Thursday, June 22, 2017

PARSHAS KORACH 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Korach
29 Sivan 5777/ June 23, 2017 - Avos Perek 4
Erev Rosh Chodesh Tamuz  

Each weekday afternoon, I head north on the Palisades Parkway, on my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali in New Windsor, NY. As the Yeshiva’s Principal, you can only imagine how devastated the talmidim are if I am not there early enough to send them to class on time.
The Palisades Parkway ends next to the beautiful Bear Mountain Bridge. At that point, I continue north on Route 9W. After a short drive, the highway ascends precipitously, affording a magnificent and breathtaking view. From the summit, one can see for miles. It is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the panorama.
The first few times I drove up, I stopped to marvel at the stunning view. But with time I no longer stopped, although I was still excited by the view. Within a few more weeks, I hardly thought about it at all. Sadly, that is the way we are. What was once novel and exciting quickly becomes trite and commonplace.
It is only when I am driving a passenger who is unfamiliar with the area, that I again feel a tinge of excitement for the magnificent view. When someone else sees it for the first time and begins to marvel about it, that initial excitement that I once felt, is aroused within me, and I again sense how extraordinary it is.
For the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of being the Dinner Chairman at the dinner of Yeshiva of Spring Valley, our sons’ elementary school. Being Chairman includes introducing the Guests of Honor. This year, I was not previously familiar with the Guests of Honor, but wanted to introduce them affording them the honor they deserved. Well before the dinner, I spoke with some of their friends, family members, and employees. But more significantly, I called the honorees themselves, first the husband and then the wife, and asked each to describe the virtues of their spouse in sixty seconds or less.
I was deeply impressed and moved by both of their responses. Sixty seconds is not a lot of time to relate the uniqueness[DS1]  of a person, all the more so a spouse. But if you’re forced to try to sum up the greatness of your spouse within that time, it forces you to concretize your reflections about their golden qualities.
I realized afterwards that it’s a great shalom bayis exercise. How often do spouses think about the uniqueness of the person they married? How often do they remind themselves of the things that once excited them about their partner in life? It’s vital, for those, who, on a daily basis, contend with annoyances and idiosyncrasies of their spouse.
It’s an idea that is helpful with all those other things which are so precious, but we often fail to appreciate. A friend related that before he goes to sleep every night, he looks at the faces of each of his sleeping children and thinks about how much he loves them, and thanks Hashem for each one. He admitted that when his children are awake, there are days and situations when it can be challenging to fully appreciate all his children. But that’s all the more reason why he makes sure to think about them in a positive manner every night.
Rav Noach Weinberg zt’l noted that complacency is the enemy of growth. When people become fixated with their ideas, life becomes stable and people can become weary and grumpy.
Our nature is to take things for granted. The only way to combat that nature, is to actively reflect upon what makes those things special and dear to us. One can recapture enthusiasm by reminding himself his original emotions for everything he has.
If one is able to recite “Modeh Ani” in his waking moment each morning, with some level of attention, he will set the tone for beginning his day with gratitude.
If we are able to reflect upon the simple gifts of life, we will remember that those simple gifts aren’t simple at all.

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


Thursday, June 15, 2017

PARSHAS SHELACH 5777





“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shelach
22 Sivan 5777/ June 16, 2017 - Avos Perek 3
Mevorchim Chodesh Tamuz

Back in the days when "being on line" meant you were in a store, and the web was something spiders wove, audio was recorded on cassette tapes. I grew up in that archaic world. I still have dozens of tapes containing recordings of schmoozen (Torah lectures) and shiurim from my years in yeshiva.
Recently, I purchased a device to transfer the recordings as MP3 files on my computer.
Aside from benefiting from the Torah thoughts shared my rabbeim, which I have largely forgotten, there is a great deal of nostalgia that I feel when listening to those lectures. I cannot help but remember where I was and at what stage of life I was, when hearing those lectures live over two decades ago.
Although we are still in denial that we are old enough to have a son heading to high school, our oldest son Shalom is graduating elementary school this week iyh. After the summer, he will enter Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, twenty years after his father graduated High School from there.
Two decades after leaving the yeshiva, a few of my classmates have begun discussing the twenty-year reunion we planned before we graduated.
It's amazing to see how our lives have progressed. Each of us have married and built families, chartering our own unique paths along the roads of life. Some of my classmates have led lives exactly as we predicted professionally and religiously. But there are a few who have shocked everyone, perhaps mostly themselves. Had you told them two decades ago what they were destined to accomplish, and who they would become, they would never have believed you.
I have more than one classmate, who during our high school years was not known for his diligence in learning, to say the least. Today they are scholars of note, with numerous students of their own. [One classmate in particular, has banned me from speaking to his children out of fear of the recollections I may share.]
During hallel, we state the pasuk: "The stone which the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone."
The commentators explain that Dovid Hamelech stated this verse about himself. He was the "stone" that was spurned and rejected, even by his own righteous father and brothers. They wrote him off as a simple-minded shepherd, surely not one worthy of the monarchy. Dovid Hamelech too, viewed himself in a similar vein, never daring to imagine the incredible destiny that awaited him. The rejected stone became the cornerstone, the source of strength for all eternity. "Dovid, king of Yisroel, alive and enduring."
Whenever we recite Hallel in yeshiva (such as on Chanukah or Rosh Chodesh) and recite the aforementioned verse, I look around at my students and wonder to myself to which of them will these words apply to. Who will be the student who will surprise us all by overcoming challenges and naysayers, transforming himself into a leader and/or scholar?
Part of being a parent and an educator is to have this sense of vision regarding our children. We must always be able to see beyond what the child is now, and to see what the child can become. It is only once we have that optimistic vision that we can hope to impart it to the child who may have given up on himself.
Noted psychologist, Dr. Robert Brooks, notes that for a child who struggles in school, the greatest thing you can give him is a sense of hope that life can and will be ether. During their school years, a child believes that school is a microcosm of life. He therefore often concludes that he will always have the same challenges and struggles that he currently has. For many children that sense of despondency is even worse than their academic struggles. Conveying to a child that many successful adults struggled mightily in school, and relating one’s own personal struggles, can be invaluable for the struggling student.
Twenty years later, things are often very different than how we expected, for good or for better.
Who better to serve as an example than Dovid Hamelech!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, June 8, 2017

PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5777





“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Beha’aloscha
15 Sivan 5777/ June 9, 2017 - Avos Perek 2

The first time I heard one of my students exclaim “he's a sick athlete”, I felt terrible. How sad that such a vibrant and adroit athlete was ill. Before I had a chance to add his name to my tehillim list however, my students explained to me that saying an athlete is sick is somehow a good thing. In fact, it's a big compliment to say that someone is a ‘sick player’, or that he has a ‘sick shot’.
It was reminiscent of the first time I heard someone describe a cheesecake as being “sinful”. Then too, I wondered what was so satanic and devilish about cheesecake. What was even more confusing was when someone else described the same cheesecake as being “heavenly” and “divine”, adding that it was “worth every calorie”.
I couldn't help but wonder when is a cheesecake “sinful” and when it is “divine”.
No doubt, you have been pondering the same thing over the recent Yom Tov of Shavuos.  I will enlighten you to what I think is the difference, based on the following parable:
A couple was married for many years. Life took its toll, including the pressures of raising children, and the rigors of making a living. Sad to say, they didn't spend much quality time together. The conversations they did have were mostly about stressful matters, or arguments about the kids or finances.
Their anniversary was approaching, and the husband decided to go all out, so they could celebrate and enjoy the day together.
After a great deal of planning, the anniversary arrived. They went on an expensive half-day cruise, complete with sightseeing, and a posh lunch and dinner. By the time the day was over, they had spent well beyond their normal allotted budget for such events.
Was it worth it?
The answer depends on what happened afterwards. If the day was merely a momentary respite from their monotonous relationship, and the next day they resumed their aloofness toward each other, then the added expenses weren't really worth it. However, if the day served to reignite the spark of their insipid marriage, and brought back faded emotions for each other, then it was worth every penny. Working towards a better future always requires some investment.
On Shavuos there is a beautiful custom to eat dairy foods, including creamy and delectable cheesecake. The commentators offer numerous reasons why/how eating dairy reminds us of the revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah.
If one enjoys all the beautiful customs of the holiday, including eating saturated carbs, and buying expensive flowers, but feels no excitement in the essence of the day and recommitment to Torah learning and Torah living, then his indulgences weren't really worth it.
However, if the customs serve as symbolism that help abet one's excitement and recommitment to Torah, then it's worth every bite, and every penny.
So, the question of whether cheesecake is sinful or divine, has little to do with the contents of the cake, as much as with the attitude of the one eating it.
It all boils down to whether it's a sick cheesecake or if the cheesecake makes you sick!
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

SHAVUOS 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shavuos – Z’man Matan Toraseinu (49th day of the Omer)
5 Sivan 5777/ May 30, 2017

Last week, as my chavrusa, R’ Yossi Weimer, and I were finishing our morning learning session, I overheard someone on the next table excitedly and passionately exclaim, “Do you understand this sevara (logical argument in the Gemara)? It's even better than cheese cake!”
Just a day earlier, Yossi and I came across the following story in the gemara we were learning, (Shekalim 8b):
“A certain noblewoman noticed that Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai was particularly radiant one day. She said to him: “Old man, either you’re drunk, or you are usurer, or you a pig breeder.” [She concluded that the only way he could be so exuberant was if he was under the influence, or involved in a very lucrative business.] Rabbi Yehuda replied emphatically that, in fact, none of the three were true. Rather, his face was shining because of the fact that Torah was accessible to him, as the pasuk states, “A man’s wisdom brightens his face.”
It reminded me of another occasion during my high school years, when one of my rabbeim was delivering an intense shiur. After relating an intricate explanation, he jumped up and began dancing in his place.
The Medrash[1] questions why the first set of luchos, which were written by G-d, as it were, were destroyed, while the second set of luchos, which were written by Moshe, stood the test of time?
The Medrash explains that because the first luchos were given amidst an incredible revelation, pomp, and circumstance, the corrosive effects of an ayin hara (evil eye) was able to affect them. The second luchos however, were given in a quieter and more modest manner, and therefore were not vulnerable to the influence of ayin hara.
The obvious question is that Hashem knows the future., and obviously knew that giving the luchos during the revelation which included thunder, lightning, and the attention of the entire cosmos, would result in their need to be broken. So why did Hashem give them then?
Sefas Emes[2] explains that, despite the fact that giving the luchos with such fanfare would have such catastrophic results, it had to be given in such a manner. The impression that the revelation made upon the hearts and souls of the nation, endured far beyond the physical existence of the luchos. If the luchos had been given in a more modest fashion, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect upon the nation.
Shavuos is not a celebration of what we received as much as it is a celebration of what we became. Truthfully, what we received on Shavuos did not endure, but the impression created by the revelation continues to inspire us today.
The Gemara in pesachim (68b) makes a startling observation – although during other holidays it is questionable whether one must have physical enjoyment, on Shavuos there is no doubt that there must be physical enjoyment, in order to celebrate the giving of the Torah. We have an obligation to demonstrate that the Torah is not merely a spiritual collection of laws, but also serves as the ultimate guide, in regard to our physical pursuits and pleasures as well. Therefore, the celebration of Shavuos must encompass our physical bodies as well.
At a recent Halacha shiur, my rebbe, Rav Chaim Schabes, noted that the general consensus of contemporary poskim is that anyone who was not raised in a religious home has the status of tinok shenishba[3]. Someone then asked about the status of one who was raised in a religious home, but then ceased observing shabbos, r"l. Rabi Schabes replied that such a person also has the status of tinok shenishba. His explanation was succinct and yet beautiful: “If anyone was raised in a home where Shabbos was observed properly, who wouldn’t want to keep Shabbos?!” 
When he mentioned ‘keeping Shabbos properly’, Rabbi Schabes wasn’t referring to merely keeping the laws properly. Rather he meant with the proper spirit of Shabbos - with joy, serenity, and physical, as well as spiritual, enjoyment. When Shabbos, like religion generally, is forced upon a person, or when it’s observed without meaning, reverence, happiness, or love, it isn’t surprising, although tragic, when one no longer wishes to keep such a depressing and constricting day. But when one is exposed to proper Torah observance – genuine, meaningful, emotional, and uplifting, despite it also being challenging, who wouldn’t want to declare ‘na’ase v’nishma’!
Torah observance isn't about self-abnegation, anxiety, and guilt. Torah grants us direction, meaning, growth, and inner fulfillment. That is why there must be a component of physical celebration on Shavuos, in order to demonstrate that Torah it is the foundation of spiritual and physical life.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, Shavuos must be a day of celebration and joy. We have to exude happiness that living by Torah values, although challenging, is the most meaningful and elevating experience possible.
The luchos may be broken, but the experience of awe and joy that was present at Sinai must forever be etched within us. That is the celebration of Shavuos, and that is far better than cheesecake.

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
             R’ Dani and Chani Staum




[1] Quoted by Rashi, Shemos 34:3
[2] Ki Sisa 5639
[3] literally ‘a child who was captured’ as in captured and raised among non-Jews, and therefore has limited culpability for not observing Torah and mitzvos. See Shabbos 68b; Shavuos 5a.