Thursday, September 6, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Netzovim - Avos perakim 5-6
27 Elul 5778/September 7, 2018

A few years ago, Chani took our younger children to one of the local Jewish owned shoe stores to buy shoes. The store had a section with slides and climbing toys for children.
Our (then) 5-year-old daughter Chayala was playing on the slides happily until a chassidishe boy approached her and starting chastising her in Yiddish about why she wasn’t allowed to play there. Bh Chayala doesn’t have an issue asserting herself. She looked the chassidish boy in the eye and emphatically proclaimed “I don’t speak Spanish!” At that point the boy became more animated and repeated his demands. Undeterred, Chayala looked him in the eye and repeated, “I said, I don’t speak Spanish!”
Whenever Chani tells over the story she laughs and adds that Chayala’s namesake, her beloved ‘Babby Chaya’, is undoubtedly turning over in her grave that her great-granddaughter mistook Yiddish for Spanish.
There are many people who feel similarly about selichos and the many special tefilos recited during this time of year. It’s not easy reciting added prayers, many of which contain unfamiliar words.
Rabbi Leibel Chaitovsky, eighth grade master rebbe in Ashar, tells his students that when they feel challenged by selichos they can utilize the advice he gives students before they have to speak. Whether it’s a bar mitzvah or at a graduation, speaking publicly can be daunting and nerve-racking. What’s worse, when one stands up and faces the crowd his mind often goes blank and he can’t remember anything.
But he knows that the speech written in front of him is a good one, worthy of the crowd’s attention. Therefore, even if his mind is blank, he can be confident that if he repeats the speech with the same feeling as when he practiced it, the assemblage listening to his words will be impressed.
The “men of the great assembly” comprised of 120 of our greatest sages, composed many of our tefillos. In addition, great paytanim (liturgists) authored magnificent poetic prayers to be said as part of our supplications during selichos. Even if we aren’t sure exactly what we are saying, we can be confident that if we recite the prayers with earnest humility and a desire to connect with Hashem, the words will accomplish great things in heaven. Undoubtedly, knowing the meaning of the words is far greater. But the most important component of prayer is the feelings in one’s heart, the desire to connect with the divine.
In my youth I found selichos to be a very frustrating ordeal. I always tried to recite every word of the selichos with the congregation but was never able to finish the entire paragraph before the congregation moved on.
The halacha however clearly states that the quantity of prayers is not so important. What truly matters is the extent of how much one is able to direct his heart to his Father in Heaven. In the words of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 1:4), “Better few supplications with concentration than many without concentration.”
Whether selichos seems Greek to us or Spanish, more important than the words we say is the sincere desire to achieve forgiveness. What matters is the aspiration to continue to ascend the rungs of spiritual growth and live a life of spiritual connection.
That is the type of life we beseech G-d to grant us during these days: “Remember us for life, King who desires life, and inscribe us in the book of life, for Your sake, living G-d.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Kesiva Vachasima Tova & Shana Tova,
            R’ Dani and Chani Staum