Thursday, August 16, 2018



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shoftim - Avos perek 6

7 Elul 5778/August 17, 2018


I have been attending summer camp for almost three decades. I have been a camper, masmid, office boy, junior counselor, counselor, learning rebbe, head waiter, and the division head of almost every age. But I have a confession to make: as a camper I absolutely abhorred color war. I hated the change of schedule, the loud cheering, the unusual splitting of my bunk and the whole camp, having to go to team time to learn and then to sing songs, etc.

But I remember that the last year that I was a camper in Camp Torah Vodaas (of blessed memory), I had a different experience. That summer during color war, I was invited to have a major part in the grand play. I had never acted on stage before, and I was quite skeptical about my acting abilities. (Since then I have acted in numerous plays. That probably would never have happened if Baruch Wein, who wrote our team’s play, didn’t have the confidence in me that I didn’t have in myself.)

Acting in that play made me a sudden celebrity in camp that summer, and gave me a surge of confidence. The following evening, when a few staff members convened to write the alma-mater[1], I joined them. I didn’t think I had any ability to write lyrics. However, when they were stuck on a line I suggested “as I ride the bus staring out the window, tears well up inside my eyes”. The eyes of the person in charge of the song lit up, and he wrote my suggestion down. (That was the beginning of a camp career writing lyrics for songs).

I don’t even remember if my team won color war that that year. But I do remember feeling sad when it ended.

I had always dreaded color war; what had suddenly changed? The obvious answer was that for the first time I had been involved in color war. It wasn’t something dictated and imposed upon me, but something I had invested in and contributed to. That was why, despite the tremendous exertion and effort it entailed, I enjoyed the experience and didn’t want it to end.

Now that the month of Elul has begun, we are all anticipating the imminence of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many dread the experience of reciting long, unfamiliar tefilos and having to contend with so many halachos, and introspection. How can one not only not dread these days, but even excitedly anticipate the exquisiteness of these lofty days?

One possibility is that it depends whether we are passive or active towards these days. If the tefilos and laws are imposed upon us, then we see it as a necessary inconvenience that we have to survive. However, if we are proactive and prepare ourselves somewhat for the coming days - by learning the halachos, studying some of the meaning and depth of the tefilos, it can become an enjoyable, inspiring, and uplifting experience. We can actually feel excited for the Yomim Noraim, despite the challenges it brings.

If we “step into the Yom Tov” and build up excitement for the opportunity that it presents, we will look forward to it.[2]


Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

             R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

[1] the alma-mater song is sung during the grand sing - the crescendo of color war and the summer season
[2] This is part of the first lecture I was privileged to present in Yeshiva Heichal HaTorah, September 19,2017/28 Elul 5777