Thursday, March 22, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav
Shabbos Hagadol
7 Nissan 5778/March 23, 2018

As a principal in a yeshiva during the afternoon, I appreciate the formidable challenge involved in finding good teachers. In fact, that’s the hardest part of a principal’s job. The teacher must not only be knowledgeable about the subject matter, willing to teach in the late afternoon, and accept the yeshiva salary, but he also has to appreciate the sensitivities of our students towards certain subject matter taught in public schools.
I remember that at the beginning of sixth grade we had one teacher who thankfully didn’t last very long. Mr. M was very unpleasant and demanding. One day he ordered us to do a few pages of work during class, without giving us much guidance about how to do it. While we were working, he asked if anyone had any snack for him to eat. One of my classmates gave him some stale pretzels he found in the back of his desk.
Finally, he collected everyone’s papers, and told us to put our pencils down. He then looked at us and asked, “Does anyone know what this is called?” No one was quite sure how to respond. He smirked and continued, “This is called busy work.” With that, he walked over to the garbage can and promptly dumped it in. He was fired the following day.
Mr. M didn’t look Egyptian, but he was definitely a psychological heir of Pharaoh. When I was in school and learned about Egyptian history, whenever my text book would show pictures of the pyramids and the Sphinx and would note the great architectural skills of the ancient Egyptians, I would become upset. I was sure that it was our forefathers who built those pyramids during their slave labor, and therefore should get the credit for creating that wonder of the ancient world. But I was wrong.
The gemara (Sotah11a) relates that the cities the Jews were forced to build, were upon unstable ground. One opinion is that as soon as they completed the construction, the entire building would topple over. Another opinion is that it was quicksand, and the partially constructed buildings would sink into the ground.
Why didn’t they utilize their army of slaves to build them impressive structures that could help their economy and infrastructure?
Rav Avrohom Pam zt’l explained that this was an important psychological component of Pharaoh’s diabolical plan to torture the Jews. If one is forced to perform slave labor, and he sweats under the blazing sun doing back-breaking work, there is a modicum of comfort in the satisfaction he feels when the job is completed. Pharaoh would not even allow his slaves that small feeling of satisfaction. The most painful part of the servitude was that all their oppressive efforts were for nothing!
As parents and educators, we are most challenged when we have children who feel no connection towards Avodas Hashem. We may feel that they are more like the wicked son, antagonistic and full of rancor. Or, worse, they may present as the son who doesn’t know – or perhaps doesn’t care – to ask, because he is numb and indifferent. He feels Judaism is overbearing and mitzvos are intrusive.
The root of the problem is that he doesn’t feel any meaning or connection. What a tragedy! The very thing that should offer him the greatest sense of meaning and depth, becomes the worst part of his life. The key is for him to be surrounded by a yearning and love for spiritual growth. But if Judaism is something we keep solely because it’s the way we were taught, devoid of meaning, it becomes inconvenient and oftentimes worse.
On the other hand, even if the child is exposed to real Judaism, where Torah and mitzvos are performed with excitement and feeling, if he wants to ‘feel it’ he has to do his part as well.
I related to my students recently the story of Feivel. Feivel didn’t know much about rides and attractions, and when his class went on a trip to bumper cars he had no idea what it was about. His classmates told him that it was a lot of fun, and he would figure it out as soon as he sat down. The problem was that Feivel didn’t figure it out. He sat down in the car waiting for the employee to start it up, and he spaced out. Suddenly he was jolted from one side. Before he had a chance to react, he was bumped from the other side. He spent a miserable few minutes getting bumped about, while everyone laughed as they bumped him. It finally ended, and the employee helped Feivel climb out.
When his friends asked him if he enjoyed it, he replied that it was the dumbest thing he ever did. What’s to enjoy about getting bumped about by laughing people for five minutes? His friends laughed at him. “Of course, you hated it. you just sat there while everyone else bumped into you. If you would have gotten into it you would have love it too. Feivel, why didn’t you step on the pedal?”
There are people who come into shachris each morning, don their tefillin, and then space out. Then, they complain that davening is tedious and boring. Obviously, the analogy is faulty, because davening is not meant to be fun. But it is meant to be enlightening and meaningful. However, to achieve such emotional connection to something so precious doesn’t come easily. The first step is to put in the effort, by opening the siddur and trying to say the words.
Every morning at the end of Hodu we recite the words, “Open your mouth wide, and I will feel it.” Hashem wants to draw us close to Him, but we must put in the requisite initial effort.
The regal night of the Seder when we are surrounded by mitzvos and berachos, is of the greatest opportunities to feel that emotional connection. We just have to be willing to step on the gas.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
              R’ Dani and Chani Staum