Thursday, July 28, 2016

Parshas Pinchos 5776

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos   
Pirkei Avos perek 1
23 Tamuz 5776/ July 29, 2016

It was an experience I hope no one ever has. It was a Motzei Shabbos at the end of October in 2004. We were living in the Blueberry Hill Apartments complex with our almost three year old son Shalom, and Chani was in her ninth month, expecting our second child. At 3 a.m. we were awakened to the piercing screams of a young girl: “Fire! Fire! Please! There’s a fire!”
Chani immediately raced to the other room and grabbed Shalom from his bed. I looked out the window and saw that the building opposite ours was on fire. We rushed outside together with neighbors from all of the apartments in the nearby buildings. It was a frightening scene as we watched flames shoot up from the top of the building. The fire department arrived within minutes and began their heroic efforts to battle the blaze.
At one point a fireman emerged from a window holding a limp older woman over his shoulder. Tragically, she was the only fatality. She did not die from the flames but from smoke inhalation while she was sleeping. It was a painful reminder of the truism that smoke kills before fire.
I often recount that tragic night to my students and campers to drive home to the idea that the atmosphere around us has the most profound effect on our spiritual and mental health. When we are surrounded by a positive and nourishing environment we are more inclined to be productive and caring. But when we are surrounded by negativity, pessimism, and insensitivity, it inevitably affects us negatively as well.  
When I first began working in education, a friend and veteran educator shared with me that one of the keys to motivation is in creating a healthy motivating educational environment where students feel excited to accomplish and to take part.
I was once discussing with a friend the merits of a certain yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. My friend told me that the yeshiva’s rabbeim and hanhala did not pressure its students to learn per se, but rather, the pressure was “in the walls”. There was a tremendous drive to grow spiritually in that yeshiva, and that impelled the students to want to invest and grow in their Torah learning. The faculty did not need to apply added pressure, because it was ‘in the air’.
This idea comes to life every summer for me with the tremendous success of Camp Dora Golding’s learning program ka”h. Aside from the daily learning groups, it is astounding that a half hour before mincha every Erev Shabbos there are almost three hundred campers ready for Shabbos and learning in camp’s shul. Then on Shabbos itself, there are even more campers who learn voluntarily for three hours on Shabbos afternoon. It’s not just the expensive and great prizes that are raffled off, and it’s not just the massive BBQ for all who learn a certain amount. It’s more about the positive hype and excitement generated by Rabbi Sauber and the learning rabbeim.
We are now in the period of mourning for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. The gemara in Yoma relates that the second Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless enmity between fellow Jews. Not every Jew may have been guilty, but that sense of disunity and distrust was in the air and created a spiritual toxicity. When we observe Torah and mitzvos, demonstrate sensitivity for each other, and perform acts of chesed, it’s not merely individual acts of greatness. It creates a healthy spiritual environment, one fitting for the rebuilding of the Bais Hasmikdash. 

 Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

      R’ Dani and Chani Staum