Thursday, May 16, 2019


It’s that time of year again. It actually happens twice - once in the spring and once in the summer. It’s the periods of national mourning when Jewish barbers are on vacation and many Jewish men’s beards look scruffy and somewhat unkempt.
Between Pesach and Shavuos, the days of Sefiras Ha’omer, we mourn the loss of the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva. Between the fasts of the seventeenth of Tamuz and Tisha B’av, we observe the Three Weeks of mourning for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
For those of us who have the pleasure of working with young adolescents, these two time periods have an added dimension, i.e. that of awkward adolescent facial hair growth.
At their stage, they take pride in their beards, nascent as they might be. The different gradations of facial hair is itself a manifestation of the uniqueness of each individual. Some boys have thick sideburns with nothing beyond, others have hanging mustaches, while others have a patch under their mouths with virtually nothing on the sides of their face. Then there’s the stubble and peach-fuzz which are constantly played with, in an effort to show others that there is indeed facial here there, even though it’s not discernible. Many of these young men insist that they need shavers, in the hope that if they start shaving, their beards will grow in faster (that’s a myth). Some are lucky enough to have a perennial five-o’clock shadow look that seems to stagnate at a perfect size.
The more physically mature, deemed by their peers as being ‘like bears’, walk the halls with confidence, sporting facial hair that looks like it’s going to take over their face. There’s always a few of those guys.
At times, a boy may have a full beard and a decent mustache, but the two don’t yet connect. (I must admit that I had such a “floating mustache” for years...)
A colleague often jokingly suggests to certain students that they apply some fertilizer in certain areas of their beard to make it look more balanced.
In camp last summer we had a contest to decide who had the best “Three Week’s beard.” Papers were disseminated with pictures of various contestants and campers had the opportunity to vote.
It is not coincidental that both national periods of mourning are connected with deficiencies in interpersonal relationships. The students of Rabbi Akiva lacked a modicum of respect for each other, and the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash was the result of baseless hatred.
The Medrash Tanchuma (Pinchos 10) states, “just like people’s faces aren’t alike, so too their opinions aren’t alike.” Based on this Medrash, the Kotzker rebbe quipped that just like one doesn’t hate someone else because they have a different face, so too one should not hate someone else because he has different opinions and viewpoints.
When we see all the various variations of facial hair growth, it is a subtle reminder that our focus during these days is to respect every person for who he is. It’s also a reminder that every person progresses in his own way and on his own level. Some are quicker and some are slower.
Personally, I’m happy to be past that awkward stage. Now the variations in my and my peer’s beards has to do with how many white patches we have.

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