Thursday, November 7, 2019


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Lech Lecha  
10 Cheshvan 5780/November 8, 2019


            Last week, Air Canada announced that flights attendants will no longer be addressing passengers as “ladies and gentlemen”[1]. They claim that the move is being made to respect “identity, diversity, and inclusion”. From now on passengers will be addressed as “Everybody”.
            Well, I am thinking of suing Air Canada for discrimination, for not respecting my individuality. You see, I identify myself as a soul trapped in a human body. Therefore, when they address “every-body” I feel like I am being left out.  
            The Torah refers to man as Adam. The Hebrew word adam has two opposite connotations. On the one hand, adam comes from the word adamah - earth, a reference to the finite, physicality of man and his needs for food and shelter. But it also is similar to the word adameh as in the pasuk  adameh l’elyon – I will liken myself to the Most High” (Yeshaya 14:14), a clear reference to man’s quest to transcend his physical confines and identify with his spiritual soul and lifeforce and to connect with its Creator.
            Our struggle in life is always about which meaning of adam we identify ourselves with – adamah or adameh.
            Every Shabbos, we put aside all technology. We are perhaps the only community in the world who are active members of society all week and yet won’t check emails, social media, or the news for twenty-five hours. There has even been discussion in the modern media about the need and benefit of adapting a “tech Shabbat” where people exorcise themselves from their devices for one day in order to reconnect with life.
            Although we must respect and care for our bodies and physical needs, we strive to view ourselves primarily as souls. We are in this world with a purpose and mission that transcends the finite physical life of this world.
            When Avrohom and his entourage arrived at the foot of Mount Moriah where Avrohom was instructed to offer Yitzchak to G-d as a sacrifice, Avrohom turned to Yishmael and Eliezer and said, “Remain פה - here with the donkey and I and the youth will proceed עד כה - yonder” (Bereishis 22:5).
            Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l noted: “Here is represented the difference in outlook between a Jew and a non-Jew.
            “The word פה here represents the universal commitment of every human being to adhere to the seven Noachide mitzvos. Avrohom tells Yishamel and Eliezer ‘you only come until פה- here; your obligation ends here.
            “But I and Yitzchak will proceed beyond. Our mission is to go  כה- yonder – a point further added. A Jew must traverse פה and always be yearning and seeking[D1]  כה – higher ideals of spiritual attainment.”[2]
            The holiday of Chanukah begins on כה' – the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. The philosophy of the ancient Greeks was built on glorification of the human body and physical beauty. They were a people rooted in the concept of פה – the pleasures and beauty of the here and now. They sought to acculturate the world and to compel all peoples to adapt that outlook. But in us they found an adversary willing to sacrifice their lives to maintain their beliefs that life is not merely about the ephemeral here and now. The miracles of the holiday occurred for those who lived their lives with that transcendent feeling of “going yonder”.[3] Chanukah is a celebration of  כה over פה.[4]
            Ours is a tall order. We are to live in a world seeped in hedonism, selfishness, and pursuit of materialism and to be a beacon of light of morality and meaning. We accomplish that in the way we conduct ourselves, the way we speak, and by maintaining our integrity in all situations.
            That’s why I say that Air Canada’s attempts to prove to everyone how liberal and open-minded they are is an abject failure. “Everybody” does not include me. Perhaps they should address their passengers as “Every being”, or maybe they should adapt the slang of the times and just start with “Yo, listen up!”
            I should mention in closing that I have another friend who is also upset with Air Canada. He told me that he identifies as a roasted marshmallow…

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

[1] As a side bar, I feel it’s insulting that men must be addressed as “gentlemen” while it’s assumed that ladies are gentle. It’s either that, or the idea is only to address the gentle-men and not even bother with the rest of the men.
[2] Rabbi Soloveitchik Rosh Hashanah Machzor p.409
[3] When discussing the origins of the holiday of Chanukah, the gemara (Shabbos 21b) states that “the twenty-fifth of Kislev is eight days of Chanukah.” That phraseology is difficult. The twenty-fifth of Kislev is the beginning of the eight-day holiday, but that day itself is not an eight-day holiday?
Homiletically, perhaps it is alluding to this idea. The entire holiday of Chanukah is rooted in the concept of כה- not the number twenty-five but the concept of yonder.
[4] Chanukah may still be quite a few weeks away. But its message is one that needs to resonate throughout the year and throughout our lives. Besides, in Israel they are probably starting to mass produce donuts any day now.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Noach 5780

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Noach
3 Cheshvan 5780/November 1, 2019


            I really wanted the Houston Astros to lose the World Series! It wasn’t simply because I’m a disgruntled and resentful Yankees fan, and wanted to see the team that ousted the Yankees get beaten (though that may have also been true). I had a much better reason; if they would have won, it would have messed up this article. I told my students that I had a great thing to tell them, but it was contingent upon the Astros losing the World Series.
            As game 7 was being played on Wednesday evening and the Astros jumped ahead 2-0, I felt despondent. But the baseball gods intervened, and the once unimaginable happened, when the Washington Nationals prevailed over the Houston Astros and won the World Series.
            During the Major League Baseball season that just ended, there were four teams that had more than one hundred losses - the Kansas City Royals (103), the Florida Marlins (105), the Baltimore Orioles (108), and the Detroit Tigers (114). However, this was not the first time four teams had so many losses; it also occurred in 2002. What was unprecedented however, was that there were four teams that won more than one hundred games this season - the Minnesota Twins (101), the New York Yankees (103), the Houston Astros (107) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (106).
Incredibly, none of those four teams won the World Series. They were all ousted in the Playoffs or in the World Series.
            The Washington Nationals on the other hand, were hardly considered to be post-season contenders. They began their season with an abysmal 19-31 record, and many fans wanted their manager to be fired. They made the post-season by the skin of their teeth, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the wild card game. Then when they were six outs away from losing the World Series, their bats came to life and the Nationals stunned the mighty Astros 6-2. It’s The first time a World Series has been won in the nation’s capital since the Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924.
            I’m not a Washington fan, so why did I care about their Cinderella-like saga? Because being in the world of education it symbolizes a vital truth that can’t be stressed enough: That ultimately the hundreds don’t matter. Sure, students should aim to do their best and strive to score high grades on their tests and report cards. But too often students and parents get too caught up in grades and numbers and forget that success is far deeper than grades.
            Last year there was an infamous scandal involving many wealthy parents who cheated, bribed, and lied in order to get their children admitted into ivy-league schools. (It is reminiscent of the Dor Haflagah in parshas Noach. When constructing their massive tower, the project became more important than the individuals involved in its construction. If a brick fell, they would be very disappointed, but if a person fell to his death, they were apathetic. When the project becomes more important than the people there’s a serious problem. Being able to brag about their children’s schools became more important than truly addressing their children’s academic and personal needs.)
            Academic success hardly reflects how one is doing internally. Ultimately in life it’s the part of ourselves that is not visible to others that comprises our true essence and is the real barometer of how we are doing. To penetrate the external veneer and get to know the real essence of a person takes time, concern, and fostering trust.
            Any adult knows former classmates who no one thought would amount to much, and yet have become greatly successful in life. Conversely, many students who aced every test without trying, and never had invest effort and time, who tragically became failures in life.
            This is even more true in the world of spiritual growth. Although, because of the way our educational system is set up, we can’t do away with exams in limudei kodesh, we need to be cognizant and remind our children that grades surely don’t determine success in Torah and spiritual growth. To become a proficient scholar there is no substitute for effort and diligence. One must strive for aliyah (growth) and then invest to achieve it.
            The 2019 baseball season reminds us that success is more the product of one’s drive, determination, resilience, and perseverance than it is about grades and marks.
            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum