Thursday, July 29, 2021

Parshas Eikev

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Eikev

21 Menachem Av 5781/July 30, 2021

Avos perek 4

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

OUT OF LINE

            During a speech he gave at a sheva berachos, Rav Shmuel Barenbaum, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn, noted that he had seen a cereal box that had on its cover a picture of an athlete eating that cereal. Rav Barenbaum related that he had three questions on the advertisement. First of all, even though the athlete was holding a bowl of that cereal, who is to say that he even likes the cereal? He may detest the cereal but is being paid to pose that way. Secondly, even if he does like the cereal, who is to say that just because he likes it, I’ll like it too? Finally, he’s famous because he can play ball well. What does that have to do with knowing if a cereal is good or not?

            Logically, his questions make a lot of sense, especially the third question. Why should anyone want to eat a cereal or, for that matter, drink certain beverages, wear certain clothes or use certain products just because an athlete or celebrity is portrayed enjoying that food or product? But such is the way of our society, and such is the profound effect of the billion dollar advertising industry.

            The mishna in Avos (Perek 6) lists 48 prerequisites for growth and greatness in Torah. One of those 48 is המכיר את מקומו - one who recognizes his place. Such a person understands his role and the effect he can have on others. At the same time, he recognizes who and what he’s not and doesn’t try to overreach his abilities or authority.

            Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch explains that the word chutzpah is a contraction of the words chutz and poh - outside of here. One who has chutzpah crosses the line of appropriateness and oversteps his boundaries.

            The gemara (Sotah 49b)) relates that one of the signs of the times for the generation prior to Moshiach is that there will be a proliferation of chutzpah. This manifests itself in many ways that are apparent in our time, including the way society worships celebrities, allowing them to sway public opinions.

            In 2016, a football player decided that he should kneel during the singing of the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Since then, a noted basketball player used social media to broadcast his opinions about political matters. Many celebrities followed suit using their platforms to convey their opinions about politics.

            Most recently, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company decided to weigh in (pun intended) on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, choosing to no longer sell their products in areas they deemed illegal. They were doing great with the ice cream. What does rocky road and half-baked cookie batter have to do with Israeli settlements?

            All these examples fit Rav Hirsch’s definition of chutzpah. Why should athletes or celebrities get involved in matters beyond their area of expertise?

            But such is the way of our generation in which many don’t know their place or recognize where the lines of appropriateness lie.

            Perhaps the ultimate chutzpah is when one person decides to become the spokesperson for an entire community asserting that her grievances represent what is happening in most homes. Aside for being a slanderous misrepresentation, it is also way out of line. (It is perfect entertainment for a society which prioritizes entertainment over facts…)

            The Torah teaches us how to live a life of meaning and inner expression within the guidelines of its parameters.

            When young children draw, they pick up a crayon or marker and color indiscriminately all over the paper. They subsequently tell you what they drew because it’s not otherwise recognizable. But as they become older, they learn to color between the lines, creating nicer pictures that are more clearly defined.

            In our own lives when we traverse the lines of halacha, we enter the realm of chutzpah and the picture we create with our lives appears messy and unappealing.

            When we live within the divinely ordained parameters of halacha however, we create a spiritually beautiful picture.

            What greater honor could there be than to paint a divinely beautiful tapestry every day of our lives.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Parshas Vaeschanan 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaeschanan

14 Menachem Av 5781/July 23, 2021

Shabbos Nachamu – Avos perek 3

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

CONSTANT CONSTRUCTION

            It’s been noted that parents who only have one child don’t have the complete parenting experience. That’s because when something is broken, they easily know who did it. Those who have multiple children, however, get to deal with multiple blank angelic looks and innocent replies of “it wasn’t me”, and have no way of knowing what really happened.

            One of the biggest challenges of parenting is dealing with sibling rivalry. Nothing quite warms parents’ hearts like seeing their children play nicely together. Conversely, nothing raises parents’ blood pressure as much as dealing with the squabbles and quibbles of their children.

            When those rivalries take place, it doesn’t matter what the parent’s occupation is - lawyer, financial analyst, actuary, surgeon, real estate agent or Rosh Yeshiva. At that moment, he/she becomes a detective and goalie, whose sole motive is to deescalate the situation while trying to preserve his/her sanity and eardrums.

            One such scenario that occurs periodically in our home is when one of our children are playing with magna-tiles and constructs a delicate structure even above his own height by carefully laying one piece upon the other. Then, suddenly, a sibling who was not invited to participate in the building or perhaps wanted some of the pieces for his own building, takes a swipe at a bottom piece, causing the whole structure to come crashing down. Screams erupt and we are summoned to try and restore peace. What took ten minutes to build, was knocked down in two seconds.

            There exists an unfair balance in our world between building and destroying. While building needs planning, requires meticulous and painstaking attention, and is accomplished step by step and layer by layer, destroying is much easier and quicker. What is true about toys is true about great buildings and structures. What can take years to build can be felled in moments. We were painfully reminded of this with the recent tragic collapse of a building in Surfside, Florida.

            It’s true not only in the physical world but in the spiritual world as well. It takes commitment and effort to improve one’s middos and to grow in one’s avodas Hashem. Yet it’s so easy to lose one’s spiritual gains in one fell swoop.

            Similarly, it takes years of effort to foster a positive reputation which can be destroyed in minutes, especially in our world of social media and instant communication.

            The yetzer hara is quite proficient in what he does. After all, he’s been in business for over 5780 years. But he also has the advantage of having a far easier job than his more pious counterpart, the yetzer tov. As one of my rabbeim once said - the yetzer hara has home-court advantage.

            The pasuk states that one small fly that lands in a large bowl of perfume can cause the whole bowl to become sullied and unwanted (Koheles 10:1). The yetzer hara is that fly (Berachos 61a). When he lands in a metaphoric bowl of delectable food or sweet smelling perfume, all the contents are no longer palatable or desired.

            One fly in a bowl, one push from beneath and the whole carefully crafted building will topple over and the whole bowl will become ruined.

            I’ve noticed something else when these sibling rivalries occur. Even in those circumstances when a jealous sibling knocks down a tower, once the architect finishes crying and carrying on about it, he immediately begins construction anew, at times with the help of the sibling who just knocked down the previous structure.

            In fact, sometimes the builder himself knocks down his own structure. Why would he knock down his own creation? Because he wants to build something bigger and better.

            Hashem tells the Navi Yirmiyah: “See, I have appointed you today over the nations and over the kingdoms, to uproot and to smash, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Yermiyah 1:10; this was the haftorah of the first of the three weeks).

            Alshich notes that it is clear from the pasuk that the purpose of the destruction was ultimately in order to rebuild. In that sense, the painful words of prophecy that Yirmiyah was forced to convey was ultimately for the good of the nation.

            The greatness of the Jewish people lies in our resilience. We have been uprooted, smashed, destroyed, and exiled repeatedly. Yet somehow, we find a way to build and to plant, often upon the charred remains of what was destroyed.

            Every year we move from the destruction of Tisha b’Av towards the days of Elul with anticipation that we can build and plant anew. There’s so much that has been destroyed. But we immediately pull ourselves up and start the process of rebuilding again.

            There’s a lot we can learn from our children and their toys. I think I need to start by buying more magna-tiles.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Parshas Devarim 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei

7 Menachem Av 5781/July 16, 2021

Shabbos Chazon

 

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.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

BROADENING HORIZONS

            One day last week, my neck was feeling extremely stiff, and it hurt to turn my head in either direction. For the rest of the day, I was mindful to not turn my head too quickly. When I needed to turn my head, I braced myself for a surge of pain. But during the night when movement is unconscious, I woke up in tremendous pain and couldn’t fall back to sleep for some time.

            The biggest challenge of having a stiff neck was that my periphery vision - the ability to see things happening in the corner of your eye - was limited.

            Periphery Vision Loss (PVL) is a real disability. It essentially means that one has tunnel vision, only being able to see things that are directly in front of the person. When one drives it is vital that he be able to see what is happening in his periphery. If something darts out suddenly, he has to be able to see it and slam on the brakes. Being able to do so can make the difference between a tragedy and a near tragedy. Therefore, one who has PVL may have limited night vision and may be unable to drive a car.

            Much of the Jewish world today seems to have lost its periphery vision. That we are a stiff-necked people is nothing new. G-d referred to us that way shortly after we had left Egypt and committed the grave sin of the golden calf. This was a nation that was raised from the dredges of society into an admired and feared nation amidst incredible miracles and supernatural occurrences. Yet, a scant five weeks after receiving the Torah they panicked and became overwhelmed with feelings of inferiority and unworthiness. They felt they simply couldn’t go on.

            In a sense, when G-d referred to them as being stiff necked this was part of what was meant. At that point Klal Yisroel was stuck in a tunnel vision perspective, only seeing the wilderness of the desert before them and followed by 31 mighty kings they would have to fight in order to conquer the Promised Land. For the former slaves the daunting challenges were stifling and paralyzing.

            The deficiency was that they didn’t see what was happening in their periphery. Manna fell from the sky every day, a well of water accompanied them in the desert, and they lacked nothing. If they turned a little more to see what was behind them, they would see the smoldering ruins of the world’s greatest superpower, which had recently been decimated with ten ravaging plagues and its mighty armies drowned in the sea. In their paranoia however, they couldn’t see any of it. They only saw the impossible future which caused them to resort to seeking ersatz comfort from a lifeless golden calf.

            The prophet Yermiyah similarly chastised Klal Yisroel (2:27), “…To Me they turned their necks and not their faces…” During the time before the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash as well, the nation lost their sense of perspective and failed to see the broader picture of their situation.

            My rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, dolefully notes that many Jews today think Jewish History began in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded. They have cast away thousands of years of Jewish values, tradition, sacrifice, and pride. Their tunnel vision has affected their ability to navigate the moral highways of life utilizing the rich traditions and direction of our leaders throughout the generations, causing them to be subject to the whims of our feckless society.

            It always seems strange that in the middle of Tisha b’Av, at the height of our anguish, after three weeks of mourning that culminated in recounting endless pangs of suffering and anguish, we begin to receive comfort. What happens at the stroke of midday on Tisha b’Av that we are suddenly able to - literally - pick ourselves up off the floor and begin the process of emotional rehabilitation?

            Perhaps part of the answer is that as we review the myriad painful events that have transpired to our people throughout the generations, we recognize that our history has patterns and that there is a broader perspective. It becomes clear that we are part of something special. Otherwise, why would the world be so obsessed with us? All of our suffering and pain and all our rivers of tears and blood remind us that ours is a long-term story- a story of drama, travails and tragedy, but a story in which all the diverse threads will be clearly woven together when our story reaches its resolution.

            May we merit to witness that resolution soon, when G-d will banish all tears and all will be comforted, when our national stiff neck will be healed, and we will merit to see the ultimate perspective of divine truth.

            May this Tisha b’Av be transformed into a Yom Tov.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Parshas Matos-Masei 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Matos-Masei

29 Tamuz 5781/July 9, 2021

Erev Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av – Shabbos Chazak

Avos perek 2

 

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.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

ROUTINE FEELING

            I’m considering writing a #1 New York Times Bestselling book. My hesitation is because of my extreme humility I’m not sure I want to publish such a popular bestseller. But if I do, i think it’ll be called “Two steps to Perfect Relationships”. The fact that it doesn’t guarantee perfection isn’t important. I’ve noticed that many other New York Times Bestsellers do not quite live up to their grandiose and emphatic titles either.

            In my opinion, the first step towards great relationships is to create positive habits that enhance the relationship. This includes doing things that deepen the connection and refraining from engaging in behaviors which weaken the relationship.

            The second step is to ensure the relationship is vibrant by investing it with emotion and excitement, thereby ensuring that it doesn’t become stale. In other words, it’s not enough to do what needs to be done, there must also be feeling as well.

            That’s basically the book in a nutshell. The other three hundred pages would be giving examples and building on those two principles.

            Where did I get these two ideas/components for a successful relationship from?

            It is axiomatic that in Judaism we don’t merely commemorate or mark historical events. There is little purpose in celebrating or mourning the past. Rather, we seek to re-experience and annually remind ourselves of the timeless lessons that were manifest back then and continue to be relevant in our time.

            The fasts of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha B’av are the bookends of the three-week period of mourning for the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.

            One of the five tragedies that transpired on Shiva Asar b’Tammuz was that the Korbon Tamid - the first and last offering in the Bais Hamikdash each day - ceased being brought. The Tamid was the symbol of consistency and routine. Its loss marked the painful cessation of the spiritual routine of the daily avodah.

            Prior to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, the prophet Yeshaya tried to warn the nation of the impending destruction that would occur if they didn’t improve their sinful ways. We read Yeshaya’s reproof, from the opening chapter of Sefer Yeshaya, during the Shabbos before Tisha B’av.

            The prophet conveys the painful message that Hashem was not pleased with our avodah because it had become a matter of trite rote. The kohanim would perform the avodah as a matter of duty, solely to fulfill their obligation. The emotional connection, the feelings of love, yearning and striving had faded away. Hashem informed the nation that He no longer was interested in their offerings. When there is no heart or emotion, the avodah no longer pleases Hashem.

            Rav Moshe Weinberger recounts that the following scenario has repeated itself numerous times throughout his years as a rabbi. A couple will come to meet with him in his office because they are having issues with their marriage. The husband will say that he doesn’t understand what is bothering her. He provides well for her, buys her presents on her birthday, takes her on vacation, and lets her buy whatever she wants. So what is she so miserable about? Meanwhile she is holding a box of tissues and tears are flowing freely down her face.

            Rabbi Weinberger notes that the husband has totally missed the boat. Marriage isn’t built on things and stuff; it’s about connection and relationship. All the stuff and amenities in the world can’t buy the feeling of being cherished and appreciated. It’s hard to convey that in words but that’s what is troubling her.

            Hashem, as it were, has the same complaint against His beloved nation. Judaism isn’t only about the number of mitzvos or the pages of gemara one learns. It’s also about fueling a divine relationship and seeking to live a life of connection with Hashem.

            At Har Sinai, Klal Yisroel declared “na’ase v’nishma - we will do and we will hear.”

            Doing refers to the actions one takes - the mitzvos, positive habits, routines and rituals one performs in his service to Hashem. Hearing refers to developing a deeper connection. Hearing the true will of Hashem, beyond the raw commandment. Hearing is about connection and relationship.

            The three weeks of mourning begin with the loss of routine, which we mark on Shiva Asar b’Tammuz. It culminates with Tisha B’av when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed because the spark of emotional connection became extinguished.

            If we internalize the message of these two fast days and work to strengthen our positive habits and to infuse them with passion and emotion, we can be confident that what was destroyed will be rebuilt.

            These are the “Two steps to Perfect Relationships” - in our marriages and friendships and l’havdil with the divine.

            By the way, if you see my New York Times Bestseller on the shelves make sure to grab it because it’s going to be gone faster than the two fasts upon which its main idea is based.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Parshas Balak 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Pinchos

22 Tamuz 5781/July 2, 2021

Mevorchim chodesh Menachem Av

Avos perek 1

 

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.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

 

REPAIRING THE CRACKS

             

             One morning when I came down to my basement office, I noticed that the carpet was wet. It had rained hard the previous evening and it was clear that rain had seeped in from outside. The handyman we called to assess the problem told us that there was a thin crack in the outside wall of the house, and it was from there that rain had gotten in and soaked the carpet.

            Aside from the crack itself there was a far bigger concern of the crack widening causing far worse damage. It wasn’t cheap, but we had him repair the crack to ensure that no more rain would get in.

            The fast of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz commemorates the walls of Yerushalayim being breached by the Roman forces that had laid siege around the city. Three weeks later the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed. Once the walls had been breached the city was indefensible and utter destruction was imminent.

            Often there are cracks that develop in our personal spiritual and emotional defenses. They may be very subtle and at times almost imperceptible. We can choose to ignore them, hoping in vain that they will solve and cure themselves. Or we can make the uncomfortable decision to confront the issues and to figure out how to seal the cracks before they worsen.

            Although it seems obvious which is the prudent and wise choice, the reality is that we often choose the former because it’s the path of least resistance. Sadly, ignoring issues do not make them go away. Issues that are swept under the rug continue to amass until it causes everyone to trip over the concealed yet bulging mass.

            During the three Shabbasos of the Three Weeks of mourning for the Bais Hamikdash between the fasts of Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av, we read three haftoras which contain harsh and painful words of rebuke of the prophets. The first is of the first chapter of Sefer Yirmiyah where Hashem compellingly appoints Yirmiyah as the prophet who would warn the nation of the impending disaster and destruction.

            The tragedy of Yirmiyah and his prophecies is that the destruction could have been averted if the nation would have only heeded his pleas, cajoles and warnings. But the nation didn’t want to recognize the proverbial writing or cracks in the wall. The great prophet was scorned, mocked, abused, beaten and imprisoned.

            Ultimately, Yermiyah was painfully vindicated when all his prophecies were fulfilled. At that point, as the shamed nation was being led into exile, they cried. But by then it was too late.

            The jarring reality is that this is not an ancient story. At times it plays out within our own lives as well.

            The famous serenity prayer states: “G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are times when we beat a dead horse, trying to accomplish things beyond our capability or purview. At other times however, when we may have the ability to effect changes, we avoid doing so because those changes are arduous and daunting. Plunging ahead requires courage and confidence to push through our natural resistance. Doing so may be painful in the short term but it will be rewarding in the long run.

            The fast of Shiva Asar b’Tamuz reminds us - not only of the historical painful consequences of not heeding the message of breached walls - but also of the danger of not paying attention to the breaches in our own lives.

            If we adhere to the messages of the Yirmiyahs in our own lives, we can be optimistic that the Tisha b’Avs can be prevented as well.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Parshas Balak 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Balak

15 Tamuz 5781/June 25, 2021

Avos perek 6

 

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.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

 

LEFTY SHIFT

             

             This week our family is celebrating the graduation of our oldest child, Shalom, from High School. The child who transformed us from a couple into a family, continues to transform me into an older parent (my wife somehow doesn’t age…)

            Graduations have a way of awakening old memories that transport you back in time (maybe that’s the point of the many commencement speeches). During my trip down memory lane, I remembered that a couple of days after Shalom was born, while my wife was still in the hospital, she was given a form to fill out with the baby’s information for the birth certificate. In the space where it said mother’s name, she casually wrote her mother’s name “Sarah Mermelstein.” But on the next line where it asked for the father’s name she was confused and wondered to herself why they would need her father’s name. It took her a moment to realize that the mother’s name was not Sarah Mermelstein (her mother) but Chani Staum, and the father was not her own father but her husband, Dani Staum. That moment cemented the realization that we were the parents and prime caretakers of that newborn baby.

            At any baseball game, whenever a left-handed batter comes up to bat, there is a battle cry of “lefty shift”. A right-handed batter is more likely to hit the ball towards short stop or left field. A left-handed batter on the other hand, is more apt to hit the ball towards right field. So, when a lefty steps up to the plate, all players shift right, in anticipation of where the ball is more likely to be hit.

         Humans are not stagnant beings. Not only is the world and world-events constantly in flux, but we ourselves evolve as well. Ideas and attitudes we were adamant and emphatic about at one point in our lives may shift in our minds and hearts as we travel the journey of life.

            There is a popular song to the words “ana avda d’kusha b’rich hu – I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed is He” from the prayer B’rich Shmei, recited prior to the removal of the Sefer Torah. In that song the word ‘ana – I’ is repeated numerous times.

            Our generation has been dubbed the I-generation. It’s not just based on a clever observation that we have a lot of “I” devices – iPhone, iPad, iPod. More poignantly, it’s because we are somewhat self-absorbed and narcissistic. With that in mind, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to repeat the word avda – servant, emphasizing that we are proud servants of Hashem, than to repeatedly sing the word ana, stressing the egotistical I?

            It’s been suggested that the format of the song is profound. We often act in different ways depending on our social circle. We speak and conduct ourselves differently when we are in our homes than when we are in shul, at work, at a wedding, or in an amusement park. In addition, our lives are not stagnant. Not only is our social status and circle, jobs, and finances constantly in flux, but emotionally and intellectually we change, for good or for better.  

            Therefore, the song reminds us that ana, ana, ana- all of the different “I”s of my personality, no matter where I am and no matter at what stage of my life - all of those different personas remain always avda d’kudhsha b’rich hu – a servant of the Holy One, blessed is He. That is what defines us and composes the core of our identify. First and foremost, we are servants of Hashem, and have to conduct ourselves accordingly at all times.

            One of the familiar instructions announced at the conclusion of a flight is, “please use caution when opening overhead bins, as items may have shifted during the flight.”

            Our lives have constant turbulence causing our internal selves to be constantly shifting. Because our lives are so transient and in flux, being strong in our convictions and beliefs is a formidable challenge.

           In this graduation season, we remind our graduates that despite the fact that they may have their lives and future planned, life does not always proceed as we anticipate. Although it’s always good to have goals and aspirations, we must be able to shift and adjust to the serpentine turns of life.

            There is only one area in which we cannot be flexible – in our faith and commitment to Torah and the future of the Jewish people. Those “overhead compartments” must never be allowed to shift, despite the inevitable turbulence.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Parshas Chukas 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chukas

8 Tamuz 5781/June 18, 2021

Avos perek 5

 

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.

 

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

 

SO EASY

 

            It happens all the time. Our family will be guests enjoying a Shabbos meal at the home of friends and I or my wife will tell the hostess that one of the dishes, perhaps a dessert, looks delectable and is particularly delicious. The hostess will invariably respond “Oh! It was so easy to make! Really, it was nothing! It looks so fancy, but it took like 5 minutes. It’s the simplest thing. I saw it in last week’s - (whichever magazine). I’ll give you the recipe after Shabbos!”  

            Whenever I have repeated this observation, the response is always a hearty laugh and agreement that that is indeed a common occurrence.

            I have a suspicion that part of the motivation for this ubiquitous response stems from our inability to accept compliments well. How often does someone remark to another that their house is beautiful, or their children are wonderful, and the recipient replies with a thank you followed by a reason why it/they are not quite as great as they seem. The same holds true when someone tells a friend that he/she looks great/beautiful.  

            A friend related that he was sitting next to an elderly seasoned educator at a dinner. A woman who was a former student came over to the educator and, after exchanging pleasantries, remarked that he looked great. After she left, the educator turned to my colleague and quipped that he has noticed that there are three stages in life – youth, middle age, and “you look great!”

            Why do we have such a hard time accepting compliments?

            Vulnerability seems to be a big part of it. We are afraid that if our talents, possessions, or other gifts of our life are placed in the spotlight, it may become clear that we are undeserving of the praise or compliments. We may feel that we didn’t sufficiently earn the compliment or praise being directed at us. By pointing out the deficiencies or minimizing our accomplishments we seek to deflect the praise, making us feel less vulnerable or exposed by the compliment.    

            Rabbi Yitzy Hurwitz was a dynamic and active rabbi in California when he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 41. Since then, the disease has robbed him of virtually of all his physical abilities. Unable to speak or type, Rabbi Hurwitz uses his eyes to communicate with a computer including writing a weekly Torah column. His continued will to live and to do the best with what he has is incredibly inspiring.

            Mrs. Dina Hurwitz, the wife of Rabbi Yitzy Hurwitz, has become an inspirational speaker. She captivates audiences by being real about the ongoing challenges and struggles she deals with on a daily basis because of her husband’s debilitating condition.

            In one of her talks Mrs. Hurwitz noted that Rabbi Akiva taught the mitzvah of ‘v’ahavta l’reiacha kaomcha – love your friend like yourself’ to a generation in which people appreciated themselves and had a healthy self-image.  Rabbi Akiva instructed them to love others as much as they love themselves.

            Our generation however, struggle with a low self-image and lack of appreciation and recognition of our uniqueness. That’s why we are all trying to be everyone else, yearning to find that elusive life of perfection we think everyone else has.

            We suffer from an inner critic, a little persistent voice within us, that we often don’t even notice, which tells us nasty and negative things about ourselves. Such negative self-talk can include things such as, “I'm not good at this, so I shouldn’t even try”, or harsher, "I can never do anything right!" Those internal messages limit our ability to believe in ourselves or our abilities. The meanest comments said are the ones we say to ourselves.

            These negative messages are also at the root of “imposter syndrome” a common feeling that people do not feel worthy of their accomplishments or of the image people have of them. They live in fear of being “exposed”.  

            Still, most of us try to be pleasant and say nice things to others. We compliment and praise our neighbors and friends and seek to make them feel good.

            Mrs. Hurwitz suggested that to our generation Rabbi Akiva might have said that we should strive to love ourselves and demonstrate love for ourselves as much as we love and show our love for others. Today’s mandate is, vahavta lachem k’reiacha – love yourself like (you love) your friend.  

            It generally doesn’t seem to be humility when one minimizes or shrugs off a compliment. We need to appreciate the blessings we have and to recognize our internal worthiness. It’s wonderful to share an easy recipe but it’s not wonderful to shrug off how much we invest and strive to grow constantly. It’s not so easy to balance all the external and internal turmoil in our lives. Let’s appreciate our own efforts and learn to say a sincere thank you when we are complimented for our efforts.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Parshas Korach 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Korach

1 Tamuz 5781/June 11, 2021

Rosh Chodesh Tamuz – Avos perek 4

 

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לזכר נשמת זקנתי מורתי פרומה בת ליבר ע"ה – יארצייט ל' סיון (א' דר"ח תמוז)

לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

 

ARE WE HERE YET

 

            Last shabbos, we headed up to the mountains to participate in a wonderful shabbatone with the ninth and tenth grades of Heichal HaTorah. The car was packed up with linen, luggage, and half our children (the rest went to their grandparents).

            We left early Friday afternoon just as a summer rainstorm began. The highway was congested, and traffic was moving slowly as rain pounded the car. That was when one of our children asked me for the first time, “are we almost there yet? What time are we getting there?” I answered as patiently as I could by pointing to the time on display on Waze, which was open on the dashboard. But I decided to shut off Waze because I was familiar with the directions. A moment later I was asked again what time we were getting there, and then again and then again. I must admit that my patience was sapped, and I reassured the questioner that we wouldn’t get there any faster because of the persistent questioning and badgering.

            When driving somewhere, the point is to get to the destination. There are various ways we try to keep ourselves entertained or mentally busy while en-route including talking on the phone, and listening to music, radio, lectures, or podcasts. But the main point is to sit in the car until you arrive at your destination.

            But there are many other journeys we undertake in life which aren’t just about arriving at the destination. In fact, it’s been noted that in many instances the journey is the destination. This is surely true regarding personal and spiritual growth.

            The tragic story of the spies is one of the great calamities in our early history. It was on the night of Tisha B’av when our ancestors rejected Eretz Yisroel, foreshadowing that day as a time of pain and mourning.

            But the truth is that only fifty percent of the nation rejected the land. Rashi (Bamidbar 36:6) relates that the women had a greater love of the land. In fact, Kli Yakar writes that if only Moshe had sent women to spy out the land the whole crisis would’ve been averted.

            It’s hard to imagine that loving the land is gender based. What does it mean that women loved the land more than men?

            At a graduation for the girls of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, Rabbi Aharon Lopianksy suggested the following: Conquering Eretz Yisroel is an arduous and challenging process. The entire nation originally marched forth from Egypt full of excitement to enter the Promised Land. But when they realized the daunting challenges, they would face and would need to traverse in order to conquer the land, the men lost heart. It wasn’t that they lacked love of the land per se. Rather, they were shortsighted and only saw the immediate challenges they would need to face.

            The day after the spies gave their negative report, Moshe told the nation מחר - tomorrow turn back towards the Yam Suf. Their sin was rooted in their inability to see past the moment. They lacked a vision of tomorrow, of what would occur if they would be able to follow through and overcame the challenges.

            Women on the other hand, have a different temperament. A woman possesses a רחם - womb. רחם has the same letters as מחר - tomorrow. A woman carries a child for nine painful and uncomfortable months. She bears it all by remaining focused on the end result - the moment she will clutch her newborn in her arms. Women more naturally live with a sense of tomorrow.

            If the women had spied the land, they would have seen past the immediate challenges and would have been able to envision the future time when each person would “sit in security under his grapevine and under his fig tree.” (Melochim I 5:5)

            I can personally relate to this concept. When we were doing construction on our kitchen a few years ago, and my wife would discuss the plans with me, I honestly had no idea what she was talking about. I would do my best to listen and try to understand but I couldn’t really picture how things would look until it was actually done. I don’t have the ability to envision the final product based on raw plans. (I should add that I have gotten much better in the last few years. Since the construction finished a few years ago, I have a perfect vision of what it looks like.)

            Success in life is contingent on being able to see past immediate struggles and challenges. One must have a vision of what reaching his goals will look like so that he can chart his plan to get there.

            Part of the greatness of the Jewish people has been our ability to always see beyond our immediate challenges and to always maintain hope for better times.

            During our trip up to the mountains last week we weren’t actually there yet until we pulled into our destination. In life however, in a sense wherever we are, we have arrived. We search for opportunities for growth in the moment, while at the same time continuing to hope and dream of greater times that are coming.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum