Friday, June 21, 2019

PARSHAS BEHA’ALOSCHA 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha
         18 Sivan 5779/June 21, 2019
Avos perek 2

Dedicated in honor of Coach YL Celnik

Sunday afternoons during May and June are dedicated to Pirchei Baseball. Every grade has its own teams and games. As the boys get older, the games become more competitive and intense, especially for the parents. That’s why I really enjoy watching the pre-1Aers, the youngest boys, play; their games are pleasant and unpressured. I saw it when our oldest son Shalom was in pre-1A years ago, then again with our second son Avi, and this year, with our third son, Dovid.
Watching those boys play is like watching a mini comedy show. The batter hits the ball off the tee, and the ball slowly dribbles up the middle of the field. Suddenly, from all sides of the field, fourteen players converge on the ball. So much for having set positions. Somehow the ball makes it through all their scrambling legs, and like a swarm of bees all of them make a sharp turn and start heading towards the outfield to retrieve the ball.
Meanwhile the hitter is being told to run. Sometimes he begins running up the third base line and must to be redirected. As he runs up the first base line, often holding the bat, he tries to figure out where to stop. By then the ball is in the outfield and he’s being told to head towards the other white fluffy thing in the middle of the field.
When the play is finally over, everyone is told what a fantastic job they did.
By the time they reach the next grade a year later, the game has already progressed to new levels. Fathers and coaches are calling out to batters to “wait for your pitch” and “good eye’, while fielders are instructed, “play is to first”, or “try to cut off the run”. But in pre-1A there are no such instructions being called out. Everyone will be deliriously happy if the batter actually hits the ball off the tee, and remembers to run to first, and if the fielders actually find the ball and send it back into the infield. Lower expectations lead to greater satisfaction all around.
In baseball, as in all sports, players must be proactive in deciding what action they need to take before the play begins. It’s vital that a fielder and batter knows how many outs there are. Whether a fielder will make a play to second or decide to hold the runner, and whether a runner will be running if there is a pop-up depends on how many outs there are.
If the player doesn’t think it through before the play begins and has to start contemplating how to proceed once the ball is in play, he will most likely mess up the play.
In sports there are scouting reports and coaches, to help players figure out their best plan of action so they can be ready to make their move as soon as the play begins.   
In Game 1 of the NBA Finals last year, Cleveland Cavalier guard J.R. Smith forgot the score with four seconds left. He pulled down an offensive rebound after a teammate missed a free throw. He didn’t realize that the game was tied, and so, instead of passing the ball or taking a shot, he dribbled out to midcourt and ran out the clock. The Cavaliers lost the game to the Golden State Warriors in overtime.
In life too, we need to plan in advance as much as possible. Undoubtedly, there are many situations when surprises and the unexpected is thrust upon us. But there are many other situations in which being proactive could make a world of a difference and change the entire dynamic.
Regarding relationships, we often know the types of comments or situations that frustrate others. If we mentally prepare for such encounters, we will often be far better equipped to handle the situation properly and avoid confrontation.
This idea is no less true when it comes to our spiritual pursuits. One moment of thought before davening or performing a mitzvah can make a world of difference.
Mesillas Yesharim cautions us to never perform mitzvos suddenly. The entire point of a beracha is to give us a moment of pause to contemplate what we are about to do – to appreciate the benefit Hashem has granted us, or to mentally prepare for the mitzvah we are about to perform.
In sports, not pre-planning is frustrating; in life, not pre-planning is a tragedy![1]

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


[1] The underlying idea in this essay was based on a schmooze by Rabbi Daniel Kalish. The connection to Pirchei Baseball is my own 馃槉.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

PARSHAS NASO 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Naso
         11 Sivan 5779/June 14, 2019
Avos perek 1

I don’t know if this happens in anyone else’s home, but often when I ask one of my near-perfect children to do something, they will reply “I don’t want to.” A wise friend noted that when his children say that to him, instead of snapping back angrily, or giving a harangue about chutzpah, he simply shrugs and says, “that’s fine; you don’t have to want to do it. Do it anyway!”
The truth is that it’s not just a good parenting technique, it’s also an important idea to remember regarding the responsibilities of life.
            The following story was related by Rabbi Binny Freedman - Isralight - Bo 5779:
            “Wake up an Israeli tank commander in the middle of the night and flash a picture of a BMP-1 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) at a distance of 5 kilometers, when it appears to be little more than a speck in the distance, and he will instantly recognize it as a Soviet-made troop carrier that fires armor-piercing Sagger anti-tank missiles. He will also be able to rattle off to you their effective range, and threat capacity (the amount of time it takes to aim and fire, as well as which Israeli tanks will effectively pierce). He will also know instantly that this carrier is most likely to be seen in the Syrian theater of war.
            “The Israeli army takes the topic of enemy weaponry very seriously and has a variety of often-sadistic methods for ensuring that its commanders become extremely proficient in this particular expertise. I remember vividly the oft-repeated ritual of testing on this topic that took place every Friday morning during Tank Officer’s Course, particularly as we were about to leave the base for our eagerly awaited weekend pass.
            “They would line us up for inspection in our dress uniforms, with our gear packed and the bus waiting to take us back to civilization, sometimes even letting the bus engines rev up so we could practically smell freedom, and then herd us into a side room for the dreaded exam.
            “Anyone not scoring a near-perfect score would be forced to stay behind to re-take the exam on Sunday morning. It is hard to describe the horrible depression that would descend on any cadet who failed this rigorous exam, as he was forced to watch everyone else board the bus for freedom while he stayed behind for a weekend of guard duty and kitchen detail. But it was hard to argue with the necessity for the perfection that was demanded; if you are in combat and the speck of a helicopter rises above a distant hilltop, you only have seconds to decide whether it is an Israeli Cobra, or a Syrian Gazelle (tank-killer), and mistakes or even hesitation in such a situation is what gets men killed.
            “A case in point was the terrible story of the tanks and men of Tank Officer’s Course who served together as an armored battalion in the Lebanon war: seeing an approaching column of enemy tanks advancing through the dust clouds of the tank treads, the leading company commander opened fire and a pitched tank battle ensued.
            “Amidst the screams of the dying, one of the officers realized that both units were actually Israeli, and, unable to contact the unit opposite while ordering his own tanks to cease fire, he watched helplessly as his comrades continued to fire on his own men. Finally, one of the men disconnected his radio helmet, threw down his gun and ran, under fire, to the opposite leading tank.
            “Jumping up on top of the tank he grabbed the radio-helmet off the head of the startled tank commander and screamed into the other unit’s frequency:
            “Chadal! Atem horgim otanu’!” “Cease fire! You’re killing us!”
            Years later, I met one of the men from this infamous tank battle, who still carried the scars of that terrible afternoon.”
            In spring 2018, Rav Aharon Lopiansky addressed the talmidim of our yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah. At that time, he was asked what should someone do, if he’s not in the mood of davening?
             Rav Lopiansky replied that sometimes a young man may have no feeling for davening, and he will ‘sleep his way’ through it for many years. Finally, at some point, inspiration sets in and he wants to become more serious about Avodas Hashem. If he never davened it will be very challenging for him to start getting into the habit of doing so. If a person goes through the motions however, even without feeling it, when the inspiration eventually sets in, it will be far easier for him to become a serious Ben Torah.
A soldier needs to know his equipment and everything about his enemies without hesitation, so he can fight properly. In a similar vein, we have to go through the motions and do what’s right, even if we don’t feel inspired doing so. When the time comes, the inspiration will be there.
Kavana (concentration) is like the fire on a torch. Without kavana, one is holding an empty torch that doesn’t give much light. But as soon as he ignites the fire, the light will radiate light and warmth in all directions. But if one doesn’t have the torch, even when he has the match to light the fire, he won’t have any fuel to keep the fire going and will first have to find the fuel.
The Kotzker Rebbe noted that in Shema we state: “And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart.” Why do we say that the words of Torah should be upon our heart, and not in our heart? The Rebbe explained that sometimes a person just ‘doesn’t feel it’. He tries to daven and learn but he doesn’t feel any inspiration or elevation from it. He should keep doing it anyway, and rest assured the inspiration will come. Pile it up upon the heart, eventually it will break through and become ‘in your heart’.
As in everything in life, the greatest production comes from one who acts with passion and emotion. But when one sets out in his way, he cannot wait for passion; he has to jump in and start. Truthfully, even when he discovers an emotional connection with what he is doing, he will invariably have off-days when he just doesn’t feel it. At those times, he has to push himself to go through the motions and continue doing what he knows is his responsibility. More often than not, the passion returns fairly quickly.  

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, June 6, 2019

PARSHAS BAMIDBAR/SHAVUOS 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bamidbar, Erev Shavuos
          4 Sivan 5779/June 7, 2019
Avos perek 6 – 48sh day of the Omer

This winter, I had quite a saga with cars, tickets, and insurance claims. Leaving out many other details for the moment, I had a court appearance date in Lakewood set for February 21 to fight a ticket.
I was informed that points on a license are not transferred to New York from New Jersey. So, I decided to just pay the ticket online and not schlepp to Lakewood. When I went on the New Jersey DMV website however, I was in for a shock. Beneath the $85 ticket I was issued for failing to yield at a stop sign, there was also an unpaid ticket from April 1, 2006 for $95. Underneath, it said “DL suspended.”
It took me some time before I realized what that was from. I vaguely remembered that a number of years ago during a visit to my in-laws in Lakewood, as I was turning from Central Ave onto Route 9, a very busy intersection in Lakewood, I saw sirens in my rear-view mirror. I pulled over to let the cop pass me, but instead he stopped behind me and issued me a ticket for going through a yellow light. (Can you imagine such a thing happening in Israel, where the light turns yellow before it turns green, to warn motorists to get their foot on the gas and be ready to accelerate?) Although I remember the cop talking to me, I didn’t remember him actually handing me a ticket and I never received anything about it in the mail. So, I forgot the whole incident. (To give a perspective of how long ago this was, Chani realized it was the night before my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s wedding. They now have four children and their oldest just became Bas Mitzvoh). When I saw “DL suspended” I became concerned.
A friend mentioned to me that there is a woman in Lakewood who knows all the ins and outs about tickets and Lakewood court, and she gives advice.
I called her and told her about the outstanding ticket and suspension. She very animatedly told me that there could likely be a warrant out for my arrest! She gave me the number of a lawyer who knows the police and legal system in Lakewood well, and suggested I call him immediately, despite the fact that it was almost 11 pm.
I called the lawyer and he agreed to represent me (for $450). However, because of the pending suspension he told me that he couldn’t represent me by proxy, and I would have to appear in court. I asked him if I was crazy to drive in New Jersey the next day, as I have been doing for 13 years, not knowing there was any issue. The lawyer replied that because it was being reviewed and he was representing me it wouldn’t be a problem.
In the end, I found out that the suspension had never been filed. Still I went to court to make sure the ticket could never come back to haunt me later. The judge heard the case and summarily dropped the thirteen-year-old ticket completely. He also reduced the other ticket to double parking which was a lesser fee with no points.
So what’s the takeaway message from my ordeal? Firstly, try not to get pulled over by a cop who had a lousy supper and needed a power boost by pulling someone over for following traffic and turning on a yellow light. But, more significantly, it’s a lesson about slowing down.
I remember that during my elementary school days a year seemed like an eternity. The older I became however, the faster the years seem to pass by. A friend often quips that he feels like life is a blur of holidays - Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, and summer, and every year it seems to go faster.
If we want to savor life the only way is to slow things down. Our problem is that as life moves more rapidly and increases its demands upon us, we naturally accelerate to keep pace. But in so doing we fail to appreciate and take stock of our loved ones and the blessings in our lives.
The Torah never mentions that Shavuos is a celebration of when we received the Torah. Kli Yakar explains that we are meant to celebrate our being the Torah nation, and our ability to study Torah every day of our lives. Therefore, we don’t want to emphasize the Kabbolas HaTorah of Shavuos, so as not to negate our daily Kabbolas HaTorah. Yet we still need to designate a day to help us appreciate our daily immersion in Torah. That notion is symbolic of our need to slow down constantly to appreciate the blessings of life that we hardly notice.
Life is full of challenges and struggles, and oftentimes downright pain and anguish. We naturally recognize the deficiencies in our lives. But seeing and appreciating blessings, and exercising faith and connection with the divine, requires effort and contemplation. The only way we can accomplish that is by slowing down.
I don’t think police officers should pull people over for going through yellow lights. But we ourselves definitely need to slow down as we traverse the intersections of life.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum