Wednesday, December 2, 2020

PARSHAS VAYISHLACH 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayishlach 5781

18 Kislev 5781/December 4, 2020

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

ALL AROUND US

            May 1945. Liberation day finally arrived. Chaim was more dead than alive, but he had survived. Although he had suffered terribly and lost almost everything, he had outlived Hitler. So many times, throughout the war he had given up hope; there was simply no way he could go on. The odds of his survival was practically zero, and yet, in each situation he somehow survived. It was as if a divine hand was guiding him in the miserable darkness.

            After being handed a piece of bread by an American soldier, the chaplain asked Chaim what he needed. Chaim immediately replied that, after not having had the opportunity in years, he wanted to put on a pair of tefillin. There happened to be an old worn out pair that had smuggled in. But when it was given to Chaim he refused to put them on. He wanted to find a mehudar pair of tefillin.

They tried to reason with him that there was no way they would find such a set. Perhaps they could order one and receive it the following week. But for the moment he could fulfil the mitzvah with the set that was available. But Chaim wouldn’t hear of it. With tears in his eyes he explained that the Nazis greatest joy was to break the spirits of the helpless inmates, so that they would fall into despair. Chaim was insistent that he fulfill the mitzvah in the optimal manner.

            Because of his insistence, the American chaplain drove Chaim a few miles to the remains of a bombed-out Shul. The chaplain again tried to explain that there was nothing salvageable. But Chaim was already crawling and sifting through the rubble.

            Soon, it was late afternoon and not much time before the sun would set. The chaplain again tried to convince Chaim that they had done their best and he should give up his quest for the impossible. But Chaim was unyielding. He went back to the rubble and randomly began digging. Suddenly, he found a metal box with a lock on it. He excitedly called the chaplain and together they cracked the box open. To their utter surprise and delight, inside was a stunning pair of tefillin. What was more amazing was the name on the bag. The tefillin had belonged to the last Rav of the community - a holy tzaddik known for his devotion to mitzvos.

            It’s an incredible story, but I must confess that I made it up. To be sure, I only make up true stories, and indeed the story is true, just the names and events are different. This story is largely the story of Chanukah. Then too their survival was miraculous and against the odds. They too had not fulfilled the mitzvah in years. When the opportunity presented itself, they too could have performed the mitzvah easily (impure oil was permissible under the circumstances for a variety of reasons). However, they insisted on performing the mitzvah in an optimal manner despite the fact that it was virtually impossible to do so. They too searched for something that couldn’t be found, and they too miraculously discovered what they hoped for.

            While miracles have been performed throughout the ages, the purpose of miracles generally is to save lives. This was true at the time of the exodus from Egypt, splitting of the sea, destruction of the armies of Sisra and Sancheirev, miracle of Purim, and even the miraculous victories over the Arabs during each of the Arab-Israeli wars.

            The miracle of the oil, however, was completely unnecessary. That miracle was a divine kiss, as it were. The Maccabees pined to perform the mitzvah and didn’t stop trying to serve Hashem in the optimal fashion, and Hashem reciprocated.

            If you think about it, that type of miracle is constantly happening around us. Our community is blessed with numerous chesed organizations, each one performing incredible and vital services to help those in need.

            Which organization didn’t begin with a small act? The founders of these organizations will be the first to say that they never thought it would grow to become what it is today. It began as just an idea and a dream. They lit one small candle. But then the miracle set in and it continued to burn, brighter and brighter. They kept at it with every fiber of their being, devoting blood, tears, and toil in their pursuit for more pure oil, and G-d began providing.

            Which yeshiva or shul didn’t have humble beginnings? Most, in fact, had little chance of survival and growth.

            On an individual level this happens as well. Many people at the recent Siyum Hashas recounted that there was no way they could do Daf Yomi. But they began anyway and seven and a half years later are marveling in disbelief at their own impossible accomplishment. They lit one flame and, as long as they kept yearning, Hashem kept fueling their fire.

            There are Chanukah miracles happening all around us, every day - globally and personally.

            As we light our small flames this Chanukah, we should appreciate the fact that it is symbolic of what we do every day and throughout our lives - one candle at a time.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            Freilichen Chanukah Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

PARSHAS VAYETZEI 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vayetzei 5781

11 Kislev 5781/November 27, 2020

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

GET BETTER NOW!

 

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, is fond of relating the following personal story:

            “In 1974, after the Yom Kippur war, I was the rabbinic administrator of the OU’s kashrus division. The recently concluded Yom Kippur War had a traumatic effect upon the country. אין בית אשר אין שם מת - almost three thousand soldiers had been killed, and twelve thousand more were wounded. The notion of Israeli invincibility that had developed after the Six Day War was punctured. You could literally feel the depression on the street.

            “At that time I was in Eretz Yisroel and went to see Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l to discuss different issues with him. Afterwards, I asked him his opinion about the current situation.

Rav Shlomo Zalman replied that at the time Klal Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel were one big hospital - כולנו בבית חולים. Some were in the cardiac ward, some were in the psychiatric ward, some were in intensive care, and some were only outpatients, but everyone was in the hospital.

            “What’s the first rule visitors are told in a hospital? Keep quiet. Does a doctor walk into a patient’s room in the morning and scream at him “why aren’t you better? Why don’t you get out of bed?”

            “What is everyone hollering about? Everyone is sick and everyone is scarred. We didn’t patch up the trauma of the Second World War yet. The constant struggle of the last hundred years still weighs upon the Jewish people. So why are we shouting at each other? Instead, we should focus on trying to help and heal each other. איש את רעהו יעזרו ולאחיו יאמר חזק.”

