Wednesday, March 20, 2019

PURIM/SHUSHAN PURIM PARSHAS TZAV 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Shushan Purim
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav
15 Adar II 5779/March 22, 2019

Everyone wants to know the secret to wisdom. I can’t share it with you, because then it wouldn’t be a secret any more. (To be fair, that statement isn’t necessarily true. Everyone wants to know the secret to wealth. Only some people want to know the secret to wisdom...)
Our sages tell us that a wise person is one who contemplates the ramifications of his actions. He doesn’t just look at the here and now, but he thinks through the long-term effects of his decisions before proceeding.
I think about this often during my morning commute to Teaneck. Although from Monsey to Teaneck, the most direct route is with the Garden State Parkway to Route 17 to Route 4, during the morning there is often building residual traffic from the George Washington Bridge on Route 4 that would cost a few extra minutes. Therefore, most mornings I come with the Palisades Parkway. Doing so means driving past Teaneck all the way to the George Washington Bridge, before getting onto Route 4 and traveling west for a few miles.
Just before the GWB, the road splits. For a few feet the lanes run parallel, but then the lane to the right lead to the tolls, after which the road leads directly onto the bridge. To the left the road continues back into New Jersey.
It’s striking that the sudden split in the road leads to two different worlds. One leads into Manhattan - skyline, congestion, city traffic, and all, while the other leads back into rural New Jersey.
Throughout sefer Mishlei, Shlomo Hamelech contrasts the fool with the wise man. According to the wisest of men, the fool doesn’t refer to one with limited intellectual capacities, but rather one who doesn’t think through the consequences of his actions. The fool lives in the moment, driven by the now, and doesn’t contemplate the long-term ramifications of his actions. A wise person on the other hand, weighs his options and proceeds with caution, making a calculated decision that he feels is his best recourse in the moment and for the foreseeable future.
The Purim story contains the story of a fool and a wise man. The fool is Achashveirosh, a man driven by lust, temper, paranoia, and ego. In a fit of rage, he executes his wife, and at a later point his highest-ranking minister. He agrees to genocide of a nation of loyal tax payers because of deep enmity. Then he makes an about-face and humiliates his prime minister, forcing him to lead his archenemy on a massive parade through the streets of the capital. His only credential for queen is exterior beauty that he ascertains through an intimate relationship. Knowing that he usurped the throne by killing his adversaries, he lives in fear that the same will happen to him. Achashveirosh’s decisions are dictated by his whims and emotional temperature at any given time. He lives for now, without considering how it will affect tomorrow.
Mordechai is the polar opposite of Achashveirosh. His every decision is made with forethought and equanimity, even in the face of crisis. When all the citizens of Shushan are invited to a royal feast, he sees through the veneer, and warns the Jews that this is a sinister event. Although it seems that the party is a celebration of the consolidation of the king’s monarchy, Mordechai recognizes that in truth it’s a celebration of the fact that the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash has been halted and the Jews would languish in exile.
When Esther is taken to the palace, he exhorts her not to reveal her identity. He isn’t exactly sure why, but he senses that secrecy is necessary for what will occur later on.
When the evil decree was dispatched, and the nation could have been reduced to panic and terror, Mordechai remains a voice of reason and equanimity. He is able to rally the nation to mass repentance until the decree was annulled.
Our greatest mishaps happen in moments of weakness when we get lost in the moment, and don’t think about later on. How many arguments and fights result from someone jumping to conclusions or allowing even justified frustration to consume him?
Conversely, our greatest moments come when we retain our composure during the most difficult and trying moments.
Purim celebrates the victory of self-control over the lack of self-control, a holiday of wisdom triumphing over folly, of emotional strength over emotional weakness.
Often two paths may set out along the same route and run parallel to each other at the beginning. The wise man looks ahead to see where the road will lead and has the self-control to maintain his direction along that path until he successfully arrives at his destination of choice. Even when the path he chooses is the road less traveled he is undeterred and undaunted!
“And Mordechai will not kneel and will not bow!”

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

PARSHAS VAYIKRA/ZACHOR/PURIM 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra-Zachor
7 Adar II 5779/March 15, 2019

Fall back and spring forward, or is it fall forward and spring back? Or is it fall into a spring and spring out of your fall?
Whatever it is, as of this week we are back on daylight savings time. For most of the world, the night we spring forward is a difficult one, as everyone grumbles about the tragic loss of an hour of sleep. This contrasts with the night at the beginning of autumn when we return to standard time which is a virtual holiday, celebrating an extra hour of sleep.
But for those of us blessed with young children, our experience is quite different. On the morning after we fall backwards, it seems that no one informs our blessed cherubs about the time change, and they are awake an hour early, ready to conquer the day, our pleas for just a few more minutes notwithstanding. When we sprung forward this week on the other hand, we also didn’t tell them and thereby gained ourselves an extra hour before they began jumping up and down in their cribs for liberation.
On Monday after the time change, throughout the day I felt more tired than usual. While I woke up the same time as I always do, my body felt it had been deprived of an hour of sleep. I tried to explain the whole concept to my body, but it wasn’t getting it. It’s a little dumb in that way.
When we think of who we are and what defines us we often think of our physical bodies. Ask someone who he is, and he will generally point towards his heart. But is that really who we are? Is our body what defines us?
Whenever I have attempted dieting, I was told that the first step is to train your body. Sometimes the body will crave food even though it’s not really hungry.
It sounds like such a funny concept. It’s as if my body has a mind of its own and won’t accept my instructions.
On a more extreme level, there are people whose bodies have deteriorated from disease and are no longer physically active. Yet, some of these patients continue to convey their thoughts and produce beautiful essays or even art, through an incredible computer program that can decipher their eye movements. No one can argue that such people, despite being trapped in virtually incapacitated bodies, are still very much alive.
So, who are we really? We must be more than our stubborn, fickle, and unreliable bodies. We all know the answer, but we often forget it. We are a soul - a living spiritual spark which contains our deepest feelings, personality, and dictates our decisions. It’s the piece of us which lives within a body in this world, but ultimately transcends the limits of this world when the body is left behind.
Purim, the holiday which seems to be the most physically oriented, actually touches the deepest part of our identity. Celebrating our physical survival compels us to contemplate what physical life means to us. It forces us to ask if we are celebrating life, exactly what are we celebrating? What does life mean to us? Is it for the pursuit of money and pleasure? Or is it an opportunity to find meaning, to connect with G-d, and to enhance the lives of those around us?
Unfortunately, it often takes a crisis and the almost loss of life before one appreciates what life is about. Purim was and is that annual crisis. We came frighteningly close to annihilation before the incredible salvation took place. As we read the Megillah, it should give us a moment of pause to reflect upon our mortality and what being granted a second chance means to us.
Our bodies may not define us, but it is our lifeline in this world. When it breaks down, we feel the pain, and when it’s healthy it is far easier for us to go about our day. We can’t celebrate soulfully unless we can pacify our body and let it join the celebration. That is why we celebrate physically on Purim. It is so that we can get past our physical inhibitions, so that our soul can truly rejoice.
If we never get past the physical celebration however, we are limiting ourselves to enjoying the gift wrapping and never getting to the real gift inside.
Perhaps after a l’chaim or two one may fall backwards, but ultimately Purim is an opportunity for our souls to spring forward and upward, a celebration of the real essence of live.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2019

PARSHAS PEKUDEI 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pekudei    
Rosh Chodesh Adar II 5779/March 8, 2019

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, often quips that all rabbis like to say a few words before they speak.
This week’s Musings is quite a milestone, in that it is the 500th “Rabbi’s Musings and Amusings” I have written. 500 is quite a milestone! I am grateful for this forum and for my loyal readers who indulge this literary presentation of my random thoughts and ideas each week.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that the concept behind this weekly essay was directly inspired by Rabbi Wein. I find it remarkable how much of an impression Rabbi Wein has had, and continues to have upon my thinking, perspectives, and world view.
At my high school graduation from Yeshiva Shaarei Torah in June 1997, I had the privilege to represent my class in making a presentation to Rabbi Wein. Rabbi Wein had been our Rosh Yeshiva and was making Aliyah that summer. We had dedicated our yearbook to him in gratitude, not only for the inspiration and leadership he provided to our class, but for his two decades at the helm of the yeshiva.
During that speech I related an anecdote that a Shaarei Torah alumnus had told me. He recounted that he was walking on the side of a busy road in Monsey one Friday afternoon, when a familiar car pulled over. The driver was Rabbi Wein who motioned for him to get in so he could drive him home. When he got into the car the radio was on and he heard the following conversation:
“Hey Bob, did you go to the Mets game yesterday?”
“Of course, I went to the Mets game yesterday.”
“But it was raining cats and dogs yesterday?”
“I don’t care if it’s snowing two feet. I don’t miss a game for nothing!”
At that point Rabbi Wein pointed to the radio and quipped, “There’s tomorrow’s speech!”
One of Rabbi Wein’s underlying messages is that life is full of lessons if you are tuned in to them. One need not be a scholar or intellectual. He just needs to have his eyes opened and think about things as they happen. When one mindlessly meanders through his days and weeks, his life is lackluster, and he loses out on the messages that are there for the taking.
I don’t have the opportunity to see Rabbi Wein too often, but I have the pleasure of continually being inspired by his recorded lectures and written messages.
I noticed that one of the words he repeats constantly in many of his lectures is ‘somehow’. That itself is a powerful message. When teaching about history, and particularly Jewish history, so many events are baffling and remarkable. As the adage goes, the truth is stranger than fiction. Jewish history has always been uncanny and unpredictable. It is impossible to understand how and why events have happened. The Jewish people’s revival after the Holocaust, the successful revitalization of Torah, Israel’s success despite the odds and hostile hateful neighbors, and in fact our continued existence, all miraculous and unbelievable. The only appropriate word is ‘somehow’.
Rabbi Wein also notes that the ‘somehow’ is the force of a G-d who doesn’t work by our agenda, and definitely doesn’t read the New York Times. He often quotes the verse in Yeshaya “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways, says Hashem.” If it were up to us we would often choose to do things very differently. But that’s why He is G-d, and we are not.
Each time one of our sons were born, I inquired whether Rabbi Wein happened to be in the New York area, and would be able to attend the b’ris. It had not worked out for our first three sons.
But two-and-a-half years ago, the week after our twins were born, I called my friend Heshel Teitelbaum, Rabbi Wein’s grandson and asked again. Heshel replied that Rabbi Wein had actually just landed in New York, but at the time his late wife was very ill, and he didn’t think Rabbi Wein would be up to attending.
The next morning, Heshel called me back and said that his mother thought I could ask. With great excitement, I called Rabbi Wein and notified him about the b’ris. I was careful not to actually invite him (halacha dictates that if one is actually invited to a b’ris they are obligated to attend, so the custom is to ‘notify’ and not actually invite people to a b’ris), but I noted how meaningful and special it would be if he would come.
To my delight Rabbi Wein attended and was the sandek for our older twin, Gavriel Yehuda. It is impossible to put into words how much that meant to me. I found myself becoming overly emotional when I publicly thanked Rabbi Wein for attending and being the sandek. I felt that one of my foremost connections to the past was instilling into one my connections to the future his lifelong mission to perpetuate the glorious chain of Jewish life.
Every one of the five hundred Musings I have merited to write and disseminate has been influenced by this outlook that has been imbued within me by Rabbi Wein. I am eternally grateful to him for his decades of tireless efforts and influence upon our generation of Torah Jewry. He often wryly notes that it is always nice to hear one’s self eulogized while they are still vertical. I consider it a privilege to be able to express these brief sentiments about how much he means to me and undoubtedly to so many of his disciples the world over.
May Hashem continue to grant him years in good health, to reap the nachas and fruits of his indefatigable labor, from the myriads of lives he has influenced in drawing people closer to Hashem and Torah.
He has taught not only Torah itself, but he has made it his mission to impart (in G-d‘s words) “My spirit that is upon you, and My words that I have placed in your mouth”. May he merit the continuation of that verse, “They will not be removed from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children (students), and from the mouths of your children’s children, from now until forever.”
And, as he often concludes, may we all merit nechomas tzion ubinyan Yerushalayim (the comfort of Zion and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim).


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