Friday, August 12, 2011

SHABBOS NACHAMU VAESCHANAN 5771

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu

12 Menachem Av 5771/August 12, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

Someone sent me a cute article which contrasts the value of something, based on who is holding it. “A basketball in my hands is worth about twenty dollars; the basketball in the hands of the NBA championship team is worth millions. A baseball in my hands is worth about six dollars; a ball in the hands of the World Series winning team is worth millions. A football in my hands is worth about fifteen dollars; a football in the hands of the Super Bowl victors is worth millions.” The article then concludes, “So put your concerns, worries, fears, hopes, and dreams in G-d’s Hands, because it all depends in whose hands they’re in.”

It’s not always what is said that matters, as much as how it is said. Educational guru Rick Lavoie notes that the statement “My son did not break the window” can have five different interpretations depending on which word is stressed: “My son did not break the window” means my son didn’t do it, but someone else’s son did. “My son did not break the window” means my son didn’t break it, but my daughter did. “My son did not break the window” means he absolutely didn’t do it! “My son did not break the window” means he didn’t break the window, he just dented it. “My son did not break the window” means he didn’t break the window, but he broke the door.

It also matters who the speaker is. The Mishna in Avos (4:24) states that Shmuel Hakatan would say “With the fall of your enemy, do not rejoice…” The commentators question why this statement was attributed to Shmuel, if in reality he was only quoting verbatim from a verse in Mishley (24:17-18)?

One answer given is that, while it may be true that Shmuel was only quoting from Mishley, the verse took on new meaning when it was stated by the humble and unassuming Shmuel Hakatan.

In a similar vein, I recently quoted an anecdote from Rabbi Aryeh Rodin of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Dallas, Texas. When I asked Rabbi Rodin for some quick rabbinic advice he related what his rebbe, Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l, told him years ago, “Do not tremble before any man”. There too he was only quoting a verse (Devorim 1:17). But the context and circumstance of how the verse was quoted gave it new meaning and a new dimension of understanding.

Two people can pray and say the same words, but their words may be worlds apart depending on the level of their emotion and fervor. It may be the same words but those words can have vastly different meanings depending on how they are said.

This idea also has tremendous significance in the world of education. It’s not what we tell our children as much as how we tell it to them. How passionate are we about the Yankees and Mets and the Giants and Jets? On the other hand, how passionate are we about tefillah and Shabbos?

We determine our own value systems - and that is in our hands.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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