Thursday, August 15, 2019

PARSHAS VAESCHANAN / NACHAMU 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan – Shabbas Nachamu
      15 (Tu) Menachem Av 5779/August 16, 2019 - Avos perek 4

            I came to a fascinating realization recently: The people who are paid the highest salaries in our society are those who distract us. Think about it - who gets paid mega bucks and salaries in the millions? Celebrities, movie stars, and athletes. Our society imbibes television, movies, and sports, because it offers us a welcomed distraction from our stressful, fast-paced lives.
            We all need some respite from the daily grind. The problem in our society is when distractions begin to supplant reality.
            The Torah and halacha demands that we train ourselves to maintain our focus on what we are engaged in. When one davens it is an ongoing struggle to maintain concentration, at least of the fact that he is standing before, and davening to Hashem. Whenever one is engaged in performing a mitzvah he has to try to make that his complete focus. Halacha forbids multi-tasking when davening, reciting a beracha, or performing a mitzvah.
            But in a world which has almost no attention span or patience, investing and maintaining focus is very difficult.
            When the Bais Hamikdash stood, things were very different.
            A person would think twice before he spoke about someone else, knowing that one statement of loshon hora can cause him to contract tzara’as and possibly end up in solitude, outside the city for some time. One funny or sarcastic comment is surely not worth that price. On Shabbos a person would be far more mindful of inadvertently desecrating the holy day, knowing that such a mistake can cost him a tremendous amount of money. He would have to purchase a sheep or a goat as a Korban chatas, which he would then have to bring to the Bias Hamikdash and watch its blood being sprinkled upon the altar by the Kohain. All that for forgetting that it was Shabbos or that the act he did was prohibited. “Spacing out” had a far greater price tag.
            The pilgrimage to Eretz Yisroel before each of the three major holidays also left an indelible impression. Entire cities would empty out, as the entire population headed for Yerushalyim. The only ones left behind were the elderly and infirm who were unable to undertake the journey. The display of faith to leave everything behind unguarded was itself incredibly inspiring. Meeting friends and Jews from all walks of life every holiday was also a memorable experience.
            A visit to the Bais Hamikdash any weekday was memorable and uplifting. One would see the alacrity and precision with which the kohanim performed the service. He would hear the beautiful melodious songs of the Leviim, and he would witness how careful everyone was to not come into contact with anything that could render him impure. It was truly a different life.
            The pasuk states “The awesomeness of G-d was from Your sanctuary.” One could attain a certain measure of Yiras Shomayim whenever he visited the Bais Hamikdash. (When the nation began to lack that reverential awe when they visited the Bais Hamikdash, that was when Hashem decided that it was time to destroy it.)
            The lack of a Bais Hamikdash robs us of all these experiences. Living with a Bais Hamikdash meant living a life of focus and attention. Our society is almost the polar opposite. It’s a world of fragmentation and distraction.
            Part of the challenge of exile is for us to try to live with that sense of focus and awareness, even without the Bais Hamikdash. It is with the hope and anticipation that our efforts will help usher in the time when we can experience that greatness again, at the time when we will enjoy the ultimate consolation.

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

Thursday, August 8, 2019

PARSHAS DEVORIM/CHAZON 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Devorim – Shabbas Chazon
      8 Menachem Av 5779/August 9, 2019 - Avos perek 3

            Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l was recognized throughout the Torah world as the foremost halachic authority and the leader of his time. As the ambulance sped through the streets of Manhattan carrying the elderly and ailing Rosh Yeshiva in what would be his final moments on earth, Rav Moshe uttered his final words: “Ich hob mehr nisht kayn ko’ach - I have no more strength.”
            Whatever strength he had was used in the service of his people. Now his energy was gone, and his illustrious life on this earth came to an end as well.
            One of the most painful predicaments is when a person feels he just can’t take it anymore; he just can’t go on. Although that feeling can be an incredible motivator for change and growth, that is only when change is within his purview and capability. That’s when the feeling of desperation can be the catalyst and impetus he needs to catapult him beyond his lethargy or anxiety to accomplish what he truly desires. However, when there are situations that are out of one’s hands, and life becomes painful and overwhelming, it’s a different story. As long as one is able to maintain a spirit of optimism, he will be able to endure the challenge. But when that sense of hope becomes depleted, he becomes far more vulnerable. The most difficult moments are when a person feels defeated, beaten, and alone. When one’s resolve has been shattered, he no longer has the fortitude to deal with the vagaries of his challenging situation.
            When Parshas Devorim is read there is one pasuk read in the mournful tune used when laining Megillas Eicha. That is the pasuk where Moshe Rabbeinu declares, “How can I alone bear your burdens, your loads, and your grievances?” Moshe felt overwhelmed and incapable of being the sole leader of Klal Yisroel. When one has a feeling of “eicha - how can it be?” he can easily become despondent.
            It is not one’s situation that determines his emotional state, but his attitude and perspective.
In the world of psychology this was demonstrated and taught most profoundly by Dr. Viktor Frankl. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, suffered Nazi persecution including being an inmate in Concentration Camps. Frankl noted that only those who were able to maintain a sense of mission were able to survive Auschwitz. He himself survived because he would picture himself speaking with people as a therapist in his new office after the war would end.
            In his words, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that can not be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
According to Frankl having a sense of meaning and purpose can help a person deal with the most difficult challenges. He bemoaned the fact that people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for!
            The greatest gift a person can receive when feeling broken and lost is regeneration of chizuk and encouragement. It can come in many forms and sometimes from unexpected places. When one feels that he has no strength to go on, that renewed vitality can make all the difference.
Megillas Eicha begins with that most painful declaration - “Eicha”, Yermiyah’s deepest expression of anguish and exasperation. We begin Tisha B’av with that same sense of “Eicha” - How can all this have happened? How can our people have endured so much pain and suffering? How can we still be here after so many centuries in exile?
            As we read the words of the kinnos that feeling of Eicha only becomes magnified. But after reciting paragraph after paragraph recounting our endless suffering, we start to realize that if they have not been able to destroy us until now, it is clear that we are eternal and indestructible. It is that recognition which fills us with sudden hope, granting us an injection of vitality that consoles us.
In our lowest moments, we recognize that our suffering itself is indicative of our eternity. The question of Eicha - how can we endure? is transformed to a proud declaration of Eicha- oh, how we have and will endure!
            That is why in the middle of Tisha B’av we already begin to gather comfort and recite the prayer of “Nachem”, asking Hashem to comfort the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. All the pain and suffering we have recounted reinforces to us that we are special and unique.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
An easy, meaningful and inspiring Tisha B’av,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, August 1, 2019

PARSHAS MATOS-MASEI 5779


 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei
      Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av 5779/August 2, 2019 - Avos perek 2

            There is a certain thrill to be in an environment in which a person normally cannot survive in for any extended period of time. It gives the feeling of defying and traversing nature.
            Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo-11 in 1969. It was an incredible event that had billions of people throughout the world transfixed, as one small step was taken by one man which was a giant leap for mankind.
            There were those who claimed that the moon landing negated a pasuk that we recite monthly during kiddush leavana: “Just as I dance opposite you and cannot touch you, so should my enemies not be able to touch me for bad.” They claimed that now that an astronaut had landed on the moon and had touched its surface those words were no longer applicable. But that assertion was blatantly false. In truth, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin never actually touched the surface of the moon. If their actual bodies would have come into contact with the moon’s surface they would have instantly died from lack of oxygen. What had actually touched the moon was a mechanical spacesuit which was able to sustain life. Essentially, they were enclosed in a piece of earth upon the moon. Thus, the words of the prayer remain as true as ever - just as a physical hand cannot touch the moon, so too our enemies should be unable to physically touch us.
            I have been told that scuba diving is an incredible experience too. Aside from the fact that beneath the surface of the ocean are incredible worlds and countless breeds of fish and other sea creatures, it is thrilling to be under water for an extended time. There too, it is the thrill of being in an unnatural surrounding, ensconced in a specialized suit that enables the diver to breath underwater.
            I would imagine that that is also the thrill of skydiving. Personally, you couldn’t pay me enough to jump out of a moving airplane. But many people will indeed pay a lot for the experience. The rush of the air against one’s body when one freely falls towards the earth hundreds of feet in the air grants a unique feeling of living to the extreme.
            But there’s a limit to how long a person can survive when he is outside of his natural element. When the “earthly provisions” are depleted it isn’t long before he will die, unless he returns to a natural earthly environment.
            A person’s soul also needs nourishment in order to thrive and be healthy. A Jew needs constant spiritual nourishment to help him achieve his divine mission. He has constant mitzvos like tefillin, tzitzis, and mezuzah, and he has days that envelop him in holiness such as Shabbos and Yomim Tovim. But the ultimate “natural habitat of the soul” in this world was the Bais Hamikdash.          It was an incredible experience to visit the Bais Hamikdash and to see the kohanim performing the Avodah with alacrity, hear the beautiful song of the Levites, and witness the incredible precision to the laws of purity in the most sanctified of places. The triennial pilgrimage for the holidays was a transformative experience that left an indelible impression upon one’s soul throughout the year.
            In exile, we lack that experience. But we must at least recognize how remiss we are. We survive spiritually by surrounding ourselves with mitzvos and basking in the sanctity of the holy days. But we yearn for the Bais Hamikdash when the very air will be spiritually charged and foster greater connection with G-d. Such is the world we wait for - a world devoid of pain, self-doubt, and anguish, and a world filled with divinity and holiness.

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