Thursday, August 10, 2017

PARSHAS EIKEV 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev
19 Menachem Av 5777/ August 11, 2017 - Avos Perek 5

One shabbos afternoon a few weeks ago here in Camp Dora Golding, I was learning outside at a table near some bunkhouses. There were groups of boys having catches nearby. At one point, a boy came over to me and said that the ball had gotten past him, and rolled just beyond the eiruv. He wanted to know if he could extend a hockey stick from within the eiruv and drag the ball back inside the eiruv. I noted that it was proper for him to ask, but that it was forbidden.
About two minutes later, another ball rolled past me, and into the bushes. When the camper came to the bush to retrieve the ball, and saw where it had rolled, he announced that he wasn't going after the ball, because he was concerned that there was poison ivy in the bush.
I reflected to myself about the contrast, or perhaps similarity, between the two incidents. For a Torah Jew, retrieving a ball from beyond an eiruv, should indeed be viewed like retrieving a ball from a bush with poison ivy, in the sense that the natural reaction should be to feel he must refrain.
On one occasion, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l was walking through the aisles of the Bais Medrash in his yeshiva, when he suddenly stopped and waited patiently. There was a fellow davening shemone esrei up ahead, and the Halacha is that one shouldn't walk in the vicinity of someone davening shemoneh esrei. When the student accompanying him asked Rav Moshe why he wasn't continuing, Rav Moshe smiled and gently replied, "iz duh ah vant - there is a wall." To Rav Moshe, the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch which forbade his proceeding, was like an impenetrable wall.
In order to foster and maintain such an unequivocal attitude toward Halacha, one must constantly ingrain within himself a reverence for Halacha, as his ultimate directive and guide. Perhaps part of the reason it's challenging to develop such an attitude, is because it seems too austere and rigid, and therefore we shy away from it somewhat.
When we bentch Rosh Chodesh the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we recite a moving prayer beseeching Hashem for life, mentioning specific blessings and goodness that our lives should be blessed with.
Curiously, there is one component mentioned twice: yiras shomayim - fear of heaven. First we request "life in which we have fear of sin and fear of heaven". Then a few phrases later we request, "life that contains love of Torah and fear heaven". Why the double mention of fear of heaven?
Rav Asher Weiss shlita explained that, in truth, we aren't asking for the same thing twice. The reason it appears that way, is because the words of the prayer are read incorrectly, the comma being placed at the wrong juncture. It is not a prayer for "life that contains love of Torah, and fear of heaven". Rather it is a prayer for "life that contains love: of Torah and fear of heaven." We are praying, not just to be G-d fearing, but also to love such a lifestyle. We pray to feel the endemic regality, contentment, and fulfillment in living within the dictates and parameters of Halacha. We shouldn't feel constricted by living according to Halacha, but rather privileged.
It may be annoying to be unable to retrieve a ball on Shabbos from outside the eiruv, it may be difficult to not be able to eat at any restaurant one desires, it may be inconvenient to daven three times a day, but if it is a matter of pride to be part of an elite people with elite responsibilities, it will all be worth it.
Rabbi Weiss also noted that there is much worthy discussion in our circles about what we can do to preserve the integrity and religiosity of our youth. There is an emphasis on having proper boundaries and setting worthy limits. There is also an emphasis on giving our children unconditional love. Rabbi Weiss noted that he agrees with both approaches, and they are both vital. However, they are are insufficient. There also must be a feeling of happiness and joy in the home to be Torah observant Jews. It is such a deeply embedded feeling of love for Torah and fear of heaven, that gives a child the will and fortitude to want to maintain the ways of his father and grandfather.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Friday, August 4, 2017

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/SHABBOS NACHAMU 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu
14 Menachem Av 5777/ August 4, 2017 - Avos Perek 4

In past columns of this forum, I have written about the magnificent scenic drive I enjoy each afternoon, along my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali, in New Windsor, NY, where I have the good fortune to serve as Principal.
 At the northern end of the Palisades Parkway, I drive passed the imposing and regal Bear Mountain Bridge, before continuing north on Route 9W.  Route 9W continues adjacent to the Hudson River before sharply ascending a steep mountain. From the peak, the view is breathtaking, and one can see for miles in all directions.
Just past the bridge, there is a historic area, with beautiful paths which include walking bridges over and alongside the Hudson.
During the spring, I like to leave early enough so that I can park and walk along the paths. There is nary anyone around during the week, and I relish those moments of picturesque solitude and beauty.
As mentioned, it is primarily a historic area called Fort Montgomery where wars were fought during the American Revolution. All along the scenic pathways, there are placards which explain the historic events that took place at that very location during the war. There are remains of what once was soldier barracks and the foundation of what once was a mess hall for the soldiers. Atop a platform where there are bronze cannons, the placard details how the revolutionary soldiers valiantly fought off the incoming British soldiers, before ultimately being defeated.
I love history, and I enjoy reading the facts of what took place there. As I read the information, I try to imagine the events that took place on that very spot some two hundred and forty years ago.
On one occasion, while walking the paths and reading some of the facts written there, it struck me that although I found it all very fascinating, it didn't move me emotionally whatsoever. It was all interesting facts, but that's all.
Contrast that with a discussion of any part of Eretz Yisroel, which stirs the heart of any believing Jew.
Every kinnah recited on Tisha B'av is gut wrenching and deeply emotional. There are descriptions of massacres, humiliations, pogroms, public burnings of irreplaceable seforim, murder of righteous leaders, and vivid descriptions of horrors of starvation and siege.
Then there is another series of kinnos which begin with the word "Zion". These kinnos describe the inestimable beauty of Eretz Yisroel, which includes the deep yearning of our people to connect with the hallowed Land.
The first in this series of kinnos (kinnah 36) was authored by the great Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi is perhaps most famous for his declaration: "my heart is in the east, though I am at the end of the west". In that kinnah he unveils his inner longing and love for the Land with incredible prose and rich emotional vernacular.
He describes how he would place the broken pieces of his heart among the broken pieces of the Land, how the air of the Land is filled with living souls of our ancestors, and how he would give anything to wander the land, even barefoot and unclothed. In his timeless words, the national pining of two centuries come to life.
Towards the beginning of the kinnah, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi calls out to Zion itself and rhetorically asks that it seek the welfare "of those bound by longing, shedding tears like dew upon Mount Hermon, wishing to shed them upon your mountains."
His words are based on the pasuk in Tehillim (133:3) states: "Like the dew of Hermon, that comes down upon the Mountain of Zion." The dew which appears on Hermon in the north of the country, flows south, until it reaches Zion itself.
Dew infuses the earth with vitality and verdant freshness. So too, the tears shed "by those bound by longing" flow forth from the peaks of Hermon, spiritually invigorating the land and its people. Those tears are not tears of hopelessness, but tears of yearning and sanguinity. It's therefore those tears that ensure that they will flow down until Zion itself springs forth. It's those tears that ensure that our connection to the land is emotional and personal. Chevron, Tsfas, Teveriah, and Yerushalayim are worlds apart from Fort Montgomery, or even Gettysburg. One is historical, the other is a piece of our soul, one is fascinating, the other a component of our identity.
Through the tears of Tisha B'av we have a renewed sense of connection to the Land, and that itself is part of the consolation.
"Be consoled, be consoled, My Nation, says your G-d".

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum