Thursday, February 25, 2021

Parshas Tetzaveh 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Tetzaveh/Shushan Purim

14 Adar 5781/February 26, 2021



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            Whenever a situation warranted it, my Bubby a”h would quote an old Yiddish saying. When I then asked her what it meant she would always say that you can’t properly translate such witticisms because something gets lost in the translation.

            The most frequent quote we heard from her was the well-known, “hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik - don’t knock on my tea kettle.” It was a protest against our making too much noise or carrying on about something (my siblings, not me...) I always wondered why she couldn’t just tell us to be quiet. The truth is that the Jews have been banging on tea kettles for thousands of years, and despite our enemies best/worst efforts, they can’t seem to stop us.

            Judaism has many things that are not easily translated or explained. In fact, it’s often more prudent to just stick with the Hebrew. The best example of that is tefillin. If a non-Jew asks you what’s with the boxes, the worst answer is to say that they are phylacteries. Does any non-Jew know what that phylacteries are? It sounds like a stomach ailment. You have a better chance of using the word tefillin.

            It reminds me of when I was at a chassidishe tish on the last night of Chanukah and one of the well-meaning chassidim explained to me that they night the Grand Rabbi was giving out patties in honor of Hanukkah. I never felt so Jewish!

            The same holds true for explaining what the Mishkan was (although why would any non-Jew ask what the Mishkan is....). No one has any clue what a tabernacle is.

            I remember as a child looking at my grandparents old Hebrew Publishing Company machzorim. On the side of the Shavuos machzor it said Pentecost. What in the world does that mean? (It is actually based on a Christian concept.)

            When I was in Graduate School, a fellow student named Shiffy used the name Stephanie, because it was more familiar to the students and professors. One professor however, while taking attendance couldn’t seem to pronounce Stephanie properly. She would have been better off leaving her name as Shiffy.

            Of all the holidays of the year, the most difficult one to translate is Purim.

            Sometimes people naively explain it as the Jewish Halloween. That’s like saying astronauts are ‘space football players’ because, like football players, astronauts wear helmets.

            Just about the only connection between Halloween and Purim is that people wear costumes and visit other people’s homes. That Purim is all about giving and Halloween is about taking is only a small part of it. Purim celebrates life, connection to G-d, connection to fellow Jews, and reigniting our inner passion in being proud Jews. I have no idea what Halloween celebrates, and I frankly don’t care. But I do find it highly inappropriate to even compare the two exclusively incongruous days.

            The literal translation of Purim is “lots”, so named after the lottery Haman cast when determining what day to commit genocide against the Jews. Would anyone think to name the Super Bowl “Coin Toss” because the game begins with one? While Haman indeed cast lots, that was seemingly only a trivial event in determining a date for his heinous plans. Why title the holiday after that? Furthermore, why would the holiday be named after such a painful part of the story? Shouldn’t we focus on the salvation?

            So much of life seems random. In fact, random is a popular word in today’s society. Why do good people suffer? Why is there a pandemic? Why can’t people find their shidduch? Why does that person deserve so much money when that person can’t pay his mortgage? Why can’t that person get a better job? Why does that person have such challenges with his children?

It almost seems like life happens based on luck of the draw.

            However, part of being a believer entails believing that Hashem orchestrates everything that occurs. We don’t choose the cards we are dealt with, but we do choose what we do with them. In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You gotta know when to hold em, know when to fold em.”

            Haman cast lots and was convinced that he had determined the perfect day to carry out his plans. The reality was that it was the perfect time for his plans to be reversed and bring about his utter destruction.

            Perhaps the holiday is called Purim - not only to reflect on Haman’s lots - but also to reflect the many “purims” in our daily lives. The things that occur which seem like a lucky throw of the dice, are really part of a master plan, though it’s not too apparent.

