Thursday, October 21, 2021

Parshas Vayeira 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayera

16 MarCheshvan 5782/October 22, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

לז"ן שפרינצה בת אברהם יצחק ע"ה

THOUSAND ISLANDS

           

            The other day at lunch in Yeshiva, I was taking salad from the serving bowl. Just ahead of me a colleague was putting dressing on his salad. He looked up at me and said “elef iyim”, Hebrew for a thousand islands. He explained that in Israel that’s what the dressing is called, translated from the English Thousand Island Dressing.

            That led me to wonder where the dressing got its name from.

            It turns out that Thousand Island Dressing was named after the area where it was created, Thousand Islands, New York.

            The Thousand Islands are a North American archipelago consisting of 1,864 islands that straddle the Canada–US border, stretching about 50 miles.

            The islands range in size from over 40 square miles to “Just Room Enough Island”, which is also known as “Hub Island”. (Hub Island, approximately one-thirteenth of an acre, is the smallest inhabited island in the world. It has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach.)

            In the early 1900s, Sophie Lalonde, a fishing guide's wife, mixed a few ingredients for her husband’s dinner.

            A few nights later, she served her mix to an actress visiting the area. The actress liked it and asked for the recipe, which she then shared with another Thousand Islands visitor, George Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

            Boldt then directed his world famous maitre d', Oscar of the Waldorf, to add it on the hotel's menu and that’s how Thousand Island dressing was born.

            On Friday night in the beautiful perakim of Tehillim recited as part of Kabbolas Shabbos, we say “Hashem will reign, the land will rejoice; the many islands will be happy.” Where are these rejoicing islands and what are they so happy about?

            It is painfully apparent that our society is sliding down a precipitous slope toward moral anarchy. It is disheartening and somewhat frightening to see how much is being slaughtered upon the altar of liberalism and open-mindedness. As someone once said, “some people are so open minded that their brains fall out of their heads.” Recent news stories which demonstrate the veracity of this point cannot even be recounted in a family-friendly column.

            When gender orientation becomes front and center of how a person defines himself or herself (or itself), it demonstrates that society has veered away from focusing on the soul and core of our humanity. We have lost our moral compass and are now drowning in an ocean of lewdness and spiritual bankruptcy.

            Within that degenerate ocean, however, are islands - paradise islands for the soul and oases of divine connection where one can find respite to reinvigorate his spiritual muscles. The islands may be few and far between, but they give hope and direction for humankind.

            Perhaps the islands we refer to on Friday night refers to us, the Torah faithful. We, who maintain our faith and dedication to Torah values, are islands of morality and divinity in an otherwise depraved world. It isn’t easy to counter the tides of society. But we maintain our commitment knowing that the day will come when we “the many islands” will rejoice, when the world will recognize the truth.

            Where did we learn how to do this? From Avrohom Avinu, who was an island of morality, faith and kindness, in an otherwise antithetical world.

            During Neilah on Yom Kippur we declare, “Ayn shiyur rak haTorah hazos - Nothing remains except for this Torah.” In a sense, we have a deeper appreciation of those timeless words than they had in recent generations. Ours is a post-truth world, where what feels good in the moment is what dictates right and wrong. Indeed, the sole beacon of unadulterated truth is Torah.

            We are the thousand islands which contain the hope of the future. Our islands may have their flaws and aren’t perfect. But they are governed by a Higher Being, not swayed by the tempests of society.

            Perhaps our thousand islands aren’t creamy and rich. But they are unquestionably dreamy and rich - with dreams of a utopian future and rich in moral and spiritual growth.

 

            This Shabbos, 17 Cheshvan, is the yahrtzeit of my beloved Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, a”h. Our family is grateful to her and my Sabbah for building each member of our family into one of those holy islands. While they may not have produced a thousand islands yet, they set wheels in motion that iyH will produce many thousands. 

            May her memory be for a blessing.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Lech Lecha 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Lch Lecha

9 MarCheshvan 5782/October 15, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

TABLE THAT THOUGHT

 

            Over the years as our family has grown b’h, coupled with the fact that we enjoy having guests for Shabbos meals, we have outgrown our dining room table.

            The table we had for the last decade and a half, was a gift to us from the family of Mr. Leo Joseph a”h. Mr. Joseph was our neighbor for the five years that we lived in an apartment in Blueberry Hills Condominiums. Despite the fact that he survived the horrors of the Holocaust and was already a widower by the time we knew him, he was always pleasant and had a smile on his face. When he passed away, his family graciously gave us his dining room table. But the time had come for us to find a new table that was larger and could accommodate our family and periodic guests.

