Thursday, May 7, 2015


Parshas Emor
Lag Baomer – Hilula d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
18 Iyar 5775/ May 7, 2015
33rd day of the Omer - Pirkei Avos – Chapter 4

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was a beautiful spring afternoon, ideal for any baseball fan to buy some peanuts and cracker jacks without a care if he’d ever get back. The strange thing was that at Camden Yards where the Baltimore Orioles beat the Chicago White Sox 8-2, there were no peanuts or cracker jacks sold; not even a hot dog or a beer. When Chris Davis hit a three run homer in the first inning not a single fan cheered. In fact, there was not a single fan in attendance. The 45,971 seats and three decks of Camden Yards were eerily empty. Because of the recent rioting in Baltimore and the imposed nightly curfew the game was played during the day and no fans were allowed into the stadium.
Almost any sports team has more wins at home than they do on the road. It is far easier to play your hardest when you’re being cheered on by thousands of people who are enthralled by every accomplishment and are rooting passionately for your success. Conversely, it is far more challenging to play in front of a crowd that is hoping for your discombobulation and defeat.
A rebbe of mine related that he was once invited to speak in a certain upscale shul. When he and his wife arrived at the beautiful and imposing building a few minutes before he was scheduled to begin his lecture, the brass gates in front were locked and the lights were out. He rang the bell and after a few moments a non-Jewish caretaker came to the gate. When my rebbe explained to him that he was speaking in a few minutes, the caretaker replied that he knew nothing about it. Still he allowed my rebbe and his wife in and gave them a tour of the building.
While they were standing in the shul, two women came in. One of them was carrying a pile of fliers and introduced herself as the woman who had invited him to speak. She apologized profusely and explained that the flyers had inadvertently never been sent and no one knew about the lecture. She herself was not even able to stay. The other woman there worked in the shul office and had overheard about the lecture so she remained to hear it.
My rebbe stood in the front of the room and delivered his lecture while the lone woman listened and wrote notes feverishly throughout.
The most astounding part of the story to me is that my rebbe was totally not bothered by the incident. At times when I arranged for him to speak and I was concerned that perhaps not so many people would come he would recount that incident. He would laugh and say that the attendance doesn’t matter to him at all. He truly felt that it was a zechus for him to give the shiur to whoever wanted to hear.
The great Rabbi Akiva literally climbed his way up from being a forty year old ignoramus into one of the primary Torah leaders in all of history. After twenty-four years of relentless study and dedication he had amassed an incredible twenty-four thousand students. Although the students were spread out over a vast area (From “Tifrach until Aza”) we can imagine that there were masses of students in attendance every time Rabbi Akiva said a shiur.
Then disaster struck and all of his students died. Aside from the unimaginable grief of their demise, we would imagine that it must have been overly depressing for Rabbi Akiva to continue teaching.
But Rabbi Akiva was not destroyed. He gathered five students and taught them Torah. The fact that whereas previously thousands had packed in to hear and savor his every word and now he had only five students did not deter him. He wanted to teach Torah and that was all that mattered.
It’s a level to aspire for. It’s hard to be just as dedicated when in private as when others are watching. But when one truly feels that it’s his duty and privilege to serve G-d then the numbers and watching eyes won’t mean a thing.

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

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