Thursday, October 25, 2018


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayera
17 Cheshvan 5779/October 26, 2018

On Yom Kippur a few weeks ago, all day long I couldn’t stop thinking about Titus. That may sound strange, being that Titus is one of the infamous villains recounted on Tisha B’av. He was the commanding Roman general who oversaw the destruction of Yerushalayim and the second Bais Hamikdash in 70 c.e.
Upon his return to Rome he boasted that he had overpowered, not only the Jewish people, but their G-d as well. He blasphemed that the Jewish G-d only has power over the waters (as can be seen from historical evets – flood, splitting of the sea, etc.), but is powerless on dry land. Shortly thereafter a gnat flew into his nostril and made its way into his brain.
For the next seven years it ceaselessly pecked away inside his head, causing him incredible pain. The only respite he had was when a blacksmith was banging nearby. The gnat became intrigued by the noise and temporarily stopped pecking. But eventually it grew accustomed to that noise too and resumed pecking until it ultimately killed Titus.
Apparently, G-d’s abilities extend to dry land as well.
So why was I thinking about Titus on Yom Kippur?
As I have for more than the last decade, this year I had the pleasure of davening for the amud at Kehillat New Hempstead on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. When I arrived there on Yom Kippur morning, the building’s alarm was beeping incessantly, and continued doing so throughout the holy day. Although others said that after a while the noise didn’t bother them, I am particularly sensitive, and it exacerbated my usual Yom Kippur afternoon headache.
In retrospect there is a great lesson to be gleaned from the experience. We would like to serve Hashem with a clear mind, when we feel relaxed and calm. In fact, to some degree we expect that when we try to do what is right, G-d should ensure that life is smooth and easy. After all, if we are trying to do His Will, shouldn’t He at least make it convenient to do so?!
But the reality is not that way. When Hashem initially instructed Avrohom to set out and leave behind his family and everything familiar, things weren’t easy for Avrohom. In fact, the challenges seem to only increase in intensity. But it was those challenges that propelled Avrohom to levels of unparalleled greatness, worthy of being the progenitor of the eternal people.
The challenge of life and the road to greatness is paved with struggle and the incessant and often maddening ‘beepings’ of life.
But perhaps there is an additional lesson that is more endemic to our times:
On the third day after his circumcision, G-d Himself visited the ailing Avrohom, as it were. In the midst of their “conversation”, Avrohom noticed three bedouins traveling in the distance. He immediately interrupted his “meeting” with G-d to invite the guests to his home.
The commentators note that Avrohom’s actions demonstrate that it is greater to emulate G-d than it is to speak with G-d. Fulfilling the mitzvah of chesed was even greater than receiving prophecy from the Almighty.
Maybe that’s why there are people who don’t think twice about taking out their phones during davening. With our phones we can instantly be in touch with anyone anywhere in the world. Until a few years ago that was something only G-d Himself could do.
When people text or scroll through messages during davening they may feel they are imitating G-d which - as Avrohom Avinu taught us - is greater than speaking to Him.
Beyond my facetiousness, it’s probably more habit, desensitization, and lack of thinking that causes people to be busy with their phones in middle of davening. If anyone really stopped to think about it, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t agree that it’s disrespectful and inappropriate. No one means to be disrespectful, but we need to realize the truth.
In our lives in order to engage in the important things in life - spending time with our spouses and children, doing our jobs, and of course serving our Creator - we need to be able to ignore the “ringing” that surrounds us. We have to be able to not engage every buzz and ring that we hear or feel. This is not only true during davening, but whenever we need to invest our attention elsewhere.
Titus was destroyed because he couldn’t control the incessant noise in his head. We should make sure the same doesn’t happen to us.

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