Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parshas Tzav/Shabbos Hagadol 5770

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Tzav/Shabbos Hagadol

11 Nissan 5770/March 26, 2010

After a long, cold winter the warm spring sun has been particularly delightful. But old man winter didn’t leave quietly. Only after being battered by massive snowfall, upwards of two feet, as well as a massive nor’easter that brought us hurricane-like winds and rainfall, did the spring sun emerge.

Even now two weeks after the storm the effects are still visible. The weight of the snow, together with the relentless wind and rain was too much for many of the branches, and even whole trees. Although by now power has been restored, the snow has completely melted, and the rain has absorbed into the earth, a tremendous amount of the storm’s after-effects and debris are still visible everywhere.

As I drove around these last few weeks, I was thinking about why certain branches were able to withstand the brutal storm, while others could not. Sometimes large parts of a tree came crashing down, while the other half remained fully intact.

I concluded that for a branch to have survived the storm it needed to have two qualities: vitality and flexibility. It needed to have a good connection with the tree so that it could draw its nourishment through osmosis, and it had to be able to bend in the wind. Any branch that did not contain those two qualities ended up on the ground.

In addition, there were many trees that appeared robust and healthy which collapsed in the storm. The common theme about all those trees is that they were not firmly rooted deeply enough in the ground. Despite the fact that they seemed tall and proud, without deep roots they too could not withstand the onslaught of the storm.

It is well known that the Torah compares mankind to a tree (see Devorim 20:19). In the face of challenges and difficulties those who are vibrant and optimistic, with a positive “glass half-full” outlook, and are flexible are the most resilient people. In contrast, rigid and negative people have the most difficult time dealing with the tempests of life. It goes without saying that one also needs to be firmly rooted in his faith and beliefs.

The joyous holiday of Pesach is always celebrated during the emergence of spring. The season of rebirth and redemption purposely coincides with the season of physical rebirth and regeneration.

Life is not always idyllic and easy. There are many “periods of maror” mixed in. But one who is able to recite the blessing on the marror, understanding that it too comes from G-d, understands that shortly after the marror we eat the festive holiday meal.

Pesasch celebrates not only our birth as a people, but also our eternity, and our ability to withstand the vicissitudes and challenges of life.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Chag Kasher V’samayach,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Parshas Vayikra

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Vayikra

4 Nissan 5770/March 19, 2010

It is always fascinating to note which recollections remain with you years later.

My father is a very punctual person. We joke that if he says he will be somewhere at 7:02, we can hold him to his word. And if he comes at 7:03 he’ll be shaking his head about the driver of the car in front of him who cost him an extra minute because he was driving too slowly.

If my father is like that generally he is even more punctual when it comes to davening. He would often tell me that when people head out to work knowing that they will have to punch in when they get there, they do their utmost to make sure they are on time. After all, time is money. When we come to shul we receive infinite reward for every moment we are there, so why waste opportunities?

The analogy may have been poignant but, as we all know, actions speak louder than words. The following anecdote spoke volumes:

W hen I was younger and would accompany my father and older brother to shul on Shabbos morning, we were generally one of the first to arrive. There was one older teenage boy in the shul who was very impressed with my father’s perpetual promptness, and decided that he was going to make it his mission to precede my father to shul. For the next few weeks he arrived earlier and earlier, but he was stunned to find us all already sitting in shul when he entered.

Then one Shabbos morning as we were nearing the shul, we saw him walking from the opposite direction. He was proportionately a few steps closer. Instinctively my father took off and made a mad dash towards the entrance of the shul. [Although generally one is not allowed to run on Shabbos, one is permitted to run to shul on Shabbos.] When the young man saw him coming he too began running.

It is an image etched in my memory. I had never seen my father run like that before (especially not in his suit and Shabbos shoes), and it was quite a site to see both of them charging towards the door. I remember walking into the shul a few minutes later and seeing the triumphant adolescent rubbing his hands gleefully, panting, and saying, “I beat Steve Staum to shul! Oh does it feel good!”

I cannot say that I am as prompt and punctual as my father, but I definitely strive to be, and my efforts are due to his example.

I was thinking about that memorable incident this week, because the same way I learned the trait from my father, my father learned it from his father. This Friday – 4. Nissan – is the yahrtzeit of my Sabbah (father’s father). Sabbah was the consummate mentch, a person of regality and gentlemanly character. And he was punctual to a fault. If he made up a time to be somewhere and he wasn’t already there waiting when the time came he would apologize profusely.

It is ironic that in a world of technological speed and efficiency, there is such a lack of value and appreciation for the value of time and keeping one’s word, which includes keeping to an appointment or schedule.

One of the many lessons that Pesach teaches us is the invaluableness of time. The seder cannot begin before it is halachically night, yet the afikomen must be eaten before (halachic) midnight. The matzah and marror must be consumed within a few minutes (there are different opinions). Above all is the fact that only a moment differentiates between matzah becoming chometz.

On his yahrtzeit I take a moment to thank Sabbah for teaching us the value of time, to keep our lives from becoming chometzdik!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei/Hachodesh 5770

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Vayakhel-Pekudei/Hachodesh

26 Adar 5770/March 12, 2010

There is an old rule in education that “You have to choose your battles.” If we want to have any chance that our words will have an effect on our children without them immediately tuning us out we cannot afford to make a big deal out of every little thing our children do

Rabbi Mordechai Finkleman shlita, the Mashgiach and Spiritual leader of Camp Dora Golding would often tell the camp staff that to be a successful and efficacious counselor/rebbe/parent, etc. sometimes you have to be able to “not see/hear.” Of course an educator must be wise enough to know when he/she must intervene. But there are many situations when disciplining a child will end up having a severe backlash, and saying something to the child will be ineffective. At times such as those it is best for the educator to pretend that he did not notice what happened.

There were many times over the years when I have employed the wisdom of “hear no evil/see no evil”, and it is indeed an invaluable piece of advice.

Last year while preparing a shiur for Shavuos evening I found a source for this idea in a responsa of the Noda B’Yehuda. At the end of a letter regarding a certain matter the Noda B’Yehuda (Oh’c, Tinyana, 24) concluded that he was aware that his halachic ruling was not being upheld. He wrote, “And I hide my eyes from this (practice) because it is better that they should be considered inadvertent (transgressors), than malicious.”

As parents/teachers we often do not realize just how critical we are of our children. Although children (by definition) require constant guidance and education, if we pick on every little thing they do wrong they will feel that they are under attack. Consequentially, they will only listen to our tirades with half an ear at best.

For example, eating dinner together as a family is incredibly important, and studies show that it has a very important effect on the family unit and on a child’s sense of belonging. But we have to ensure that the dinner table does not become a battleground replete with orders and shouting. Recently a father told me that he came to the realization that he and his wife were being too critical at the dinner table. He said that he and his wife sat down to discuss which behaviors they would be particular about and which other ones they would overlook. He reported that although it was/is hard for him to bite his tongue, since he has begun doing so his dinner table has a more pleasant atmosphere.

The gemara in Megilla (18a) quotes a sagacious expression, “מלה בסלע משתוקא בתרין - If a word is worth one coin, silence is worth two.” Many times despite our best intentions we would be wise to remain silent. As we all know, how often do we have to ‘use’ a lot more words to rectify the damage caused by a few quick witted words said without forethought!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Parshas Ki Sia/Para 5770

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Ki Sia/Para

19 Adar 5770/March 5, 2010

I write these words as the joyous tunes and atmosphere of Purim is still swirling around me. The much anticipated and beloved holiday has come and gone in its usual haste, leaving us to wonder how it passes so fast.

On Purim morning as I was driving with my family to deliver shalach manos I drove through some of the Spring Valley side streets, a bit out of the Jewish community. The immediate contrast was striking. Suddenly there were no costumes to be seen, no jovial welcoming atmosphere of baskets and goodies being exchanged, and none of the gregarious laughter endemic to Purim. Suddenly it was a regular day with people caring for their needs in their usual self-absorbed manner. But when we reentered the Jewish neighborhoods a few moments later, we were once again embraced by the beautiful sights and sounds of Purim.

It is fascinating to think that in one area costumes and gaiety was wholly appropriate while, just a few blocks over, it was grossly inappropriate. In fact, even if a person walked those same blocks where it was appropriate to be dressed in costume on Purim one day earlier or later, his appearance would be incongruous. In other words, everything is a matter of time and place.

If that concept is true in general it is all the more true in regards to Purim. If we would act as we do on Purim any other day of the year people would surely see us as eccentric and strange. But during the twenty-fours of Purim certain boundaries of normalcy and expectations are altered so that we can spend the day together in exalted friendship and conviviality.

But now Purim is over! The matanos laevyonim we gave has been well spent, the seudas Purim has been cleaned up – with tables and chairs folded and food put away, the unparalleled drinking has completely ceased, and the shalach manos baskets and goodies are being sorted as mothers begin to think about which chametz foods they want to get rid of, as they commence their Pesach cleaning. It definitely seems as if Purim has come and gone. Has the day been reduced to a mere fleeting memory?

The truth is that while all of the physical remnants of Purim have been put away, the true essence of Purim must remain with us permanently. The feelings of friendship and warmth that underlie the entire holiday must stay with us long after the costumes have been put away and the wine bottles have been emptied from the recycling bin. In this sense, only the physical components of Purim are limited to time and space, while the true essence of Purim transcends all limits.

After we concluded our beautiful and emotionally charged seudah on Purim afternoon, I had the opportunity to go with a few members of the shul to the Tish in Skver. It is an experience that cannot be captured in words. The energy that permeated the room while thousands of people jumped up and down on the bleachers singing, “Rabbi Akiva said: Praiseworthy are you O Israel”, with the Rebbe enthusiastically goading them on, was simply euphoric and indescribable.

For a half hour I stood holding hands and dancing with a chossid. Before I left I instinctively turned and hugged him. On Purim we both had reason to celebrate as Torah Jews and what could be greater! We may not have known each other, but on a spiritual level we were very close!

Purim has indeed come and passed, but I sure hope it’s not gone!

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum