Thursday, January 23, 2014


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim
23 Shevat 5774/January 25, 2014

The new rail system that cuts through Yerushalayim is magnificent. Not only is the train incredibly convenient, significantly minimizing the impossible Yerushalayim traffic, the train is also clean, quiet, and efficient. The train runs along Rechov Yaffo, making its way from Sha’ar Yaffo, all the way to Har Herzl, in the north of the city.
During our visit to Yerushalayim a few weeks ago, our family traveled the train en route to Gan Hachayot, Jerusalem’s picturesque Biblical zoo. [I should add that from Har Herzl at the end of the train line, we took the 26a, a small Egged bus, the rest of the way to the zoo. That bus ride around the hilly circuitous roads of Bayit Vegan was more exciting than any roller coaster I have ever been on. I didn’t think a bus could take turns at such speeds. I also think the driver was under the impression that the road bumps were there to make the ride more entertaining, not as a caution to slow down. But that’s a separate discussion.]   
At one station along the way, a group of young yeshiva boys crowded onto the train, followed by a bearded man, who was obviously their rebbe. When I asked the rebbe where they were headed, he replied (in Hebrew) that they were going to the Badatz (the most prestigious court of Yerushalayim). They were going to be tested by one of the dayanim (judges) on Parshas Mishpatim, which they had just completed learning in yeshiva. I was stunned when the rebbe told me that they were second graders!
Parshas Mishpatim is a rather difficult parsha, containing many laws of interpersonal and monetary responsibilities, as well as property ownership and obligations. In the United States, second graders are still learning the stories of the Avos in Chumash Bereishis. 
At the Rebbe’s insistence I asked the boys questions on different parts of the parsha. [Being that this was Chanukah time I felt like I was being tested, to see what I remembered from Parshas Mishpatim. I became even more nervous when the Rebbe began videoing my Q and A with the boys.] I was blown away by their fluency of the parsha. I asked the rebbe if any of the boys would be available to return to America with me to teach American eighth graders about the 4 types of watchers, 4 types of damages, and the laws of slaves and maids.
When they arrived at their stop the rebbe wished me well, so that he could accompany his second graders to the Badatz, while I proceeded to the zoo.
Everything in life is a tradeoff. The more things we focus on the more fragmented our concentration becomes. We all know how hard it is for us to focus on davening, because we have so many thoughts swirling through our minds throughout the day.    
Those second grade Yerushalmi boys have little else on their minds besides the chumash they learn. Many of them have never played on a Wii, and don’t know what an iPod looks like. If that’s your primary and almost exclusive focus, even eight year olds can master Parshas Mishpatim.
We who do not live in such an environment, and aren’t able to raise our children in such an environment, still need to be wary of how much we invest of ourselves in the world around us. There’s only a certain amount of love and passion that we possess. We have to know how to enjoy things without allowing them to consume us. If all of our excitement comes from sports, electronic devices, and games, there won’t be much passion left for Torah and Avodas Hashem.

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

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