            In the Megillah, Vashti was sure her position as queen was secure. She never dreamed her husband, who wasn’t born into royalty, would assassinate her. Haman was sure his plan was foolproof and that as soon as he got rid of Mordechai everything would be perfect for him. Haman’s daughter was absolutely convinced that the shamefaced man leading the parade was Mordechai, and so she decided to shame him even more by emptying the family chamber pot on his head.

            The holiday of Purim poignantly reminds us that the purim of our own lives, which we may think we have a grasp of and understand their trajectory, are really beyond us. Our role is to play the cards we are dealt with to the best of our ability and know that the cards are being dealt with a perfect plan and direction.

            There’s no holiday when we hock louder than on Purim. We bang when hearing Haman’s name to obliterate the memory of a dangerous enemy. But beyond that, we bang to arouse the Haman within ourselves, those feelings of randomness which lead to anxiety and sadness, to obliterate those as well.

            On Purim we don’t seek to get lost in the translation, but we do seek to immerse ourselves in its commentary.

            L’chaim, l’chaim aleh Yidden!


            Freilichen Purim!

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Parshas Teruma 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Terumah/Parshas Zachor

7 Adar 5781/February 19, 2021



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            I have never been good with names or faces. I joke that my wife never forgets a face, and I never remember one. So, while she will meet a woman and recognize her from kindergarten, I will meet a student and not be able to remember why he looks familiar. (Well, not that bad, but close…)

            During the last few months when everyone walks around wearing masks it’s even worse for me. Last week, someone came over to me and, in a friendly manner, greeted me and asked me how I was doing? He must have noticed my confusion, because he pulled down his mask for a moment so I could see his face. I cannot say that helped me recognize him, but I had to pretend it did.

            On Friday night, in our tribute to our mothers/wives, the Eishes Chayil (woman of valor), we state: “She does not fear for her house from snow, because her entire house is dressed in wool.” Simply understood, this means that her family does not fear the winter when it snows because she makes sure they have warm clothing to insulate them.

            On a deeper level, it is a reference to her ability develop the inner essence of every member of her family.

            I must admit that I don’t like winter or cold weather. However, when stepping out into the cold stillness of a winter morning after a night of snow, it is a truly majestic and beautiful sight. Everything is covered with a blanket of white, concealing everything beneath it. Everything looks the same.

            When we act, dress, and speak in a certain manner in order to fit in with everyone else, we compromise our individuality and uniqueness. But the woman of valor isn’t afraid of her family falling into that pattern. She works hard to develop the inner greatness of her children; she strives to demonstrate to them why they are special and what they can contribute. The truth is that wearing a wool sweater doesn’t actually warm a person. Rather, it insulates the inner body heat the person has so that he doesn’t feel the outside cold. The greatest gift we give our children- and ourselves – is to discover and develop our latent inner greatness.

            The woman of valor doesn’t fear the external faceless cold of a lack of identity and inner self worth, because she provides her family with wool to maintain their inner warmth, personality, and identity.

            Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky relates that when asked why yeshiva students dress in “black and white” (black pants and white shirts) every day, he replies because they know what to wear in the morning and don’t have to decide. When the questioner persists that wearing the same clothing as everyone else strips them of their identity, he replies that if one’s identity is the result of the clothing he wears, then he has no idea what having a real sense of identity means.

            On Purim, it is customary to wear a costume and mask. We laugh when we see someone in a good costume because it’s funny when it looks like someone/something is approaching us, but then the person takes off the mask and we see that it’s someone else.

            On a deeper level, Purim reminds us that in our daily lives we wear many masks that hide our true identity. For one day a year, we pull off our masks and reveal our true inner identity. We celebrate who we are and allow our natural love for our fellow Jews to flow between us.

            We eat hamantaschen which mostly conceal the delicious filling mostly obscured by the dough, to remind us that the inner beauty and essence of most people, especially ourselves, is often hidden from view by the daily bustle of life.

            There is a mitzvah to drink on Purim more than we are accustomed to, to show us that beyond our inhibitions lies a pure essence that yearns for greatness and to transcend the anxieties, foibles, resentments, and self-consciousness that impedes our progress.

            We cannot sustain a Purim life. Soon enough the day ends, and we return to our regular programming. The wise person, however, doesn’t quickly forget what it was like when he pulled off his mask and connected with his inner greatness. He uses the experience to help him realize that he shouldn’t be afraid of being just being another face in the crowd because he realizes the greatness he has within.


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Parshas Mishpatim 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Mishpatim

Rosh Chodesh Adar/ Parshas Shekalim

30 Shevat 5781/February 12, 2021

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה


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            This past Friday, our Shabbos guest pulled up in front of our house an hour and a half before Shabbos. He parked a bit awkwardly in the street because of the high mounds of snow pushed to the side of the road. He shut the car and came into the house carrying a bunch of bags. When he went back out to park the car for Shabbos, he realized that he didn’t have the key. It’s a remote key, so it doesn’t get inserted into the ignition. As long as the key is somewhere in the car, the car will start. The fact that the car wasn’t starting meant that the key wasn’t anywhere in the car either. He looked under the car, then retraced his steps into the house, and looked in all the locations where he had been, but the key wasn’t anywhere to be found.

            At that point, we all went outside and began searching in the snow next to the path we had dug out from the road to our front door. When our guest said that he had thrown a few things in the garbage, I took the entire garbage bag out and held it inside the car, but the car didn’t start - obviously the key wasn’t inadvertently dropped in the garbage.

            The onset of Shabbos was rapidly approaching, and we couldn’t leave the car in the road for Shabbos. Although our guest has a spare key at home, there was no way he would be able to get it delivered before Shabbos. I called some friends in the neighborhood who work with Chaverim, but they said there wasn’t much that could be done. With no choice, we began calling tow truck companies.

            After a couple of calls, we found a company that was familiar with Shabbos observance and agreed to send someone immediately. For $175 they would tow the truck into a nearby driveway for Shabbos. That would at least allow us to go into Shabbos with the issue temporarily resolved.

            I waited anxiously for the tow truck to arrive as the minutes ticked on. Five minutes before I was to leave to shul for mincha, the tow truck pulled up. As I was going to meet him, he got out of the truck, walked over to the car, put his hand on top of the driver’s door, and promptly handed me the key!

            I was dumbfounded. We had looked everywhere, but hadn’t thought to look on top of the car. When our guest had pulled up and gotten out of the car, he must’ve absentmindedly placed the key on top of the car as he gathered the bags from inside the car to carry inside the house.

            The truck is much higher up then the car, and as he slowly drove by the stationary car, he was able to clearly see the key lying on top.

The best part was that he didn’t charge us, although I did give him a hefty tip. As he laughed and got back into his truck, I told him - more for me than for him - “one never knows when he is going to be G-d’s messenger to help someone else”.

            Everyone is familiar with the Gemara’s statement, “mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha - When Adar enters, we increase in our joy.” Those words can also be understood to mean that when we allow Adar to enter - i.e. to enter into us - we will inevitably experience an increase and surge of joy. How do we allow Adar to enter into us?

            The Chiddushei Harim notes that the message of Adar is “aleph - dar”. Aleph refers to the one omnipotent and omniscient G-d. Dar means a dwelling place. The month of Adar reminds us that our task is to recognize and reveal that this world is a dwelling place for G-d. The events of life often obscure that realization. The more we analyze, ponder, and recognize the Hand of Hashem in everything that occurs in our personal lives and throughout the world generally, the more Adar enters into us, and the more the limitless joy of Purim enters us.

            Our world was full of anxiety before the pandemic struck. In the last year the problem has only become compounded many times over. When we view events from our vantage point and perspective, we have reason to feel uneasy and somewhat lost. Adar arrives with its message that the keys that drive this world forward can only be found above. When you realize that the driver knows exactly where he’s going, you can relax and enjoy the ride.


            Good Chodesh

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Parshas Yisro 5781



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Yisro

Mevorchim Chodesh Adar

23 Shevat 5781/February 5, 2021


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            I have a hobby of collecting newspapers that contain memorable headlines. So, when major events occur, I buy the next day’s paper and add it to my collection. I have newspapers from when the last few presidents won elections, President Clinton was impeached, September 12, 2001, when President Trump was impeached (both times), and some papers after worthwhile teams I root for win a championship.

            After Shabbos, I saw a screen shot of the day’s New York Times. I did a double take as I saw that there was a picture of Rav Chaim Kanivesky on the front page. There can’t be much more of a memorable newspaper than that, so I went on a search to find somewhere that still had a New York Times available for sale. I finally found one last copy in a gas station and quickly purchased it.

            As can be imagined, the paper wasn’t lauding Rav Chaim as a great and holy Torah leader who has impacted and influenced countless lives. The quote under the picture read “He is Israel’s Prince of Torah, but to some he is the King of Covid.” I had no doubt that the New York Times wasn’t about to say anything positive about our leaders or our communities. They and their cohorts - CNN, BBC, WSJ, etc. never miss an opportunity to malign us and portray us as archaic and deficient.

            Still, I excitedly showed my children the paper. I told them that it is likely a glimpse into the messianic era, which isn’t too far away. At that time, pictures of Rav Chaim and other great Torah leaders will reverently adorn the front pages of these currently hostile news outlets. Unlike now, at that point when the truth will be revealed, they will view Torah personalities as bearers of the unadulterated truth and will strive to hear their messages.

            Yeshaya HaNavi majestically describes the messianic era. (Yeshaya 42:1-2) “Behold my servant... he will not shout, he will not lift up and make his voice heard outside...”

            Rav Schwab explains that when Mashiach comes, he will be so compelling and convincing that he will not have to shout or advertise his mission in any way. The nations of the world will be eager to hear what he has to say. The world will recognize his teachings as the ultimate truth, and people will flock to him from the ends of the earth to ask him their questions. The work begun by Avrohom Avinu millennia ago - “And he called out in the Name of Hashem” (Bereishis 12:8) - will be completed by Mashiach.

            Earlier (Yeshaya 41:21-24), the Navi mocks the false prophets of the nations, challenging them to predict the future, and see if any of their predictions come true. Yeshaya himself prophesized about what would occur with King Coresh (Cyrus) of Persia and the rebuilding of the second Bais Hamikdash. When Yeshaya said it, the first Bais Hamikdash was still standing, Persia was hardly a dot on the map, and it was years before Koresh was born! Yet every word was fulfilled exactly as he said. That reminds us that everything Yeshaya said about the messianic era will be fulfilled too, in its time.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that when he moved out of Chicago to become a Rabbi in Miami, his mother would send him the previous month’s collection of TIME magazines. He noted that when he read the magazines weeks after their time-sensitive publication, he invariably found that they had gotten everything wrong.

            “Their predictions as to events that would occur was woefully inaccurate and their analysis of situations proved to be shallow and of little real strategic value.

“But this experience of receiving these old magazines – which went on for many years - cured me of the belief in political and economic experts and pundits. Unforeseen events always arose to mock their oracular predictions and assessments. I always thought of the verse: "He Who sits in Heaven laughs and the Lord mocks them."

            “So, I developed the habit, nevertheless, of only reading old magazines, for in their now evident false understanding of reported events, I did find fiendish enjoyment and perverse pleasure. I imagine that since few people read old magazines except when sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, the magazines can keep on churning out their assessments, predictions and analyses without fear of being exposed as being as constantly mistaken…. as they truly are.”

            Rabbi Wein also often quips that “One of the great mercies of the G-d of Israel is that he doesn’t read the New York Times. They haven’t got a clue, even though they have all the opinions.”

            It’s a great challenge that newspapers today could more aptly be described as viewspapers, and their views are often inaccurate at best. It’s therefore important that we remind ourselves that their opinions and portrayals are not necessarily a reflection of reality.

            But the day will come when all that will change.         


            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum