Thursday, July 28, 2022

Parshas Matos-Massei 5782



Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei – Chazak!

Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5782/July 29, 2022

 Avos perek 2


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