Friday, July 19, 2019

PARSHAS BALAK 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Balak
      16 Tamuz 5779/July 19, 2019 - Avos perek 6

            Last week, the morning before we left on a trip, our head counselor here in Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi A.C. Posner, shared with the campers a post from a Sullivan county Facebook page which was making its rounds. It was written by Ann-Marie Barton, a non-Jewish bus driver who had driven a group of frum boys on a trip and was incredibly impressed:
            “I had a bus full of 14 year old boys from one camp and I could not have asked for a better behaved, polite and grateful group of boys. Each one thanked me as they got on my bus and again as they got off. I asked them all not to leave a mess and there was not one thing left on my bus. Not ONE thing!!... My hat is off to the parents raising these boys.”
            What I found very moving was that when Rabbi Posner finished reading the post, our campers erupted with clapping and cheers. It had not been written about our campers, and we didn’t know which camp those boys were from. Yet they instinctively felt a sense of pride because that kiddush Hashem clearly represented us as well.
            In the last few days, our inextricable unity was displayed as well. A rebbe from Virginia was tragically swept out to sea, while trying to help a camper. After a couple of days searching for the body, the coast guard announced that they were concluding their search. Immediately, myriads of Jewish organizations throughout the east coast mobilized. The coast guard said they had never seen anything like it. With tremendous siyata dishmaya, the rabbi’s body was found, allowing the bereaved family to have a modicum of closure.
            At the same time, a father and mother appealed to fellow Jews for help. Their two-year old daughter, Eliana, has a rare genetic condition that severely impedes normal functioning.
But there is hope for her in a new medication that can help regenerate the missing gene. The problem is that it costs 2.2 million dollars, and insurance won’t give a penny. In addition, the FDA will only allow it to be administered up to two years of age and Ilana turns two this week. It became a race against the clock to raise the overwhelming amount. Yet, within days the goal was reached, and the fund was closed. (The family asks everyone to continue davening for Chana bas Shani.)
            There are a lot of issues and formidable challenges in our communities. But sometimes we need to step back and recognize how incredible we are and how lucky we are to be part of it.
A few months ago, I went to the warehouse of an organization called Olam Chesed. At the time, I knew nothing about the organization. But I was told that they would be willing to donate a couple of products as prizes for the Chol Hamoed learning program I have been privileged to facilitate the last few years.
            I was greeted at the warehouse by R’ Mutty Reznick, who was working there alone at that time. He showed me into the vast warehouse and told me to walk through it and look around; I was literally blown away. There were endless shelves and piles of quality merchandise, organized and waiting to be organized.
            Olam Chesed was founded and is run by Mordechai Roizman and his wife, a wonderful family in our community who we have met and know. But we had no idea that they were running such an incredible organization.
            Olam Chesed partners with big-name companies like Walmart, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target and La-Z-Boy. Through overstock and returned items, these businesses donate brand-new, high-quality, brand-name items.
            Since its inception, Bonei Olam has disseminated millions of dollars worth of merchandise to Jewish families contending with divorce, unemployment, and tragic situations, such as fire and poverty. The organization doesn’t disseminate funds; it disseminates ready-to-use, quality household goods to families in need.
            Olam Chesed is housed in a huge warehouse that was donated. The Roizmans gave up their jobs to become fully invested in unloading, stocking, and organizing the massive undertaking. During the winter it’s freezing in the warehouse, and during the summer the heat can be stifling. Yet they, and their worthy volunteers, spend their days there. Why? For the sake of chesed and helping those who need it.
            It’s that sense of altruism and unity that gives us hope that we will merit to witness Moshiach.
            We all know that there is a lot of divisiveness among the Jewish people. When it comes to chesed however, there are no barriers. The chesed we do for each other is incredibly unique and no other group or nation can boast anything remotely like it.
            As we begin the three weeks of mourning for the Bais Hamikdash, and seek to build and foster internal unity amongst ourselves, we can gather chizuk from the chesed we perform for, and with, each other.

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

**Although this article is not an appeal, and I was not asked to write it, if anyone would like more information, or to donate funds to the incredible work of Olam Chesed, visit: worldofgiving.org.

Friday, July 12, 2019

PARSHAS CHUKAS 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas
      9 Tamuz 5779/July 12, 2019 - Avos perek 5

            Rabbi Noach Sauber, a seasoned and popular educator and a personal mentor of mine, is the Assistant Principal and Head of Judaic Studies at RTMA in Elizabeth, NJ, as well as the Learning Director here in Camp Dora Golding.
Rabbi Sauber related that a few winters ago, he was teaching parshas Vayeira to his students in RTMA. When he reached the Torah’s account of Avrohom Avinu offering his beloved son Yitzchak as a sacrifice to Hashem at the akeidah, he paused. He was about to teach about the greatest act of personal sacrifice ever displayed by a human being towards G-d, but they would not be able to relate to it at all. The whole story, including the idea of G-d calling for human sacrifice, was incredibly foreign to a group of twenty-first century Modern Orthodox kids. He felt it would be a missed opportunity if he couldn’t somehow bring the story down to their lives, so they could gain from the heroic story in a practical manner.
He thought long and hard until he was struck by an epiphany. He then said a silent prayer that his idea and efforts be successful.
The following day, at the beginning of shiur, his students filed into class and settled into their seats. Five minutes after he began class, Jeff, who was notoriously late, sauntered into class. The rule in RTMA is that all students must place their cell phones in a basket on the teacher’s desk at the beginning of each class. Being late, Jeff was a bit flustered and forgot to give in his phone.
As Jeff sat down, Rabbi Sauber pretended he was frustrated with Jeff and asked him where his phone was. Jeff apologized and pulled it out of his pocket, walked up to the front, and handed it to Rabbi Sauber. At that point, Rabbi Sauber grabbed the phone, walked over to the window, threw it open, and emphatically declared that he had it with the lateness and the phones. He then threw the phone out the window, at least that is how it appeared to a very shocked Jeff and his classmates.
The classroom was dead silent. Rabbi Sauber looked at Jeff and asked him what was wrong. Jeff looked up in shock, “What’s wrong? My whole life is on that phone and you just threw it out the window.” At that point, Rabbi Sauber opened his hand and showed Jeff that he never thrown it at all. “But Jeff, you’re telling me that your phone has your whole life on it. I want to ask you a question, but you have to answer me honestly. If G-d Himself appeared to you today and instructed you to throw your cell phone out the window, would you do it?”  
Jeff looked up slowly, “Honestly, I am not sure I could do it, even if G-d Himself told me to.” At that point, Rabbi Sauber told his class, “Now we are going to learn about the greatest act of self-sacrifice that ever occurred. Now perhaps you can have a small glimpse of what it took for Avrohom Avinu to perform the akeidah.”   
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson notes that the word nefesh refers to one’s desires. When Avrohom Avinu was negotiating with Ephron and the B’nei Cheis to purchase the Cave of Machpelah, he said, “אם יש את נפשכם – If it is your desire” (Bereishis 23:8).
The greatest level of mesiras nefesh is giving up one’s life, because our ultimate desire is to live. However, any time one suppresses or overcomes a desire or a personal craving in order to fulfill G-d’s Will, he has been moser nesfeh – i.e. he has given up some of his nefesh.
That means that every individual has the opportunity to be moser nefesh constantly. Every time we challenge our base desires and overcome our whims, we demonstrate mastery over the animalistic component of ourselves. One who averts his senses, alters his behaviors, or invests added resources and efforts into his spiritual pursuits, exercises his soul over his physical body and becomes that much greater.  
We do not need to offer our child upon the akeidah in order to follow in the footsteps of Avrohom Avinu. We need only to prioritize the Will of G-d over our own.

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

Thursday, July 4, 2019

PARSHAS KORACH 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach
      2 Tamuz 5779/July 5, 2019 - Avos perek 4

Throughout my youth, I enjoyed Country Yossi’s Kivi and Tuki children tapes.
On one of the tapes, Country Yossi annoyedly asks Tuki why he can’t get him into bed at night, but then can’t get him out of bed in the morning. Tuki replies that it is one of the many unanswerable mysteries of life.
For children and adolescents, there is a certain thrill in staying up late. Somewhere along the way in early adulthood we begin to wish someone would put us to bed at 8:30 pm. But children love to brag about how late they were up.
On Thursday of last week, the 2019 summer camping season began at Camp Dora Golding. Wasting no time, on Motzei Shabbos, the oldest two divisions of camp (the “Malchus” divisions) were informed that they would have an all-nighter. The campers loved it. After late night sports competitions, they enjoyed a midnight swim with a barbecue at the pool, followed by a bonfire. They then davened shachris at vasikin (3:45 am camp time). The best part of their all-nighter was that they had no morning activities and were able to sleep until lunch.
A younger camper asked me why they wanted to stay up all night. If they would have done all those same activities during the day, they could have done everything for longer.
It brought to mind the prevalent custom to stay awake the entire Shavuos night. The whole custom seems counterintuitive. If the point is to learn as much Torah as possible, wouldn’t it make more sense to get a normal night’s sleep, and then learn through the afternoon? Being that Shavuos is during the summer when the nights are relatively short, on average a person learns 4-5 hours during the overnight (not including coffee and cheesecake breaks). The afternoon on the other hand, is 7-8 hours. (Someone noted that in Gateshead the night is even shorter, and learning all night entails learning for only about 45 minutes...)
Obviously staying up all night isn’t about qualitative learning, but about demonstrating excitement. One only stays up late, or all night, for something truly important or exciting. 
For teenagers, playing ball, swimming, and eating through the night is unusual, and therefore exciting.
Remaining awake all night on Shavuos reinforces to us that Torah study is something special, something worth willingly giving up sleep for.
A friend once quipped that when someone asks you how you are, he means aside from the fact that you’re tired. Then fact that you feel fatigued is taken as a given.
As we get older, we seem to yearn to spend more time in bed. We constantly feel sleep deprived and energy-drained, as we try to keep up with our daily stresses and responsibilities. Yet, there are things that we willingly give up sleep for. Parents know well about losing sleep for their children. We attend weddings to celebrate with friends and stay up late to complete projects or meet deadlines.
There are the many people who drag themselves out to learn Torah at night after a full day or work or pull themselves out of bed early so they can immerse themselves in Torah before heading off to work. What incredible people!
Every morning we recite the beracha thanking Hashem “Who gives strength to the tired.” We would love to not feel drained or tired, but fatigue seems to be an inevitability of life. The challenge is for us to push past our tiredness in order to fulfill our obligations and responsibilities.
We don’t thank Hashem Who takes away our tiredness. Rather, we thank Him for helping us traverse it.

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