Thursday, May 18, 2023

Parshas Bamidbar 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bamidbar – Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

Avos perek 6 – 43rd day of Omer

28 Iyar 5783/May 19, 2023 – Yom Yerushalayim




My esteemed colleague, Rabbi Dr. Joel Berman related the following story from his years as a soldier in the IDF:

“One day I was part of a 9-man team lying in a rare daytime ambush in Southern Lebanon near the Christian town of Hula. We would lay quietly in place with our guns poised for many hours. It was mostly boring and quiet, but we had to be ready at all times. There was a rotation where three were able to sleep while the other 6 remained awake.

“I was lying next to Salach, a singularly skilled and well-trained Druze soldier. He was peering into his pair of binoculars. Suddenly, he handed me the binoculars cupped his hands to my ear and whispered, “Berman, tistakel v’tagid li mah atah ro’eh - look and tell me what you see.” I looked and told him that I see a tree. He kicked me in the foot and told me to look carefully again. I did so and replied that I still only saw a tree. This time he smacked me and told me to look again, noticing a perfectly straight stick going up and down. I looked again and this time I indeed saw a perfectly straight stick moving up and down ever so slightly among the branches. Salach then explained, “it is a fact that nothing natural is perfectly straight. If something is perfectly straight, it is man made. If we see a straight stick in the distance, it clearly means that the enemy is there with a radio and the protruding antenna is what we are seeing.”

“Salach then took out a plastic-covered map, unfurled it and figured out the exact coordinates of the antenna. He then radioed the coordinates back to our base. Moments later a shell was shot from Israel at that precise location utterly decimating the enemy.”

It’s an amazing concept. Hashem did not create anything perfectly straight in nature. Rivers, sticks, flower stems, blood flowing through our veins, our bones, etc. - nothing is perfectly linear. Yet, we want our lives to be perfect and we want to plan our lives and that everything should work out perfectly. But we should note that if nature itself doesn’t follow straight lines, our lives also cannot be perfect. The circuitous route of the trajectory of our lives is the path which Hashem leads us on. It may often be challenging but it builds and molds us into the great people we are meant to be.

In addition, we are not angels. Angels have nothing to work on because their path and mission is indeed perfectly straight and predictable. But humans have challenges that force us off our intended paths. An angel is referred to as an omed – one who stands, in the sense that it cannot grow, while we can use our challenges as opportunities to grow, potentially to levels greater than angels.


With all this in mind, it is intriguing that regarding the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer the Torah states, “Usafratem lachem… sheva shabasos timimos tehiyenah – And you shall count for yourself… Seven complete weeks they shall be” (Vayikra 23:15). Does the path to Kabbolas HaTorah require perfection and completion? There are so many statements from Chazal lauding the value of teshuva, even saying that “Teshuva preceded creation of the world.” (Medrash Tehillim 90) is Kabbolas HaTorah contingent on perfect adherence?

In Major League Baseball there are certain numbers that are hallowed and special. True fans are aware of the significance of two of those numbers: 56 and 2,632.

56 is the number of consecutive games in which Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio got a hit during the 1941 season. What’s not always realized is that after the streak was snapped, DiMaggio got at least one hit in each of the following 15 games as well. In 73 games there was only one game in which he didn’t have a hit. The Yankees went on to win the AL pennant that year by a 17-game margin and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series. DiMaggio was voted the Most Valuable Player in the American League, beating out Ted Williams, who had hit over .400 that season. The second longest hitting streak is 45 games set by Willie Keeler in 1897.

2,632 is the longest streak of consecutive games played in by a player, not only in major League Baseball, but in any professional sport. That record is held by Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles who didn’t miss a game between May 30, 1982, and September 19, 1998. He broke the previous record of Lou “Iron Horse” Gehrig who had played in 2,130 consecutive games. The third longest streak is 1,307 games held by Everett Scott.

It is believed that neither DiMaggio’s streak nor Ripken’s streak will ever be broken.

Sometimes we think that to be worth anything we have to be at our best and feeling spiritual and connected every day. We think we have to be like DiMiaggio, getting at least a hit in every at bat. But the reality is that we don’t feel spiritually charged and energized every day. Does that make us a failure?

There is another type of streak that is different but no less impressive. It is the streak of Cal Ripken Jr. who showed up ready to perform every day. Such a streak requires endurance and persistence to give it your best even on days when you don’t feel like it and may be fatigued or burned out. The ability to do so is rooted in a feeling of responsibility, conviction, dedication and focus on the long-term.

When the Torah states that the days of the Omer must be complete, it doesn’t necessarily mean complete in a “DiMaggio” sense. It doesn’t demand that we suddenly reach perfection and top-level performance. Rather it requires “Ripken” completion – courageously showing up, stepping into the ring and daring greatly. That is the path that must be undertaken to arrive at Sinai to receive the Torah.

If someone missed an entire day of counting the Omer, the halachic consensus is that he can longer count with a beracha. People in that situation often erroneously say “I am out!” or “I can no longer count!” That is a big mistake. Although he can no longer count with a beracha he still performs a mitzvah when he recites the Sefirah count for that night.

Nature does not produce perfection, because Hashem does not demand perfection of us. But we are bidden to ‘show up’ and give it our best shot, every day of our lives. Even those days when we don’t feel like being there, we remind ourselves of the great value of suiting up, stepping into the batter’s box, and readying ourselves to do the best we can with whatever life hurls at us.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chodesh Tov & Gut Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



Thursday, May 11, 2023

Parshas Behar Bechukosai 5783



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Behar-Bechukosai – Shabbas Chazak!

Avos perek 5 – 36th day of Omer

21 Iyar 5783/May 12, 2023


It’s not easy to be menachem avel as we don’t like going to “sad places”. At the same time, however, it is often an elevating experience. I often leave a shiva house with inspiring ideas I heard related about the niftar, some that I could adopt and implement in my own life.

Shlomo Hamelech expressed this sentiment when he wrote, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting…. And the living will take it to heart” (Koheles 7:2).

I recently went to be menachem avel my old friend Rabbi Aharon Yitzchak Klein, after the passing of his father, Rabbi Sruli Klein z”l. (I should clarify that although the friendship is old neither I nor Rabbi Klein are old…)

During that visit, Rabbi Klein related that a few months prior he had gone to visit his ailing father in the hospital. The senior Rabbi Klein told his son to take a pen and paper and write down certain instructions that he wanted his only son to adhere to upon his passing.

One of the instructions was that in his bedroom at home there was a pile of quarters. It had been his practice to give five quarters to tzedakah daily, and he wanted his son to continue doing so throughout the first year after his passing. The first quarter he gave was in memory of his late wife. The next three quarters he gave were in memory of three other close relatives. The last one was given in the merit that he procures a kosher lulav and esrog for the upcoming Succos.

Rabbi Aharon Yitzchak noted that his father wasn’t particular to have the most beautiful or expensive lulav and esrog. He didn’t need to because throughout the year he gave tzedakah daily to merit properly performing the mitzvah.

It was amazing to me that the mitzvah of shaking daled minim for the one week of Succos was on Rabbi Klein’s mind throughout the year. It was a reminder that a Jew ought not just perform mitzvos but he should live them and internalize them.

A talmid in the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland recounted that at one point he was considering leaving yeshiva to go out to work. One day while sitting in the Bais Medrash at the end of the learning session, he saw the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, close his Gemara and kiss it loudly. The talmid was so moved by that kiss and display of intense love for his Gemara that he decided to remain in yeshiva for longer.

When Rav Lazer Shach reached an advanced age and it was hard for him to read small letters, he was offered a computer that would significantly enlarge the letters. Rav Shach refused it stating, “Ich darf a Gemara vos m’ken kushan - I want to use a Gemara that I can kiss.”

Rav Shach wasn’t saying that there was a halachic issue learning from an electric device. But he personally felt doing so would detract from his ability to express his love for Torah.

A friend related that when his grandfather was admitted to the hospital towards the end of his life, his grandfather wasn’t very lucid. At one point a nurse placed the band around his left hand to take his blood pressure. When his grandfather felt something tightening around his left arm, he immediately recited the beracha “lihaniach tefillin”, the beracha recited by a person as he tightens his tefillin around his weaker arm.

On the day that our oldest son Shalom put on tefillin for the first time, I went with him to visit my Bubby a”h. She was living then in an assisted-living facility and much of the time she was confused. I told her that Shalom had put on tefillin that morning for the first time and requested that she give him a beracha. She placed both her hands on his head and promptly recited the beracha l’haneach tefillin, Hashem’s Name and all. Apparently when she heard me say the words tefillin and beracha, that’s what came to mind, and she replied accordingly. I didn’t even think she knew that beracha.

As often as we were able, my wife and I would take our children to visit my Bubby. Towards the end of her life, my Bubby was increasingly less aware of what was happening around her. Before we left at night, we told her that our children wanted to say Shema with her. As soon as I began saying Shema Yisroel, she continued the entire paragraph and ended off with Hamalach Hagoel. She may not have known what she ate for dinner or what she did that day, but she knew the tefillos of her youth perfectly.

Kabbolas HaTorah entails not only accepting to perform and observe Torah and Mitzvos. It is also about infusing their timeless messages into our core essence. As we recite each night during maariv, “For it is our life and the length of our days, and in them we will engage day and night”.

There is no law that one must kiss a Gemara. But a kiss is an expression of love and when someone truly loves something or someone, he desires to express that love.

The Jewish People love their seforim, tefillin, saying Shema, and shaking lulav and esrog on Succos. We relish the opportunities afforded to us to perform His will. That love becomes part of our very being and is eternal. Such endless love is the result of constantly preparing ourselves to grow in Torah and to live Torah.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum