Wednesday, October 11, 2017

SIMCHAS TORAH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Hoshanah Rabbah/Erev Shemini Atzeres
21 Tishrei 5778/ October 11, 2017

A friend related that this year, aside from his other "kabbalos" (spiritual New Year's resolutions), he has also accepted upon himself not to get angry or frustrated if/when he "messes up". 
It's actually a brilliant and integral tactical move. 
We are all aware of how our conscience/evil inclination works against us. We resolve to become better and improve in a certain area, and pledge to accomplish certain feats that have hitherto eluded us. We set out full of gusto and momentum... until!
When we encounter that initial "until" it's usually sufficient to completely unravel us and burst our bubble. The little vexing voice tells us we already blew it, and so we might as well just throw in the towel now, and spare ourselves further aggravation. However, now that my friend had an added resolution to not allow himself to become bent out of shape when unable to fulfill his pledge, he is still keeping a resolution by not allowing it to get to him. It's a counter-tactic to keep himself going. By not allowing himself to give up, he can feel that there is no reason to give up, and to stay the course even after a slip. 
My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, relates that he had a sign that read "confidence is the feeling you have, until you realize the problem". 
In order to ensure that one will be able to maintain his confidence, he needs to be as proactive as possible. 
This year, this piece of advice is invaluable. Undoubtedly, as we dance and elatedly celebrate the conclusion of another cycle of Torah, and set to begin anew, many will pledge to be more vigilant about reviewing the parsha each week. Perhaps it will be to be ma'avir sedra (review the parsha) which one had been derelict about until now, or to be more vigilant about learning shnayim mikra v'echad targum (twice the Chumash and once a translation), or to learn Rashi, or perhaps to undertake learning an added commentary such as Ramban or Seforno. Regardless of what the resolution is, this year is a 'resolution killer'. After the excited dancing of Simchas Torah ends and one enjoys a restful Friday evening, as he heads home from shul the following morning, he is already a parsha behind. And what a parsha it is!
Parshas Bereishis spans Creation and the first thousand years up to the flood. It also includes the primordial sin and banishment from Gan Eden, and Kayin murdering Hevel. If ever there was a parsha which needed a full week at least, this was it. Instead, in Eretz Yisroel they have a day in a half, and in the diaspora we have barely half a day. 
So as we accept upon ourselves to re-dedicate ourselves to learning the parsha each week, we should also accept to not become discouraged within the first two days of the new cycle. 
The first sin was due to the wily scheme of the snake, we should ensure that we try not to fall prey to his old tricks. 

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

SUCCOS 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Succos
14 Tishrei 5778/ October 4, 2017

Shortly before we left to camp this past June, our landscaper did some cleanup work around our yard. That included clearing pieces of wood that had been stacked on the side of our house for quite some time, left there by a lazy worker who had done construction in our basement a while back.
Our landscaper brought the pieces of wood and boards to the top of our property, where the garbage men would be able to easily clear them away. The problem was that the garbage men did not clear it away. After a few weeks, we inquired and were informed that they do not pick up construction materials, and apparently our few pieces of wood were deemed ‘construction materials’. We were expected to bring it to some other location and to pay for its removal. There was also another unofficial option - to catch the garbage men on pickup day, offer them a few cold beers and twenty dollars, and they would be sure to take it, despite official policy.
Being that we never seemed to be there at the same time as the garbage men, those pieces of lumber sat at the top of our driveway throughout the summer. It became a real eye sore for us, especially when they were still there when we arrived home from camp.
Then, last week, a friend noted that a neighbor of ours is doing construction and has a dumpster in front of his house. He probably wouldn't care if I threw in a few extra pieces. Indeed, our neighbor didn't mind at all. So, on Thursday night, the night before Yom Kippur, I loaded those annoying pieces of lumber into the back of our van, and disposed of them once and for all.
It was a great feeling to finally be rid of the debris that had been there for months.
Someone asked me recently, what is the difference between Aseres Yimei Teshuva and the rest of the year. After all, don't we know that sincere repentance can be accomplished throughout the year? Can't we call out in tefillah to Hashem at all times?
The difference is that throughout the year, repentance is indeed attainable but it requires a far greater initiation and effort by the penitent. During the Aseres Yimei Teshuva however, there is a 'spiritual dumpster sitting on the lawn', waiting for us to cast our sins in there. Undoubtedly, casting away our spiritual debris requires sincere effort; however, it is far easier than the rest of the year when such sins need to be "carted off", and only then cast away. Doing teshuva during these days is part of the zeitgeist, and the atmosphere in the air helps us along.
The next morning, I had a further observation:
The Medrash Tamchuma (Emor, 22) curiously states that the first day of succos is the “first (day) for the calculation of sins”. The Medrash then asks why the day after Yom Kippur isn't the first day for the calculation of sins? It would seem that during the day after we have been forgiven, we have to immediately begin reckoning the sins of the new year?
The Medrash answers that during the days between Yom Kippur and Succos one is so busy readying himself for Succos and all of its endemic mitzvos (erecting his succah and purchasing his daled minim) that he has no time to sin. Therefore, it is only on the first day of Succos that one begins to calculate his sins.
When I arrived home the night after I carted off all the lumber from the top of our driveway, I couldn't fully appreciate the fact that it was gone. But the following morning, as I got into my car, and saw the empty space and how nice it looked after three months, it was a very good feeling.
During the days between Yom Kippur and Succos we are consumed with preparation for the upcoming holiday. But when the Yom Tov begins and we enter our regal succah, and are permeated with a feeling of august holiness, it strikes us that the weight of the sins we carried with us for so long, is gone. It is only then that we can fully appreciate our Herculean efforts throughout the days when we were engaged Teshuva. The first day of succos then, is our first opportunity to begin calculating all of the sins and guilt that we have divested ourselves of.
It is all part of the sublime joy of this incredible holiday, the consequence of taking out the spiritual debris and being cleansed and purified.

