Thursday, August 10, 2017

PARSHAS EIKEV 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Eikev
19 Menachem Av 5777/ August 11, 2017 - Avos Perek 5

One shabbos afternoon a few weeks ago here in Camp Dora Golding, I was learning outside at a table near some bunkhouses. There were groups of boys having catches nearby. At one point, a boy came over to me and said that the ball had gotten past him, and rolled just beyond the eiruv. He wanted to know if he could extend a hockey stick from within the eiruv and drag the ball back inside the eiruv. I noted that it was proper for him to ask, but that it was forbidden.
About two minutes later, another ball rolled past me, and into the bushes. When the camper came to the bush to retrieve the ball, and saw where it had rolled, he announced that he wasn't going after the ball, because he was concerned that there was poison ivy in the bush.
I reflected to myself about the contrast, or perhaps similarity, between the two incidents. For a Torah Jew, retrieving a ball from beyond an eiruv, should indeed be viewed like retrieving a ball from a bush with poison ivy, in the sense that the natural reaction should be to feel he must refrain.
On one occasion, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l was walking through the aisles of the Bais Medrash in his yeshiva, when he suddenly stopped and waited patiently. There was a fellow davening shemone esrei up ahead, and the Halacha is that one shouldn't walk in the vicinity of someone davening shemoneh esrei. When the student accompanying him asked Rav Moshe why he wasn't continuing, Rav Moshe smiled and gently replied, "iz duh ah vant - there is a wall." To Rav Moshe, the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch which forbade his proceeding, was like an impenetrable wall.
In order to foster and maintain such an unequivocal attitude toward Halacha, one must constantly ingrain within himself a reverence for Halacha, as his ultimate directive and guide. Perhaps part of the reason it's challenging to develop such an attitude, is because it seems too austere and rigid, and therefore we shy away from it somewhat.
When we bentch Rosh Chodesh the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh, we recite a moving prayer beseeching Hashem for life, mentioning specific blessings and goodness that our lives should be blessed with.
Curiously, there is one component mentioned twice: yiras shomayim - fear of heaven. First we request "life in which we have fear of sin and fear of heaven". Then a few phrases later we request, "life that contains love of Torah and fear heaven". Why the double mention of fear of heaven?
Rav Asher Weiss shlita explained that, in truth, we aren't asking for the same thing twice. The reason it appears that way, is because the words of the prayer are read incorrectly, the comma being placed at the wrong juncture. It is not a prayer for "life that contains love of Torah, and fear of heaven". Rather it is a prayer for "life that contains love: of Torah and fear of heaven." We are praying, not just to be G-d fearing, but also to love such a lifestyle. We pray to feel the endemic regality, contentment, and fulfillment in living within the dictates and parameters of Halacha. We shouldn't feel constricted by living according to Halacha, but rather privileged.
It may be annoying to be unable to retrieve a ball on Shabbos from outside the eiruv, it may be difficult to not be able to eat at any restaurant one desires, it may be inconvenient to daven three times a day, but if it is a matter of pride to be part of an elite people with elite responsibilities, it will all be worth it.
Rabbi Weiss also noted that there is much worthy discussion in our circles about what we can do to preserve the integrity and religiosity of our youth. There is an emphasis on having proper boundaries and setting worthy limits. There is also an emphasis on giving our children unconditional love. Rabbi Weiss noted that he agrees with both approaches, and they are both vital. However, they are are insufficient. There also must be a feeling of happiness and joy in the home to be Torah observant Jews. It is such a deeply embedded feeling of love for Torah and fear of heaven, that gives a child the will and fortitude to want to maintain the ways of his father and grandfather.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Friday, August 4, 2017

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN/SHABBOS NACHAMU 5777


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vaeschanan/Nachamu
14 Menachem Av 5777/ August 4, 2017 - Avos Perek 4

