. But the most important component of prayer is the feelings in one’s heart, the desire to connect with the divine.
In my youth I found selichos to be a very frustrating ordeal. I always tried to recite every word of the selichos with the congregation but was never able to finish the entire paragraph before the congregation moved on.
The halacha however clearly states that the quantity of prayers is not so important. What truly matters is the extent of how much one is able to direct his heart to his Father in Heaven. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:4), “Better few supplications with concentration than many without concentration.”
Whether selichos seems Greek to us or Spanish, more important than the words we say is the sincere desire to achieve forgiveness. What matters is the aspiration to continue to ascend the rungs of spiritual growth and live a life of spiritual connection.
That is the type of life we beseech G-d to grant us during these days: “Remember us for life, King who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, living G-d.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Kesiva Vachasima Tova & Shana Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum