Thursday, March 30, 2017


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra
4 Nissan 5777/ March 31, 2017
Lz”n Avrohom Yosef ben Naftali Hertz a”h

Recently, I saw an article about the American classic song "Old Man River", from the 1927 musical and 1936 film classic "Show Boat". The song was composed by Jerome Kern, a secular Jew with hardly any connection with his faith.
The song contrasts the struggles and hardships of enslaved African-Americans with the endless, seemingly apathetic, flowing, Mississippi River.
"Ol' man river... he must know something cause he just keeps rolling... rolling along... I gets weary, sick of trying, I'm tired of living, fearing of dying, but ol' man river, he keeps rolling along."
Normally, an article about such a song would not have caught my eye. But that particular song evokes very strong emotions within me.
My father's father, my beloved Sabbah, was full of vitality and life. He was the consummate gentleman, with a good word and a smile for everyone.
 We grew up living just a few blocks away from Sabbah and Savta on the Lower East Side, and davened together every Shabbos. When we moved to Monsey, every few weeks on Sunday afternoons, we would return to visit.
I was eleven and a half years old when Sabbah was diagnosed with the melanoma that would consume his vitality, and eventually his life. The last time I saw him in his apartment, he was very weak from treatments, and each family member could only go into the room one at a time.
As we waited to go into his room, the television was on in the living room, and the movie Showboat was on.
Just before I went in to Sabbah, I saw and heard the song "Old Man River". Despite the fact that I only heard the song that once, I never forgot it.
Shortly after the song ended, it was my turn to go into Sabbah's room.
 In the room was only my father myself, and Sabbah. But lying in the bed, looking at me with his shining eyes, wasn't the Sabbah I knew and adored. Aside from times past when I snuggled next to him in bed, I had never even seen him lying down. Now he appeared so weak and frail. We spoke for a few minutes as I tried unsuccessfully to squelch my tears.
I only saw Sabbah one more time, in the hospital.
On the night of March 29, 1992, my twelfth birthday, my mother was holding a birthday cake for me, when she received the painful call from my father that Sabbah had passed away. It was the bitterest birthday cake I ever had.
Old Man River always symbolizes to me the river of life, which flows and rages ceaselessly. We do not control its direction, but we do have to learn how to navigate its current and flow.
Every one of us finds ourselves in different parts of the river. Our predecessors have charted the course for us and have brought us downstream as far as they could go. Then they allegorically handed over the sails to us, so that we can continue to steer ourselves further downstream, and ensure that we maintain course and not be swayed by the tempests of life.
That Old Man River has seen many things and can tell many stories. The only constant is the presence of our weather-beaten ship, which somehow continues to flow uninhibited along its epic course.
How often do we remind ourselves of the beginning of our journey, performing numerous mitzvos as a “Zecher l'yetzias Mitzrayim”. Doing so reminds us of our mission to maintain our responsibility to keep flowing until the ship reaches port.
This Friday, 4 Nissan, marks Sabbah's yahrtzeit. His inspiration and example continues to inspire our family to traverse that Old Man River, and to give our children and grandchildren, the timeless gift that our parents and grandparents gave us.
As we sit down to our Seder each year, we connect ourselves with generations past and future, who ensured, and will ensure, our continuous course along that Old Man River.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

       R’ Dani and Chani Staum