            After a long search, we found a new table that worked for us.

            I was thinking about the importance of our dining room table and how much happens in its presence.

            Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, a rebbe of mine, related that years ago, his accountant informed him that he could use his Shabbos table expenses as a write-off for his taxes. Being that he was a rebbe in the local Yeshiva in an outreach-oriented community, his guests could legitimately be considered recruitment for the school. His accountant suggested that he save his grocery receipts, figure out a percentage and claim it as a deduction.

            Sometime later Rabbi Idstein was informed that he was being audited by the IRS. During the meeting, as the IRS representative was reviewing his file, she asked him about his business expenses. Rabbi Idstein explained to her that Orthodox Jews have two Thanksgiving-like dinners every weekend. The family sits together, singing songs, thanking G-d and discussing ethical matters. They invited guests regularly to enhance the experience. He added that kosher chicken costs a whole lot more than Frank Perdue.

            Rabbi Idstein recounted that the woman stared at him for a moment in silence and then quipped that she could hardly get her family to sit together on Thanksgiving itself. She couldn’t believe that his family did it twice every week.

            In the end, the IRS owed the Idstein’s money. So aside for some majorly frazzled nerves beforehand, all’s well that ends well.

            Dr. Yitzy Schechter, a noted psychologist and former supervisor, notes that when he does an intake with new Jewish clients, he often asks him/her to describe what the family Shabbos table looks like. There is a lot one can learn about family dynamics from the weekly patterns that occur at the Shabbos table.

            So much of the values we wish to impart to our children are conveyed at the Shabbos table. There are conversations about Torah values, outlook on current events, seeing the Hand of Hashem in our lives, speaking about the parsha, singing zemiros, and discussing what’s happening in each other’s lives. Of course, in most homes there is also the ubiquitous quibbles and squabbles about who sits where, and whose turn it is to speak/sing, and which child should be helping serve and clear. (Don’t pretend this doesn’t happen in your home if you have children…)

            Many of my fondest memories and most wonderful times are from around the Shabbos table.

            On one occasion when I had to get a shot a number of years ago, I wanted to divert my attention from the needle. In my mind I pictured myself at my shabbos table singing Yom zeh mechubad. That was the tranquil and peaceful moment I focused on to calm myself. That event also reminded me that, in retrospect, our greatest memories often aren’t from amazing trips and vacations, but the seemingly mundane and even trite pleasant events that we don’t think much about at the time.

            I enjoy when our Shabbos table is set on Thursday night. The mere sight of the majestically set table generates an anticipatory excitement for Shabbos.

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon notes that the Shabbos table should never become an extension of their child’s classroom. It is vital that parents do their utmost to make sure each of their children feel heard and validated at the Shabbos table. With more than one child that’s no easy feat. But that’s why parents get paid the big bucks. If a child has a hard time in class, he shouldn’t be asked parsha questions at the table where he will be embarrassed in front of his family. Parents also need to decide how long they should insist their children remain at the Shabbos table without it becoming overbearing. Overall, Shabbos meals must be a pleasant and uplifting experience for everyone.

            A few years ago, a friend sent me recorded lectures from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky in which he spoke about having a positive home. One of the points Rabbi Belsky emphasized was the importance of there being laughter in the home. Families should have occasions to laugh together.

            At times I would tell stories at my Shabbos table from my youth which had my children laughing heartily. (I would be careful that there shouldn’t be loshon hora involved.) On those occasions, I would feel a little guilty that perhaps it wasn’t in the spirit of the Shabbos table. But when I heard those words from Rabbi Belsky I rethought the matter. Laughing together at a Shabbos table helps bring the family together and hopefully allow the beautiful kedusha components of the seudah to penetrate more and be more memorable.

            Although we had outgrown our old table it was somewhat sad to bid it farewell. Aside for the memory of our dear neighbor Mr. Joseph, there were so many wonderful moments and great memories shared at that table. There were Sheva berachos, family get-togethers, Pesach Sedorim, and many other wonderful occasions, not to mention hours of Torah learning and homework done over that table.

            But we anticipate many more beautiful memories that will be created around our new table as well. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to have you be a part of it at some point.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Parshas Noach 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Noach

2 MarCheshvan 5782/October 8, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

BLISSFUL LITERACY

 

            If ignorance is bliss, illiteracy can be beneficial.

            It was the final Friday of the past summer’s camping season. I was in our bungalow in Camp Dora Golding looking at a calendar when I realized that Shabbos would be our twins - Gavriel and Michael’s - fifth Hebrew birthday. Generally, we celebrate our children’s English birthdays for the simple reason that we remember those (at least the rest of my family does. I’m lucky if I remember all of my children’s names….). But I made the mistake of announcing that it was their birthday in their presence. They excitedly asked what we were doing to celebrate their birthday. My wife shot me an annoyed glare and asked me why I had to say anything.

            On Shabbos morning the following day, camp’s director and First Lady - Alex and Chanie Gold hosted their annual hakaras hatov kiddush, in appreciation of the devotion and efforts of the camp administrators and their families throughout the summer. All camp families attended the gala kiddush presented by Chef Yosef Oldak, which included an impressive assortment of meat, kugels, herring and sushi platters (for those who like that stuff…), endless candy, and cookies that had the Camp Dora Golding logo on them.

            When our family arrived at the kiddush, the twins assumed it was in their honor and were very excited. We weren’t about to tell them otherwise.

            I approached Alex and asked him if he could give a happy birthday shout out to the twins at the end of his speech. He graciously agreed. He did even better. At the end of his warm message of gratitude to the assemblage, he asked “where is Gavriel and Michoel Staum?” The two of them looked up surprisedly from their plates of candy and cups of soda and raised their hands. Alex called them over and told them that because it’s their birthday they each get another cookie.

            The twins assumed that the words on the cookies read “Happy Birthday Gavriel and Michoel”. They were delighted to add the extra cookies to their overflowing loot of nosh.

            We thanked Alex for helping us with our birthday dilemma, allowing the twins to feel special without it costing us a penny. He jokingly replied that he was a sending us a bill for half the kiddush.

            Of course, we want our children to learn to read and write. There is a beautiful excitement generated as they begin to recognize letters, and even more so, when they are able to read words. But, until that time, we can take advantage of their illiteracy.

            More recently, our daughter Aviva got her driving permit. During the days prior, while she was studying for the exam, whenever I was driving and she was in the car, she would announce what each sign we passed meant. The entire trip I heard “stop, yield, left turn ahead, traffic light ahead, speed limit 30, two way traffic, dead end, pedestrian crossing, etc. It was worse than having a cop driving behind me.

            Those signs had been there for years, but she had never paid much attention to them because they didn’t mean much to her. But now that she needed to know what each one meant she paid careful attention to ensure she understood their message.

            At the beginning of each year, when I hand my wide-eyed, overwhelmed freshman students the gemaras they will be using for the year, there is a palpable feeling of nervousness. I tell them that now the words in their new gemaras look like they are in a foreign language (to be fair, they are written in a foreign language. But I mean even more foreign than a chumash or mishnayos). Our goal is that over the course of the year, they will invest in their learning, and repeatedly review the words of the gemara until they become fluent and comfortable with them. That includes marking up their gemaras with punctuation, translation of hard words, and other brief notes. If they do so, they will discover that they will become very attached to their gemaras, until it feels like a dear friend. They will invariably feel a deep sense of mastery, pride and love for the volume whose words once seemed so alien to them.

            I also tell my students that there is a certain majestic beauty seeing a yeshiva bochur walking in the street clutching his gemara. Just as he takes his tefillin with him whenever he goes away overnight, if he develops a true connection with his gemara, he will want to take it with him as well.

            On Simchas Torah many Yeshiva bochurim dance while grasping the gemaras that they use every day. There is an unparalleled pride in the feeling of connection to Torah and Hashem which results from investment and diligence.

            I write this from the vantage point of a rebbe of boys because that’s what I have the great zechus to be. But the same is true for a girl who invests in her Torah studies and tefillah.

            Davening is a particular challenge for many of us (especially our youth) because the words are so foreign. But one who tries to understand the timeless words of tefillah will begin to recognize the incredible tapestry and depth that are to be found in the words of the Siddur.

            May we all become spiritually literate and discover the great sweetness of connection to Torah and Tefillah.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Friday, October 1, 2021

Parshas Bereishis 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bereishis

25 Tishrei 5781/October 1, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh MarCheshvan

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

VERY FISHY

            I don’t like fish.

            Well, that’s not really true. I enjoy watching fish swimming around and I find them to be fascinating. But that’s while they are alive. Once they are dead, I don’t like them anymore, especially not on my plate.

            What? You don’t eat gefilte fish?

            Nope!

            Fish sticks?

            Nope!

            You don’t have tuna fish at Shalosh Seudos?

            Absolutely not!

            But you for sure like sushi!

            Raw fish is the worst!

            So, you don’t eat herring? Are you Jewish?

            I can’t even stand the smell of herring.

            What about the fact that it says one should eat בשר ודגים on Shabbos?

            The next line is וכל מטעמים - and all tasty delicacies. I don’t find fish to be מטעמים!

           

            The bottom line is that I don’t like fish - not with chrayn, not in the rain, not on a plane, and not down the drain.

            On Rosh Hashanah evening, instead of fish, our family eats the candy jelly fish. In fact, we have two jelly fish. One upon which we say the prayer for when eating fish, and the second from which we eat the head and say the prayer for eating the head of a fish.

            When my children shared with me the story of Yonah before Yom Kippur, I told them that it’s similar to the story about why I don’t eat fish.

            When I was young, despite my protestations, my parents insisted that I eat gefilte fish. On one difficult occasion, I forced down the gefilte fish. As soon as I did, I felt that the fish was davening to Hashem to be rescued from inside my stomach. Then, just like Yonah, on the third day I opened my mouth, and out came the fish. I’m not sure if it went to Nineveh afterwards[1], but that’s when I stopped eating fish. My children were skeptical of my story.

            I remember one Shavuos morning, when we were invited out for the day seudah. After being up all night and then sleeping for a few hours, I plied myself out of bed where we were served… a fish meal. How were they to know that I wouldn’t eat fish? At that point I wasn’t just grumpy from being tired I was also grumpy from being hungry.

            Interestingly, I have a couple neighbors who are in the same boat as me (pun intended) when it comes to eating - or not eating - fish. That makes it easier when we have Shabbos meals together.

            My sensitivity is pretty extreme. On one occasion I ordered a bagel from a store. When I took a bite out of it, I was able to tell that the knife used to spread the butter had been previously used to smear tuna fish. I couldn’t eat it.

            I especially detest the smell of baking or fried fish, especially salmon.

            All this leaves me a bit concerned during the Succos season. Don’t get me wrong - I love Succos and enjoy every minute of the beautiful holiday. But when we take leave of the succah, we recite a customary prayer, “May it be Your Will, that next year we merit to sit in the succah made out of the skin of the leviathan.” Wait a minute - a huge succah made out of fish? I hope it doesn’t smell like fish in there. Is there an option to sit inside a succah made out of wood? Better yet, doesn’t Gan Eden have access to a Leiter fibreglass succah? I’m sure they could get a good deal.

            Our sages relate[2] that at the beginning of creation, G-d created a male and female leviathan. He then killed the female leviathan so that the leviathan wouldn’t procreate, because the world couldn’t handle the propagation of such a mammoth species. G-d then salted the female leviathan and preserved it for the righteous to enjoy in the future.

What was the point of G-d creating something, only to destroy it immediately after?

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon explains[3] that G-d did so to teach the world a vital lesson about how He runs the world. At the time that G-d killed the female leviathan it must have seemed like a terrible tragedy. It was a short time after creation, and this species was not only endangered, but it was also guaranteed to eventually become extinct. But, in truth, its death was the greatest kindness for the entire world. Had it lived the rest of creation would have been endangered.

            When we begin Bereishis anew and study the Torah’s narrative of creation, one of the first lessons we encounter is that of the leviathan. It serves to remind us that there is a plan and direction to everything that occurs in life, even though it often doesn’t seem that way to us. Just as G-d created the world with precision and perfection, so does He continue to maintain it with that same exactitude and perfection.

            That is also the lesson of Succos. Throughout the year we place our confidence in our assets, governments, business acumen and capabilities. But on Succos we sit beneath the shade of the divine, acknowledging that it’s all Him. We also shake the Four Species in all directions, to further emphasize that all the winds and storms of life are from Him.

The world and our lives are on a path guided by the infallible. Our task is to do the best we can within the circumstances we are dealt.

            I may not like fish. But I’m confident that the experience of sitting in a succah and partaking in the feast of the leviathan will be a blissful experience, even for those who don’t like the taste of fish.

            I hope that indeed I’ll merit to see you there in that magnificent succah next year. Until then we should all remember the timeless lesson it teaches us about the divine path of life and that everything is ultimately for the good.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] someone said it might have gone to a fish store in New Square…

[2] Rashi - Bereishis 1:31

[3] Kuntrus Matnas Chaim - Motzei Yom Kippur-Succos