In past columns of this forum, I have written about the magnificent scenic drive I enjoy each afternoon, along my way to Mesivta Ohr Naftali, in New Windsor, NY, where I have the good fortune to serve as Principal.
 At the northern end of the Palisades Parkway, I drive passed the imposing and regal Bear Mountain Bridge, before continuing north on Route 9W.  Route 9W continues adjacent to the Hudson River before sharply ascending a steep mountain. From the peak, the view is breathtaking, and one can see for miles in all directions.
Just past the bridge, there is a historic area, with beautiful paths which include walking bridges over and alongside the Hudson.
During the spring, I like to leave early enough so that I can park and walk along the paths. There is nary anyone around during the week, and I relish those moments of picturesque solitude and beauty.
As mentioned, it is primarily a historic area called Fort Montgomery where wars were fought during the American Revolution. All along the scenic pathways, there are placards which explain the historic events that took place at that very location during the war. There are remains of what once was soldier barracks and the foundation of what once was a mess hall for the soldiers. Atop a platform where there are bronze cannons, the placard details how the revolutionary soldiers valiantly fought off the incoming British soldiers, before ultimately being defeated.
I love history, and I enjoy reading the facts of what took place there. As I read the information, I try to imagine the events that took place on that very spot some two hundred and forty years ago.
On one occasion, while walking the paths and reading some of the facts written there, it struck me that although I found it all very fascinating, it didn't move me emotionally whatsoever. It was all interesting facts, but that's all.
Contrast that with a discussion of any part of Eretz Yisroel, which stirs the heart of any believing Jew.
Every kinnah recited on Tisha B'av is gut wrenching and deeply emotional. There are descriptions of massacres, humiliations, pogroms, public burnings of irreplaceable seforim, murder of righteous leaders, and vivid descriptions of horrors of starvation and siege.
Then there is another series of kinnos which begin with the word "Zion". These kinnos describe the inestimable beauty of Eretz Yisroel, which includes the deep yearning of our people to connect with the hallowed Land.
The first in this series of kinnos (kinnah 36) was authored by the great Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi is perhaps most famous for his declaration: "my heart is in the east, though I am at the end of the west". In that kinnah he unveils his inner longing and love for the Land with incredible prose and rich emotional vernacular.
He describes how he would place the broken pieces of his heart among the broken pieces of the Land, how the air of the Land is filled with living souls of our ancestors, and how he would give anything to wander the land, even barefoot and unclothed. In his timeless words, the national pining of two centuries come to life.
Towards the beginning of the kinnah, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi calls out to Zion itself and rhetorically asks that it seek the welfare "of those bound by longing, shedding tears like dew upon Mount Hermon, wishing to shed them upon your mountains."
His words are based on the pasuk in Tehillim (133:3) states: "Like the dew of Hermon, that comes down upon the Mountain of Zion." The dew which appears on Hermon in the north of the country, flows south, until it reaches Zion itself.
Dew infuses the earth with vitality and verdant freshness. So too, the tears shed "by those bound by longing" flow forth from the peaks of Hermon, spiritually invigorating the land and its people. Those tears are not tears of hopelessness, but tears of yearning and sanguinity. It's therefore those tears that ensure that they will flow down until Zion itself springs forth. It's those tears that ensure that our connection to the land is emotional and personal. Chevron, Tsfas, Teveriah, and Yerushalayim are worlds apart from Fort Montgomery, or even Gettysburg. One is historical, the other is a piece of our soul, one is fascinating, the other a component of our identity.
Through the tears of Tisha B'av we have a renewed sense of connection to the Land, and that itself is part of the consolation.
"Be consoled, be consoled, My Nation, says your G-d".

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 27, 2017

PARSHAS DEVORIM/SHABBOS CHAZON 5777


“RABBI’S AMUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Devorim/Chazon
7 Menachem Av 5777/ July 29, 2017 - Avos Perek 3

When I was eight years old, I needed to have an operation to correct a hernia. I remember davening at home with my father in the wee hours of the morning, and then heading to the hospital. When we arrived at the hospital, the receptionist looked at me and exclaimed, “This is the infant?” Apparently, they had written down that I was an infant, and that’s what they were expecting. Thankfully they found an empty bed, and I didn’t have to use the crib they had prepared.
I also remember, the nurse placing a mask on my face, and thinking that it smelled funny. I also was quite sure that it wasn’t helping me fall asleep because I wasn’t feeling the least bit tired. But that’s the last thing I remember before being back in the room where my parents were anxiously waiting for me.
For the duration of that day, my parents switched off sitting at my bedside. My mother read me the entire Frankenstein while I listened from my hospital bed. Thankfully, I was able to come home that afternoon.
Shortly after Pesach a few months ago, our twelve-year-old daughter Aviva had surgery on her hand, which she broke doing gymnastics the Wednesday night before Pesach. Although it was set and casted in the Emergency Room the night she broke it, on a subsequent visit to the doctor a few hours before Pesach, the doctor informed us that it wasn’t healing properly, and she would need surgery.
On the morning of the surgery, I woke up early with Aviva and brought her to the hospital for pre-op. Chani arrived while Aviva was in surgery (it was the first day back to school after Pesach for our other children). We were both there when she woke up from surgery, and thankfully, Aviva was home by midday, and b’h has healed well.
Despite the fact that when Aviva went in for surgery Chani and I were not in physical pain, it was far more challenging to send her into surgery, than it was for me to undergo surgery myself. As any parent can testify, seeing one’s own child in pain is the most difficult experience for a parent.
It reminded me of a powerful thought I heard on Tisha B’av morning a year ago. In Camp Dora Golding, Rabbi Noach Sauber, camp’s Learning Director, introduced kinnos by relating the following:
Before Tisha B’av a group of women from the camp families had viewed a lecture given by Mrs. Gail Sassoon, the mother who lost seven children in a devastating fire in spring of 2016 r’l. After the lecture ended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room, and it was dead quiet for a few moments. Then, one of the women turned to another and remarked, “Can you imagine the pain Hashem felt when He needed to cause that to happen?”
It’s an extraordinarily poignant, and very true perspective. We don’t often think about suffering and pain from that vantage point. We know that Hashem is rachum vachanun erech apayim v’rav chesed (compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abundance of kindness). Can we imagine how difficult it is for Him when He causes us to suffer, based on His divine reasons?
Rabbi Sauber then added that Tisha B’av is a day of tragedy for Hashem! Hashem is crying over the losses of His House, of His People, and of that intimate closeness. Every iota of pain and suffering we feel is magnified before the King of kings, as it were.
If it was so challenging for us to watch our beloved child endure surgery, even though we were fairly confident all would go well, how much harder is it for Hashem every time He sends His nation, or any individual, for “surgery”!
And if we didn’t leave Aviva’s bedside for a moment, despite the fact that there were wonderful nurses all around us, can we imagine that it is any different with our eternal and ultimate parent?! 
Although we have such an incredible amount of blessing in our lives, we hear about pain and anguish way too often. In just the last few days we are reeling from the death of a beautiful seven-year old who drowned last week, a family losing a married son after losing another son years ago, and yet another savage terrorist attack at a shalom zachor in Eretz Yisroel, to name just a few.
But above all our pain, is the pain of Hashem, who is surely waiting – more than any of us – to fulfill His promise (Yeshaya 25:8), “And Hashem, Elokim will abolish tears from upon all faces, and the guilt of His Nation He will remove from upon the earth, for Hashem has spoken.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum        

Thursday, July 20, 2017

PARSHIOS MATOS-MASEI 5777




“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Matos-Masei
27 Tamuz 5777/ July 22, 2017 - Avos Perek 2
Mevorchim Menachem Av

Camp Dora Golding is located in East Stroudsburg, Pa. It is a beautiful campus with newly renovated bunkhouses, lush fields, and numerous other attractions, which contribute to making it the wonderful camp that it is.
What is also somewhat unique about CDG, is that it is located in the Pocono Mountains, not in the Catskills ("the country"). While in camps in the Catskills boast that they are "the best camp in the mountains", we say that we are "the best camp in any mountains".
Among the advantages of not being in the Catskills, is that it is possible to find an open washing machine at a laundromat the afternoon after Tisha B'av. The disadvantage however, is that our main attraction in "town" is Walmart. We can't run out to town for an hour to grab a slice of pizza or a fleishig supper.
It is therefore an exciting ordeal when there is a Dougies order placed by the staff for delivery to camp. For Dougies to deliver from Woodbourne to East Stroudsburg late at night, there is a five-hundred-dollar minimum on the order.  But that has never an issue. In fact, the orders are easily 3-4 times that amount.
Truthfully, eating Dougies at midnight, hours after it was made and delivered, is quite overrated. Firstly, the food here in camp - thanks to our Chef Yo - is quite good. Secondly, Dougies food is most enjoyable with all its various sauces, when eaten fresh. Still, the excitement of "ordering from Dougies" is strong enough to cause most staff members to want to be part of the order.
The biggest downside to eating Dougies at midnight, is realized the morning after. It is an experience unto itself - one which I shall not elaborate on in this article.
It's fascinating to me that despite the fact that I tell myself that I won't order from Dougies the next time - that it's just not worth it, especially the indigestion- when the next time comes around I find myself ordering anyway. It's such a hype that I feel like I'm missing something by not taking full advantage of having Dougies in the remote hills of East Stroudsburg.
When the new order is being filled, previous experiences are all but forgotten. I assure you that my experience is not unique. Many others tell me that they go through the same internal struggle.
Midnight Dougies may be somewhat unhealthy, but it doesn't have too many ramifications beyond that. The problem is that my Dougies experience is an analogy for various more profound struggles we contend with throughout our lives.
How many times do we tell ourselves that we won't repeat a certain behavior or habit, only to find ourselves doing it again sometime later? The greatness of the human mind is that we are able to convince ourselves of things that may not be grounded in reality. That includes the ability to completely forget the pain or aggravation we felt when engaging in a certain behavior that we promised ourselves we would not repeat.
This is the root of "Addictive Thinking" (the title of one of Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski's books). This type of thinking is the modus operandi of any addict. He knows his behaviors are damaging himself and others around him, and he sincerely pledges to immediately stop his detrimental habits. Yet, he repeats it again.
In a certain sense, we all suffer from this - whether it's with loshon hora, yelling at your children, arguing with our spouses, religious deficiencies, etc.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt'l notes that if only Adam Harishon would’ve been able to clearly recall the acute and indescribable inner pain he felt when he committed the primordial sin, it would ensure that he wouldn't return to sin. But alas, man has a way of forgetting that pain all too quickly, getting swept away by the hype and excitement, even when he innately knows it's futility.
Eating poppers and chicken wings at midnight may be unwise and cause discomfort afterwards, but our other negative habits may be far costlier. Countering that damage begins with cognizance and honesty of the struggle, and then figuring out ways to overcome those engrained habits.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

                         R’ Dani and Chani Staum