Thursday, August 11, 2022

Parshas Vaeschanan 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan – Shabbos Nachamu

15 Menachem Av 5782/August 12, 2022

 Tu b’Av – Avos perek 3

FLIP CHALLENGE

In October 2016, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Bottle-Flipping Craze Is Fun for Children but Torture for Parents.”

Like many other fads that develop these days, the bottle-flip challenge began based on a video posted online. During a talent show held in a school in Charlotte, North Carolina, a student holding a water bottle, strutted up to a table while music was blaring in the background. With a dramatic pause, he flipped the bottle, which landed upright on the table. The crowd erupted in pandemonium. The video was quickly viewed millions of times. Since then, the internet has been flooded with videos of people imitating the flip.

As a rebbe in yeshiva and in camp, I can testify that the craze has not abated. Students will often start flipping bottles just before, or after, and sometimes in the middle of shiur. My students know that doing so is an easy way to rankle me.

Apparently, I’m not the only adult that can’t stand the bottle flipping. The main issue is the annoying sound it makes, especially when it’s done repeatedly, as it usually is, because the first eight attempts are unsuccessful. Part of the problem is that kids are forever trying to do harder bottle flips, like on faraway places, moving targets, or narrow ledges.

Despite my disdain and annoyance with the bottle flip challenge, I feel that it carries some important symbolic significance. We like when life is smooth and predictable. The problem is that it hardly is. I often tell people that these days I’m trying to find, or even buy, a dull moment. The challenge is how to remain on your feet even after life has cast some harsh curveballs at you. It’s inevitable that events in life “sweep us off our feet” by pulling out the rug of stability from beneath our feet. Being able to maintain our composure and sense of equanimity during such trying times is no easy feat. The challenge is whether we can remain upright even when we feel like we are “on a narrow ledge”.

Whenever camp goes on a trip to an amusement park, my motto is that if G-d placed me on the ground, that is where I’ll stay. I sample the different benches and concession stands around the park and enjoy watching campers on the rides. But you can’t pay me enough to get on a roller coaster. But it seems that many people do enjoy that experience. They are willing to wait on long lines, for the relatively brief ride. They enjoy having their stomach, head and legs get mushed together, while they get shaken up like a lulav.

There’s a thrill in going through loops and backwards at high speed, feeling like you’re in an out-of-control descent, all the while knowing that you’re going to end up back where you started in one piece.

Life is often a roller coaster. The significant difference is that life lacks predictability and we don’t know where we will end up. For that we need faith that life isn’t as random as it may feel.

The history of the Jewish people can aptly be described as a frightening roller coaster. There have been many great moments, but many vicissitudes as well. Our national greatness is that we have never lost our footing. Despite having to endure endless suffering and wandering, through faith, courage, and commitment, we have never abandoned our mission.

So, while bottle flipping may enthrall millions of teens worldwide, I am not so impressed. The Jewish people have been successfully personifying the bottle flip for thousands of years and will continue to do so until the end of time.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, August 4, 2022

Parshas Devorim 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Devorim – Shabbos Chazon

8 Menachem Av 5782/August 5, 2022

 Erev Tisha b’Av

LOVING FEAR

It’s become a rather ubiquitous experience. You walk up to someone’s home and ring the bell. As you wait for a response, you notice that they have a video ring, and you know you’re being watched. What do you do while you’re waiting? Most people try their best to nonchalantly look causal and cool. But there’s no escaping that feeling of being stuck there while you know you’re being videoed.

During the weeks of the covid pandemic, I went to my students’ homes one Erev Shabbos to deliver potato kugel my wife had made. It was an excuse to see them, if even from a distance. I pulled up to one home and got out of my car to hand it to my student. I saw my student and his brother and father pointing excitedly. I thought they were joking until they started screaming “your car!” I turned around to see my car slowly inching towards their dining room window. It seems that the driver, who will remain nameless, remembered to put on his mask and gloves, but must have forgotten to put the car in park. I quickly ran, jumped into the car and stopped it in time. The worst part was that the whole ordeal was clearly captured on their ring. (The Zimermans will be more than happy to show it to you…)

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, quipped that, “A Jew should always feel that G-d is looking over his shoulder. If a person feels that way, it’ll save him from a lot of trouble. All the articles in the newspapers that report indictments, and everything lawyers make millions of dollars off of, is because people forget G-d for a moment.”

 We refer to that sense of awareness as yiras shomayim. One fears heaven by being conscience of the fact that heaven is viewing and recording his deeds and actions. This is not to say heaven is watching us to condemn us when we fall short. Rather, heaven is cheering us on, hoping that we will live up to our potential and be the great people we are capable of becoming.

The Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh we recite a passionate prayer in which we beseech Hashem to grant us life. We ask for life of blessing, livelihood, vigor, etc. Curiously, there is one thing we ask for twice: “A life that has in them fear of heaven and fear of sin… life that there is within us love of Torah and fear of heaven.” There are various explanations offered about why we ask for fear of heaven twice.

Rabbi Asher Weiss notes that it is clear to him that the real answer to the question has to do with a misplaced comma. Rabbi Weiss is emphatic that, in fact, we do not request fear of heaven twice. The second request is not for “love of Torah, and fear of heaven” as if they are two separate commodities. Rather, we ask Hashem to grant us a life wherein we feel a love both of Torah and fear of heaven. In other words, we are asking Hashem to help us love being G-d-fearing Jews.

Rabbi Weiss continues that the reason this true explanation is not commonly known is because most people don’t think of fear of heaven as something one can love. Most people view it as a necessary challenge. Most people think that training oneself to recognize that G-d is always watching his every action is an unpleasant reality we have to live with. But the truth is that being G-d-fearing should not be overbearing and unpleasant. One merely needs to look at the state of morality, or the lack thereof, in western society to see what happens when there is a lack of awareness of G-d. It’s reminiscent of the timeless words of Avrohom Avinu who told Avimelech that he wasn’t candid about his beautiful wife’s identity, “because I said only there is no fear of G-d in this place, and (therefore) they will kill me regarding the matter of my wife” (Bereishis 20:11).

We don’t merely ask to fear heaven. We ask that Hashem help us appreciate the virtue of living such a noble life with an awareness of G-d constantly. Our greatest Torah leaders, who epitomize such a life, are princes of noble character, loving and beloved, exuding goodness and examples of humanity at its finest. That virtue and nobility is the direct result of the fact that they are G-d-fearing and live with an awareness of G-d in their lives.

The more fear of heaven we inculcate in our lives, the greater we become as individuals and as a society.

The ultimate place where one was able to glean that sense of fear of heaven was in the Bais Hamikdash. When a Jew entered its confines, he became hyper-aware that he was in G-d’s Presence. When one would witness the Kohanim performing the avodah with vigilance and alacrity, hear the harmonized singing of the Leviim, and see the awesome structure of the Bais Hamikdash, it left an indelible impression upon him. It was when people stopped feeling that sense of awe from the Bais Hamikdash that Hashem caused it to be destroyed.

One of the challenges of exile and not having a Bais Hamikdash is the lack of that added sense of awareness of Hashem in the world.

At the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei we daven that Hashem rebuild the Bais Hamikdash “and there we will serve You with awe.” Although the Bais Hamikdash was a place where one could and should also discern love of Hashem for His nation, our prayer is to merit back the awe that we lack without the Bais Hamikdash and its avodah.

It is an ongoing struggle for us to maintain that sense of awareness that Hashem is with us constantly and is always “looking over our shoulder.” With the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash very soon, we will once again have that omnipresent feeling of connection with Hashem. And when that awareness returns what a different world it will be - a world without pain and suffering. It will be a world of kindness, selflessness, and holiness.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Have an inspiring, meaningful, and easy fast,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Parshas Matos-Massei 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei – Chazak!

Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5782/July 29, 2022

 Avos perek 2

HEAR IT

June 1994 was a great month for New York sports. The New York Rangers, who had previously not won a Stanley Cup since 1940, finally prevailed. Until then, for years, whenever the Rangers played on the road, the home team would taunt them with chants of 1940.

The 1994 playoffs were incredible, culminating with the Rangers beating their rivals, the New Jersey Devils, in double overtime of game 7. The Stanley Cup against the Vancouver Canucks also went to seven games before the Rangers finally secured the cup. New York Rangers fans were euphoric.

At the same time, the New York Knicks were winning their way through the NBA playoffs, beating the Nets, Bulls and Pistons. Alas, in the championships, Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were defeated by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in seven games.

All that sports excitement is very distracting for a ninth grader studying for his first two New York State Regents. That year I was taking the math regents and the biology regents. Math has never been my strong point and I invested hours of studying. I’m proud to say that I scored a 96. The biology regents, however, didn’t turn out that well for me. Thanks to the Rangers, Knicks, and too much time studying for math, I got a 60 on biology. (We’ll just keep this between you and me, my faithful readership. If word gets out it can affect my children’s shidduchim.)

The next biology regents was offered in August, and it was suggested that I retake it. I registered for the regents and then spent the summer studying biology. When I went off to Camp Torah Voda’as for the second half of the summer, I had the biology review book under my bed, and would study from it at night.

The night before the regents, my father picked me up from camp and brought me home. The next morning, I went to a local public school to take the exam. Later that afternoon, my father drove me back up to camp. I was obviously quite anxious about how I did, and I knew it would take a couple of days before I would receive the grade.

What made it more challenging was that in those days we were only allowed to call home on Friday, and I didn’t want to wait almost an entire week to find out how I did.

The next day I received a fax from my father (this was during ancient times, before email….). It said: “To get to you (Camp Torah Voda’as, Highland, NY) we take the 299. To get to Ahuva (Camp Sternberg, Narrowsburg, NY) we take the 17. To get to Yitzie (Camp Dora Golding, East Stroudsburg, PA) we take the 80.” The number 80 was circled five times.

It took me a few perplexing minutes before I realized that my father was covertly telling me that I had scored an 80 on the regents. To the kid in the office handling the faxes, for some reason my father was giving me directions. But I was able to decipher the symbolic personal message without anyone else realizing it.

Just prior to Shemoneh Esrei each morning, we state: “Praised is the man who listens to Your mitzvos and Your Torah and Your Words he places upon his heart.”

Rabbi Shimon Schwab explains that one fulfills “sheyishma l’mitzvosecha – hearing Your mitzvos” not only by performing the actual mitzvos, but also “hearing” the message and ethical values they convey.

The Torah instructs us “Kedoshim tihyu - You shall be holy.” Ramban explains that a person can be a “naval birshus HaTorah - a despicable person within the parameters of Torah”. In other words, he can observe the letter of all laws and technically be an “observant Jew”, and yet behave in an uncouth and undignified manner. The Torah instructs us that we must strive to be a people of regal bearing, people who others see as holy and G-d-fearing.

It is not enough to merely observe the laws; we must hear and adhere to their message as well.

Beyond the underlying message of mitzvos and the Torah, there is often a more personal message. These are the messages one gleans from daily living, from events that transpire to us or around us, or from people we encounter.

Being that none of us are gifted with prophecy today, no one has the right to definitively declare what G-d intended through an event that occurred. Interpreting and attaching explanations for G-d is an especially slippery slope when people decide messages for others. But every one of us is able to glean symbolic messages from life generally. The keen person pays attention to events and tries to personally grow from everything that happens to him and around him.

A friend related that one day his watch had stopped. Apparently, the battery needed to be changed. He noticed that it had stopped at 7:42. He attends a daily minyan that begins at 7:45. He knew that to be properly ready for davening he needed to be in shul a few minutes early, but, as of late, he had become lax in that regard. When his watch stopped, he took it as a personal message that he needed to try harder to get ready for davening at 7:42.

That is part of what we mean that we try to “hear” the Word of Hashem. Messages and lessons abound if we are looking for them.

During the time of the Bais Hamikdash and particularly in the Bais Hamikdash, one “encountered” G-d and felt greater connecting to Him. In exile, we have to invest far greater effort to do so. Part of our focus during these days of mourning is to discover and encounter G-d and to try to discern His Word constantly through the world and life generally.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Parshas Pinchas 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Pinchos

23 Tamuz 5782/July 22, 2022

 Avos perek 1

FOCUS ON FOCUS

Every word of the Torah is precious, beloved, and timeless. But I have a particular affinity for parshas Balak. I know we just read it. Still, while it’s fresh in my mind I wanted to write about why I enjoy the parsha so much.

For one, parshas Balak has the uniqueness of being the only narrative in the Torah of which our ancestors were completely unaware. As Moshe related the words of the Torah, reviewing all the events that transpired during their forty-year sojourns in the desert, the nation nodded knowingly. But when they were informed that Balak had hired Bila’am to curse them, but their nefarious plan had been thwarted, the nation was stunned. They knew nothing about the evil intentions or about the beautiful praises Bila’am had unwittingly stated about them.

In addition, there is a poignant practical message the parsha conveys. We often don’t recognize the blessings in our lives, because we grow accustomed to them. But when an outsider conveys his amazement and admiration for what we take for granted, it generates within us a renewed appreciation for those blessings.

The Jewish people have their flaws; there’s no doubt about that. We are, and have always been, a tough people. We are stubborn, strong-minded, and strong-willed. Although those traits have assured our survival, they also make us difficult to contend with at times. Moshe Rabbeinu himself told our ancestors at the end of his life. “You have been rebellious from the day I knew you” (Devorim 9:24).

At the same time however, there is much greatness, nobility, strength of character and inherent goodness in the Jewish people. But since it surrounds us and we don’t know any other type of life, we often don’t realize or focus on the gift of being part of such a great people.

It’s well-known that there are non-Jews who keep a yarmulka in their glove compartment. If their car ever breaks down on the highway, they don the yarmulka and stand outside their car, assured that within a short time a bunch of yarmulka-wearers will stop to help. The truth is that in the last few years there have been numerous stories of religious Jews, particularly of Chaverim, helping non-Jews with flat tires, and cars stuck in snow.

A few weeks ago, there was a formula shortage crisis in the United States. There are sensitive and hypoallergenic toddlers that could only have certain amino acid-based formula. As can be imagined, that formula was in high demand and even more limited than general formula.

There was a post that was circulated that said the following: “Emergency post: please share. If anyone, anywhere has this formula (the post had a picture of the can), a desperate mother in Baltimore is looking for this exact formula. Her baby is having severe allergic reactions to everything else tried.” Within a few hours a follow-up post circulated: “Mi K’amcha Yisroel!!! 4 cans located in Monsey with a ride directly to Baltimore!”

The story is truly remarkable. It was sent from Monsey to Baltimore, from one family to another they had never previously met.

I saw the posts about the formula on a beautiful new WhatsApp group called “#MKY” (Mi K’amcha Yisroel - Who is like Your people, Yisroel). The group’s description states:

“A place to celebrate the joy, the connection, and the flavor of simply being a Yid!” What a beautiful idea!

There is so much collective beauty being a Torah Jew and being part of our communities m, but we often forget it in our daily frustrations and gripes.

The average American family starts saving money for their children to go to college when the children are just beginning elementary school. In our communities, we pay astronomical amounts in tuition for our children to attend Torah institutions every year.

The average American family has a family meal on Thanksgiving and perhaps December 25. We enjoy such special family meals every Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In addition, we spend thousands of dollars on Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, kashrus, shul dues, tefillin and mezuzos. Our communities have endless opportunities for inspiration and lectures on a variety of topics, including parenting and improving marriage, parsha, daf yomi and all areas of halacha. I wonder how often the average American listens to a class or attends a lecture about improving their character, marriage or becoming a better parent.

A year and a half after the Covid pandemic began, public school teachers were arguing that schools had to remain shuttered. Meanwhile in our yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs, our rabbeim, moros, and teachers were on the front lines, trying to get our schools to reopen as soon as it was reasonably safe enough to do so.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman noted that we must point this out and emphasize it to our children. They should realize the primacy and vital importance we place on educating and teaching our children Torah and Torah values.

Everyone is familiar with the dictum that the optimist sees the glass as half full while the pessimist sees the glass as half empty. I once heard the following clever and true observation:

Whether one sees the glass half full, or half empty is dependent on his vantage point when looking at the glass. If he is looking up for below, he will see the water in the glass. But if he looks at the glass from above, he will see the emptiness on top.

How we view everything in life depends on the perspective from which we are looking. If we have sense of humility and appreciation we will look up at others and at life, and we will notice the blessings on our lives. But if we are looking down from above with a sense of entitlement and arrogance, we will first notice the things we are missing from our lives.

The same is true regarding our perspective when thinking about the Jewish people. If our focus is on the deficiencies of others and with a negative perspective, we will see the faults of the Jewish people. But if we have a perceptive of humility and look up at our fellow Jews, we will see the incredible beauty the Jewish people have and the gift we have to be part of the eternal people.

As we begin the Three Weeks of mourning for the loss of the Bais Hamikdash and our elongated exile, it is an apropos time to focus on our focus. How do we think about and view others and the Jewish people collectively? When we seek the good, we will discover that there is much good to be found.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Parshas Balak 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Balak

16 Tamuz 5782/July 15, 2022

 Avos perek 6

GRAB IT

I’m typing this quickly because I don’t have much time. I have to get back to my computer as soon as possible because it’s Amazon Prime Day. That’s not really true - I really don’t have much to buy; but it was a good opener.

The first Prime Day was observed on July 15, 2015, created to celebrate Amazon's 20th birthday. It’s actually a two-day event, this year on July 12 and 13.

On a website describing Prime Day, it suggests: “Your best bet is to make a list prior to Prime Day. To start, you can jot down a general idea of what you want in the notes app on your phone. This way, when the sales begin, you can check off your wish list before items go out of stock.” In other words, you gotta prepare in advance if you want to (literally) get the most bang for your bunk and take advantage of the bargains.

This week, Rabbi Noach Sauber, the learning director here in Camp Dora Golding, noted that a Jew should view every day as a spiritual Prime Day. Each day presents us with opportunities to perform mitzvos and acts of chesed and to fulfill the Will of Hashem in a variety of ways.

It’s well known that in the last hours of his life the Vilna Gaon was crying. He was asked why he was crying; surely, he had no reason to fear the celestial judgement. The Gaon replied that he was pained to leave a world where, for a few kopecks (his currency), one could purchase a pair of tzitzis and accrue eternal reward. In the hereafter one no longer has such opportunities to fulfill mitzvos and garner reward.

The gemara (Eruvin 54a) says: “Shmuel said to Rav Yehuda: sharp one, grab and eat, grab and eat, because this world that we are going from is like a wedding feast”. The delectable food served at a wedding is there for the taking to be enjoyed by all the invitees. But if one doesn’t eat when he is served, soon enough the waiters will clear it away and he will be left with nothing. Opportunities for spiritual growth abound. But if we don’t take advantage of them, they will soon be gone.

Rav Lazer Shach was one of the great Torah leaders in the previous generation. On one occasion he wasn’t feeling well and overslept the first z’man (deadline) to recite Kerias Shema (the opinion of the Magen Avrohom). When he realized that the time had passed, Rav Shach was inconsolable. A student asked him why he was so upset. After all, the halacha follows the opinion of the Vilna Gaon that one has until the second z’man Kerias Shema to recite Shema. In addition, it was beyond his control because he wasn’t feeling well.

Rav Shach replied: Imagine if someone isn’t feeling fell on Erev Pesach and decides to take a nap. When he wakes up, to his utter chagrin, he realizes that it is the first morning of Pesach and he overslept the entire Seder night. (It should be remembered that in Eretz Yisroel there is only one Seder.) We can understand that the person would be devastated. He has lost out on the mitzvah of matzah, marror, four cups, reciting the Haggadah, and the entire lofty experience. Despite the fact that he may have a valid excuse, it will be of little consolation for his loss of the once-a-year opportunity.

Rav Shach explained that he felt like that individual who overslept the Seder. True, he fulfilled the actual mitzvah. But he had lost out the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah in a more ideal manner, and that opportunity was lost forever.

A good businessman is always on the prowl, seeking another chance to make a buck. No matter how wealthy and successful he was yesterday, he is always looking to expand his wealth and portfolio.

That is how the wise Jew views his every day. Serving Hashem is a constant opportunity not to be missed. But each one is a rare chance and if it’s not grabbed it will be gone.

A friend of mine related that he never says, “I have to go to Mincha now” or “I have to go learn now”. Instead, he is careful to say, “I want to go to Mincha now” or “I want to go learn now.” Not only is it a far more positive message for his children, but it’s also a reminder to himself that each mitzvah is a privilege, not a burden.

So, be ready. Prepare in advance. Perhaps even jot down a general idea of what you want to accomplish. This way, when the opportunities arise, you can check off your wish list before it is out of stock.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Parshas Chukas 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas

9 Tamuz 5782/July 8, 2022

 Avos perek 5

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

FRONT & CENTER

I was the principal of Yeshiva Ohr Naftali in New Windsor NY for six years. This year I returned to seeing clients in private practice and left my position as principal

DON’T JUDGE

So, I did it again. I forgot to put on sunscreen on the first day of camp.

Opening day of the camping season last week here in Camp Dora Golding, was a picture-perfect day. It wasn’t too hot and there was a pleasant breeze under bright and sunny skies. Being that it wasn’t too hot I forgot that it was still prudent to put on sunscreen.

I spent the day driving around camp, helping campers locate and move their luggage into their bunkhouses. When the day was done my forehead was a bit sunburned, but my arms were bright red, totally sunburned.

For the next couple of days, I couldn’t stop thinking about forgetting the sunscreen even if I wanted to, because my burning arms were constant reminders.

Since last week I have never forgotten to wear sunscreen on the first day of camp.

Although I put on tefillin the next morning along with everyone else in shul, no one else realized that it was harder for me that morning. Wrapping tefillin on my sunburned arm was painful.

It’s societally acceptable for someone to pat a friend on the back as an expression of conviviality and friendship. Sometimes it can happen that a person does so, and the recipient unexpectedly reacts angrily. “What’s your problem? Why did you hit me?” The friend might likely think the recipient needs emotional help. That’s because he has no way of knowing that the recipient has a blister or sunburn on his back and the relatively light tap actually caused him a great deal of stinging pain.

The Mishna (Avos 2:5) says “Don’t judge your friend until you reach his place.” In other words, don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Sfas Emes notes that it is essentially impossible to ever “reach his place” because even if one is in the exact same physical situation as another, he has vastly different life experiences, personality traits, and proclivities. The Sfas Emes is essentially saying that no one can ever fully be in someone else’s shoes and, therefore, no one can ever truly judge someone else.

In his landmark book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey relates that he was on the subway in New York City one Sunday morning. It was a calm, peaceful scene with most people reading the paper or dozing.

Then, suddenly, a man entered the subway car with his children. The children were loud and rambunctious, and the serenity of a moment earlier was quickly lost. The man sat down next to Covey and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.

Covey relates that he couldn’t help but feel irritated. How could the man be so insensitive and oblivious to the ruckus his kids were making?

After a few minutes, with tremendous patience and restraint, Covey noted to the man that people were disturbed by the noise his children were making and it would be appreciated if he could control them somewhat.

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to consciousness of the situation for the first time. He said softly, "Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either…"

Covey concludes his story, “Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?”

The challenge of life is that we don’t know anything about the trials, sorrows and temptations of those around us. We don’t know of the pillows wet with tears, of tragedies masked by superficial smiles, or secret worries and struggles others contend with daily.

We have no idea of the sunburns others have that cause them to be overly sensitive to the slightest provocations.

In Avos (1:4) it also says, “One should judge the entire person favorably.” It doesn’t say that one should judge every person favorably. Rather it says that one should judge the entirety of the person favorably. Before one judges another, he first has to know “the whole person”, including their background, inner psyche, and all surrounding events. And no one can know everything about another’s life.

The moral of the story is to wear sunscreen and not be too quick to judge others.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Parshas Korach 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach

2 Tamuz 5782/July 1, 2022

 Avos perek 4

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

FRONT & CENTER

I was the principal of Yeshiva Ohr Naftali in New Windsor NY for six years. This year I returned to seeing clients in private practice and left my position as principal. But it was a wonderful experience to be associated with such an esteemed and respected yeshiva.

At some of the yeshiva dinners, each of the honorees were presented with a beautiful painting of a Gadol that their family was particularly close to. A talmid of the Mir received a painting of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. Another received a painting of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and another a painting of Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l.

One year, the yeshiva honored the police chief of New Windsor, Chief Doss, as an expression of gratitude for his assistance with the yeshiva. There was a table of his colleagues on the police force at the dinner who seemed very impressed by the yeshiva, although they probably had no understanding of the speeches emphasizing the value of Torah and chinuch.

I was curious what painting they would present him with. Which Gadol does he ascribe to? Would they give him a painting of his superior or of the first police chief of New Windsor?

The Rosh Yeshiva made the presentation and called up Chief Doss to receive a painting… of himself. It was a beautiful painting of the chief in his uniform looking intense and vigorous.

I can’t imagine that there was even a fleeting thought to present any of the other honorees with a portrait of themselves. The Torah teaches us to always be thinking beyond ourselves, and to look upwards to those wiser for guidance and direction. That is why pictures of our rebbes and mentors adorn our walls. Would anyone hang up a picture of himself, even one in which he is wearing tallis and tefillin on his own wall?

The secret to our national longevity is based on our unbroken tradition, passed down from father to son and rebbe to student.

Having a rebbe/mentor helps us maintain a sense of perspective and keeps us humble.

The Navi states about Yehoash, one of the kings of Yehuda, “he did what was correct in the eyes of Hashem all the days that he was taught by Yehoyada Hakohain” (Melachim II 12:3). The tragedy of Yehoash is when his rebbe, Yehoyada Kohain Gadol, died, he was swayed by miscreants who prevailed upon him to commit tragic sins. This included the heinous murder of Yehoyada’s son and successor, Zecharyah Kohain Gadol. It was Zecharya’s blood that bubbled on the floor of the Bais Hamikdash for decades.

In our chain of tradition, we not only speak of our family lineage, but also of the teachers and yeshivos that formulated our thinking and Torah outlook.

It’s been said that “humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less”. This is a vital point. We have to take care of ourselves and value our abilities. But we also need to utilize those abilities to enhance the lives of those around us.

It’s also said that EGO is an acronym for Easing G-d Out. When we are too focused on ourselves and our own ego, we become unpleasant to be around. Conversely, we like to be around people who think and care about others, and to use their talents and capabilities to assist others.

Sometimes humility is conveyed as self-abnegation and the need to put oneself down. That is a tragic and damaging distortion. A person must recognize his talents and capabilities. However, he also must feel his accomplishments are a fulfillment of his responsibility and doing so doesn’t make him better than others.

No matter how old one is one’s rebbe continues to infuse him with spiritual vitality, perpsetive, balance, encouragement and chizuk. In fact, even well after one’s rebbe has left this world, the example and imprint that his rebbe infused into his soul remains in perpetuity. It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone say “My rebbe explained” decades later.

As this week is the week of 3 Tamuz, the yahrtzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, it’s worth noting the incredible influence the Rebbe had, and continues to have, upon thousands of his chassidim and students, many who do not consider themselves Lubavitch, the world over, who were influenced by his brilliance, wisdom and foresight.

Whether one has a picture of his rebbe on his wall or not, the mental image of his rebbe remains seared in his soul and continues to influence his progeny in perpetuity.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Parshas Shelach 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach

25 Sivan 5782/June 24, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Tammuz - Avos perek 3

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

THE GREAT LIE

Dedicated in honor of Avi Staum’s graduation from Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

“And let me conclude, dear graduates, by saying that as you go forth from the hallowed halls of our institution, know that life bears many vicissitudes and unknowns. But fear not! The educational fortitude you have received during your years here will stand for you in good stead. We are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Know this - the world is now open before you and you can become anything and do anything. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams, and make us proud.”

End of pontification. Time for crowd to wake up and applaud politely.

‘You can be anything you set your mind to be’ is one of the great lies often touted. It sounds nice, but it’s simply not true!

The hackneyed graduation message can be chalked together with the message of entrepreneurs who have become incredibly successful. In podcasts and articles, they tell us if they were able to do it so can you, and it’s as simple as following their 3 or 4 step plan. Just purchase their book or program and, before you know it, you’ll be fabulously wealthy too. Then you’ll be able to peddle the same lie, about being able to procure quick and easy wealth, to others.

The reality is that there is a predestined path for every one of us. We are not amorphous entities ready to be shaped into anything we desire. We are granted unique and particular personalities, talents, and limitations. The family and community into which we were born as well as the generation into which we were born both shape and limit the trajectory of our lives.

When a five-year-old is asked what he wants to be when he grows up he may reply that he’s going to become a fireman, policeman and doctor, and possibly invest real estate or become an entrepreneur on the side.

Part of maturity is recognizing that we are limited in the choices we can make. In addition, every choice we make is an act of exclusion, choosing one thing is to the exclusion of everything else. Many people have a significantly hard time making choices because they are hard pressed to close the door on all other possibilities.

Our biggest challenge is more about how we deal with the cards dealt with, than about choosing the cards we are dealt.

This week, 30 Sivan, is the yahrtzeit of my Bubby, Rebbitzin Fruma (Frances) Kohn a’h. I was blessed to have my Bubby for the first four decades of my life and that my children knew her, if even slightly. In her youth, my Bubby and most of her family survived Siberia and the horrors of World War II. After being liberated from Siberia, she met my Zaydei and eventually made their way together to the United States.

A few years later, my Zaydei was offered to be the Rabbi of the prestigious Slonimer shul on the Lower East Side. At first my Bubby cried at the mere prospect of becoming the Rebbitzin of a sizeable congregation. It wasn’t what she had “signed up for”. But eventually she embraced it and fulfilled the role for two decades with aplomb. She would cook each week for Shabbos, never knowing how many guests would return home with my Zaydei from shul. Their apartment was a welcoming place for all different types of Jews. It’s amazing how much delicious food and warmth emanated from that minuscule kitchen on the Lower East Side.

I should add that in the 1970s the shul’s membership dwindled until the shul was forced to close its doors and sell the building. After that my Zaydei became a kashrus mashgiach.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often wondered how hard that must have been for my grandparents. I was born well after my Zaydei had left the rabbinate. My memories of him are of his ever-present warmth and sense of humor. If there was any bitterness no one ever saw it.

The real question in life is how we respond to each situation. My grandparents came from a generation that had far less choices than we are privy to. Though we may have more options, we too often find ourselves in different situations than we had envisioned for ourselves.

We may not be able to be anything and everything we want to be. But we can choose how we proceed in every circumstance and what our attitude and perspective is.

Perhaps the more accurate message we can convey to our graduates is:

“Dear Graduates - the serpentine paths of life may not always lead you where you expected. Nevertheless, we are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams. But remember that even when our dreams are not fulfilled, Hashem is leading us on a path tailor made for our greatest growth and spiritual accomplishment.”

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum