Thursday, October 11, 2018

PARSHAS NOACH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Noach
3 Cheshvan 5779/October 12, 2018

In Boston they are rejoicing, in Queens they are breathing a sigh of relief, and in the Bronx they are grumbling morbidly. The Yankees season is over! 2018 will not be the year the Yankees win their 28th Championship! To lose on a reviewed play to their hated rival Red Sox just makes it worse.
The fact that the Yankees almost made an uncanny comeback, being down 4-1 going into the ninth, and losing 4-3 with runners on first and second, will largely be forgotten within a short time. The fact that they ended the season with the second-best record in baseball also proves meaningless. Alas, for proud (and spoiled) Yankees fans, anything less than a championship is worthless.
If the Red Sox don’t win it all (hopefully :), their incredible best record in baseball this season will also largely have been for naught and will end up being a forgotten accomplishment.
The truth is that this attitude is not limited to baseball. It’s true about our society generally. People want to see results, and anything less is a failure; only production matters.
In our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, during the first few weeks of the school year, we enjoy a very beautiful event each morning after shachris. Students who have undertaken to review an entire masechta of Gemara during their summer break, make a siyum in front of the entire student body. The siyum is followed by brief but energetic dancing, celebrating the student’s admirable accomplishment.
The words that the mesayim (one making the siyum) recites beautifully laud the greatness of Torah and our privilege in meriting to study its timeless wisdom.
He also recites a passionate declaration: “I am thankful before You Hashem... that you have placed my portion among those who sit in the Bais Medrash, and you didn’t place my portion among those who sit at the corners...”
As I heard the words recited repeatedly, one morning it struck me - what does it mean to “sit at the corners” and how is that contrasted with those who sit in the Bais Medrash?
The world of financial growth, economics, and entrepreneurship is built on an insatiable drive and ambition. No matter how much one has achieved, there is always more to be acquired. Time is money, and as long as there is time, there is more money to be made.
The Gemara says that the more one has, the more one wants. Therefore, the pursuit of wealth is without limit.
One who is stationed at a corner is always wary about what lies just beyond the turn. He cannot quite see what there is, but he anticipates it.
The world of commerce and business is a world of corners, in the sense that, unless one actively strives to be otherwise, he will never be satisfied with what he has. Our society is inundated by advertisements which seduce us into thinking we need, we can have, and we deserve the next best innovation.
The study hall is called a Bais Medrash - the House of Seeking. Those who grow spiritually and learn Torah also are never satisfied with prior accomplishments. The more one earnestly learns, the more one realizes how little he knows and the more he desires to accomplish and learn more. But the stark difference is that in the world of spirituality the journey itself is the destination. The effort and struggle is the greatest accomplishment. True, we only make a siyum when we complete, but everything along the way is itself an eternal attainment and an integral component of our growth process.
Thus, at a siyum we thank Hashem for granting us a portion in the house of seeking - where the seeking itself is praiseworthy, and not from those who sit in the corners, where the only excitement is in the next million.
There’s always next year Yankees fans. But (l’havdil) there’s today, tomorrow, and the day after for those who learn Torah and serve Hashem.

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

PARSHAS BEREISHIS 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Bereishis
Mevorchim Chodesh MarCheshvan   
27 Tishrei 5779/October 5, 2018

Every year on Shabbos Parshas Bereishis, I would begin my brilliant sermon (I only gave brilliant sermons) in the following manner:
“We set out on an incredible journey seven weeks ago. It begin with shofar blowing and reciting l’Dovid on Rosh Chodesh Elul. The week of Rosh Hashanah we begin selichos, on Rosh Hashanah we heard shofar, recited the unique tefillos and reaccepted Hashem’s eternal monarchy upon ourselves, recited tashlich, fasted on Tzom Gedalia, engaged in personal penitence including teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka, heard inspiring derashos especially on Shabbos Shuva, performed kapparos, fasted and observed the holy day of Yom Kippur, built and decorated our Succos, meticulously picked out and purchased our daled minim, joyously observed Succos with the ushpizin, recited Hallel each day of the holiday, celebrated at Simchas Bais Hashoeivah, recited the prayers of Hoshana Rabba and geshem on Shmini Atzeres, and danced energetically on Simchas Torah. 
And now we have truly arrived... at the beginning.”
It is the beginning - not only of our annual Torah reading which we recommenced with Bereishis - but the beginning of our efforts to effect lasting changes. It is the beginning of an opportunity to really make this the year we truly hope it will be.
Rav Shalom Schwadron zt’l quipped that our evil inclination is very wily and patient. He essentially declares “I’ll give you the month of Elul and I’ll give you the month of Tishrei. I’ll let you have your time to be inspired. But I’ll bide my time. Just wait until Cheshvan and Kislev, and then you’ll be mine.” 
Our evil inclination quickly lures us back into the familiar default mode of habit, so that all of our wonderful intentions for growth and change are quickly left at the wayside.
A friend who owns a bakery related that prior to the Shabbosos after Succos and Pesach, he bakes many extra whole wheat challos. With the end of Yom Tov’s constant delicious meals, many people commit to lose weight and eat healthier.
But, he reported, by the following Shabbos the demand for whole wheat basically diminishes. 
What ends up happening is that most people hold onto the calories while the spiritual inspiration flitters away. If only we could get the calories to fade away while we held onto the spiritual inspiration.
It can be done but only if one is able to maintain his commitment by writing down his goals, mentally picturing success, and keeping his eye on the end goal. 
Rosh Chodesh each month is a wonderful time for a “check-in”, to assess whether we are holding true to our goals.
It is in that sense that we have arrived at the beginning. In the beginning, G-d declared “Let there be light” and there was light. Our arduous task is to ensure that the light doesn’t fade.

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Chol Hamoed Succos   
19 Tishrei 5779/September 28, 2018

Contemporary halachic authorities rule that one may not run a washing machine or dishwasher in his home during Shabbos. One may not even leave it on before Shabbos so that it will continue to run after Shabbos begins, nor may one allow a non-Jew to run it during Shabbos, because having a machine running demeans the spirit and honor of Shabbos.
Gavriel and Michael Staum – age 2 - disagree. Forget about a non-Jew, they themselves turn on many of these devices on Shabbos. (Chani wants to know if she can put soap in the dishwasher and soap in the washing machine before Shabbos, because the odds are that it will be turned on by little fingers sometime during Shabbos.) All of my efforts to explain to them about the honor of Shabbos, and that they aren’t on the level to challenge the opinion of the leading Poskim of our time have thus far been unsuccessful.
What’s more, they hold that they are allowed to turn lights on and off on Shabbos, use the phone, turn the heat up - especially when the air conditioning is running - and play with electrical toys that make noise.
The Tur famously asks why we celebrate the holiday of Succos at this time of year, and not shortly after Pesach? If the reason we sit in succos is to commemorate the fact that G-d protected us in succos (huts) throughout our sojourns in the desert, that journey began as soon as we left Egypt?
(Let’s stop for a moment to wonder what the women would have said if Moshe Rabbeinu announced that shortly after Pesach ended there was to be another weeklong holiday of Succos with more meals and holiday preparation...)
The Chiddushei Harim explains that the Torah states that we sit in the succah “So that your generations will know that I caused the B’nei Yisrael to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt...” (Vayikra 23:43)
Part of the succah experience is to contemplate and internalize the lesson of the succah - the idea that the same G-d who protected them from the vagaries and perils of the desert, is our sole protector as well.
There is no time during the year when we have greater spiritual clarity than immediately following Yom Kippur. After the great days of awe have afforded us the opportunity to analyze our lives and refocus on our priorities, we are able to recognize what’s truly important, before we are overwhelmed and distracted again by our daily affairs.
That is why Succos - the holiday that requires knowledge and understanding - must directly follow Yom Kippur. 
We are hopeful that as Hashem continues to bless Gavriel and Michael with maturity and intellect, they will come to understand the infinite value and opportunity that Shabbos grants us each week, and that it is our greatest merit to desist from all weekly affairs during the holy day. Until they attain that intellectual maturity, I guess there will be empty dishwashers and washing machines running on Shabbos. And if you see a missed call from us on Shabbos, you’ll understand why!

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayelech – Shabbas Shuva
5 Tishrei 5779/September 14, 2018

With tremendous gratitude to Hashem, we just celebrated the second birthday of our twin sons, Gavriel and Michael. They started the ‘wonderful twos’ early and definitely have been keeping us on our toes, to say the least.
One morning in camp a few weeks ago, the dynamic duo decided to attack the Keurig coffee K-Cups. After moving over the kitchen chairs to the counters, they climbed up and proceeded to empty all the K-Cups from their container. They felt the toaster oven was a far better place for them to be kept.
When Chani went to put her breakfast in the toaster, she had to empty out all the K-Cups. But one of the K-Cups was tucked away and lodged into the bottom of the toaster, so she didn’t see it. When she turned on the toaster the bungalow was instantly filled with a misty smell of burnt coffee and plastic. She quickly shut the toaster and, when it cooled, removed the melted, burnt K-Cup. But the odious smell lingered for a couple of days, a reminder that we are outnumbered by double trouble.
Whenever we commit a sin, the problem is not merely the negative action that we have committed. There is also a spirit of impurity that envelops us and causes a spiritual barrier between us and Hashem.
In the physical world, we are often warned that smoke kills before fire. In the spiritual world too, the spiritual smoke generated by our sins is more noxious and damaging than even the sins themselves. Therefore, when we seek to do teshuva, it is not enough for us to merely purge the action of sin from our account. We also must seek to reverse the incorrect mindsets and attitudes which we have developed before and after we sinned. Inevitably, when one commits a sin he becomes more cavalier to the severity of his actions and less sensitive to the spiritual damage he has caused.
When the prophets speak about teshuva, and when the Rambam codifies the laws of teshuva, they speak about the sinner returning from his errant ways. It is not enough to cease the negative actions he has done. He must also reverse course and ensure that he realigns himself with his true aspirations and goals.
When a couple is struggling in their marriage, it’s rarely one point or disagreement that is the overriding issue. Invariably, the problem is the general lack of communication, or a feeling in the air of rancor and resentment. It’s not enough to deal with the petty issues they are presenting. The real issue is the lack of relationship and the negativity that hangs in the very air between them.
Numerous times during the Yom Kippur prayers we state the verse: “For on this day He will atone for you, to purify you. From all of your sins, before Hashem you will be purified.” The pasuk clearly alludes to two components of teshuva - atonement - the actual purging of the sin, and purification, wherein one is purified from the spiritually deleterious effect of his sins. Meriting divine purification is far more challenging than achieving atonement. After all, it is far easier to dispose of the burnt and melted K-Cup, than it is to get rid of the smoke that it generated.
We spend a great deal of time during Yom Kippur confessing specific iniquities. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Yom Kippur is not just about specific sins. It is also an opportunity to refocus ourselves, and to clear the (spiritual) air.
May we all have the wisdom to take full advantage of this arduous yet majestic day.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
G’mar Chasima Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum