Thursday, January 26, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Va’era
Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Shevat
1 Shevat 5777/ January 27, 2017

This past Friday, Chani was heading to the library with our children. Being on vacation from my rebbe position at Ashar, I tagged along. (“So Rabbi, what did you do during midwinter break?” “Umm, I went to the library.” “That’s it?” “No, of course not. I also went shopping with my wife, and did carpool each day for whichever child missed their bus that morning.”)
I can’t even remember the last time I went to the library! One thing is certain; it’s definitely been quite a few years. I had to apply for a new library card, since I have no idea where my old one is (probably inside a couch or toy chest somewhere).
I have often told Chani that when I was a child libraries were free. But in the last few years, especially as our children took out more books, we constantly receive bills from the library. Chani told me that it’s a general membership fee, and I shouldn’t worry about it.
The most exciting thing about going to the library this week and getting a new card, was that the library was celebrating a hundred years (I think the librarian who helped me has been there since they opened…). In honor of the centennial celebration they were having ‘amnesty week’, which meant that all outstanding fees were waived. Although I haven’t taken any books out of the library in the recent past, certain family members have, and also left me with some fines. With the amnesty, I saved $1.50. (The fact that the new card cost me two dollars was inconsequential. The main thing was that I felt like I made some money on the deal.) 
I should mention that when my mother used to take us to the library, there was only one thing I cared about – Tintin! (Blistering Barnacles, you never heard of Tintin?) It was only when I entered High School, that I found out there were other books in the library besides the Adventures of Tintin. 
The truth is that the Jewish people have always possessed great admiration and love for the written word.
When my Bubby and Zaydei arrived at the shores of New York in the late 40s, after leaving the smoldering ruins of war-ravaged Europe, they brought with them only two suitcases. One of them contained clothing and whatever valuables they could salvage. The other was packed with seforim.
When we used to visit Bubby and Zaydei in their apartment on the Lower East Side, I was always amazed that much of the wall space in the apartment, had shelves lined with endless seforim. In fact, there was one room which literally was surrounded by two layers of seforim per shelf, covering all four walls.
I seem to have inherited my Zaydei’s love of seforim. Chani relates that soon after we moved into a new apartment during our first years of marriage, she was looking for a kitchen appliance. She climbed up to look in the cabinet above the fridge, only to find it stacked with seforim. She looked in a second out-of-reach cabinet, and found more seforim.
The Medrash (Devorim Rabbah 4:2) states: “Rabbi Elazar said – the sword and the scroll descended from the heaven intertwined. G-d said to Israel ‘If you will do what is written in this scroll, you will be saved from this sword, but if not, you will be killed by this sword’.”
On a simplistic level, the Medrash is teaching us about the incredible value of books. As long as we seek to increase our knowledge-base, we will be saved from the sword of ignorance and naiveté. But when we begin to feel confident that we know enough, and become complacent with past knowledge, we are in danger of falling prey to the piercing sword of ignorance.
The Jewish People have long been hailed as “the People of the Book”. That does not only refer to our love of books, but of our longing to learn from them and grow in our perspective, understanding, and knowledge.   
More important than the libraries that adorn our shelves, are the books we open and drink thirstily from. 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum