Monday, September 20, 2021

Succos 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Succos

14 Tishrei 5781/September 20, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

BENEATH THE CAP

            The season of repentance is described as a great gift from G-d, one that offers us renewal and redirection. So why do we dread it so much?

            You’re schmoozing with a friend at a simcha, laughing and reminiscing together. Without thinking much about it, you haphazardly grab a bottle of soda from the middle of the table and rapidly begin twisting it open. You failed to realize that the waiter had just brought that bottle of soda to the table and had dropped it along the way. In a moment there is soda spritzing all over the table, your suit (dress/shaitel), and face. Aside for the big mess, it’s embarrassing. It’s definitely a sticky situation to be in (sorry).

            The carbonated contents of the bottle had been under pressure. To avoid a bursting explosion, it needed to have been opened slowly and methodically.

            Most of us have a lot going on beneath the surface of our lives and personalities. But we feel that we have to maintain a superficial veneer that our lives are perfect, and we have everything together. Despite the fact that everyone has their share of struggles and challenges, we like to pretend everything is peachy and perfect. After all, we are naively fooled that our neighbors indeed have everything together, so how can we let anyone know that we don’t?

            So, we bottle everything up, causing tremendous pressure to build within ourselves. For much of the time we are able to keep pushing everything beneath the surface or the rug and go about our lives.

            That is part of the reason why many of us fear the process of teshuva. Why shake up the bottle and create an explosion? Who wants to find out what’s under the bottle cap?

            The problem is that in order to grow, one must be willing to confront all those things he spends his life hiding from. He has to open the cap on the bottle and allow the mounting pressure to escape. But he’s afraid that it may explode beyond what he can handle. The problem is that, alas, there is no other way to grow beyond one’s current state.

            During the sublime days of Tishrei, the custom is that we recite tashlich in front of a flowing body of water, preferably water that has fish swimming in it. (Of course, there are some readers who just looked up and said “Oy! I still have to remember to say tashlich!” This is your reminder that you have until Hoshana Rabbah.)

            When one looks at a body of water it seems serene and level. But just beneath the surface of the water is an entire world obscured from view.

            One of the reasons why tashlich is recited at a waterfront is to symbolize that, like flowing water, G-d’s Kingship flows and continues eternally. Perhaps it’s also to symbolize that just as there is a world beneath the surface of the water obscured from the view of those on shore, so is the depth of G-d’s monarchy beyond human comprehension. There are layers and layers of depth beyond what our finite minds can grasp.

            The truth is that within ourselves as well there is much greatness that we fail to tap into. It’s uncomfortable to pull off the cap that’s keeping the contents under pressure. But when we do so, we discover wonderful content we never realized was there.

            The question then becomes, once one has opened the proverbial bottle, and dealt with the pressure and explosion it generated, what does he do next? Does he immediately close it back up and put in the fridge, or does he then enjoy the delicious contents?

            Now that we hopefully have engaged in that discomfort during the great days of teshuva, pulling and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, how do we maintain it?

            Rabbi Aaron Moss of Sydney, Australia, explains it this way:

            “Having just emerged from the security and nurture of the womb, a newborn baby is particularly vulnerable and sensitive. So, moments after birth, it is immediately swaddled to keep it protected and warm.

            “But swaddling doesn't last long. You rarely see teenagers wrapped up in a cloth with their arms behind their ears (though perhaps some should be.) Swaddling is a brief bridging stage between the safety of the womb and the hazards of real life. A well wrapped baby will eventually grow to face life unwrapped. The swaddle cloth just helps him get there.

            “Your soul needs that bridge too. You have emerged from the womb of Yom Kippur, a pure and renewed soul. The negative residue from your past has been cleansed. Your soul is now tender and sensitive, and easily susceptible to the coldness of spiritual apathy and other moral germs floating in the air. You need some protection. You need to be swaddled. You need a Sukkah.

            “The Sukkah is the only mitzvah that you do with your whole being. The holy air of the Sukkah completely envelops and surrounds you. It turns everything you do into a holy act. Eating and drinking and chatting in the Sukkah is a mitzvah, just because it is done in the divine shade of the Sukkah. When you sit in a Sukkah, you are being swaddled by sanctity. 

            “Going from the highs of Yom Kippur straight back into the routine of the mundane world is like taking a newborn from her mother's womb straight out into the cold night. You just can’t do that. Sit in the Sukkah. Bask in its sacred shade. Be enwrapped in its warm embrace.”

            I would add that particularly after baring our soul, making ourselves vulnerable and facing the parts of ourselves that we tried to hide, we need added reassurance and encouragement. We need to feel that despite exposing the cold parts of ourselves to the elements, we are still beloved in the eyes of the divine.

            But the truth is that it’s the opposite. It’s because we had the courage to turn inwards and expose those painful parts of ourselves, to face our demons and confront our shames in order to grow, that we are so beloved.

            That’s the beauty and joy of Succos. We are welcomed to sit in the shadow of the divine and to celebrate the self-discovery we have gained. The cap is off. Now it’s time to enjoy the wonderful contents you discover inside.

 

            Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Yom Kippur 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Yom Kippur

9 Tishrei 5781/September 15, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

ANTIVIRUS WARE

            The other night I was driving with our eleven-year-old daughter Chayala, and she began asking me questions about how different parts of the car works. I happen to know a lot about cars from my years of driving them. I know that they have four tires, an engine, a steering wheel, a battery that you can’t buy at the checkout line at Shoprite, seats, and windshield wipers. But that’s about the extent of my expertise with cars. Still, I explained to her that inside the system of the car there is a built-in computer that regulates the technical parts of the car. I added that when I had gotten into an accident a couple of years ago, when a car rammed into the side of my car, aside from the structural body damage that my car sustained, the mechanic also had to reset the computer inside the car, which had malfunctioned as a result of the impact.

            Being that this conversation took place during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva, I thought about the connection between my car analogy and the process of teshuva. Every time we commit a sin, there are two mishaps that occur. There is the actual sin which becomes embedded on our conscience. In addition, there is a negative spiritual residue which blemishes our soul. In another sense, there is the sin itself and then there is the fact that we committed an act in defiance of G-d’s Will, which automatically makes the sin an act of unwitting rebellion.

            Repentance for the actual sin is like the body work to fix the car. That damage is most easily recognizable because it immediately impedes the functioning of the car. But there is also the not as noticeable problem which may not be immediately apparent but will become clear after the driver turns on the motor. The inner computer, the brain of the car, is also damaged which causes the car to not function optimally. Even if the car is able to drive, it will be a frustrating experience and potentially even dangerous.

            Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates a similar analogy about a young ba’al teshuva who bought a new set of pots and pans and went to immerse them in a mikvah. Afterwards, he was informed that the immersion could not be done until all stickers were removed from the vessels. He removed all the stickers and went to immerse them again.

            Afterwards, he noted that removing the stickers themselves was the easy part. The hard part was scratching off the glue underneath the labels.

            I can well relate to this. Anytime my wife asks me to tovel something I ask her to please take off the stickers and glue beforehand. I have spent much time trying to scratch off the stubborn glue in the small mikvah area….

            The ba’al teshuva noted that he realized that every sin has an outer component and an inner component - the label and the glue. The actual sin itself is the label, the outer component. But beyond that is the glue, the inner component of the sin, the impurity caused by the act which adheres to his soul and makes him more prone to sin again.

            The Torah writes about Yom Kippur, (Vayikra 16:30) “Because on this day, you will be forgiven so that you will be purified.” Yom Kippur is not only a day of repentance, but also a day of reconnection. Through the arduous service of the day, we not only rectify the body work and remove the negative labels from our souls, but we also rectify our inner computers, by scratching away the sticky residue of the sin. Forgiveness is for the actual sin itself, while purification is from the negative spiritual effect the sin caused.

            A chassidishe friend once quipped that a computer can become infected with a virus, just as we become infected by aveiros (it works better with a chassidishe pronunciation, when it’s pronounced the same way - “a-virus”).

            Last year, I had the unenviable experience of my computer shutting down. Suddenly, all I saw was a blank blue screen. No matter what I pushed, or how many times I shut my computer, that awful blank blue screen persisted.

            In a panic, I went to an expert who was able to go into the bowels of the computer and rectify the issue. When I came to pick it up, he showed me that the screen with the familiar background picture of my family was back, as were all my files and documents. Thankfully, my infected computer was able to have a refuah sheleimah.

            On Yom Kippur, if we seek to purify ourselves, Hashem helps us get there. It’s not only a day of forgiveness from past iniquities, but also a day of purification and rectification, when we are afforded the opportunity to begin anew.

 

            G’mar Chasima Tova and Good Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Monday, September 6, 2021

Rosh Hashana 5872

 

 

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Rosh Hashanah of 5777

29 Elul Av 5776/ October 2, 2016

 

Although I have lived in Monsey for most of my life, I am not a Monsey native. My formative years were spent living in the legendary Lower East Side of Manhattan. Until I was eight years old, we lived on the second floor of 550G Grand Street, near where it intersects with East Broadway.

I have many wonderful memories from my years living there. Gus’s pickles were a constant at our Shabbos table, as were Chinese noodles purchased in nearby Chinatown. Through first grade I attended Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem, and our family davened in the Poilishter Shteeble. But best of all was the fact that both sets of my grandparents lived just a few minutes away, in nearby apartment buildings. It was a special treat that when we would come to shul every Shabbos we would daven alongside my Sabbah a’h.

One of the many endemic experiences of living on the Lower East Side was saying tashlich near the base of the Williamsburg Bridge on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It seemed that the entire Jewish community, which included hundreds of people, was there.

As a child I was sure that it was our saying of tashlich that caused the East River to be so murky and polluted. After all, the river contained all of the discarded sins of all of Manhattan on one side, and all of Brooklyn and Queens on the other.

Another special experience of those years was spending Shabbos with our Sabbah and Savta. They lived on the fifth floor of their apartment building. On the way home from shul we would race up the flights of stairs urging Sabbah – who did quite well for a man of his age – to come quicker.

One of the highlights of those Shabbosim was lying down in Sabbah’s bed when he would read us a book. The book I remember him reading to us most was Scuffy.

Scuffy was a toy tugboat who grew bored circling around the bathtub of his young owner. He dreamed of traveling the open waterways in freedom. On one occasion he somehow managed to wiggle away from his owner in a small pond. The pond flowed all the way until it reached a river. Scuffy was enjoying every minute, including the views along the way, until the river became more raging and he neared the vast and frightening ocean. At the last moment before the water thrust him into the ominous endless ocean, a hand grabbed the terrified little toy tugboat by its stack. It was the young boy who owned Scuffy. Only from then on Scuffy was only too happy to be back in the bathtub, circling around and doing what he was made to do.

As a young boy that story put me to sleep. Reflecting on that story now however, made me think of it from a different perspective. In certain ways the story of Scuffy is our story. Chazal relate that the yetzer hara does not immediately goad a person to commit a serious transgression. Rather, he suggests that the person push his boundaries slightly, to test out the waters. He convinces to do things that aren’t really wrong per se, but may simply be something that make us feel somewhat uncomfortable. But the current only becomes stronger, until the person soon finds himself being rushed along the flow, no longer able to stop himself. The once pleasant streams have flowed into uncontrollable raging rivers, which lead to the ominous oceans.

But there is a hand that reaches out to grab us and reel us in before we become completely lost. In the waning moments of Yom Kippur, during the climactic prayer of Neilah, we declare: “You give a hand to sinners.” There is hope for return!

Perhaps that is part of the reason why the custom is to recite tashlich by a body of flowing water. It reminds us of the progression of sin and how easily we can become swept away. At the same time, it reminds us that there is a force stronger than all the rivers and oceans, i.e. the Being that created repentance even before he created those bodies of water.

We stand before the water with a feeling of meekness and humility and begin the prayer, “Who is like You, One who bears sin, and overlooks transgression…”

Therein lies our hope, if we will only allow that outstretched hand to embrace us.

Gut G’bentscht Yahr & Shana Tova,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Parshas Nitzavim 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Nitzavim

27 Elul 5781/September 4, 2021

Avos perek 5-6

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

SO ITCHY

            It’s been almost two years since I’ve been to a barbershop. No, it has nothing to do with the pandemic. No, I haven’t decided to become a Nazir. And no, it’s not because I have no hair left. Rather, it’s because we had a fabulous in-house barber who gave me, and our other children haircuts, in the comfort of our own home.

            But a couple of weeks ago my barber - my son Shalom - went to Eretz Yisroel for the year. That means I had to head back to a barbershop for a pre-Rosh Hashanah haircut.

            A couple of months ago, Shalom misplaced the cloth/cape that he used when giving haircuts. Since he gave the haircuts on our porch outside anyway, we decided that he give haircuts without it.

            Getting a haircut always leaves a person feeling itchy and uncomfortable. But without a covering cloth, it is that much worse. When I got haircuts from Shalom the last few months, because of the added itchiness and little pieces of hair that adhered to my clothing, I showered and changed right afterwards.

            On another note, this time of year - back to school - means new school supplies and new clothes, including shoes. I find that getting new shoes is always a conflicting experience. On the one hand, it’s exciting to get new shoes that look fresh. On the other hand, having new shoes also means that the leather is still tough and hasn’t yet adapted to my foot. That means that for the first few weeks wearing them, the shoes will feel somewhat uncomfortable.

            On a third note, a few weeks ago, when our family arrived home from camp after being away for two months, I noticed a few weeds and other unsightly plants growing around our house, particularly from crevices at the edge of our driveway and walkway. Without thinking much of it, I set out ripping them out of the ground. Within a day or two I started to see some red blotches on my arms and felt quite itchy. It took a few days before the irritation went away. Apparently, pulling out those plants with my bare hands wasn’t the best idea.

            What is the connection between my cloth-less haircuts, new shoes, barehanded weed whacking and this time of year?

            As the new year is upon us, we look to make changes in our lives. We want to grow beyond life as it’s been, to improve ourselves and become better, fulfilling more of the potential we all have. But one must know from the outset that changes and newness - while exciting and refreshing - also generate discomfort. If one wants to successfully effect changes in his routine and to change habits, he must be prepared to bear the inevitable discomfort. He should remind himself that the discomfort is temporary. Haircuts look fresh but as the old hairs fall away, they are prickly and irksome. But just as that discomfort fades, if one stays the course of his growth, soon enough he will have successfully created new habits and routines.

            Rav Yisroel Salanter famously quipped that it’s easier to learn through all of Shas than it is to truly change one negative character trait. For a long time, I wondered why Rav Yisroel said that? It’s inconceivable that the master ethicist would try to dishearten us from undertaking creating real change.

            I think Rav Yisroel was imparting to us an invaluable and vital message. Anyone who has a desire to study all of Shas understands that it’s not something that can be accomplished overnight, or even in a few weeks. It’s a process that requires forethought, patience, dedication and perseverance.

            When it comes to improving and changing our character however, we sometimes think it should be quick and easy. Then when we falter and revert to our old habits, we become frustrated and disheartened. Rav Yisroel was teaching us that changing and improving one’s character is a process, in fact it’s a more arduous process than even learning through Shas. Therefore, one must be realistic in knowing that it will take time and effort and he will fail numerous times. The old habits will prick him as he tries to rid himself of them and will cause him discomfort. But if he doesn’t abandon ship and recognizes that the struggle is par for the course he will get there.

            It’s been said that on the path towards growth there are no failures, only setbacks and lessons. There is no road that leads to growth that doesn’t have curves and turns.

            During these days our task is to begin the process of teshuva, not to complete it. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” But it’s worth remembering that although the first step may make you feel itchy and uncomfortable, the next step will be that much easier.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Parshas Ki Savo 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Savo

20 Elul 5781/August 26, 2021

Avos perek 3-4

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

ON THE BALL

            I have been a member of the Camp Dora Golding administration for almost two decades. During those years, the administration has not had any vocal Mets fans. Yankees fans have ruled the roost which means that announcement of scores during meals has always been Yankees biased, which suited me.

            That changed this past summer when Rabbi Danny Konigsberg, my former camper, returned to CDG as the assistant head counselor. Rabbi Konigsberg brought many innovative ideas and programs, and it was great to have him as part of the team. But, as mentioned, he is a Mets fan.

It should also be noted that at the beginning of the summer the Mets were sitting comfortably in first place and playing well, while the Yankees were struggling, languishing in third place.

            To be honest, by fandom standards, I’m not so much of a sports fan. I grew up in a home of Yankees fans and I enjoy listening to games when I’m in the car and finding out the scores. But I’m not so in the know beyond that. I can’t tell you the starting lineup or all the names of the Yankees pitching rotation.

            But even though I’m not such an extreme fan, I am very competitive. So, when Rabbi Konigsberg showed some highlights of New York Mets victories early in the summer and was bragging about how well the Mets were playing, I felt that it couldn’t go unanswered.

            I procured a clip of one of the most infamous moments for Mets fans from June 12, 2009. It was during a subway series when the Yankees were playing the Mets in Yankees stadium. The Yankees were batting in the bottom of the ninth and the Mets had a 7-6 lead. With two runners on and two men out, the batter for the Yankees was Alex Rodriguez who popped up to shallow right field. It was a routine fly ball and Mets fielder Louis Castillo was perfectly positioned to catch the ball and end the game. But Castillo didn’t catch the ball; he dropped it! His shocking error allowed two runs to score, which gave the Yankees an underhanded victory. It was a very bitter moment for the Mets and their fans, and definitely one that they don’t like being reminded of. Perfect!

            For the last many years, I have the microphone during breakfast in camp because I run the “CDG morning show” during breakfast.

            The following morning, before beginning the morning show, I played the clip from the blundered play, with the announcer screaming, “pops it up… Castillo…. DROPPED THE BALL! HE DROPPED THE BALL! OH MY GOODNESS… AND THE YANKEES WIN IN THE MOST IMPROBABLE FASHION!”

            Then I played the same clip again the next day, and then the next day, and then the day after that.

            Basically, it became a fixture throughout the summer. Mets fans would groan and roll their eyes while I laughed to myself when I played it again.

            As the summer wore on and the slumping Mets slipped out of first place while the Yankees surged ahead, it became that much more vexing for Mets fans.

            Aside for the opportunity to rub it in again, why would I share this here in my musing’s column?

            As the days of Elul rush by and we move closer to Rosh Hashanah, we often feel somewhat despondent. We know there’s a lot on the line, and the judgement is serious, but we wonder what we should be doing practically. The shofar blasts after shachris just make us feel worse.

            In an uncertain and volatile world, we don’t need much to fuel our anxiety. It’s inconceivable that Elul is only about feeling unworthy, anxious and uncertain. It’s clear that Elul is somehow supposed to prepare and initiate the foundations of the process of teshuva that we hope to engage in as Yom Kippur approaches. But how exactly? Many of us feel we just wish someone would tell us what to do. How can we feel we are taking advantage of Elul in a positive way that elevates and energizes us?

            I would like to share an approach I have been considering this year.

Why did Louis Castillo, a professional Major League Baseball player, drop a routine fly ball, a play he has made so easily so many other times?

I would venture to think that as the ball was making its descent, Castillo was already picturing himself pumping his fist in the air in victory and running over to his teammates to high-five them. In other words, he got ahead of himself and lost focus. He closed his glove a second to soon and that made all the difference.

            Sound familiar?

            How often do we try to juggle twelve things at once in our own lives? We may feel we are doing a great job, but, in reality, our fragmented focus causes us to sacrifice quality in every area. This is especially damaging when it comes to relationships, especially with the ones we love most, as well as in our spiritual endeavors.

            In a word, Rosh Hashana is about malchus - accepting upon ourselves the divine monarchy.

            The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped, “Where is G-d? Wherever you let Him in.”

Accepting G-d’s monarchy upon ourselves means letting Him into our lives by recognizing that He orchestrates and guides every facet of our lives. One of the many symbolisms of shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah is that it symbolizes the sound of the King’s coronation. In that sense, it is a joyous call.

            If one begins the mental process of accepting Hashem as King on Rosh Hashanah, he is late in the game. On Rosh Hashanah one spends most of his day immersed in prayer and being spiritually focused. Truly accepting the monarchy of G-d however, requires doing so in the mundane as well.

            In a nutshell, Elul is about focus and awareness. It’s about reminding ourselves throughout the day that Hashem is always with us - at work, on vacation, in the pool, on the basketball court, when we are surfing the net, when we are alone in our bedrooms, and when we are eating. The more we focus on G-d, the more we allow Him into our lives, which helps us live accordingly.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quipped that a Jew should always feel G-d is looking over his shoulder. If one has such an awareness, it will save him from trouble. The negative publicity and terrible indicting stories published periodically in newspapers and on blogs about Torah-observant Jews committing shameful acts is the result of the fact that, for a few moments, those people forgot that G-d was looking over their shoulder.

            Elul is a time to strengthen our awareness that G-d is always looking over our shoulder. We shouldn’t perceive this in a condemning and punitive manner. Rather, in a manner that helps us maintain the path we desire in being and becoming the great people we want to become.

            In our daily lives we are often guilty of dropping the ball, because we don’t adequately focus on what we are doing at the moment. Elul is about not dropping the ball. In everything that we do, especially when we daven and perform mitzvos, we need to increase our focus and knowledge that we are performing His Will.

            If we do so, then accepting the Kingship of G-d on Rosh Hashanah will feel like a natural result of our previous month’s efforts.

            When we feel connected to G-d and feel we make a difference, then it naturally becomes easier to do teshuva as well, in our quest to continue growing ever higher.

            It all starts with us making sure that we don’t drop the ball!

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Parshas Ki Seitzei 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei

20 Elul 5781/August 19, 2021

Avos perek 1-2

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

THE LONG JOURNEY

            As another wonderful camp season came to an end, and all the campers boarded buses to return home, the camp families also packed up their bungalows and headed home.

            Our family’s trip to Monsey takes around an hour and a half. But many families travel much further distances in order to spend their summers at Camp Dora Golding in East Stroudsburg, PA. There are families that drive from Pittsburgh (300 miles, five hours), Cleveland (400 miles, almost 6 hours), Miami (1300 miles, 19 hours), Dallas (1500 miles, 21 hours), and Las Vegas (2500 miles, over 33 hours).

            To be honest, I have a hard time doing the drive from Monsey to Lakewood when we visit my in-laws, which is under two hours. I can hardly imagine those multi-hour drives in a car packed to the roof with luggage and restless children.

            I often joke with friends who live in out of town communities that cities 3/4 hours away are practically next door. But they don’t really see the humor. They claim that that is truly how they feel. A ten hour trip is a bit long, but 3-4 hours isn’t bad.

            More than one friend who grew up in the tristate area and now lives “out of town” noted to me that there is a shift of mindset that takes place when one moves out of town. Trips that were almost unbearably long when they lived on the east coast, become not only tolerable, but even pleasant. They related that it takes some time to get used to living out of town, but then one starts to accept that common destinations are more distant, and it becomes part of life.

            For those of us who still live in the tense New York world and its environs, this is a foreign concept. But being that I’ve heard this same idea expressed by so many out-of-towners, it must have validity.

            During the month of Elul, we set out on a spiritual quest towards self-improvement and growth. One of the biggest impediments is our desire for quick-fixes and instant accomplishments. The long road intimidates us, and we lack patience for it. But true accomplishment requires patience, resilience, and perseverance.

            The preliminary requirement for spiritual growth is a shift of mindset. If one expects and demands to get to his destination in a minimal amount of time and has no patience for traffic or the long road, he will be severely limited in how far he can travel. Only when he recognizes and accepts that the long road is par for the course, can he really effect true change and growth.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, related that on one occasion he was invited to speak in Pittsburgh. When Rabbi Wein arrived in the terminal, a woman was waiting to drive him to his hotel.

            The woman said that she had a white Honda Civic which was parked in row three, stall four. They walked together through the massive airport to the parking lot. But when they arrived at row three stall four, her car wasn’t there.

            They then walked through the entire parking lot looking, but there was no white Honda Civic. The woman was very distraught and told Rabbi Wein that she would call a taxi to drive him to the hotel while she tried to figure out what to do about her car.

            While they were walking back to the terminal, a car pulled up alongside them.  A man rolled down the window and said he couldn’t find a parking spot, so he would gladly drive them to their car so he could take their spot. When Rabbi Wein explained the problem, the man asked to see the parking ticket the woman received when she parked her car. She handed him the ticket and he took one look at it and said that he knew what the problem was. Her car was parked in the long-term parking lot, and she was looking for her car in the short-term parking lot.  He drove them over to the long-term parking lot and, sure enough, in row three stall four was the white Honda Civic. 

            When they were finally on their way, the woman asked Rabbi Wein what he thought about what had occurred. He replied that it’s a great moral lesson. Most people look for their happiness, fulfilment, and future in the short-term parking lot, but it’s parked in the long-term parking lot.  The disaster of modern man is that everybody is parked in the short-term lot and fails to realize the long-term consequence of behavior, actions, and attitudes.

            Elul is not about insincere or unsustainable resolutions. It’s about long-term growth. Our task and goal in Elul is to set out on the journey with an eye on the destination and a plan of how we want to get there.

            Safe and uplifting travels!

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Parshas Shoftim 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shoftim

13 Elul 5781/August 12, 2021

Avos perek 6

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

THE HOLY ARC

            We reached a new milestone in parenting this week when our oldest child, Shalom, departed for Eretz Yisroel for the year to learn in yeshiva. On Sunday, the day of his flight, we came in from camp to Monsey to take care of all the last minute things.

            On Sunday night, Shalom and I headed out for JFK airport with plenty of time to spare. According to Waze, the trip would take us under an hour and a half. We were cruising along until we reached the George Washington Bridge and encountered heavy traffic. At that point Waze suggested that instead of proceeding into the traffic going directly onto the bridge, we go through the nearby streets of Fort Lee, NJ, for an alternative entrance onto the bride. Big mistake! After crawling along at a snail’s pace on the streets of Fort Lee, the police blocked entry to the bridge, and we had to go all the way around. And then traffic stopped moving altogether. I watched in a panic as the destination time on Waze kept getting later and later. I had images in my head of returning to camp with Shalom, having missed his flight. Shalom and I said some tehillim together and tried to keep each other calm. After a grueling while, we finally made it onto the bridge and across. Thankfully (and somewhat miraculously), from there the trip was relatively smooth and Shalom was able to make his flight.

            A friend informed me about an app called Flightradar24, which allows you to track every flight in the world. I entered the number to Shalom’s flight and was able to follow the exact location, speed, and altitude of his plane. In addition, it showed the plane’s route until that point, as well as the plane’s projected trajectory.

            I was aware that planes do not fly in a straight line across the globe, but rather fly in an arc shape. But I had never seen it so acutely. Before I went to sleep on Sunday evening, I saw that Shalom’s plane had traveled very far north, adjacent to the to the northern edge of Canada. Then, when I awoke the next morning, I saw that the plane was heading south past the tip of Great Britain, before continuing over Switzerland, Italy, and over the Mediterranean, until it finally landed in Tel Aviv.

            Planes travel in an arc because that is really the shortest route. The earth has a spherical shape and, therefore, the circumference of the Earth is far longer around the equator than it is as one moves closer to the north and south poles.

            Another important reason why planes fly in what appears to be a more indirect route has to do with jetstreams. Jetstreams can sometimes have tailwinds above 200 miles per hour. If a plane flies along a jetstream it will be able to burn far less fuel and arrive at its destination quicker.

            Flight paths are mapped out before aircraft take off, to calculate the shortest and most efficient route. At times, flight paths can change during the flight depending on weather, wind, jetstreams, and other factors.

            This all got me thinking about the other more important component of Shalom’s trip. The reason he went to learn in Yerushalayim was for his growth in his spiritual journey, which is fueled by his physical journey to the Holy City. He set out on that journey on Rosh Chodesh Elul, the same day that every Jew commences that annual journey.

            We spend most of our lives gazing and trying to move outwards, trying to expand our assets, garnering more accomplishments and prestige, and achieving financial success. But during the month of Elul, we try to look and direct ourselves inward, taking spiritual stock of ourselves and ascertaining if we are being true to our own aspirations and potential.

Although the teshuva process is not limited to this time of year, during Elul there is a jetstream that fuels our efforts and helps us move in that direction. If we are willing to invest the effort to take off and fly towards the jetstream, it will help propel us forward to reach our personal destinations, burning less fuel and in less time.

            The other equally important idea to remember is that the path towards growth and accomplishment doesn’t follow a straight line. In fact, there isn’t one uniform path to follow. Each of us have our own arc, our own journey and our own process to arrive at our charted and coveted destination. It doesn’t follow a neat and even straight line. There are inevitable curves and turns and we must have patience for them.

            Throughout the year we try to drive forward. We encounter much traffic - internal as well as external impediments that impede our growth. But during the great days of Elul and Tishrei we seek to achieve liftoff. From that spiritual altitude we soar above the mundane traffic below, in order to achieve greater heights than we can when we are crawling ahead on the ground.

            Have a safe and beautiful journey.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Parshas Re'eh 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Re’eh

28 Menachem Av 5781/August 6, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh Elul

Avos perek 5

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

THE HYPE

            This past spring, our son Avi’s Pirchei baseball team made it to the championship. The final game was played in Boulder Stadium, a ten minute drive from our home. Boulder Stadium is the equivalent of a minor league stadium, with a beautiful, manicured field, a couple of concession stands, a massive sound system, and the capacity to hold a few thousand fans.

            The Pirchei championship game was played on a Sunday afternoon, shortly after the home-team Boulders had finished a game. When I arrived at the stadium with Avi, there was still a few thousand fans in the stadium from the Boulders game. The music was still blaring, and select fans were lining up to run the bases or have a catch in the infield.

            When the stadium finally cleared out, it was time to play Pirchei baseball. The game was nice, and it was definitely exciting to play on such a professional field. But it lacked the energy and excitement that the Boulders had generated during their game an hour earlier. There were only a few hundred spectators, no open concession stands, the scoreboard was off, there was no announcement of players, music played or fun competitions between innings. It was like playing a regular game just on a more beautiful field.

            It was clear that part of what makes it to so exciting to attend a Boulders game is the hype and energy generated by all those side things. Although the priority, and the only thing that really matters, is the game itself, those additives make it more fun and exciting. It helps the home team play harder and the fans enjoy the game more.

            Our family has had the good fortune of spending our summers at Camp Dora Golding for over two decades. Among the many other wonderful assets camp offers, is that Camp Dora Golding boasts an unparalleled learning program. Aside from the fact that we have almost perfect attendance at daily learning groups, more than 80% of the campers learn voluntarily for three hours in the camp shul on Shabbos. In addition, a half hour before mincha on Friday (and we all know what that time is like each week) a couple hundred campers come to the shul, dressed and ready for Shabbos, to learn. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. In addition, this summer there was a celebration for 291 campers (!) who completed a masechta of mishnayos during the summer.

            What’s the secret of our success? Our incredible learning director, Rabbi Noach Sauber, raises thousands of dollars for top notch prizes. Prizes that in some places would be grand prizes barely make it to the medium level in our prize auction. Prizes include tickets to sports events - Yankees, Mets, Giants, Islanders, etc. a Jacob DeGrom autographed baseball, Luka Doncic autographed basketball, and a Devin Booker autographed jersey. In addition, there is a music package, football package, baseball package, hockey package, relax package, music package, and a talmid chochom package. Each package includes numerous items connected to that theme. This year top prizes included an Oculus, 3D printer, basketball hoop, electro bike, x-box, Nintendo switch, and a PS5.

            But there’s more to the program’s success than just the prizes. Rabbi Sauber is a master of hype. At the beginning of the summer, he introduces the learning program, mentions some of the prizes and how campers can be eligible to win. He calls winners from previous summers on stage to talk about what they won. Throughout the summer, camper progress is posted weekly, and Rabbi Sauber reminds the campers of the great prizes awaiting them. At the end of the summer, there is a massive barbecue for all those who achieved the maximum points. Then, on the last day of camp, every camper has a chance to put raffle tickets in for the various prizes, depending on what level they had achieved. The entire camp gathers in the camp theater for two prize drawings. It’s a major event with music, cheering and tremendous excitement.

            The prizes speak for themselves, but the hype generates the excitement that propels the event to a different level. In fact, the only reason the prizes have become as extraordinary as they are, is because of all that hype. Many, if not most, of the prizes are donated by current staff members and camp alumni, including some who were in camp over a decade or two ago. They were inspired by the program, at a time when the prizes were impressive, but far more “modest”, and now want to contribute to giving that inspiration to the next generation of campers. Back then, the program’s success was more clearly the result of the hype and excitement Rabbi Sauber, and his predecessor, Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, generated.

            It’s been said that anyone who says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, never tried to sell a book. Although ideally one should only judge a book by its contents, the reality is that most people wouldn’t even pick up the book unless it has a cover that catches their eye.

            When I mentioned the idea for this brilliant essay to our wonderful camp neighbor, Rav Hersh Kasirer, he recounted a thought from his rebbe, Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l: In various places in Shas, the gemara relates that an amora “stood up on his feet and said” (see Shabbos 26a, Bava Metzia 59b, Sanhedrin 68a, Bechoros 36a). If the gemara wants to relate what was said, why add that he stood up on his feet?

            Rav Henoch explains that the gemara is teaching us an integral lesson about education. Teaching is not merely about transmitting information, but about trying to ingrain those lessons upon the hearts and souls of one’s charges. To do so, rabbeim and moros need to be innovative and resourceful, wisely employing ploys and incentives and, at times, theatrics to engage their students.           The gemara is subtly demonstrating that it wasn’t enough to just state his viewpoint. Rather, “he stood up on his feet and said” with dramatic emphasis.

            In a sense, Torah and mitzvos are like a beautiful stadium, a perfect and magnificent structure. But it’s up to us to provide the sounds system, the scoreboard, and the music. Our task is to invest emotion and instill the passion and excitement that makes the stadium come alive.

            Torah speaks for itself, but we can make the Torah stand on its feet and proclaims its piece directly into our hearts and souls.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum