Thursday, January 28, 2010

Parshas Beshalach/Tu B’Shvat 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh, “Shabbos Shirah”, Parshas Beshalach/Tu B’Shvat

14 Shevat 5770/January 29, 2010

The traumatic devastation emerging from earthquake-ridden Haiti is overwhelming. At the same time there are some stories which are incredible and heartwarming. The following is one such example:

Dan Woolley, a deeply religious Catholic, was in Haiti working on a film about the impact of poverty on the people of Haiti. On January 12th, he had just returned to his hotel with a colleague when the earthquake struck. Woolley dove into an elevator shaft, which was quickly buried under tons of rubble. Woolley was able to download a first aid application to his iphone, and was then able to treat his wounds, which he was able to see by the faint light of the phone.

Woolley realized that he would probably die before he could be rescued. He had a notebook and a pen with him and he composed a letter of farewell to his wife and two young sons. Then after 65 hours, Woolley was rescued. When he was pulled from the rubble he took the blood-stained notebook with him.

The story is very powerful because it makes a person wonder what he would write on such a letter, if, G-d forbid, he was ever in such a situation.

On Tisha B’av morning, we commence the recitation of Kinnos (lamentations) with the word, “שבת (Shavas) – everything came to a standstill!” When the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed and the national life of Klal Yisroel was about to change irrevocably, everything stopped.

In fact, whenever a tragedy strikes, the hustle and bustle of life comes to a screeching halt. The changes wrought about by the tragedy force philosophical reflection and contemplation. At such a time, it is not uncommon for mourners to bemoan the fact that they failed to appreciate who/what they had before it was lost. One of the most painful things to hear is, “If only we had appreciated it when we still had it.”

One of the greatest acts of kindness that G-d provided for His Nation, is the gift of Shabbos. The word “Shabbos” means a cessation, and indeed on Shabbos when we cease all our weekday endeavors, everything comes to a standstill.

One who views Shabbos merely as a day off and a time to get away, wastes an incredible opportunity. Shabbos is a day of reflection, when one is able to stop the bustle of life so that he can appreciate the gifts that G-d has granted him. The Jew, who observes Shabbos properly, does not need to wait for tragedy to strike. Every Friday afternoon when the sun sets, daily life stops. And in that warmth and radiance he contemplates his mission in life and all the blessings G-d has given him along the way.

The festival of Tu B’Shvat, is the celebration of the beauty of the trees and the fruits, with all of their attractive colors, variant textures, and sweet tastes. That such beauty grows from mud and sunlight only adds to their mystique and delectability.

Tu B’Shvat grants us a moment to stop and appreciate an aspect of this world which we often take for granted. At the beginning of bentching (Grace after Meals) we thank G-d, “Who sustains the entire world with goodness, with grace, with kindness, and with mercy.” G-d not only provides our needs, but He does so with grace, in the sense that our food has a resplendent beauty that piques our taste buds.

When Tu B’Shvat coincides with Shabbos it is a Shabbos of even more song than usual.

It is a day of true celebration.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Parshas Bo 5770

Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Bo

7 Shevat 5770/January 23, 2010

There is a classic comic that depicts a mother in typical miffed ‘lecture mode’ standing poised to begin a harangue. Her teenage son, lying on his messy bed, looks at his watch and says, “If this is a lecture how long will it be?”

One of the mistakes we make as parents (and educators) is that we lecture too much. We are afraid to allow our children to suffer the consequences of their own poor decisions. However, if we did so we would not have to waste our breath preaching to children who usually don’t want to hear our stern rebuke anyway.

The challenge is that we love our children and we so badly want to shield them from their own mistakes and foibles. But in so doing we stunt their growth and rob them of valuable opportunities to mature and learn about life.

When a child forgets his homework at home on a regular basis and his mother rushes to school to bring it to him, she is doing so out of love for her child. However, the reality is that the child will fail to learn that in the adult world when one forgets papers at home on the day of a vital meeting, no one is coming to bring them to him.

When we are able to help our children learn lessons about life without preaching to them, the message has far more potency. For example, if a child leaves a mess of toys on the floor and his parents ask him one time to clean up, and the child fails to do so, the wise parent will not say anything. After the child goes to sleep the parent will clean the room and quietly put the toys away… in the garage. When the child comes down in the morning to find the room spotlessly clean and the toys that were left out nowhere to be seen, he will wordlessly learn that failing to clean up has negative ramifications.

This lesson is inherent in the story of exodus. Before each plague G-d sent Moshe to warn Pharaoh about the disasters that would befall the country if he did not free the nation. When Pharaoh reneged there were no repeated warnings. In a sense, the consequential plagues did the talking!

As is true for everything in life however, we must add that all of our wisdom and efforts can only bear fruit if we merit Siyata D’shmaya (Divine Assistance). I would like to share one such example:

On one occasion, I was driving down the New Jersey Turnpike with my wife and our (then) two children. We were in the car for some time and our restless children began fighting. I calmly told them that I could not drive with so much noise behind me and, if they did not stop, I would have to pull over until they could work things out. When their fight continued unabated I indeed merged onto the shoulder of the highway and shifted the car into park.

About twenty seconds later I noticed flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Our children noticed it too. I nervously asked my wife if she thought it was illegal to pull over onto the shoulder. But when the officer approached the car and I rolled down the window, I realized that he had pulled over to see if we needed assistance. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I smiled and replied, “It is now officer! Thank you so much.” The officer nodded knowingly and headed back to his cruiser.

I merged back onto the highway and we enjoyed the quietest trip we ever had. The two white-faced children in the back hardly uttered a peep for the rest of the trip.

Some lessons are impossible to replicate.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum