Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Lech Lecha 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Lch Lecha

9 MarCheshvan 5782/October 15, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

TABLE THAT THOUGHT

 

            Over the years as our family has grown b’h, coupled with the fact that we enjoy having guests for Shabbos meals, we have outgrown our dining room table.

            The table we had for the last decade and a half, was a gift to us from the family of Mr. Leo Joseph a”h. Mr. Joseph was our neighbor for the five years that we lived in an apartment in Blueberry Hills Condominiums. Despite the fact that he survived the horrors of the Holocaust and was already a widower by the time we knew him, he was always pleasant and had a smile on his face. When he passed away, his family graciously gave us his dining room table. But the time had come for us to find a new table that was larger and could accommodate our family and periodic guests.

            After a long search, we found a new table that worked for us.

            I was thinking about the importance of our dining room table and how much happens in its presence.

            Rabbi Pinchos Idstein, a rebbe of mine, related that years ago, his accountant informed him that he could use his Shabbos table expenses as a write-off for his taxes. Being that he was a rebbe in the local Yeshiva in an outreach-oriented community, his guests could legitimately be considered recruitment for the school. His accountant suggested that he save his grocery receipts, figure out a percentage and claim it as a deduction.

            Sometime later Rabbi Idstein was informed that he was being audited by the IRS. During the meeting, as the IRS representative was reviewing his file, she asked him about his business expenses. Rabbi Idstein explained to her that Orthodox Jews have two Thanksgiving-like dinners every weekend. The family sits together, singing songs, thanking G-d and discussing ethical matters. They invited guests regularly to enhance the experience. He added that kosher chicken costs a whole lot more than Frank Perdue.

            Rabbi Idstein recounted that the woman stared at him for a moment in silence and then quipped that she could hardly get her family to sit together on Thanksgiving itself. She couldn’t believe that his family did it twice every week.

            In the end, the IRS owed the Idstein’s money. So aside for some majorly frazzled nerves beforehand, all’s well that ends well.

            Dr. Yitzy Schechter, a noted psychologist and former supervisor, notes that when he does an intake with new Jewish clients, he often asks him/her to describe what the family Shabbos table looks like. There is a lot one can learn about family dynamics from the weekly patterns that occur at the Shabbos table.

            So much of the values we wish to impart to our children are conveyed at the Shabbos table. There are conversations about Torah values, outlook on current events, seeing the Hand of Hashem in our lives, speaking about the parsha, singing zemiros, and discussing what’s happening in each other’s lives. Of course, in most homes there is also the ubiquitous quibbles and squabbles about who sits where, and whose turn it is to speak/sing, and which child should be helping serve and clear. (Don’t pretend this doesn’t happen in your home if you have children…)

            Many of my fondest memories and most wonderful times are from around the Shabbos table.

            On one occasion when I had to get a shot a number of years ago, I wanted to divert my attention from the needle. In my mind I pictured myself at my shabbos table singing Yom zeh mechubad. That was the tranquil and peaceful moment I focused on to calm myself. That event also reminded me that, in retrospect, our greatest memories often aren’t from amazing trips and vacations, but the seemingly mundane and even trite pleasant events that we don’t think much about at the time.

            I enjoy when our Shabbos table is set on Thursday night. The mere sight of the majestically set table generates an anticipatory excitement for Shabbos.

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon notes that the Shabbos table should never become an extension of their child’s classroom. It is vital that parents do their utmost to make sure each of their children feel heard and validated at the Shabbos table. With more than one child that’s no easy feat. But that’s why parents get paid the big bucks. If a child has a hard time in class, he shouldn’t be asked parsha questions at the table where he will be embarrassed in front of his family. Parents also need to decide how long they should insist their children remain at the Shabbos table without it becoming overbearing. Overall, Shabbos meals must be a pleasant and uplifting experience for everyone.

            A few years ago, a friend sent me recorded lectures from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky in which he spoke about having a positive home. One of the points Rabbi Belsky emphasized was the importance of there being laughter in the home. Families should have occasions to laugh together.

            At times I would tell stories at my Shabbos table from my youth which had my children laughing heartily. (I would be careful that there shouldn’t be loshon hora involved.) On those occasions, I would feel a little guilty that perhaps it wasn’t in the spirit of the Shabbos table. But when I heard those words from Rabbi Belsky I rethought the matter. Laughing together at a Shabbos table helps bring the family together and hopefully allow the beautiful kedusha components of the seudah to penetrate more and be more memorable.

            Although we had outgrown our old table it was somewhat sad to bid it farewell. Aside for the memory of our dear neighbor Mr. Joseph, there were so many wonderful moments and great memories shared at that table. There were Sheva berachos, family get-togethers, Pesach Sedorim, and many other wonderful occasions, not to mention hours of Torah learning and homework done over that table.

            But we anticipate many more beautiful memories that will be created around our new table as well. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to have you be a part of it at some point.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Parshas Noach 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Noach

2 MarCheshvan 5782/October 8, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

BLISSFUL LITERACY

 

            If ignorance is bliss, illiteracy can be beneficial.

            It was the final Friday of the past summer’s camping season. I was in our bungalow in Camp Dora Golding looking at a calendar when I realized that Shabbos would be our twins - Gavriel and Michael’s - fifth Hebrew birthday. Generally, we celebrate our children’s English birthdays for the simple reason that we remember those (at least the rest of my family does. I’m lucky if I remember all of my children’s names….). But I made the mistake of announcing that it was their birthday in their presence. They excitedly asked what we were doing to celebrate their birthday. My wife shot me an annoyed glare and asked me why I had to say anything.

            On Shabbos morning the following day, camp’s director and First Lady - Alex and Chanie Gold hosted their annual hakaras hatov kiddush, in appreciation of the devotion and efforts of the camp administrators and their families throughout the summer. All camp families attended the gala kiddush presented by Chef Yosef Oldak, which included an impressive assortment of meat, kugels, herring and sushi platters (for those who like that stuff…), endless candy, and cookies that had the Camp Dora Golding logo on them.

            When our family arrived at the kiddush, the twins assumed it was in their honor and were very excited. We weren’t about to tell them otherwise.

            I approached Alex and asked him if he could give a happy birthday shout out to the twins at the end of his speech. He graciously agreed. He did even better. At the end of his warm message of gratitude to the assemblage, he asked “where is Gavriel and Michoel Staum?” The two of them looked up surprisedly from their plates of candy and cups of soda and raised their hands. Alex called them over and told them that because it’s their birthday they each get another cookie.

            The twins assumed that the words on the cookies read “Happy Birthday Gavriel and Michoel”. They were delighted to add the extra cookies to their overflowing loot of nosh.

            We thanked Alex for helping us with our birthday dilemma, allowing the twins to feel special without it costing us a penny. He jokingly replied that he was a sending us a bill for half the kiddush.

            Of course, we want our children to learn to read and write. There is a beautiful excitement generated as they begin to recognize letters, and even more so, when they are able to read words. But, until that time, we can take advantage of their illiteracy.

            More recently, our daughter Aviva got her driving permit. During the days prior, while she was studying for the exam, whenever I was driving and she was in the car, she would announce what each sign we passed meant. The entire trip I heard “stop, yield, left turn ahead, traffic light ahead, speed limit 30, two way traffic, dead end, pedestrian crossing, etc. It was worse than having a cop driving behind me.

            Those signs had been there for years, but she had never paid much attention to them because they didn’t mean much to her. But now that she needed to know what each one meant she paid careful attention to ensure she understood their message.

            At the beginning of each year, when I hand my wide-eyed, overwhelmed freshman students the gemaras they will be using for the year, there is a palpable feeling of nervousness. I tell them that now the words in their new gemaras look like they are in a foreign language (to be fair, they are written in a foreign language. But I mean even more foreign than a chumash or mishnayos). Our goal is that over the course of the year, they will invest in their learning, and repeatedly review the words of the gemara until they become fluent and comfortable with them. That includes marking up their gemaras with punctuation, translation of hard words, and other brief notes. If they do so, they will discover that they will become very attached to their gemaras, until it feels like a dear friend. They will invariably feel a deep sense of mastery, pride and love for the volume whose words once seemed so alien to them.

            I also tell my students that there is a certain majestic beauty seeing a yeshiva bochur walking in the street clutching his gemara. Just as he takes his tefillin with him whenever he goes away overnight, if he develops a true connection with his gemara, he will want to take it with him as well.

            On Simchas Torah many Yeshiva bochurim dance while grasping the gemaras that they use every day. There is an unparalleled pride in the feeling of connection to Torah and Hashem which results from investment and diligence.

            I write this from the vantage point of a rebbe of boys because that’s what I have the great zechus to be. But the same is true for a girl who invests in her Torah studies and tefillah.

            Davening is a particular challenge for many of us (especially our youth) because the words are so foreign. But one who tries to understand the timeless words of tefillah will begin to recognize the incredible tapestry and depth that are to be found in the words of the Siddur.

            May we all become spiritually literate and discover the great sweetness of connection to Torah and Tefillah.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Friday, October 1, 2021

Parshas Bereishis 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bereishis

25 Tishrei 5781/October 1, 2021

Mevorchim Chodesh MarCheshvan

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

VERY FISHY

            I don’t like fish.

            Well, that’s not really true. I enjoy watching fish swimming around and I find them to be fascinating. But that’s while they are alive. Once they are dead, I don’t like them anymore, especially not on my plate.

            What? You don’t eat gefilte fish?

            Nope!

            Fish sticks?

            Nope!

            You don’t have tuna fish at Shalosh Seudos?

            Absolutely not!

            But you for sure like sushi!

            Raw fish is the worst!

            So, you don’t eat herring? Are you Jewish?

            I can’t even stand the smell of herring.

            What about the fact that it says one should eat בשר ודגים on Shabbos?

            The next line is וכל מטעמים - and all tasty delicacies. I don’t find fish to be מטעמים!

           

            The bottom line is that I don’t like fish - not with chrayn, not in the rain, not on a plane, and not down the drain.

            On Rosh Hashanah evening, instead of fish, our family eats the candy jelly fish. In fact, we have two jelly fish. One upon which we say the prayer for when eating fish, and the second from which we eat the head and say the prayer for eating the head of a fish.

            When my children shared with me the story of Yonah before Yom Kippur, I told them that it’s similar to the story about why I don’t eat fish.

            When I was young, despite my protestations, my parents insisted that I eat gefilte fish. On one difficult occasion, I forced down the gefilte fish. As soon as I did, I felt that the fish was davening to Hashem to be rescued from inside my stomach. Then, just like Yonah, on the third day I opened my mouth, and out came the fish. I’m not sure if it went to Nineveh afterwards[1], but that’s when I stopped eating fish. My children were skeptical of my story.

            I remember one Shavuos morning, when we were invited out for the day seudah. After being up all night and then sleeping for a few hours, I plied myself out of bed where we were served… a fish meal. How were they to know that I wouldn’t eat fish? At that point I wasn’t just grumpy from being tired I was also grumpy from being hungry.

            Interestingly, I have a couple neighbors who are in the same boat as me (pun intended) when it comes to eating - or not eating - fish. That makes it easier when we have Shabbos meals together.

            My sensitivity is pretty extreme. On one occasion I ordered a bagel from a store. When I took a bite out of it, I was able to tell that the knife used to spread the butter had been previously used to smear tuna fish. I couldn’t eat it.

            I especially detest the smell of baking or fried fish, especially salmon.

            All this leaves me a bit concerned during the Succos season. Don’t get me wrong - I love Succos and enjoy every minute of the beautiful holiday. But when we take leave of the succah, we recite a customary prayer, “May it be Your Will, that next year we merit to sit in the succah made out of the skin of the leviathan.” Wait a minute - a huge succah made out of fish? I hope it doesn’t smell like fish in there. Is there an option to sit inside a succah made out of wood? Better yet, doesn’t Gan Eden have access to a Leiter fibreglass succah? I’m sure they could get a good deal.

            Our sages relate[2] that at the beginning of creation, G-d created a male and female leviathan. He then killed the female leviathan so that the leviathan wouldn’t procreate, because the world couldn’t handle the propagation of such a mammoth species. G-d then salted the female leviathan and preserved it for the righteous to enjoy in the future.

What was the point of G-d creating something, only to destroy it immediately after?

            Rav Matisyahu Salomon explains[3] that G-d did so to teach the world a vital lesson about how He runs the world. At the time that G-d killed the female leviathan it must have seemed like a terrible tragedy. It was a short time after creation, and this species was not only endangered, but it was also guaranteed to eventually become extinct. But, in truth, its death was the greatest kindness for the entire world. Had it lived the rest of creation would have been endangered.

            When we begin Bereishis anew and study the Torah’s narrative of creation, one of the first lessons we encounter is that of the leviathan. It serves to remind us that there is a plan and direction to everything that occurs in life, even though it often doesn’t seem that way to us. Just as G-d created the world with precision and perfection, so does He continue to maintain it with that same exactitude and perfection.

            That is also the lesson of Succos. Throughout the year we place our confidence in our assets, governments, business acumen and capabilities. But on Succos we sit beneath the shade of the divine, acknowledging that it’s all Him. We also shake the Four Species in all directions, to further emphasize that all the winds and storms of life are from Him.

The world and our lives are on a path guided by the infallible. Our task is to do the best we can within the circumstances we are dealt.

            I may not like fish. But I’m confident that the experience of sitting in a succah and partaking in the feast of the leviathan will be a blissful experience, even for those who don’t like the taste of fish.

            I hope that indeed I’ll merit to see you there in that magnificent succah next year. Until then we should all remember the timeless lesson it teaches us about the divine path of life and that everything is ultimately for the good.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] someone said it might have gone to a fish store in New Square…

[2] Rashi - Bereishis 1:31

[3] Kuntrus Matnas Chaim - Motzei Yom Kippur-Succos

Monday, September 27, 2021

Simchas Torah 5782

 

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Hoshanah Rabbah

21 Tishrei 5781/September 27, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

PERFECTLY UNBALANCED

 

            Perhaps the most under-appreciated honor that one can receive in shul is to do hagbaha - raising the Torah for the entire congregation to see.

            Some people don’t appreciate being honored with hagbaha, because, unlike being called up for an aliyah, hagbaha is not a “talking part”. Some young men however, become very excited with the opportunity to do hagbaha, relishing the opportunity to display their bulging muscles to the entire congregation. You can tell who those people are because they try to open the entire Torah at once while raising it to the rafters.

            I often think about a hagbaha incident from my youth, when we davened in the Poilisher Shteeble on the Lower East Side. For some inexplicable reason, Ezra, a man whose hands shook was given the honor of doing hagbaha. As expected, as soon as Ezra lifted the Torah it wobbled menacingly, and everyone around the bimah rushed to steady it. An annoyed Ezra called out, “I got it! I got it!” My father and I still laugh about that incident.

            During this time of year hagbaha can be somewhat challenging because all of the weight of the Torah is shifted to one side. During the weeks before Simchas Torah when the final parshios of the Torah are read, all of the weight is on the right side. Then, during the weeks after Simchas Torah when the first parshios of the Torah are read, all the weight is on the left side.

            There is a symbolic message in the challenging hagbahos of this time of year. The end of the Jewish year is the season of repentance, when we seek to reset ourselves spiritually, and recommit ourselves to the ideals of Torah and serving Hashem. It is immediately followed by our recommencement of our yearly cycle of Torah learning and reading. During this time, we remind ourselves that Torah study, commitment and observance is not merely for when everything is evenly balanced and relatively easy. It also includes unyielding acceptance, even when life seems unbalanced, and pressures pull us in one (or opposite) directions. Our task is to be able to metaphorically do hagbaha - raising and looking upwards towards the open Torah - even then.

            Rav Elimelech Biderman similarly notes that this message is demonstrated in our daily taking of the Four Species on Succos. Halacha dictates that until one recites the blessing, one holds the esrog upside down with the pittum facing downwards. This symbolizes that whenever one is in a situation where things seem upside down, or out of whack, when things are as people say, “mitten pittum arup - when the pittum is facing the ground”, even then one must recite a beracha. Doing so demonstrates one’s faith that everything is for the good and exactly how G-d wants it to be. In that merit, hopefully everything will be transformed to what seems good to us as well.

            There is an old beloved Yiddish Succos song called “ah sukkele”. In a moving tune it relates how the father built a flimsy succah for his family to use during the beloved holiday. But then a storm came, and winds pounded the succah, threatening to rip it apart. The man’s son turns to his father in fear and asks if the succah can withstand such winds? The father reassuringly replies that the succah has been withstanding terrible winds and tempests for two thousand years. It will unquestionably withstand this storm as well.

            During the seven days of Succos we celebrate the lives of seven of our greatest leaders, the ushpizin, who are called the seven shepherds of Klal Yisroel. By reminding ourselves and contemplating their timeless contribution to our people, we welcome their presence and essence into our succah.

            The ushpizin teach us how to serve Hashem, even when things are not pleasant, easy or convenient. Each one of them transcended numerous challenges and struggles throughout their lives. It is their moments of triumph over adversity and personal pain that we celebrate and try to internalize during Succos. It is the fact that they served Hashem even when things weren’t balanced and the proverbial esrog was upside down.

            As we roll the Torah for the end back to the beginning, and as the weight shifts from one side to the other, our hope is that we can proclaim, “I got it! I got it!”, even at those times when our hands are shaky, and we feel unbalanced.

 

            A Piskta Tava & Git Kvittel

            Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Monday, September 20, 2021

Succos 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Succos

14 Tishrei 5781/September 20, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

BENEATH THE CAP

            The season of repentance is described as a great gift from G-d, one that offers us renewal and redirection. So why do we dread it so much?

            You’re schmoozing with a friend at a simcha, laughing and reminiscing together. Without thinking much about it, you haphazardly grab a bottle of soda from the middle of the table and rapidly begin twisting it open. You failed to realize that the waiter had just brought that bottle of soda to the table and had dropped it along the way. In a moment there is soda spritzing all over the table, your suit (dress/shaitel), and face. Aside for the big mess, it’s embarrassing. It’s definitely a sticky situation to be in (sorry).

            The carbonated contents of the bottle had been under pressure. To avoid a bursting explosion, it needed to have been opened slowly and methodically.

            Most of us have a lot going on beneath the surface of our lives and personalities. But we feel that we have to maintain a superficial veneer that our lives are perfect, and we have everything together. Despite the fact that everyone has their share of struggles and challenges, we like to pretend everything is peachy and perfect. After all, we are naively fooled that our neighbors indeed have everything together, so how can we let anyone know that we don’t?

            So, we bottle everything up, causing tremendous pressure to build within ourselves. For much of the time we are able to keep pushing everything beneath the surface or the rug and go about our lives.

            That is part of the reason why many of us fear the process of teshuva. Why shake up the bottle and create an explosion? Who wants to find out what’s under the bottle cap?

            The problem is that in order to grow, one must be willing to confront all those things he spends his life hiding from. He has to open the cap on the bottle and allow the mounting pressure to escape. But he’s afraid that it may explode beyond what he can handle. The problem is that, alas, there is no other way to grow beyond one’s current state.

            During the sublime days of Tishrei, the custom is that we recite tashlich in front of a flowing body of water, preferably water that has fish swimming in it. (Of course, there are some readers who just looked up and said “Oy! I still have to remember to say tashlich!” This is your reminder that you have until Hoshana Rabbah.)

            When one looks at a body of water it seems serene and level. But just beneath the surface of the water is an entire world obscured from view.

            One of the reasons why tashlich is recited at a waterfront is to symbolize that, like flowing water, G-d’s Kingship flows and continues eternally. Perhaps it’s also to symbolize that just as there is a world beneath the surface of the water obscured from the view of those on shore, so is the depth of G-d’s monarchy beyond human comprehension. There are layers and layers of depth beyond what our finite minds can grasp.

            The truth is that within ourselves as well there is much greatness that we fail to tap into. It’s uncomfortable to pull off the cap that’s keeping the contents under pressure. But when we do so, we discover wonderful content we never realized was there.

            The question then becomes, once one has opened the proverbial bottle, and dealt with the pressure and explosion it generated, what does he do next? Does he immediately close it back up and put in the fridge, or does he then enjoy the delicious contents?

            Now that we hopefully have engaged in that discomfort during the great days of teshuva, pulling and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, how do we maintain it?

            Rabbi Aaron Moss of Sydney, Australia, explains it this way:

            “Having just emerged from the security and nurture of the womb, a newborn baby is particularly vulnerable and sensitive. So, moments after birth, it is immediately swaddled to keep it protected and warm.

            “But swaddling doesn't last long. You rarely see teenagers wrapped up in a cloth with their arms behind their ears (though perhaps some should be.) Swaddling is a brief bridging stage between the safety of the womb and the hazards of real life. A well wrapped baby will eventually grow to face life unwrapped. The swaddle cloth just helps him get there.

            “Your soul needs that bridge too. You have emerged from the womb of Yom Kippur, a pure and renewed soul. The negative residue from your past has been cleansed. Your soul is now tender and sensitive, and easily susceptible to the coldness of spiritual apathy and other moral germs floating in the air. You need some protection. You need to be swaddled. You need a Sukkah.

            “The Sukkah is the only mitzvah that you do with your whole being. The holy air of the Sukkah completely envelops and surrounds you. It turns everything you do into a holy act. Eating and drinking and chatting in the Sukkah is a mitzvah, just because it is done in the divine shade of the Sukkah. When you sit in a Sukkah, you are being swaddled by sanctity. 

            “Going from the highs of Yom Kippur straight back into the routine of the mundane world is like taking a newborn from her mother's womb straight out into the cold night. You just can’t do that. Sit in the Sukkah. Bask in its sacred shade. Be enwrapped in its warm embrace.”

            I would add that particularly after baring our soul, making ourselves vulnerable and facing the parts of ourselves that we tried to hide, we need added reassurance and encouragement. We need to feel that despite exposing the cold parts of ourselves to the elements, we are still beloved in the eyes of the divine.

            But the truth is that it’s the opposite. It’s because we had the courage to turn inwards and expose those painful parts of ourselves, to face our demons and confront our shames in order to grow, that we are so beloved.

            That’s the beauty and joy of Succos. We are welcomed to sit in the shadow of the divine and to celebrate the self-discovery we have gained. The cap is off. Now it’s time to enjoy the wonderful contents you discover inside.

 

            Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Yom Kippur 5782

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Yom Kippur

9 Tishrei 5781/September 15, 2021

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

ANTIVIRUS WARE

            The other night I was driving with our eleven-year-old daughter Chayala, and she began asking me questions about how different parts of the car works. I happen to know a lot about cars from my years of driving them. I know that they have four tires, an engine, a steering wheel, a battery that you can’t buy at the checkout line at Shoprite, seats, and windshield wipers. But that’s about the extent of my expertise with cars. Still, I explained to her that inside the system of the car there is a built-in computer that regulates the technical parts of the car. I added that when I had gotten into an accident a couple of years ago, when a car rammed into the side of my car, aside from the structural body damage that my car sustained, the mechanic also had to reset the computer inside the car, which had malfunctioned as a result of the impact.

            Being that this conversation took place during the Aseres Yimei Teshuva, I thought about the connection between my car analogy and the process of teshuva. Every time we commit a sin, there are two mishaps that occur. There is the actual sin which becomes embedded on our conscience. In addition, there is a negative spiritual residue which blemishes our soul. In another sense, there is the sin itself and then there is the fact that we committed an act in defiance of G-d’s Will, which automatically makes the sin an act of unwitting rebellion.

            Repentance for the actual sin is like the body work to fix the car. That damage is most easily recognizable because it immediately impedes the functioning of the car. But there is also the not as noticeable problem which may not be immediately apparent but will become clear after the driver turns on the motor. The inner computer, the brain of the car, is also damaged which causes the car to not function optimally. Even if the car is able to drive, it will be a frustrating experience and potentially even dangerous.

            Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates a similar analogy about a young ba’al teshuva who bought a new set of pots and pans and went to immerse them in a mikvah. Afterwards, he was informed that the immersion could not be done until all stickers were removed from the vessels. He removed all the stickers and went to immerse them again.

            Afterwards, he noted that removing the stickers themselves was the easy part. The hard part was scratching off the glue underneath the labels.

            I can well relate to this. Anytime my wife asks me to tovel something I ask her to please take off the stickers and glue beforehand. I have spent much time trying to scratch off the stubborn glue in the small mikvah area….

            The ba’al teshuva noted that he realized that every sin has an outer component and an inner component - the label and the glue. The actual sin itself is the label, the outer component. But beyond that is the glue, the inner component of the sin, the impurity caused by the act which adheres to his soul and makes him more prone to sin again.

            The Torah writes about Yom Kippur, (Vayikra 16:30) “Because on this day, you will be forgiven so that you will be purified.” Yom Kippur is not only a day of repentance, but also a day of reconnection. Through the arduous service of the day, we not only rectify the body work and remove the negative labels from our souls, but we also rectify our inner computers, by scratching away the sticky residue of the sin. Forgiveness is for the actual sin itself, while purification is from the negative spiritual effect the sin caused.

            A chassidishe friend once quipped that a computer can become infected with a virus, just as we become infected by aveiros (it works better with a chassidishe pronunciation, when it’s pronounced the same way - “a-virus”).

            Last year, I had the unenviable experience of my computer shutting down. Suddenly, all I saw was a blank blue screen. No matter what I pushed, or how many times I shut my computer, that awful blank blue screen persisted.

            In a panic, I went to an expert who was able to go into the bowels of the computer and rectify the issue. When I came to pick it up, he showed me that the screen with the familiar background picture of my family was back, as were all my files and documents. Thankfully, my infected computer was able to have a refuah sheleimah.

            On Yom Kippur, if we seek to purify ourselves, Hashem helps us get there. It’s not only a day of forgiveness from past iniquities, but also a day of purification and rectification, when we are afforded the opportunity to begin anew.

 

            G’mar Chasima Tova and Good Yom Tov,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Monday, September 6, 2021

Rosh Hashana 5872

 

 

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Rosh Hashanah of 5777

29 Elul Av 5776/ October 2, 2016

 

Although I have lived in Monsey for most of my life, I am not a Monsey native. My formative years were spent living in the legendary Lower East Side of Manhattan. Until I was eight years old, we lived on the second floor of 550G Grand Street, near where it intersects with East Broadway.

I have many wonderful memories from my years living there. Gus’s pickles were a constant at our Shabbos table, as were Chinese noodles purchased in nearby Chinatown. Through first grade I attended Mesivta Tiferes Jerusalem, and our family davened in the Poilishter Shteeble. But best of all was the fact that both sets of my grandparents lived just a few minutes away, in nearby apartment buildings. It was a special treat that when we would come to shul every Shabbos we would daven alongside my Sabbah a’h.

One of the many endemic experiences of living on the Lower East Side was saying tashlich near the base of the Williamsburg Bridge on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It seemed that the entire Jewish community, which included hundreds of people, was there.

As a child I was sure that it was our saying of tashlich that caused the East River to be so murky and polluted. After all, the river contained all of the discarded sins of all of Manhattan on one side, and all of Brooklyn and Queens on the other.

Another special experience of those years was spending Shabbos with our Sabbah and Savta. They lived on the fifth floor of their apartment building. On the way home from shul we would race up the flights of stairs urging Sabbah – who did quite well for a man of his age – to come quicker.

One of the highlights of those Shabbosim was lying down in Sabbah’s bed when he would read us a book. The book I remember him reading to us most was Scuffy.

Scuffy was a toy tugboat who grew bored circling around the bathtub of his young owner. He dreamed of traveling the open waterways in freedom. On one occasion he somehow managed to wiggle away from his owner in a small pond. The pond flowed all the way until it reached a river. Scuffy was enjoying every minute, including the views along the way, until the river became more raging and he neared the vast and frightening ocean. At the last moment before the water thrust him into the ominous endless ocean, a hand grabbed the terrified little toy tugboat by its stack. It was the young boy who owned Scuffy. Only from then on Scuffy was only too happy to be back in the bathtub, circling around and doing what he was made to do.

As a young boy that story put me to sleep. Reflecting on that story now however, made me think of it from a different perspective. In certain ways the story of Scuffy is our story. Chazal relate that the yetzer hara does not immediately goad a person to commit a serious transgression. Rather, he suggests that the person push his boundaries slightly, to test out the waters. He convinces to do things that aren’t really wrong per se, but may simply be something that make us feel somewhat uncomfortable. But the current only becomes stronger, until the person soon finds himself being rushed along the flow, no longer able to stop himself. The once pleasant streams have flowed into uncontrollable raging rivers, which lead to the ominous oceans.

But there is a hand that reaches out to grab us and reel us in before we become completely lost. In the waning moments of Yom Kippur, during the climactic prayer of Neilah, we declare: “You give a hand to sinners.” There is hope for return!

Perhaps that is part of the reason why the custom is to recite tashlich by a body of flowing water. It reminds us of the progression of sin and how easily we can become swept away. At the same time, it reminds us that there is a force stronger than all the rivers and oceans, i.e. the Being that created repentance even before he created those bodies of water.

We stand before the water with a feeling of meekness and humility and begin the prayer, “Who is like You, One who bears sin, and overlooks transgression…”

Therein lies our hope, if we will only allow that outstretched hand to embrace us.

Gut G’bentscht Yahr & Shana Tova,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum