Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Parshas Behar 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Behar

19 Iyar 5782/May 20, 2022

Avos perek 4- 34th day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

REAL COOL

Years ago, I heard about a man named Rabbi Meir Shuster, a fixture at the Kosel, who would scan the plaza looking for unaffiliated Jews visiting the wall. He would approach them and politely ask them if they had the time. When they would reply, he would use that opening to gently engage them and convince them to attend classes about Judaism. It was said that he was the catalyst for bringing countless Jews back to their faith.

I assumed Meir Shuster was a “cool guy”, suave and charismatic, with a wonderful sense of humor. He was probably extremely worldly and well versed in politics so that he could maintain a conversation with those he met and sought to reel in.

Over two decades ago, before I was married, I spent a Shabbos in the home of Rabbi Label Karmel, to help assist with a JEP shabbaton that Rabbi Karmel was running. Rabbi Shuster happened to be in Lakewood for Shabbos that week and we ate the meal together at the Karmel home.

At first, I was unsure who the sagacious looking individual was. When my friend approached him to ask him if he had the time and he smiled, I realized that he was the legendary Rabbi Meir Shuster. I was quite surprised. Here was perhaps the most uncool person I had ever met. He looked like the righteous scholar that he was. He definitely did not appear to be someone who could be one of the most successful people in Jewish outreach in the world.

Seared in my memory is Rabbi Shuster singing the zemer Yom Zeh Mechubad, his eyes closed in blissful concentration and one hand lifted in the air.

So, if it wasn’t his charisma, what about him touched the souls of so many thousands of Jews? What was the secret of his kiruv ability?

It seems clear that he attracted people with his sincerity. He was humble and unassuming, yet real and authentic. When he spoke about Torah, his love for it touched those he was speaking with.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky noted that the Hebrew word for influence, hashpa’ah, comes from the same root as the word shipuah, slant or incline. There are two ways to water a garden. One can irrigate the vegetation directly, which requires effort and constant wetting. A more practical way is to build a slated roof from which the steady flow of rain will automatically irrigate the vegetation.

mashpia, one who influences others, does not do so as much with speeches and moral diatribes, as much as with the force of his personality, through his living emotional example of how a Torah Jew conducts himself in all his affairs. His emotional attachment to Torah and mitzvos spills over and oozes out of his being and is felt by those in his orbit.

            The gemara (Ta’anis 22a) relates that Rabbi Beroka met Eliyahu Hanavi in the marketplace and asked Eliyahu if there were any b’nei Olam Habah in that marketplace? Eliyahu pointed to two individuals. Rabbi Beroka approached them and asked them what their profession was? They replied that they were badchanim who cheered people up. Rashi elaborates on their response, commenting: “We are happy, and we make others happy.”

Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l noted that Rashi makes it a point to say that, not only did they make others happy, but they were happy themselves. The rule is that one cannot give something that he doesn’t have. In order to make others happy, one must be a person who himself feels inner happiness. If you don’t feel it, you can’t convey it to others, no matter how good of an orator or actor you are.

The recent passing of Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein has created a profound void in our broader community. The truth is that in certain ways Rabbi Wallerstein was “cool”. He knew the lingo and the stories and examples he related in his lectures were very contemporary. At the same time, he was very sincere and real. Through that combination he was able to connect with and inspire countless others.

I can’t say that I was personally close with Rabbi Wallerstein. Though I heard many of his lectures and was inspired by him, I only met him on a few occasions. One of those times was when he spoke in my shul when I was the rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead. We were schmoozing after the speech and Rabbi Wallerstein related that on his decade birthdays (30, 40, 50, etc.) he accepted upon himself something new in his Avodas Hashem, as gratitude to Hashem for allowing him to reach that milestone.

If my memory serves me correctly, he told me he began wearing Rabbeinu Tam tefillin when he turned 50.

Rabbi Wallerstein would often quote lessons he learned from great people like Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l, and personal anecdotes from conversations and meetings with Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l, Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlit”a and many other tzaddikim. He spoke lovingly about Shabbos, Emunah, Hashem, and constantly doing things on behalf of Klal Yisroel

There is no doubt that a large part of his influence was the result of the fact that he was personally growing. He was always looking for ways to further his own Avodas Hashem and that ceaseless inner drive spilled over.

If we want to create changes, we can do so by seeking our own personal growth. Our influence upon those around us will be inevitable.

Gandhi purportedly quipped, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” How we act inevitably influences others most significantly through our example.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Parshas Emor 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Emor

12 Iyar 5782/May 13, 2022

Avos perek 3- 27th day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

HIGH VOLTAGE

Before I went to Eretz Yisroel a few months ago, I was reminded a few times to make sure to take a long a few outlet adapters. The shape of the outlets in Eretz Yisroel are different than the shape of our outlets and an American plug will not fit into an Israeli outlet.

There are two global standard voltage networks, 110V and 220V. The United States runs on 110V, while most of the world runs on a standard 220V system. (I hope you’re following this because I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

While I was there, the adapter i used for my phone charger worked perfectly.

But no one explained to me that there is a difference between adapters and converters. While an adapter will ensure that the plug will fit into the wall, it doesn’t alter the voltage. A converter, however, will take care of the difference between the voltage of the outlet and the voltage of the device.

Electrical products that have heating devices or mechanical motors, like dryers, shavers, irons and fans require a converter, not just an adapter. But I didn’t know that at the time, and when I turned on my plug-in shaver, it sprang to life for a brief moment. Then, I heard a pop, and the shaver instantly went dead. Thinking I had tripped the outlet I decided not to try it again for the rest of my trip.

When I returned to America and plugged it in however, it didn’t turn on. It was clear that the mechanism inside had been destroyed by the voltage change and my shaver was kaput! May it rest in pieces.

Every one of us has an internal flame but we get “fired up” differently.

The oft-quoted mantra of chinuch is the pasuk from Mishlei (22:6) “Chanoch l’na’ar al pi darko - educate a child according to his way.”

It’s fascinating that the word chanoch is spelled חנך without a vov. That would seem to be analogous to spelling “edukation” wrong.

When used as a prefix, the letter vov means “and”. In Hebrew conjunctions are expressed with the letter vov.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn suggests that the wisest of men is reminding us that it’s not so hard to educate the child who is insightful, disciplined and motivated. It’s those students that lack the conjunctions, that don’t see or make connections, or challenge the connections that are already in place, that is the real challenge of education. More than others it’s those children who need us to figure out their unique voltage to help them plug them in to a vibrant power source. If we can’t figure out how to tap into the current running through them, they may tragically remain unplugged.

In Parshas Toldos when the Torah relates about the upbringing of Eisav and Yaakov, the pasuk states, “Yitzchak loved Eisav, because tzayid befiv – the hunt was in his mouth.”

The literal translation of these words, “he entrapped him with his mouth” is simply understood to mean that Eisav tricked Yitzchak, by causing Yitzchak to think he was righteous when, in reality, he was living a sinful life.

The Sifsei Cohen however suggests that “he entrapped him with his mouth” actually refers to Yitzchak entrapping Eisav with his words. Yitzchak was well aware of Eisav’s evil tendencies, and that was precisely why he showed Eisav increased love and affection.

In other words, Yitzchak was fully aware of Eisav’s ‘red’ fiery nature and was doing his utmost to channel that nature positively. Yitzchak felt that Yaakov didn’t need to receive the berachos because he was already living a blessed life. Yitzchak hoped that by demonstrating to Eisav his love and esteem for him, and that he wanted to give the berachos to him, it would cause Eisav to repent.

In a similar vein, the late Rabbi Mordechai Berg explained that when the Torah states that Yitzchak told Eisav to bring him “tasty foods like I love”, it doesn’t mean that the holy Yitzchak really cared about a good steak. It’s not the meat that Yitzchak loved but rather his son that he loved. By showing an interest in hunted meat Yitzchak hoped he could forge a connection with Eisav and thereby reel him back with love. (In her intuitive wisdom Rivka recognized that, despite Yitzchak’s noble intentions, Eisav would not be able to be brought back and giving him the berachos would prove disastrous.)

Dr. David Pelcovitz notes that all families have a “family bumper sticker”, an unwritten and often unverbalized charter, goal, or mantra that every family member is expected to live up to.

Some examples include “Lakewood or Bust”, “Ivy League only”, “Chesed or Else”"Be What You Want to Be - as long as it includes medical or law school!”, “Israel advocacy”, etc.

The challenge is when our children don’t fit into our familial vision. In such instances we have to love and respect them for who they are and figure out ways to respect and connect with them, even if those ways entail engaging in things we would otherwise have felt were trivial or foolish. It’s vital that we see them as they are and not who we would like them to be.

If we try to stuff them into a power source that doesn’t have the correct voltage suited for them, the results can prove disastrous.

In the beracha of r’tzay in Shemoneh Esrei we daven “the fires of Yisroel and their prayers accept with love and favor.” Perhaps these words also refer to the fires of our souls burning within us. Each of us ignite differently and have different electric currents and voltage that keep us charged. We daven that every one of our fires, wherever we are along our personal journeys, find favor before Hashem.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Parshas Kedoshim 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Kedoshim

5 Iyar 5782/May 6, 2022

Avos perek 2- 20th day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

HIGHLIGHTING LIFE

One morning recently, I was standing in shul davening when I noticed the open siddur of the fellow sitting in front of me. It was open to the prayer of Ahava Rabba recited prior to Shema. It caught my eye because some of the words were highlighted: “Place in our hearts to understand and to discern, to hear, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform and to fulfil all the words of Your Torah with love.”

I realized that I say those beautiful words every morning, sadly, often mindlessly. But when I saw it highlighted it helped me rethink about the beauty of those words.

As a result, a few days later I picked one sentence from every paragraph in my siddur and highlighted it. It was surely not to imply that that one sentence is any more important than the others. But when I focused on one sentence that particularly resonated with me, it helped me stay more focused generally on the words I was saying.

In the world of academia, highlighters are an essential component of learning. In their texts, students highlight main points to outline them in order to make it easier for them to study later.

Highlighting however, is not just something we do with a fluorescent marker. We mentally highlight things throughout our day wherever we go and in whatever we do. In fact, the things we highlight have a tremendous impact on how we relate to and remember things.

There are countless examples of this:

Someone goes on vacation for a few days with his family. When they arrive at the airport one piece of luggage is missing and it takes a few hours before it’s located. Then, when they arrive at the hotel, their reservation doesn’t come up on the computer and it ends up costing more time and money. On the way to one of their outings one of the kids throws up all over the backseat of the rental car. Aside for that the trip was fun and enjoyable.

How he remembers that trip depends on what parts of it he highlights in his mind. He can perceive it as a great trip with a few hiccups along the way. Or he can see it as a mostly wasted vacation, with a few salvageable moments.

Reciting the annual beracha on budding fruit trees at the beginning of spring helps highlight for us the natural miracle of the world’s rebirth all around us. It helps us realize that there is an incredible phenomenon taking place that we should notice and appreciate.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller related that one can gift his friend an entire house without spending a penny. He walks into his neighbor’s house and comments about how beautiful it is and mentions specific things he likes about the house. The neighbor may not have appreciated his entire house. But when he hears an outsider highlight the virtues of his house, he may suddenly have a newfound appreciation for his house. With a few complimentary words he gifted his neighbor with the house he has already been living in.

What’s unnerving is that the opposite is true as well. With one sharp thoughtless comment we can cause another to become disenfranchised with something they enjoyed or had been proud of. It’s true with stuff and, more profoundly, with relationships as well.

When dealing with difficult people, especially difficult children, we must train ourselves to mentally highlight their positive character traits and to find those ways in which they shine. That will help us feel less impatient with them.

In the great prayer composed by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk we pray that we see the attributes of our friends and not their deficiencies. Love and hate are rooted in what we highlight in others. How vital is this idea in marriages!

This concept holds true regarding movements and revolutions as well. Beginning in the 1760s, American colonists highlighted their protestation against taxation without representation, and used it as basis for their right to cede from British authority.

During the 1700s the Ba’al Shem Tov saw that the common Jew felt disconnected from G-d. He created the revolutionary movement of chassidus to spiritually engage the common Jew.

My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, notes that the Ba’al Shem Tov didn’t create anything that didn’t already exist. Rather, he shifted the emphasis of key concepts.

Chassidus made the common Jew feel he had a relationship with G-d and that his every action is significant to G-d. Prayer was always a fundamental part of a Jew’s Avodas Hashem. The Ba’al Shem Tov also gave tefillah an added primacy and emphasized connection with the tzaddik who could raise the common Jew and help connect him with G-d. As a result of being connected to G-d, chassidus emphasized joy and a positive frame of mind.

By highlighting certain components, even at the expense of other components, it created a revolutionary approach that shook the Jewish world.

We cannot choose the events of life or the people in our lives. But we can choose what we highlight and focus on. Those highlights make all the difference in our perception and attitude.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Parshas Achrei 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Achrei Mos

28 Nissan 5782/April 29, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Nissan – Avos perek 1- 13th day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

PERENNIAL SUNSHINE

 

It’s ingrained in our psyche - fallback and spring forward. (Or is it fall forward and spring back?) Whatever it is, we have become accustomed to changing the time on our clocks twice a year. Though each time we change we can’t seem to figure out if we’re gaining or losing sleep, but somehow, we figure it out. But all that may soon be a thing of the past.

Daylight saving time has been in place in most of the United States since the 1960s. Year-round daylight savings time was actually adopted during World War Two and again in 1973 to reduce energy use because of an oil embargo. Currently there is a major push to change to daylight savings time permanently.

Supporters say the change could prevent a slight uptick in car crashes that typically occurs around the time changes as well as the small increase in the rate of heart attacks and strokes soon after the time changes.

The U.S. Senate has already unanimously voted to pass legislation, called the Sunshine Protection Act, to make daylight saving time permanent starting in 2023.

It remains to be seen if the bill will pass a vote in the House.

Dissenters of the bill note that, if passed, during the dead of winter children will go to school each morning in utter darkness. For frum Jews there is a much more significant concern because the earliest time for shachris may be well after 8 am. Having to daven so late will complicate things for the masses who need to be at work by 9 am or earlier, as well as for our yeshivos.

Despite that, in recent weeks I was personally hoping that the bill to make daylight savings time a permanent fixture passes. My hope was based on the fact that the dial on my watch to change the time has fallen out, and I cannot adjust the time. Instead of having it fixed it would be much easier if time always remained as it is now.

But then I was informed that even if the bill is passed it won’t go into effect for another two years anyhow, to give time for airlines and other such businesses to adjust their schedules. Being that I will anyway have to get my watch fixed within the next 6 months I’m back on board with prioritizing the needs of the Jewish people trying to adhere to halacha and hoping the bill does not pass.

The reality is that times changes and we must be ready to adapt to them. In Ma’ariv each night we note that “with understanding He changes the times and alternates the seasons.” Life isn’t smooth and predictable, and we have to live with some measure of unknown. But despite any changes or adaptations that are necessary, we seek ways to ensure that they fit within halacha, and never vice versa.

The Torah states that sefiras haOmer, our annual 49-day count from Pesach until Shavuos, begins “from the day after Shabbos”. Chazal explain that in this pasuk Shabbos does not refer to the seventh day of the week but the first day of Pesach. Why is the first day of pesach called Shabbos?

Meshech Chochma explains that the Torah obligation to actively destroy chometz in one’s possession before Pesach is called “tashbisu”, the same root as the word shabbos (literally meaning to stop/desist).

The first day of Pesach is Shabbos in the sense that we stop our yearlong habit of enjoying chometz and completely alter our diet for a week. Challenging and arduous as it is, we fulfill the Torah mandate of not eating chometz during Pesach.

After we demonstrate our ability to make a significant change in our lives in adherence to the Torah’s directive, we begin our spiritual trek towards Kabbolas HaTorah.

The seasons don’t change. Based on the position of the sun they have faithfully followed natural law since creation. There will always be the same number of limited hours of daylight in the winter and added hours of daylight in the summer. The only thing that changes is how we count the hours and what time the hours of daylight begin and end.

Our adherence to Torah is also immutable and eternal. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring and the only surety we have is of the unpredictability of what lies ahead. But we can be sure that no matter what is going on, the daily daf, halacha, mishna, and other Torah study will be learned. Candles will be lit by women the world over on Friday afternoon, mitzvos will be observed and chesed will be performed. Those commodities, though based on time, are timeless. As history has shown us, of that we can be sure.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum