Thursday, February 21, 2019

PARSHAS KI SISA 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Ki Sisa   
17 Adar I 5779/February 22, 2019

Our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, embarked on a special project to compile our own yeshiva siddur. The siddur will iyH include insights and explanations from our talmidim and rabbeim. It’s quite an undertaking, but it has already had a positive effect in elevating the focus of the students towards something which plays such a vital role in our lives, and to which we devote so much time to each day.
I warned our students that there is a very significant drawback to this project, because it will generate frustration and at times guilt.
Years ago when I was a student, one of my teachers was frustrated with the ignorance of our class about what was being taught, and exasperatedly quoted the famous like that ignorance is bliss. When one of my classmates asked what bliss means, the teacher replied, “and that’s exactly what I’m talking about!”
This past Monday, President’s Day, our children’s school district did not provide bus service, and it was our family’s turn to drive the Shaarei Torah minyan carpool for our tenth-grade son Shalom. It was a snowy and icy morning, and it took some time to clean off the car. The roads were also slick, and I had to drive slower than usual. By the time I picked everyone up and drove to Yeshiva, we were a few minutes late to davening. As I was davening with the yeshiva, I quickly donned my talis and tefillin. But I realized I was going to have to skip most of Pesukei D’zimrah in order to catch up. I never liked doing that, but on Monday I found that I was more upset about it than I had been in the past.
Having worked on the siddur for the last few weeks, I have personally learned many new insights about the structure of tefilla and the rich depth and meaning behind every paragraph, and how they were precisely enacted by the sages throughout the ages. There are numerous lecture series on tefilla from various rabbonim that literally offer full classes on one single phrase from davening.
Suddenly, missing out on a tefilla feels like a significant loss.
When one isn’t aware of the significance or deeper meaning, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to miss a few paragraphs. But the danger of learning about something is that you start to realize the wisdom behind it.
Ignorance is indeed bliss. But far more blissful is the one who garners wisdom and is able to bask in it.
The Gemara says that tefilla is something which “stands at the height of the world, but people disregard it”. Like all invaluable commodities, appreciating tefilla is the result of an investment of effort to ascertain it. But being that prayer is key to the fulfillment of our hopes, it’s well worth the investment. It’s a relatively small deposit which allows for major constant withdrawals.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

PARSHAS TETZAVEH – PURIM KATAN 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tetzaveh   
10 Adar I 5779/February 15, 2019

This past weekend, our family enjoyed a wonderful Shabbos at my parent’s home in the Forshay section of Monsey.
Shabbos morning was very cold, with a biting wind making it feel even colder. At about 7:20 am, I left my parents’ house to daven at the hashkama minyan nearby. When I arrived at Forshay Road, a busy thoroughfare, there were groups of chassidim with sons hurrying past me. As far as I could see there were groups chassidim approaching from the same direction.
I had heard that the Gerrer Rebbe was in Forshay. His wife had needed surgery a few weeks back and afterwards had to stay in New York for a few weeks for rehab. The rebbe had accompanied her and they were staying nearby. When I asked one of the chassidim if he was heading to the Gerrer Rebbe, and he answered that he was, without having much time to think about it, I joined him.
The fellow I walked with is a Gerrer chassid who lived in Staten Island. His parents live in central Monsey where he was staying for Shabbos, and he had walked a great distance in the cold to have the opportunity to daven with his rebbe. He explained to me that davening was from 8 am until about 9:30 am. There was no kiddush or tisch, just davening. He also told me that at the minyan in the main Gerrer Shul Yerushalayim, there is a one-hour break in the middle of davening for learning, but as the davening was held in a large heated tent there was no break last week.
Ger is not known for externalities. They are known for punctilious adherence to halacha, but without fanfare. At exactly 7:59 am the Rebbe emerged from the house and took his place at the shtender prepared for him, and the chazzan began davening.
After mussaf, there was a b’ris. The Rebbe sat down in the seat that was brought in a minute before, and the baby was immediately brought in. Within five minutes the b’ris was over, the final kaddish was recited, the Rebbe wished everyone a Good Shabbos, and by 9:45 he returned to the house.
It wasn’t easy standing on bleachers throughout the davening holding a siddur and Chumash, with a couple hundred people packed into a tent. But there are always things/people who are distinguished enough to us that we will endure some discomfort just to be in their presence. People wait outside all night before Black Friday for significant monetary bargains, others wait for hours after a game or will arrive extremely early before a game just to get an autograph from a professional player.
The people/things that excite us and for which we are willing to sacrifice for, have a deep effect on us.
Our former neighbor, Yoni Halper, who recently made Aliyah, presented at the Torah Umesorah President’s conference last winter. Yoni related that on Motzei Shabbos of the conference, he saw Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky walking with his Rebbitzin. He approached them and told him that a couple of decades earlier, when he was a young boy, he had met Rav Shmuel and asked him to autograph the “Gadol card” he had of Rav Shmuel. Yoni told Rav Shmuel that it made a deep impression on him and he was very grateful when Rav Shmuel agreed to do it. Yoni reported that Rav Shmuel and his Rebbitzin had a good laugh.
When Yoni told me that he still had the card, I told him that I had to see it. It took him a few weeks to find it, but he did show it to me. It may be the only autographed copy of Reb Shmuel’s gadol card in the world.
Our society glamorizes celebrities, sports icons, and the rich and famous. There may not be anything wrong with trying to imitate the way a player excels the way a singer sings, or the way an actor acts. But somehow it seems to go far beyond that. People who know how to play ball or are great actors don’t have any greater insight to life, politics, or relationships. In fact, it’s often au contraire!
It’s important that we stress that our true role models in life are people who are selfless, loving, and devote themselves to bettering themselves and others. Those are people worth emulating and watching how they conduct themselves, even if there’s no kiddush afterwards.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

PARSHAS TERUMAH 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Terumah  
3 Adar I 5779/February 8, 2019

For all our technological innovations and uncanny advancements, there is still one thing we have absolutely no control over - the weather. Last week a polar vortex – whatever that is - enveloped much of the United States, bringing dangerously frigid temperatures. Although New York’s weather wasn’t as severe as that of the Midwest, where temperatures dipped to unprecedented lows, 20-30 degrees below zero, it was still bone-chillingly cold. The front page of last week’s Hamodia had a picture of a thermometer with the mercury reading below zero with the caption, “Global Warming?”
And now just a few days later, we enjoyed a couple of days of bright sixty degrees sunshine - unusually warm for early February. Go figure.
Last week, on Friday morning, when the temperatures were in the single digits and windchills still well below zero, I pulled into a gas station in New Jersey. (The state of New Jersey doesn’t trust its citizens to fill up their own gas, so there is no self-service anywhere in the state.) The attendant, dressed in a few layers, was jumping around and practically dancing as he approached my car. When I rolled down my window, I heard blaring music. The attendant gaily asked me how he could help me. When I asked him to fill up, he spun around and jumped up and down as he inserted the nozzle into the tank.
As I drove away, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dancing gas attendant. It was a freezing morning, a perfect day for someone who works outside to be grumpy and miserable. Yet he was chipper and energetic. Why? Because instead of grumbling about the reality, he embraced it.
How often do we try to live life on our terms, even when the reality of the situation is clearly otherwise?
Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was once walking with a group of his chassidim. At one point he asked his assemblage, “Do you know what I would do if I was G-d?” The group stopped walking and it was dead silent. Everyone leaned in with wide eyes to hear the great secret that the rebbe would reveal. After a long moment the rebbe smiled and announced, “If I were G-d, I would... do exactly what He’s doing!”
The Rebbe’s insight is very compelling. If he were G-d, he would understand how everything happening was exactly as it needed to be. The reason we struggle so much is because we are not privy to the divine knowledge and therefore cannot understand how everything is for the best and is exactly as it should be.
In his typical humorous fashion, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky once quipped: “I don’t want to be G-d; I don’t like the hours!”
We want things to go our way and to be comprehensible and logical to our finite minds. But the reality is more often not that way.
One of the most important keys to living a life of inner peace is to be able to have acceptance. That in no way precludes the need for one to do all he can – an adequate hishtadlus. But once one has done so, once he has done his research, invested all the energy he could, and has davened (and davened again) he can have peace of mind and rest assured that G-d knows exactly what He’s doing, and things are as they should be.
This is by no means an easy level to achieve. But those who seem to live with serenity are those who accept life on its terms, for good or for better. They aren’t frustrated by their futile attempts to force things to be how they feel it should be. They know that G-d loves them and only wants the best for them, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
When I grow up, that’s what I want to be!

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

Friday, February 1, 2019

PARSHAS MISHPATIM 5779


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Mishpatim  
Mevorchim Chodesh Adar I
26 Shevat 5779/February 1, 2019

For years, the Tappan Zee Bridge connected Rockland and Westchester Counties. It was a very impressive structure, with much of the bridge being more like a highway just above the water. Towards the Westchester side, the bridge sloped upwards to become a suspension bridge, so that boats could travel freely beneath it.
It was determined that after decades of use, the bridge was beginning to fall apart. A new bridge was constructed and completed a few months ago. It was renamed the Mario Cuomo bridge, in memory of the late former governor of New York. 
The question then became what to do with the old vacant bridge. The original plan was to dismantle it with hydraulic cranes, and cart it away piece by piece with a barge. But engineers soon determined that the bridge was too unstable and feared it could be dangerous to leave standing for the time it would take to slowly dismantle it.
The new plan was to dynamite the main structure and collapse it into the Hudson River. It was decided that it was best to do so during the winter when it would have the least effect on the marine life in the river.
The detonation was originally scheduled for a weekend but had to be postponed because of high winds. 
On January 15, 2019, at 10:52 a.m. the explosives placed on the old bridge were detonated, and the east anchor span of the bridge dropped into the Hudson River in a cloud of smoke. Hundreds of spectators on both sides of the river witnessed the event.
It is fascinating to think that what had been the road to cross the Hudson River for so many years is no longer. If one tried to drive along the same route that had driven for so many years, he would find himself in the Hudson River. The new bridge was built close to the old one, but it required entirely new structure with updated technology for its construction.
In life, we are constantly seeking out the proper path to follow. But this world is somewhat fluid and unstable, with new challenges and vicissitudes arising constantly. What was the road to greatness yesterday - spiritually, economically, technologically, in parenting, educationally, etc. - yesterday, perhaps for many decades, may no longer be the proper course to follow today. That old road may have fallen into disrepair requiring a fresh new path, sometimes over uncharted waters, in order to forge ahead.
When Devorah the Prophetess uttered her magnanimous song after the miraculous defeat of Sisra and his armies, she described how when the enemy invaded the roads became deserted because they were dangerous for travel. When the enemy was vanquished, the roads were reopened and the nation was once again able to travel freely (See Shoftim 5:6-7).
It is reminiscent of what occurred in 1967, when the road leading to Yerushalayim was reopened to Jews, after having been blocked off for 19 years, with the fall of the old city to the Jordanians during the War of Independence.
Sometimes we need to rediscover old roads by seeing what worked in the past that may again be the key to success. At other times, we need to be courageous enough to admit that the old road is no longer suitable for travel, and a new road must be constructed. Einstein once quipped that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results.
Ultimately, the Torah is the path of truth - unalterable and indomitable. Our struggle is to figure out how to ensure that our path in this world is always in confluence with Torah.
Happy and safe travels.

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