Thursday, December 22, 2016


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeshev
Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Teves - Erev Chanukah   
23 Kislev 5777/ December 23, 2016

I want to tell you a little about Fishel.
Everybody admired Fishel.
It’s safe to say that most people were envious of Fishel, and the life he lived.
What an amazing and perfect life it was!
He and his wife drove very expensive cars, and lived in a stunning home. Fishel was always posting pictures of his family and their exotic vacations on Facebook and Instagram. He was the consummate father and husband, always smiling with his children. He was always tweeting about the gifts he bought his wife and kids, and about their next exciting trip. He constantly posted videos on You Tube of himself at corporate dinners, and meeting with celebrities and other famous personalities. His tallis in shul had a stunning atarah (crown) and his tefillin bag was gorgeous. He davened with such kavanah, and was always talking about the numerous shiurim and chavrusos that he had.
Simply put, Fishel was the life of the party, and everyone wanted to be around him. He had an aura of perfection around him – a super person to say the least.
In fact, that’s what everyone called him:
They could never know how apt that name really was. You see, Fishel’s whole persona was a farce. Fishel was in heavier debt than anyone could imagine. His posts were mostly lies, and his videos were photo-shopped. His shalom bayis was in shambles, and he had no relationship with his children. At home his only interactions with his children was when screaming or barking orders at them. He had a beautiful tefillin bag, but the parshios inside – the part that no one saw, but are the main part of the tefillin – were barely kosher, if at all. When no one was around to see him, he barely davened, and he did so while he was checking his phone, and updating his social media. He didn’t learn a word, and surely had no chavrusos.
Super-Fishel. A hero in our time.[1]  

It’s amazing how some people make such an impression in your life, that you never forget them. My second grade rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Trenk, was one of those people. I cannot forget his smile, warmth, humor, and love for his talmidim.
I also remember that before every Yom Tov we had to bring from home glue and glitter. On a piece of construction paper, we would write the name of the Yom Tov with glue. Then we would pour the glitter over the paper, and after a few minutes we would spill off the excess glitter. That would leave behind the name of the Yom Tov written in glitter.
I loved the sparkle and it always excited me. In fact, I kept those booklets for some time. To my chagrin, a year or two later, virtually all the glitter was gone. All that was left was the faint outline of where the letters written out of glue had been.
I was reminded of that recently after we hosted a family Bas Mitzvah seudah for our daughter Aviva. As part of the display, Chani bought wooden letters of Aviva’s name. Our children coated it and then covered it with glitter. It’s now almost a month later, and I still find glitter around the house, sometimes on my clothing, and on the faces of some of our younger children. The only place where I am not going to find much glitter, is on the letters where they once were.
In a certain way, my experience in second grade wasn’t so juvenile. Unfortunately, many people experience it all the time. They enjoy the “trappings” of the holidays, including the unique customary foods, and the beautiful customs endemic to each holiday, but fail to appreciate and internalize the real essence and meaning of the holiday. They fail to comprehend the eternal and vital message which the Yom Tov comes to embed within our souls. Such people enjoy the sparkling glitter of the holiday, but do not see beyond that. The problem is that the glitter doesn’t last, and within a short time all that’s left is the faint imprint of the memory of what was once there (and the calories…).
This tragic holiday-neglection is most prominent on Chanukah. The holiday of spiritual light is often misunderstood as the celebration of physical liberty and triumph over tyranny.
The Maharal notes that every object in this world has two components: its chomer – physical properties which compose the object, and its tzurah – the completed object, i.e. its essence. For example, four wooden legs connected with a wooden board on top are the chomer; seeing it as a table is its tzurah.
There are two ways in which we experience the world. We understand the chomer of something by feeling it with our hands and noting its components. We recognize the tzurah of that object with our eyes and intellect.
When one views the world only based on his physical senses, he does not grasp the spiritual essence of it. On a global level, he sees the world and all its details, but fails to grasp that its essence is to be a conduit for spirituality and holiness.
Greek culture espoused viewing the world for its details – what can the world offer me? What pleasures can I derive from the vast wisdom contained in this world? The great Greek philosophers recognized the wisdom of this world, but did not see it as part of a greater purpose. They used their wisdom to advance their epicurean desires, and that became their pursuit.    
The Torah encourages us to view the world for its tzurah – as a place where one can foster divinity. All the details of the world are viewed within that weltanschauung. 
The Syrian-Greeks sought to eradicate our dedication to the tzurah of this world. They sought to contaminate us by polluting our philosophy, through encouraging us to live for the moment. Thus we accuse them of campaigning to cause us to “forget Your Torah”, because a life lived selfishly and only for the moment, runs counter to how the Torah expects us to live our lives.   
Chanukah reminds us to see past the glitter of this world – fancy homes, cars, vacations, etc. It encourages us not to be caught up and duped by the false persona of social media.
Chanukah reminds us to see the world as a place where we – little insignificant we – can light up the world and pave the way for G-d’s presence to reside.
It seems we aren’t so insignificant after all. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chag Urim Sameiach & Lichtigeh Chanukah,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

[1] Maybe R’ Abie Rotenberg will make this story into a song on Journeys V.