Thursday, January 23, 2020


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera- Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat
27 Teves 5780/January 24, 2020


            Busted! It has now been verified that the Houston Astros cheated in the post-season on their way to winning the World Series in 2017. Yankees and Dodgers fans are particularly enraged and are calling for the Astros to be stripped of their championship rings.
            There is an old saying in baseball that good pitching stops good hitting. What defines a good pitcher is his having a repertoire of good pitches that he can use at will, plus strong command of those pitches so that he can use to use them effectively. Then it becomes a guessing game for the hitter to try to be ready for anything. When a pitch is coming at a hitter 80-95 mph, he only has a couple of seconds to decide when and how to swing. An effective pitcher uses the element of surprise to try to blow the ball past the hitter and to get him to not be able to make solid contact.
            The catcher has secret signals through which he suggests to the pitcher what kind of pitch he should throw. The pitcher then nods whether he agrees or not. This way the catcher can be ready to catch the incoming pitch, so that the ball doesn’t go past him.
            During Astros’ home games, a camera was set up in center field that was fixated and zoomed in on the catcher. There was television monitor affixed to the wall of a hallway leading from the home-team’s dugout to the clubhouse. Team players and employees would analyze the catcher signs of the opposing team until they broke the code and were able to decipher what kind of pitch the pitcher was about to throw.
            They would then bang on a trash can to alert their batter as to what kind of pitch was coming. All the Astros players were in on the scheme and knew what each bang on the trash can represented.
            When the scandal broke, it had far reaching effects. The Astros immediately fired their general manager and manger. That was quickly followed with the Boston Red Sox firing their manager who had led them to a World Series victory because he was a former employee of the Astros. Finally, the New York Mets fired their newly hired manager, who was also a member of that team.
            We live our lives engaged in an epic struggle to maintain our integrity and to live according to the dictates and expectations of halacha. That battle is fought mostly within ourselves, against our internal evil inclination.
            Ramchal explains that, originally, the yetzer hara was external and spoke to Adam in second person, “you should eat from the forbidden fruit”. Once Adam consumed the forbidden fruit however, the evil inclination entered his body and his psyche and became part of him. Forevermore it speaks to Adam and his descendant from within, “I want to do this act even though it is sinful and immoral.”
            Warring countries always seek to plant spies behind enemy lines to infiltrate their ranks in order to find out their military secrets. The greatest advantage in war is the element of surprise. When one side is aware of their rival’s next move, they can be ready for them.
Regarding our personal ongoing internal battle, we are at an incredible disadvantage.
            There is an old Telzer Purim Niggun[1] with the words: “g’daynk dem alter ganev, asher karcha v’yizanev - remember the old thief who cut you off; you must eradicate the memory of Amalek.”
            The greatest danger of our evil inclination - symbolized by Amalek - is that he is a thief. When we allow ourselves to be ensnared, he steals time, the most precious commodity we have, and our ability to accomplish what we truly aspire to accomplish.
            The greatest danger is that we don’t realize we are being preyed upon. He has his video camera zoomed in on our every move. Every time we try to accomplish and do something positive he is there mixing the signs and exploiting our weaknesses.
            But there is a fascinating component about our evil inclination that we may not realize.
            When Yaakov Avinu was victorious over the angel after they struggled against each other all night, the angel declared “send me for the morning has ascended”. Rashi explains that the angel was saying that since it was morning, he had to sing shira before Hashem. Targum Yonasan adds that this was his first opportunity to sing shira. Why did he have to sing specifically now?
            The Avodas Yisroel of Koznitz explains that every angel has a mission to fulfill. When and if the angel fulfills its mission, it ascends to heaven to sing before the Thorne of Glory.
            The angel Yaakov struggled with was the evil inclination itself. That angel’s purpose is to test us constantly, so that we can overcome him and be worthy of ultimate reward. The evil inclination doesn’t want to beat us. Its real hope is that we will overcome it so that its mission will be fulfilled.
            When Yaakov was victorious, the angel became excited - “finally someone has beaten me! That means I have fulfilled my mission, and now I must sing before the Throne of Glory!”
            That means that the yetzer hara isn’t stealing our signs to defeat us. It’s more like the trainer who compels his trainee to be ready for anything, so that he will be able to withstand whatever comes his way. The more agile, stronger and better the trainee becomes, the more challenging and harsher the trainer works him.
            Life is about overcoming struggle, because it’s only through overcoming adversity that we become stronger and greater.
            So, whenever we feel like we are being tested and challenged hard, we can gather some solace by remembering that someone obviously believes in us. Someone believes we have the ability to overcome it, so that it can ascend and sing shira for fulfilling its mission of preparing another soul to compete in the major leagues.

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

[1] I learned this niggun and words from Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer and his sons. Rabbi Feuer was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, which was my family’s shul during my adolescence.