Thursday, August 6, 2020

Eikev 5780


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Eikev

17 Menachem Av 5780/August 7, 2020

Avos perek 4


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            It’s the day after Tisha B’av.

            The clock strikes chatzos.

            The halachos of aveilus are over.

            In camps, they try to get everything in at once. Music is blaring, as campers jump in the pool. Meanwhile, others bite into a freshly grilled hot dog, while staff members immediately begin shaving.

            It’s a great feeling to shave at the end of the three weeks. The same holds true on Lag Baomer, when shaving for the first time since the beginning of sefira.

            These last few years, as I shave, I’ve been noticing more patches of white in my beard. At first, I tried to blame my kids for putting whiteout in my beard while I was sleeping, but that didn’t work out well. So, I just blamed them for causing my beard to turn white.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that when his grandchildren ask him why his beard is all white, he tells them they should ask their parents. I’m beginning to understand.

            The greatest challenge of shaving and trimming is “doing the lines”. The first few years after I grew a beard, I didn’t do the lines well at all and it looked like someone did them at a carnival. As time has passed however, I’ve started to get the hang of it. I must say that I did rather well last week keeping the lines even.

            Nature is always producing growth. But nature’s production is wild and unkempt.

            For example, those who live in Brooklyn may be able to maintain their “lawn” with a pair of scissors. But those of us who live in more suburban areas need to mow their lawn or hire a landscaper to keep it looking neat and trimmed.

            Women also enjoy manicures on their fingers, to keep their nails neat and shiny. (It’s just another one of the many things about women I don’t really get...)

            The Torah (Devorim 7:22) relates that when Klal Yisroel conquers Eretz Yisroel it will be little by little, “lest the beasts of the field increase against you.” If the Cannaites would be uprooted quickly, vast stretches of land would be left unpopulated, which would leave them open to uncontrolled habituation by the surrounding wildlife.

            During the pandemic, many animals were seen freely roaming normally busy, but then deserted, streets. There are various reasons offered as to why that phenomenon occurred. But the primary reason is that animals generally live within a “landscape of fear”, trying to get what they need while avoiding areas where predators might be lurking. Those predators include humans.

            The Torah states in Parshas Bereishis, that Hashem blesses Adam that the fear of man will be upon all living things. Although we can damage that primacy by sinning and thereby distorting our supremacy over creation, there is a natural tendency for animals to fear and avoid humans.

            When humans retreat, due to lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, the landscape of fear retreats as well. If there are fewer people around, animals which normally restrict their activities to the evening, will venture out during the day.

            G-d created the process of nature in which there is ongoing and consistent production and growth. But He left it in the hands of man to draw the proverbial lines and to keep that growth in order.

            We all seem to know exactly how the lines should be drawn for everyone else. But we have no control over everyone else’s lines. The only lines we can draw are the ones on our own faces.

            The Torah is our ultimate guide in teaching us how to preserve creation, drawing moral lines which enable humankind and the entire world to thrive. When those values are challenged and discarded, wildlife invades. When humanity fails to exercise its supremacy, the lines of nature become overrun.

            That seems to be a pretty apt description of what is happening to our society, as the lines become increasingly blurred. The “values” purported are often hollow and leave us with reason to be concerned.

            Our task is to fulfill our roles of being the crown of society by preserving the timeless faith and morals that have been transmitted to us. We can then hope that G-d will help the world maintain its divinity as well.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu 5780


Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu

10 Menachem Av 5780/August 1, 2020

Avos perek 3  


            What an unusual baseball season it has been! In a season that began quite late and had been shortened to 60 games, a couple of games were already cancelled because of an outbreak among Miami Marlins players.

            The games are being played in empty stadiums without fans. In some stadiums cardboard cutouts of fans were placed in the stands around the stadium. Artificial sounds of cheering crowds for the home team are also being sounded. Some (real) fans are complaining that the cutouts look freaky and should be removed.

            The roar of the crowd is a tremendous motivator. Every sports player is aware that talent alone doesn’t win games. There also has to be strong drive and determination. When playing in front of an emotional and exuberant home crowd, even during those games when a player may feel sluggish, he will be revitalized by the cheering reverberating throughout the stadium. Playing without crowds is far more challenging. Then the question becomes how each player can perform based on his abilities and self-generated determination and drive.

            Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that the true measure of a person’s sincerity in his service בין אדם למקום can be viewed by how he davens in private. When one is in Shul, no matter how sincere his prayers appear, on some level he’s motivated by a desire to present himself in a positive vein to others. But on those occasions when he must daven alone, that is indicative of how his connection to Hashem really is.

            Rabbi Shimshon Pincus notes similarly that the true assessment of one’s interpersonal relationships, is apparent from how one treats his/her spouse. A person can appear to be most wonderful to everyone and yet be a terror in his/her own home. It’s what happens behind closed doors that reveals one’s true character.

            During the months of isolation during the pandemic we were all forced to confront… ourselves. Davening in private and spending endless hours with the family in our own home tested who we really are, beyond the public view.  

            The Gemarah (Pesachim 49a) write: “A man should always be prepared to sell all he owns and marry the daughter of a Torah scholar. Such a union bears an analogy to grapes on a vine interconnected with the grapes of another vine (“invei hagefen b’invei hagefen”), which is something fine and acceptable.” Such wine is particularly flavorful because the product of one vine enhances the product of the other.

            Why did Chazal choose to compare a proper marriage to grapes, more so than any other fruit?

            Generally, the blessing recited on a fruit is, boray p’ree ha’aytz. However, if one squeezes out the juice from that fruit and drink its contents, the blessing recited prior would be shehakol. When one is eating foods that require different blessings, borei pri ha’aytz takes precedence over almost all other blessings, while shehakol is the final blessing recited. Thus, when a fruit is eaten, the blessing recited over it would take precedence over the blessing recited over its juice.

            The one exception is grapes. While the blessing recited on grapes is, borei p’ree ha’aytz,  if one squeezes out its juice the blessing is borei p’ree hagefen. The blessing recited on grape juice/wine, is the loftiest blessing one can recite on food/beverage. On Shabbos, the blessing on the wine of kiddush even precedes the blessing recited on the challah.

            At a wedding there is much exterior beauty. The hall, gowns, band, flowers, energetic dancing and flowing emotions are all quite visible. But what happens in the public eye of the wedding is hardly an indication of the true character of the marriage. The true barometer of the quality of the marriage is determined by how the newlyweds interact in the privacy of their own home.

            In their wisdom, Chazal compare a wedding to grapes, whose interior warrants an even greater blessing than what is recited on its exterior. This is the blessing we confer upon the newlyweds. We pray that the wedding with all its external beauty, be only the beginning of the true inner beauty that is hidden from the public eye and grows as the years of marriage continue.

            During the last few months of the pandemic, in accordance with legal restrictions, many marriages have been reduced to the barest minimum on many levels. The disappointment, frustration, and heartache that those newlyweds surely endured in having dreams of their beautiful weddings cancelled should never be undermined. Yet, so many attendees of such weddings - including parents and even chassonim and kallos themselves - described a certain ethereal beauty and genuine joy at these “Corona weddings”. In a sense, they are perhaps the epitome of invei hagefen b’invei hagefen, where the inner beauty and connection far exceeds that which is visible to the public.


            These words are being written particularly in honor of the upcoming marriage of Calev Minsky to Atara Goldberg. Bruce and Jill Minsky are dear friends. In Addition, we have watched Calev grow into the fine Ben Torah he is today. Like so many others, I am also an admirer, and, through his online lectures, consider myself a student of Rabbi Efrem Goldberg. The Kallah is the daughter of Rabbi and Rebbitzin Goldberg, and no doubt worthy in her own right. This was surely a wedding we would have loved to attend in person, but because of our being in isolation in camp and due to the current restrictions are unable.

            Instead, as we celebrate from afar, we extend our humble beracha that it truly be a shidduch which is ענבי הגפן בענבי הגפן, a home that will surely bring pride and honor to their wonderful families, communities, and to the Jewish people.

            May they build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel.


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Parshas Devorim/Chazon 5780

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Devorim/Chazon
3 Menachem Av 5780/July 24, 2020
Avos perek 2  
            It’s an old Camp Dora Golding tradition. On Friday afternoon, the staff plays against the camp administration in a competitive baseball game. For most of the well over two decades that I’ve been here in camp, those games have been a mainstay of erev Shabbos in camp. During the last few summers however, those games fizzled out. But this past Friday, it was back on the schedule.
            So, as I’ve done so many times before, on Friday afternoon I took my place on the mound to pitch for the administration team. It’s been a few years since the administration really had a competitive team and were more than a collection of has-beens with Bengay. But this year we have some young blood due to a few former staff members who have come up through the CDG farm system to become administrators. (I call them the ad-MINI-stration.) It was bound to be a competitive game.
            I pitched a perfect game through the first batter, and never looked back. (Well, except for a bunch of hits and homeruns. But those aren’t so important.)
            Admittedly, I’m not as young as I will be. Although I made sure to stretch before the game, it didn’t take long after the game before I started to feel the strain. My pitching hand begin to ache along with the back of my left leg. On Shabbos morning I had a hard time walking because the Charlie horse in my foot became even more pronounced.
            It was interesting that although it hurt to walk, the pain was, in a strange way, a good feeling, at least psychologically. I knew that it meant I was working those muscles and that in the following weeks, if I play again, it won’t hurt as much.
            Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky recounted that during his residency in medical school, he was doing rounds in the hospital when a young patient told him he was feeling terrible pain in his leg. Dr. Twerski offered to write him a prescription for painkillers. The young man replied that he had not had any feelings in his legs and was extremely concerned. The fact that his feet were hurting him made him very happy, because it demonstrated that there was still feeling in his legs.
            In a similar vein, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau relates that, following his release from Buchenwald, he and 220 other boys were taken to an orphanage in France. One afternoon, a Holocaust survivor named Leibovich came to visit them.
            Leibovich had lost his wife and children during the Holocaust and wanted to donate the money he had from his textile business to help children orphaned during the Holocaust. When he saw them, he burst into tears, crying out in Yiddish “Children! Children!” The youngsters - none of whom had wept in years - suddenly found themselves weeping along with him, sobbing uncontrollably with pent-up emotions.
            One of the boys got up to speak afterwards and thanked Leibovich for enabling them to cry.
            The young boy noted that he had seen his father murdered before his eyes, but had restrained his tears, so as not to give the Gestapo the satisfaction of seeing him break down. He had seen his mother die of starvation, and again had controlled his tears. He had begun to think he was inhuman, that he had become permanently numb to feeling all emotion. But, at that moment, he was finally able to release his feelings and to weep. The young man than added that, “Whoever knows how to weep knows how to laugh.”
            On Tisha B’av we mourn generation’s worth of pain, sorrow and loss. The words of kinnos are almost unbearable to read. It’s hard to grasp all the national tragedy we have suffered for so long. And yet, in the middle of Tisha B’av itself we begin to accept consolation. At midday we sit back up on chairs, don our tallis and tefillin, and recite Nachem, the prayer for comfort, during Mincha.
            In a certain sense, the pain itself is the source of our comfort. The very fact that we still recall the pain of the past is the clearest indication that our past losses are not bygones or events that have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Rather, they are part of a bigger story which is still being written. It’s a story that contains drama, tragedy and suffering, but a story that we know will have an incredible suspenseful climax that isn’t too far off. The prophets already told us the story. Now, we are awaiting to see exactly how it will play out.
            Pain is never anticipated or enjoyed, but when it leads to greater heights and has meaning it becomes bearable. Tisha B’av is a sad and tragic day, but therein lies the source of our hope and consolation.
            May we celebrate Tisha B’av next week.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum