Wednesday, June 26, 2019

PARSHAS SHELACH 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach
        25 Sivan 5779/June 28, 2019
Mevorchim Chodsh Tamuz - Avos perek 3

It’s one of those things that happens to someone else. When you hear it you shake your head and express your sympathy and breathe a sigh of relief that it was someone else, and not you. But last week it happened to me.
One morning last week, I checked my bank app and saw that there was a $50 “counter withdrawal” from an account we haven’t used in a few months. I went to the bank and inquired. The bank teller asked me if I knew anyone in the state of Delaware. I replied that I knew that Delaware was the first state of the union, but that was about it. The teller printed the bank check which had been submitted and handed it to me. Sure enough, it had my name, bank number, and signature. The only problem was that I hadn’t commissioned it or signed it.
My bank contacted their Delaware branch and were informed that the person who made the withdrawal had submitted ID with his picture and all my information. He provided my address, social security number, and phone number.
During the next few hours I was busy securing my bank account and credit cards and adding whatever precautions and added security measures I could. Then I went down to my local police station and filed a police report.
The officer who filed my report told me that I was the seventeenth person in June to file such a report. Being that it was June 19th, that meant that on average they dealt with one case of identity theft every day.
The bank had provided me with the driver’s license number that the scammer had provided along with my ID. The police officer looked up the number and saw that it was of a woman in Westchester. Her information had been compromised as well, which she may not have even been aware of. The expiration date the scammer provided didn’t match up with her license either, which means he mixed and matched information from different people.
At the suggestion of the police and my bank, I also opened an account with Experian to maintain constant monitoring of my credit.
It is a terrible feeling, not only when money is stolen from you, but also to know that someone is using your name and information.
One’s reputation is one of the most precious commodities he has. We all work hard to build and maintain a positive reputation, because that serves as our identity in the eyes of others. When someone steals or manipulates that identity it is a very personal violation and a terrible feeling.
Who is the greatest victim of identity theft? Every one of us. One of the greatest tactics that our evil inclination employs is to confuse us about who we really are, and what defines us.
It is intriguing that we refer to a person who learns Torah as a “Ben Torah” (a son of Torah), but a sinner as a “Ba’al aveirah” (a husband of sin). Being a son is a permanent state, while a husband is based on marriage, a matter of choice. When one learns Torah and performs mitzvos, it becomes part of his essence. Being that one’s essence is his soul which is nourished through spiritual pursuits, all spiritual actions energize his soul and become part of his essence. When one commits a sin however, it has a negative impact upon him, causing a spiritual dissonance. However, the sin does not become part of his essence. Rather, it is like a cancerous growth that must be removed. In that sense the one who sins isn’t the “son of the sin” but the “husband of the sin”, who needs to divorce himself from the iniquities he committed.
The problem is that there is an inner voice that tells us that our mishaps and sins define us. It seduces us into believing that we are as lowly as our misdeeds. That is identity theft at its worst. When we begin to believe we are someone other than who we are, we become the victims of the most cunning and egregious form of theft.
We too have security systems that can protect us. Works of mussar and chassidus help us maintain perspective - not only of right and wrong- but also of who we are and what defines us. We should take advantage of those vital security measures. They don’t cost any money, only some serious time and thought. But better safe than sorry.

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

Friday, June 21, 2019

PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha
         18 Sivan 5779/June 21, 2019
Avos perek 2

Dedicated in honor of Coach YL Celnik

Sunday afternoons during May and June are dedicated to Pirchei Baseball. Every grade has its own teams and games. As the boys get older, the games become more competitive and intense, especially for the parents. That’s why I really enjoy watching the pre-1Aers, the youngest boys, play; their games are pleasant and unpressured. I saw it when our oldest son Shalom was in pre-1A years ago, then again with our second son Avi, and this year, with our third son, Dovid.
Watching those boys play is like watching a mini comedy show. The batter hits the ball off the tee, and the ball slowly dribbles up the middle of the field. Suddenly, from all sides of the field, fourteen players converge on the ball. So much for having set positions. Somehow the ball makes it through all their scrambling legs, and like a swarm of bees all of them make a sharp turn and start heading towards the outfield to retrieve the ball.
Meanwhile the hitter is being told to run. Sometimes he begins running up the third base line and must to be redirected. As he runs up the first base line, often holding the bat, he tries to figure out where to stop. By then the ball is in the outfield and he’s being told to head towards the other white fluffy thing in the middle of the field.
When the play is finally over, everyone is told what a fantastic job they did.
By the time they reach the next grade a year later, the game has already progressed to new levels. Fathers and coaches are calling out to batters to “wait for your pitch” and “good eye’, while fielders are instructed, “play is to first”, or “try to cut off the run”. But in pre-1A there are no such instructions being called out. Everyone will be deliriously happy if the batter actually hits the ball off the tee, and remembers to run to first, and if the fielders actually find the ball and send it back into the infield. Lower expectations lead to greater satisfaction all around.
In baseball, as in all sports, players must be proactive in deciding what action they need to take before the play begins. It’s vital that a fielder and batter knows how many outs there are. Whether a fielder will make a play to second or decide to hold the runner, and whether a runner will be running if there is a pop-up depends on how many outs there are.
If the player doesn’t think it through before the play begins and has to start contemplating how to proceed once the ball is in play, he will most likely mess up the play.
In sports there are scouting reports and coaches, to help players figure out their best plan of action so they can be ready to make their move as soon as the play begins.   
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year, Cleveland Cavalier guard J.R. Smith forgot the score with four seconds left. He pulled down an offensive rebound after a teammate missed a free throw. He didn’t realize that the game was tied, and so, instead of passing the ball or taking a shot, he dribbled out to midcourt and ran out the clock. The Cavaliers lost the game to the Golden State Warriors in overtime.
In life too, we need to plan in advance as much as possible. Undoubtedly, there are many situations when surprises and the unexpected is thrust upon us. But there are many other situations in which being proactive could make a world of a difference and change the entire dynamic.
Regarding relationships, we often know the types of comments or situations that frustrate others. If we mentally prepare for such encounters, we will often be far better equipped to handle the situation properly and avoid confrontation.
This idea is no less true when it comes to our spiritual pursuits. One moment of thought before davening or performing a mitzvah can make a world of difference.
Mesillas Yesharim cautions us to never perform mitzvos suddenly. The entire point of a beracha is to give us a moment of pause to contemplate what we are about to do – to appreciate the benefit Hashem has granted us, or to mentally prepare for the mitzvah we are about to perform.
In sports, not pre-planning is frustrating; in life, not pre-planning is a tragedy![1]

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


[1] The underlying idea in this essay was based on a schmooze by Rabbi Daniel Kalish. The connection to Pirchei Baseball is my own 馃槉.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

PARSHAS NASO 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Naso
         11 Sivan 5779/June 14, 2019
Avos perek 1

I don’t know if this happens in anyone else’s home, but often when I ask one of my near-perfect children to do something, they will reply “I don’t want to.” A wise friend noted that when his children say that to him, instead of snapping back angrily, or giving a harangue about chutzpah, he simply shrugs and says, “that’s fine; you don’t have to want to do it. Do it anyway!”
The truth is that it’s not just a good parenting technique, it’s also an important idea to remember regarding the responsibilities of life.
            The following story was related by Rabbi Binny Freedman - Isralight - Bo 5779:
            “Wake up an Israeli tank commander in the middle of the night and flash a picture of a BMP-1 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) at a distance of 5 kilometers, when it appears to be little more than a speck in the distance, and he will instantly recognize it as a Soviet-made troop carrier that fires armor-piercing Sagger anti-tank missiles. He will also be able to rattle off to you their effective range, and threat capacity (the amount of time it takes to aim and fire, as well as which Israeli tanks will effectively pierce). He will also know instantly that this carrier is most likely to be seen in the Syrian theater of war.
            “The Israeli army takes the topic of enemy weaponry very seriously and has a variety of often-sadistic methods for ensuring that its commanders become extremely proficient in this particular expertise. I remember vividly the oft-repeated ritual of testing on this topic that took place every Friday morning during Tank Officer’s Course, particularly as we were about to leave the base for our eagerly awaited weekend pass.
            “They would line us up for inspection in our dress uniforms, with our gear packed and the bus waiting to take us back to civilization, sometimes even letting the bus engines rev up so we could practically smell freedom, and then herd us into a side room for the dreaded exam.
            “Anyone not scoring a near-perfect score would be forced to stay behind to re-take the exam on Sunday morning. It is hard to describe the horrible depression that would descend on any cadet who failed this rigorous exam, as he was forced to watch everyone else board the bus for freedom while he stayed behind for a weekend of guard duty and kitchen detail. But it was hard to argue with the necessity for the perfection that was demanded; if you are in combat and the speck of a helicopter rises above a distant hilltop, you only have seconds to decide whether it is an Israeli Cobra, or a Syrian Gazelle (tank-killer), and mistakes or even hesitation in such a situation is what gets men killed.
            “A case in point was the terrible story of the tanks and men of Tank Officer’s Course who served together as an armored battalion in the Lebanon war: seeing an approaching column of enemy tanks advancing through the dust clouds of the tank treads, the leading company commander opened fire and a pitched tank battle ensued.
            “Amidst the screams of the dying, one of the officers realized that both units were actually Israeli, and, unable to contact the unit opposite while ordering his own tanks to cease fire, he watched helplessly as his comrades continued to fire on his own men. Finally, one of the men disconnected his radio helmet, threw down his gun and ran, under fire, to the opposite leading tank.
            “Jumping up on top of the tank he grabbed the radio-helmet off the head of the startled tank commander and screamed into the other unit’s frequency:
            “Chadal! Atem horgim otanu’!” “Cease fire! You’re killing us!”
            Years later, I met one of the men from this infamous tank battle, who still carried the scars of that terrible afternoon.”
            In spring 2018, Rav Aharon Lopiansky addressed the talmidim of our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah. At that time, he was asked what should someone do, if he’s not in the mood of davening?
             Rav Lopiansky replied that sometimes a young man may have no feeling for davening, and he will ‘sleep his way’ through it for many years. Finally, at some point, inspiration sets in and he wants to become more serious about Avodas Hashem. If he never davened it will be very challenging for him to start getting into the habit of doing so. If a person goes through the motions however, even without feeling it, when the inspiration eventually sets in, it will be far easier for him to become a serious Ben Torah.
A soldier needs to know his equipment and everything about his enemies without hesitation, so he can fight properly. In a similar vein, we have to go through the motions and do what’s right, even if we don’t feel inspired doing so. When the time comes, the inspiration will be there.
Kavana (concentration) is like the fire on a torch. Without kavana, one is holding an empty torch that doesn’t give much light. But as soon as he ignites the fire, the light will radiate light and warmth in all directions. But if one doesn’t have the torch, even when he has the match to light the fire, he won’t have any fuel to keep the fire going and will first have to find the fuel.
The Kotzker Rebbe noted that in Shema we state: “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart.” Why do we say that the words of Torah should be upon our heart, and not in our heart? The Rebbe explained that sometimes a person just ‘doesn’t feel it’. He tries to daven and learn but he doesn’t feel any inspiration or elevation from it. He should keep doing it anyway, and rest assured the inspiration will come. Pile it up upon the heart, eventually it will break through and become ‘in your heart’.
As in everything in life, the greatest production comes from one who acts with passion and emotion. But when one sets out in his way, he cannot wait for passion; he has to jump in and start. Truthfully, even when he discovers an emotional connection with what he is doing, he will invariably have off-days when he just doesn’t feel it. At those times, he has to push himself to go through the motions and continue doing what he knows is his responsibility. More often than not, the passion returns fairly quickly.  

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