Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Erev Rosh Hashanah of 5776
29 Elul 5775/ September 13, 2015

A few days ago I was walking outside our home when I noticed that over the summer a bunch of plants had begun growing from an area covered with wood chips. So I spent some time yanking them out of the ground.
Over the course of the next few days I began to experience some strong itchiness – first on one arm, then the other, then on one leg, and then the other. When I started to feel itchiness between my fingers I became more concerned and showed it to the nurse in Ashar, whose office is adjacent to mine. She took one look and told me that I had poison ivy. I realized that it was obviously from some of the plants in front of our home.
During this time of year, when school has begun anew and Yom Tov season is upon us, almost all school students look very differently than they did just a few days earlier. Their hair is neat, and many have new shoes and backpacks. We have to remind our younger children that they cannot wear their new school shoes until school starts. Their shoes only have new look for about twenty minutes, and we want them to at least walk into school with that fresh look.    
The truth is that new things are not only exciting, they are also somewhat uncomfortable. Haircuts are itchy and new shoes are rigid and take time to get used to. Yet we feel that the minor discomfort is worth the feeling of newness.
Pulling things out by their roots is also challenging. The deeper those roots are the more effort is required to dislodge them. Sometimes doing so becomes uncomfortable afterwards.
Rosh Hashanah is a new beginning. As the new year begins with all of our hopes and prayers for a year of blessing and prosperity, we also seek to generate changes internally. Those changes entail that we leave our comfort zone and break out of our status quo to effect some improvements during the coming year.
Too much change is overwhelming and will leave us crawling back into our previous comfort zone all too soon, with nothing to show of our efforts. Indeed this is one of our evil inclination’s most potent techniques. But the small steps forward that we take are much greater than we realize. They are a demonstration of our commitment to not settle and rest on our laurels and growth. It shows that we are willing to undertake some discomfort to create a new beginning.  
            My rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, suggests that we choose one positive mitzvah to work on enhancing our commitment to, and one negative commandment to work on refraining from during the coming year. It’s one act which symbolizes pulling out negative roots and one act which symbolizes accepting something new. That is a statement of real effort for growth.   
            Meanwhile until our landscapers start writing my sermons, I think I’m going to leave the weeding to them. Let them deal with the poison ivy.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova
Good Yom Tov & Shana Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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