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

              R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SHABBOS SHUVA/YOM KIPPUR 5778

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Shabbos Kodesh -Yom Kippur
9 Tishrei 5778/ September

In our home, we take the custom of eating challah with honey during this time of year, very seriously. If having honey is symbolic to have a sweet, new year, we aren't taking any chances of abrogating that symbolism.
In our family, the challenge is to douse the challah with the perfect balance of honey - the most that the challah can tolerate before the honey starts dripping down the sides, all over the plate and onto the tablecloth. To do so requires squeezing out the honey, and then quickly biting into the challah. If the honey pourer is not agile and quick enough, he's liable to end up with a sticky mess.
Recently, my mother gave our children a book called "Tootles" as a gift. It was a book I grew up with, but hadn't seen in many years.
The story is about a young locomotive named Tootles who dreams of one day pulling the big express. He, and the other locomotives, are taught many rules and regulations in school. But the most important rule emphasized is that they must never ever leave the tracks.
The problem is that Tootles enjoys the fields and the sunshine, and he veers off the tracks. The story relates how the engineer got Tootles to realize that if he aspires to be a famous locomotive one day, he must learn to always stay on the tracks.
The concept of teshuvah entails that we get ourselves back on track. During the vagaries of our daily routines, we sometimes stray off track. Often, it's the result of chasing the proverbial butterflies into the meadow, which causes us to veer off the straight path. Doing teshuvah requires us to evaluate how true we have been to ourselves. To "get back on track", we must be willing to let go of the negative habits we have formed.
We are blessed to live in a land of plenty. Pleasures and enjoyment abound, and there is little to stop us from indulging. This is not only true about sinful and forbidden pleasures, but even regarding enjoyments that are acceptable within reason. For example, there is no dearth of eateries of all different types, each constantly updating their menus with tantalizing new dishes
Our challenge is to learn how to have our cake, and hold ourselves back from eating it too. We have to discipline ourselves to stop trying to grab as much honey as we can, by enjoying with a proper balance.
Dovid Hamelech states in Tehilim (147:13): "For he strengthens the bolts of his gates, his sons are blessed in their midst."
The Torah imposes upon us many gates/limitations, but within those gates one can enjoy life and be elevated by its blessings. When one learns how to live comfortably and happily within those confines, his progeny will feel blessed, and will thrive as well.
The greatest life is lived by someone who remains on track and is constantly progressing towards his ultimate destination. The great day of Yom Kippur helps us recognize in which areas of life we have indulged, and must reverse course to get back on track.
So, turn your train around, stand clear of the closing doors, and proceed as planned.
Next stop: the intense joy of Succos and Simchas Torah!

G’mar Chasima Tova & Good Yom Tov
Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

               R’ Dani and Chani Staum     

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ROSH HASHANAH 5778


“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”
Erev Rosh Hashanah
29 Elul 5777/ September 20, 2017

One morning this past week, a photographer came to yeshiva to take pictures of the beginning of the new z’man (semester). As can be imagined, as soon as he entered the classroom, all the boys looked at him. He motioned that everyone should keep learning, and act as if he wasn't there.
The truth is that although the learning in our class has been great b’h, I can't say that every student sits upright with perfect attention at all times. But with the photographer snapping away, every student was sitting up in his seat, bent over his Gemara, finger on the place, following intensely.
The same occurs whenever a photographer comes to take pictures during davening. Suddenly, everyone seems to be davening with intense concentration, fully engrossed in every word being said.
I was thinking about it afterwards - Is it all just a ploy? Is it just a facade put up for the camera? I don't believe it is. The truth is that we all have a mental image/picture of what we would like to be. We all have aspirations to achieve certain levels of accomplishment, based on our values and goals. The problem is that in the day-to-day happenings, lethargy sets in, and we don't live up to our own ultimate mental image. Perhaps the greatest rationalization we offer ourselves is, if I allow myself a little leisure and leeway right now, it won't take away from my ultimate goal. After all, does it really matter if I'm not at the top of my game on a random Tuesday in November?
The problem is that we seem to use that same rationalization day after day, month after month, year after year. The result is that the elite mental picture we have of ourselves becomes increasingly elusive.
A picture captures a moment, and freezes it. When the photographer is taking pictures, we act as we truly want to be viewed, so that that image becomes frozen in time. It may not be who we are, but it generally is who we want to be, or at least how we want to be perceived. We act a certain way in front of the camera because that's who we truly want to be. The challenge is for us to become the person we posed as in the picture.
From Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur we try to be on top of our spiritual game. In a sense, the celestial photographer is taking a snapshot of us, based on which the heavenly courts will decide our future.
At times, we may feel that our superior behavior during these days is just a silly charade, because we can't fool G-d anyway. However, that superior behavior can encourage us to realize who we truly pine to be. We really do want to live a more elevated and meaningful life, and we really do want to be the person in the heavenly snapshot taken during these days.
Our challenge then is to constantly remember that the only way to become the person in the picture, is by taking advantage of every day, and doing our best constantly. Every random Tuesday in November indeed matters along the journey to become the greatest person we can become.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova
Good Yom Tov & Shana Tova,

       R’ Dani and Chani Staum