Thursday, January 23, 2020

PARSHAS VAERA 5780


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera- Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat
27 Teves 5780/January 24, 2020

STEALING SIGNS

            Busted! It has now been verified that the Houston Astros cheated in the post-season on their way to winning the World Series in 2017. Yankees and Dodgers fans are particularly enraged and are calling for the Astros to be stripped of their championship rings.
            There is an old saying in baseball that good pitching stops good hitting. What defines a good pitcher is his having a repertoire of good pitches that he can use at will, plus strong command of those pitches so that he can use to use them effectively. Then it becomes a guessing game for the hitter to try to be ready for anything. When a pitch is coming at a hitter 80-95 mph, he only has a couple of seconds to decide when and how to swing. An effective pitcher uses the element of surprise to try to blow the ball past the hitter and to get him to not be able to make solid contact.
            The catcher has secret signals through which he suggests to the pitcher what kind of pitch he should throw. The pitcher then nods whether he agrees or not. This way the catcher can be ready to catch the incoming pitch, so that the ball doesn’t go past him.
            During Astros’ home games, a camera was set up in center field that was fixated and zoomed in on the catcher. There was television monitor affixed to the wall of a hallway leading from the home-team’s dugout to the clubhouse. Team players and employees would analyze the catcher signs of the opposing team until they broke the code and were able to decipher what kind of pitch the pitcher was about to throw.
            They would then bang on a trash can to alert their batter as to what kind of pitch was coming. All the Astros players were in on the scheme and knew what each bang on the trash can represented.
            When the scandal broke, it had far reaching effects. The Astros immediately fired their general manager and manger. That was quickly followed with the Boston Red Sox firing their manager who had led them to a World Series victory because he was a former employee of the Astros. Finally, the New York Mets fired their newly hired manager, who was also a member of that team.
            We live our lives engaged in an epic struggle to maintain our integrity and to live according to the dictates and expectations of halacha. That battle is fought mostly within ourselves, against our internal evil inclination.
            Ramchal explains that, originally, the yetzer hara was external and spoke to Adam in second person, “you should eat from the forbidden fruit”. Once Adam consumed the forbidden fruit however, the evil inclination entered his body and his psyche and became part of him. Forevermore it speaks to Adam and his descendant from within, “I want to do this act even though it is sinful and immoral.”
            Warring countries always seek to plant spies behind enemy lines to infiltrate their ranks in order to find out their military secrets. The greatest advantage in war is the element of surprise. When one side is aware of their rival’s next move, they can be ready for them.
Regarding our personal ongoing internal battle, we are at an incredible disadvantage.
            There is an old Telzer Purim Niggun[1] with the words: “g’daynk dem alter ganev, asher karcha v’yizanev - remember the old thief who cut you off; you must eradicate the memory of Amalek.”
            The greatest danger of our evil inclination - symbolized by Amalek - is that he is a thief. When we allow ourselves to be ensnared, he steals time, the most precious commodity we have, and our ability to accomplish what we truly aspire to accomplish.
            The greatest danger is that we don’t realize we are being preyed upon. He has his video camera zoomed in on our every move. Every time we try to accomplish and do something positive he is there mixing the signs and exploiting our weaknesses.
            But there is a fascinating component about our evil inclination that we may not realize.
            When Yaakov Avinu was victorious over the angel after they struggled against each other all night, the angel declared “send me for the morning has ascended”. Rashi explains that the angel was saying that since it was morning, he had to sing shira before Hashem. Targum Yonasan adds that this was his first opportunity to sing shira. Why did he have to sing specifically now?
            The Avodas Yisroel of Koznitz explains that every angel has a mission to fulfill. When and if the angel fulfills its mission, it ascends to heaven to sing before the Thorne of Glory.
            The angel Yaakov struggled with was the evil inclination itself. That angel’s purpose is to test us constantly, so that we can overcome him and be worthy of ultimate reward. The evil inclination doesn’t want to beat us. Its real hope is that we will overcome it so that its mission will be fulfilled.
            When Yaakov was victorious, the angel became excited - “finally someone has beaten me! That means I have fulfilled my mission, and now I must sing before the Throne of Glory!”
            That means that the yetzer hara isn’t stealing our signs to defeat us. It’s more like the trainer who compels his trainee to be ready for anything, so that he will be able to withstand whatever comes his way. The more agile, stronger and better the trainee becomes, the more challenging and harsher the trainer works him.
            Life is about overcoming struggle, because it’s only through overcoming adversity that we become stronger and greater.
            So, whenever we feel like we are being tested and challenged hard, we can gather some solace by remembering that someone obviously believes in us. Someone believes we have the ability to overcome it, so that it can ascend and sing shira for fulfilling its mission of preparing another soul to compete in the major leagues.

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


[1] I learned this niggun and words from Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer and his sons. Rabbi Feuer was the Rabbi of Kehillas Bais Avrohom in Monsey, which was my family’s shul during my adolescence.  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

PARSHAS SHEMOS 5780


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shemos
20 Teves 5780/January 17, 2020

Raf and the Daf[1]
I am Raf. I do the Daf.

That Raf he does Daf.
I do not like Raf who does Daf.

Would you like to join and do the Daf?
I cannot Raf; cannot do the Daf!

Would you learn it here or there;
Would you learn it anywhere?

I cannot learn it here or there
I cannot do it anywhere.

Would you learn it in your den;
would you learn it with a guy named Ben?
Would you learn it when going far;
would you learn it in your car?

I cannot do the daily Daf;
it’s just too hard Mr. Raf!

Would you be doing it in your house;
Would you be encouraged by your spouse?
Would you do it at a wedding;
Would you ensure there’s no forgetting?
Would you go to a shiur in Yiddish;
Would you learn it at a kiddush?
Would you learn it from a CD;
Would you rather from an MP3?
Would you even give the shiur;
Would you just listen in your chair?
Would you in the rain or snow;
Would you learn it on the go?
Would you, could you on a train;
Would you, could you on a plane?
Would you Yom Kippur afternoon;
Would you learn it on the moon?
Would you make it a life עיקר;
Would you on Purim when you’re שיכור?
Will you say “it doesn’t pas”;
Or will you use an Artscroll Shas?
Would you overcome a life of מיתותא;
Would you learn each night with a chavrusa?
Would you learn it from a Sage:
 Would you ensure to do that page?
Would you do it when sick and tired;
Would you do it after getting fired?
Would you do it when you’re harried;
Would you do it after your child gets married?
Would you learn it in your shul;
Would you learn it at the pool?
Would you learn it after a chupah
Would you when vacationing in Aruba?
Would you delve into every סברא:
Would you meet Abayei and Rava?
Would you learn it after Pesach Seder;
Would you give daily nachas to your Creator?

Ok Raf, if you’ll just let me be
I’ll try the Daf, just wait and see

Hey! I CAN do the Daf!
I CAN do it - thank you Raf!
I can do it here or there;
I can do it anywhere!
I can do it in my den;
I can do it with my friend Ben!
I can do it when going far;
I can do it in my car!
I can do it in my house;
I can do it - thanks to my spouse!
I can do it at a wedding;
I can do it - no forgetting!
I can do it – maybe not in Yiddish;
I can do it after kiddush!
I can learn it from a CD;
I can learn it from an MP3!
I can learn it at a shiur;
I can listen in my chair!
I can learn it - rain or snow;
I can learn it wherever I go!
I can learn it on the train;
I can learn it on a plane!
I can do it Yom Kippur afternoon;
I can even do it on the moon!
I can make it my life עיקר;
I can do it before becoming שיכור!
I can do it even sick and tired;
I can do it - hopefully won’t get fired!
I can do it when I’m harried;
I can do it even when getting married!
I can do it at a shul;
I can do it before the pool!
I can do it after a chuppah;
I can do it - where’s Aruba?
I can delve into every סברא;
My new best friends are Abayei and Rava!

I can learn it now or later;
I can give nachas to my Creator!

I can do all twenty-seven hundred and eleven;
I can earn this great ticket to heaven!
I can do it - just a Daf each day;
I can do it - hip hip hurray!



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


[1] Dedicated in honor of my father who made his fifth Siyum Hashas with Daf Yomi last week and dedicated in honor of my mother who has been there throughout.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

PARSHAS VAYECHI 5780


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayechi - Shabbas Chazak!
13 Teves 5780/January 10, 2020

THE MOMENT

            Like so many other Jews, the Staum family’s American roots begin on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. My grandparents all lived there, and until we moved to Monsey in September 1988, I myself grew up on the hallowed streets of the Lower East Side. We lived in an apartment on the second floor of 550G Grand Street.
            We had wonderful neighbors. On one side was Mrs. Fine, and on the other side were Pauline and Itchie Hagler. Whenever we could, we would knock on the Hagler door, where we were always welcomed with a smile and a cookie (or two).
            Aside for years of friendship, Itchie a’h left a lasting impact upon our family. It was he who suggested and encouraged my father to begin learning Daf Yomi in the early 80s. Since then, during the last almost forty years, my father has consistently learned the Daf every day. His stately Chosson Shas has a check on the corner of every page, from the days before Artscroll was even published.
            Last week I had the proud honor to accompany my father to celebrate his fifth Siyum Hashas.
            In truth, there is another reason why I was very excited for the recent Siyum; I had to rectify something.
            On Tuesday evening, March 1, 2005 I went with my father to celebrate the eleventh international Siyum Hashas, and my father’s third, at Madison Square Garden. The moment the Siyum ended, and there was a jovial cry of Mazal Tov, I hugged my father. I was truly proud of him. My father is of the first attendees at his shiur every night. He rarely misses a day, and when he does, he pre-plans how and when he is going to learn the Daf. It doesn’t matter what else is going on. Right after Pesach, the last hours before Yom Kippur, after eating at the conclusion of Tisha B’av - he’s always running out to the Daf. My mother, of course, shares all those merits.
            On August 1, 2012 I drove in from camp and met my father at MetLife Stadium to celebrate the twelfth Siyum Hashas, and his fourth. For the first while, everyone was just taking in the fact that there were well over 90,000 Jews together celebrating the Siyum.
            At one point I left my seat and made my way down to try my luck and see if I can get onto the field. I was indeed able to and I walked right up the dais. I saw the leading rabbinic personalities sitting there and snapped some pictures. But I didn’t plan well, and suddenly the Siyum was made, shouts of Mazal Tov ensued and there was intense dancing on the field. It was an amazing experience to be there and the dancing was beautiful. But I felt terrible that I had missed that special moment to hug my father right after the Siyum was completed. When I finally came back up, I wished him Mazal Tov but it wasn’t the same. I had missed the moment.
            I waited seven and a half years to rectify my folly. Last week, when the shout of Mazal Tov rang out, I indeed gave my father that proud hug. The dancing may not have been as intense in our seats as it was on the field level, but if was far more meaningful and special for me.
            It was a reminder to me that sometimes we miss the moment because we become too excited with other things, despite the fact that those distractions may be important or exciting.
            I hope my children will have as much nachas from me as I do from my parents’ dedication to Torah!


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