            It’s a powerful idea and one worth bearing in mind constantly. At times we get upset at people and become frustrated with their views or behaviors. We need to remember that people are generally doing their best. There is so much about their lives that we have no idea about. There is so much pain and confusion raging within others that we cannot see or know. We need to stop shouting and judging. What Rav Shlomo Zalman said decades ago is perhaps even more true today - everyone is in the hospital, everyone is struggling, and everyone needs patience and understanding.

            I must add a personal reflection: A few weeks ago, I was sidelined by Corona. Almost everyone who heard that I was sick was sympathetic and concerned. But there were individuals whom I felt were judging me for contracting the virus. Or they were more concerned with how my contracting the illness affected them than they were about how I was feeling.

            Besides the insensitivity of it, such an attitude is very concerning. In fact, in some ways it symbolizes part of the decline of our society. When people become so concerned with themselves that they cannot see or think about others they tend to become increasingly more narcissistic and self-absorbed.

            Beyond that, when people feel justified in being critical of those who are sick, suffering, and less fortunate, it demonstrates a much more serious level of apathy and being unable to see beyond one’s own perspective.

            There was a city legendary for such behaviors. It was known as Sodom and it was ultimately destroyed.

            The Jewish people are by nature merciful and strive to perform chesed. That is the light we spread in the darkness.

            Rav Shlomo Zalman taught us that we need to stop shouting at each other, and in the world of Covid, we need to stop judging each other. No one has all the answers. But together we can transcend and forge ahead.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Parshas Chayei Sarah 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chayei Sarah 5781

26 MarCheshvan 5781/November 13, 2020

Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev

 

To be added to my “Striving Higher” WhatsApp chat with periodic chizuk clips, or my “Power Parenting” WhatsApp chat with weekly ideas about parenting, text me at 845-641-5094.

 

SIMPLE GREATNESS

            You won’t find “Lower East Sider” in a dictionary. If you google those words, you’ll get some entries about prices of apartments and other various news about the Lower East Side. But for the tens of thousands of Jews who grew up and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan there is significant meaning. In fact, those old timers take it as a great compliment to be a “Lower East Sider”.

            Lower East Siders possess a combination of simplicity, exuding warmth, extreme friendliness, being non-judgmental, and unpretentious. There was, and is, nothing fancy about the Lower East Side, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. It was the land of Gus’s pickles, China Town noodles, H and M skullcap, and the Williamsburg bridge. There were also countless shuls, but none were in competition with the other.

            I was born and spent my formative years on the Lower East Side. Both sets of my grandparents lived on the Lower East Side and it was exciting to be able to walk over on Shabbos to see them or eat a seudah at their apartment. Our family moved from the Lower East Side to Monsey in 1988.

            My Zaydei, whose yahrtzeit is this Shabbos, 27 MarCheshvan, was the Rabbi of the well-known Anshei Slonim shul on Norfolk street until it closed in 1974.

            My Zaydei had a warm relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The last gift my Zaydei left me is a set of Igros Moshe inscribed with a brief beracha from Rav Moshe. The inscription is dated 12 Kislev 5745 (December 1985). At the time I was five years old. Rav Moshe was niftar a little over a year later; my Zaydei was niftar less than three years later. It’s one of my most treasured seforim.

            Even after Rav Moshe was niftar, his sons, Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven, would attend our family simchos, primarily in honor of my Bubby a”h. I had the zechus that they attended my bar mitzvah and wedding.

            The Lower East Side was the perfect place for Rav Moshe and his family. Rav Moshe was the posek hador, and the gadol hador. His greatness in Torah was matched only by his incredible humility.

Those traits were personified by his son, Rav Dovid who was niftar this week.

            My aunt would often note that it was known that if you wanted to find Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven on a given day, you first checked the pizza shop on the Lower East Side, where they often ate breakfast together.

            If you didn’t know who Rav Dovid was and you passed him on the street, you would have no idea that one of the leading halachic authorities in the world, a man who was fluent in the entire Torah, and the Rosh Yeshiva who had succeeded his illustrious father, had just passed you.

            A few years ago, my father went went back to the Lower East Side for Shabbos to attend a simcha. During the kiddush, Rav Dovid walked over to him to say Good Shabbos.

            On one of our dates, my wife and I went to a restaurant in Boro Park. When our food arrived, I went to wash. (She probably ordered a salad and didn’t need to wash). When I returned to the table, she noticed a look on my face that she couldn’t decipher. When she asked me what happened, I pointed beyond her. She couldn’t figure out what in the world I wanted. After I said a beracha and took a bite, I told her not to back up too quickly. At the table behind us were seated Rav Dovid and his Rebbitzin, along with another couple.

            Rav Dovid was so great and yet he was so simple. He went shopping, he humbly walked the streets of the Lower East Side, and he was accessible to anyone who wanted. I look at the picture of him and his Rebbitzin from our wedding and marvel at the fact that he not only schlepped to Lakewood to attend, but also was willing to be in the picture with us. (The same is true about Rav Reuven and his Rebbitzin.) It was, and remains, very meaningful to us.

            In a world so focused on glamour and publicity, it’s rare to find people who are perfectly happy keeping to themselves and living a simple life. But I don’t know how one can do so when he is a leader of his people with earth-shattering questions and pressing matters coming to his door constantly.

            This week we celebrate the bar mitzvah of our son, Avi. Somehow, I hope we can convey to him some of the lessons we learned and gleaned from Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l.

            The nostalgic streets of the Lower East Side have lost some of their greatness, and Klal Yisroel has lost a quiet Gadol and leader. May his memory be for a blessing.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum