Thursday, August 17, 2023

Parshas Shoftim 5783




Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shoftim

Rosh Chodesh Elul

1 Elul 5783/August 18, 2023


One of the WhatsApp chats I am subscribed to is the daily Torah thoughts of Israeli journalist Sivan Rahav-Meir. In her bio, aside from being well known in Israeli media as a reporter, Mrs. Rahav-Meir proudly touts the fact that she is a ba’alas teshuva. She is becoming increasingly popular for her inspirational lessons and perspectives through her lectures and books.

One morning this week she disseminated the following profound thought:

 “Have you ever thought about the hobby of the guy who cleans your street? Or his dreams? The city of Akko, as reported by journalist Yair Kraus, has put up new signs which make its sanitation workers into stars. And so, we discover Sammy's love for his grandchildren and for swimming, and learn that Victor goes fishing at least once a week. “Behind every clean neighborhood, there is a story" is the motto of this delightful campaign.”

It reminded me of a story I read about students in a graduate program who were about to take their final exam.

Until that point the exams had been challenging but manageable and students were anticipating the same for the final. Pay attention in class, study your notes and you should be fine. When they saw the final question on the final however, their eyes widened in surprise: "What is the name of the custodian who cleans the school building every day?" The question was worth 25% of the final grade.

The students were stunned. How could they be expected to know the name of the school janitor? When was that ever discussed in class? When the students questioned the professor if the question was really worth a quarter of their grade, he replied that it was indeed.

He explained that in life one encounters many people, some daily, but hardly stops to notice or pay attention to them. He told his students they if wanted to achieve effective leadership positions, they had to train themselves to recognize and value the contribution of every person they encounter. How could they not know the name of the custodian who cleaned their building every day? How could they not occasionally thank him and wish him a personal good day?


In January 2020 at the dinner of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, made a surprise award presentation to Mr. Everett Fortune, the Yeshiva’s veteran chief of security.

Mr. Fortune, a non-Jew, had been the yeshiva’s security guard for 30 years and earned the trust and friendship of the Yeshiva’s students, staff, and parent body. Visibly surprised and moved, Mr. Fortune was at a loss for words. He thanked the Rosh Yeshiva and the Yeshiva for being so special to him.


During my days in Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, the yeshiva cook, Chris, was very appreciated among the Rebbeim and bochurim. Aside from the fact that he knew halachos of kashrus better than most of the bochurim, the culture of the yeshiva was to value and appreciate its workers. It trickled down to the students because that is how they saw the Rosh Yeshiva and Rebbeim interact with him and the other workers.

Aside from the extremely important aspect of creating kiddush Hashem, noticing and valuing others helps make us better people.

Mrs. Rahav-Meir continued, “This week's Torah portion lodges a protest against the idea of "invisible" people. A situation is described in which the body of a murder victim is discovered without any clue as to the circumstances of his death. In such a case, the leaders of the nearest town break the neck of a calf (the egla arufa ceremony) where the corpse was found. Why? The animal's sacrifice is meant to atone for the negligence of the townspeople in not providing the victim with hospitality, in not being concerned for his welfare. This is public negligence of the worst kind.

“Our commentators explain that such a tragic end is preventable. They cry out to us to pay closer attention to those around us, to find out who they really are and the story behind them. So, what's the name of your street cleaner?”

One of the common traits I noticed about the great people I have had the good fortune to know is that they don’t take things or people for granted. In addition, they value others and see them for who they are, not merely for what they do.

As the month of Elul begins it’s a perfect time to be more mindful of those around us, especially those whom we take for granted. We can lift someone’s spirits and brighten his day just by noticing and valuing him, particularly when we are the beneficiaries of his contribution.


Chodesh Tov & Good Chodesh

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

        R’ Dani and Chani Staum