Thursday, September 15, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Setzei    
13 Elul Av 5776/ September 16, 2016
Pirkei Avos – Perakim 1-2

The following is an addendum to last week’s Musings. I am including (in italics) last week’s Musings, followed by the addition:
It’s fascinating how new words are constantly being added to our lingo, based on the advancements of technology. People casually speak about doing things that would have made no sense just a few years ago, such as sending tweets and whatsapping pictures.
One of the greatest technological advancements in regards to travel has been the creation of Waze. These days before driving somewhere we ‘put the destination into Waze’ and within seconds we are informed of the ideal route to take as well as the predicted time of arrival.
It’s not that infrequent that I will be driving somewhere and Waze will lead me along a route I have never gone before. At first glance I am often skeptical of the unfamiliar route, but I remind myself that Waze takes into account traffic, and calculates the ideal way to get to the destination in the least amount of time. Waze is also great because if the driver makes a mistake and misses a turn, within seconds Waze recalculates a new route.  
It struck me how intriguing it is that we place so much faith in an electronic app, especially in traveling to places and along routes that are completely foreign to us. The reason we are willing to do so is because we have had sufficient past experiences using Waze to know that the app is reliable. It’s a good feeling when you can bypass heavy traffic by driving along a quiet side road that you didn’t know existed. At times experience has also taught us that when ignoring Waze’s route, we encounter traffic we could never have known existed.
We often speak about having emunah peshutah – ‘simple faith’, or some might say blind faith, in G-d. The truth is that we are not charged to merely believe. We are charged to develop faith that stems from knowing the truth in our hearts. Based on numerous past experiences – both our own, others, and of Klal Yisroel generally, we are to recognize that Hashem is running the world based on a divine plan. Faith begins where knowledge ends.
We rely on an app based on previous experiences, and blindly follow its direction into the unknown with confidence that it will lead us to our destination, and that it will take into account the things that could impede us that we have no way of knowing beforehand. Should our faith in the Omnipresent be any less?
Very often we find the roads of our lives proverbially being recalculated. We suddenly find ourselves and in areas and heading in a direction that is totally unfamiliar to us. At times it’s our own fault that we ended up there, based on our own erroneous decisions. At other times, it’s the result of events beyond our control. But we are always charged with the mission of forging ahead with faith that the Ways (waze) of our lives are not random or haphazard. We believe that there is a destination we are working towards, even when we can’t see it.              
One of the noted allusions to the month of Elul is in the pasuk regarding one who murders inadvertently and has to flee to one of the ordained Cities of Refuge. The pasuk (Shemos 21:13) states “אנה לידו ושמתי לך – (But for one who has not lain in ambush and G-d has) caused it to come to his hand, I shall provide for you a place (to which he shall flee).” The first letters of the middle words contain an acronym of the word Elul.
The message from this verse is that even when the unimagined and unexpected occurs, G-d prepares a place for us. The truth is wherever we find ourselves – literally and figuratively – is exactly where we are meant to be. That is part of our focus during the month of Elul, to remind ourselves that we have a mission that is unique to us and we are directed towards its fulfillment. Beyond that, it’s all up to us.  

Part of the challenge of living in this world is never knowing when our paths will change, and when our ‘divine Waze’ will recalculate. As my rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Schabes, told us years ago, our mission in this world is to follow the Divine Clouds wherever they may lead us, just as our forefathers did in the desert after leaving Egypt.
In fact, next to my desk at home, I hung up the pasuk that my rebbe quoted to us: “Hashem went before them during the day in a pillar of cloud to guide them along the way, and at night in a pillar of fire to be a light for them, so they could travel during the day and night” (Shemos 13:21).
The last few months have been a time of challenge for us, but throughout we have felt Hashem’s guidance. We often had to remind ourselves that the Divine Clouds were directing us, and that our mission was to follow faithfully, in the best way we could.
When we found out that Chani was expecting twins, it came as a complete shock. The twins were identical, which means that having them had no basis on family history. Medically, identical twins are a fluke that can happen to anyone. Of course as Torah Jews we believe otherwise, though we have no idea why this blessing was bestowed upon us. Our Waze was recalculating and we prepared to adjust.
When we found out that the twins were suffering from a condition called TTTS (Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome) our Waze was again recalculating. [In oversimplified terms, TTTS is a condition where the babies share an attached placenta causing them not to receive equal amounts of nourishment from the mother. One receives too much, causing the other receive too little. If left untreated, it can be extremely dangerous for both twins, r”l.]
Due to the condition, Chani had to switch to Columbia Hospital in Manhattan, where they have the most specialized treatments and doctors to monitor and treat her. After making the agonizing decision to proceed with the suggested laser treatment to correct the TTTS, (based on the guidance of her doctor and da’as Torah), Chani underwent the arduous procedure. On the day prior to the treatment, I went to daven at the kevarim of tzaddikim buried in Monsey, and I asked my brother and sister in Yerushalayim to daven at the kever of our Zaydei on Har Tamir (next to Har Menuchos) and at the nearby kever of Rav Shimshon Pinkus zt’l.
The treatment was followed with weeks of highly stressful waiting before we could know if it was successful. There were numerous bumps in the road, when our doctor was concerned. More than once he conveyed to us that he’s just not sure why something had occurred, but that they would have to monitor it closely. Each time, in the end, after a tense waiting period, the situation stabilized. The doctor again conveyed that he wasn’t sure why it occurred. We attributed it to tefillos and tzedakah. 
  For the remainder of the pregnancy, she had to go for weekly, and often bi-weekly, appointments. Each included lengthy sonograms to monitor the babies.
Every appointment every week was anxiety provoking. It was like having Yom Kippur constantly. We learned to daven and say Tehillim in a manner we never knew. There were arrangements to be made for our other children, and our parents/in laws were an invaluable help.
Throughout, the doctor told us that prematurity was our greatest enemy. Our goal was to get to 28 weeks. At that point, if there were any issues, the babies could be delivered and dealt with in a safer manner outside than inside. But 28 weeks became 30 weeks, and then 32 weeks, and then 34 weeks.
When she was 36 weeks, the doctor informed us that he was pleased with how things had progressed and, for the safety of the babies, they should deliver the babies in the near future.
We held our breath in the hope that all would be okay. Although the labor was prolonged and tense, the actual delivery was incredibly quick, and ironically easier than any prior delivery. They were born Erev Shabbos in the afternoon – 1:09 pm and 1:10 pm respectively.
I arrived home a mere two hours before Shabbos and with the help of our parents, and special neighbors and friends arranged the Shalom Zachor in our home. On Sunday afternoon Chani and both babies arrived home!
The road of this pregnancy has been challenging to say the least. And yet we have also seen so many lights along the way. We still have much to daven for, but the lessons of emunah that we have learned from others, and ourselves, are invaluable.
Hashem has implanted within every one of us a natural, or perhaps supernatural, navigation system. Our goal is to follow the destination, despite the fact that the route is often recalculating. At times the road becomes lengthier and more circuitous, at other times shorter and more pleasant. At times we are directed into traffic without understanding why, at times the traffic is suddenly lifted.   
Our responsibility is to remain on the road and never divert our attention from our destination. May Hashem help and guide every one of us to always do so, to fulfill His Will.  
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum