Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Parshas Shelach 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Shelach

25 Sivan 5782/June 24, 2022

Mevorchim Chodesh Tammuz - Avos perek 3

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

THE GREAT LIE

Dedicated in honor of Avi Staum’s graduation from Yeshiva of Spring Valley.

“And let me conclude, dear graduates, by saying that as you go forth from the hallowed halls of our institution, know that life bears many vicissitudes and unknowns. But fear not! The educational fortitude you have received during your years here will stand for you in good stead. We are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Know this - the world is now open before you and you can become anything and do anything. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams, and make us proud.”

End of pontification. Time for crowd to wake up and applaud politely.

‘You can be anything you set your mind to be’ is one of the great lies often touted. It sounds nice, but it’s simply not true!

The hackneyed graduation message can be chalked together with the message of entrepreneurs who have become incredibly successful. In podcasts and articles, they tell us if they were able to do it so can you, and it’s as simple as following their 3 or 4 step plan. Just purchase their book or program and, before you know it, you’ll be fabulously wealthy too. Then you’ll be able to peddle the same lie, about being able to procure quick and easy wealth, to others.

The reality is that there is a predestined path for every one of us. We are not amorphous entities ready to be shaped into anything we desire. We are granted unique and particular personalities, talents, and limitations. The family and community into which we were born as well as the generation into which we were born both shape and limit the trajectory of our lives.

When a five-year-old is asked what he wants to be when he grows up he may reply that he’s going to become a fireman, policeman and doctor, and possibly invest real estate or become an entrepreneur on the side.

Part of maturity is recognizing that we are limited in the choices we can make. In addition, every choice we make is an act of exclusion, choosing one thing is to the exclusion of everything else. Many people have a significantly hard time making choices because they are hard pressed to close the door on all other possibilities.

Our biggest challenge is more about how we deal with the cards dealt with, than about choosing the cards we are dealt.

This week, 30 Sivan, is the yahrtzeit of my Bubby, Rebbitzin Fruma (Frances) Kohn a’h. I was blessed to have my Bubby for the first four decades of my life and that my children knew her, if even slightly. In her youth, my Bubby and most of her family survived Siberia and the horrors of World War II. After being liberated from Siberia, she met my Zaydei and eventually made their way together to the United States.

A few years later, my Zaydei was offered to be the Rabbi of the prestigious Slonimer shul on the Lower East Side. At first my Bubby cried at the mere prospect of becoming the Rebbitzin of a sizeable congregation. It wasn’t what she had “signed up for”. But eventually she embraced it and fulfilled the role for two decades with aplomb. She would cook each week for Shabbos, never knowing how many guests would return home with my Zaydei from shul. Their apartment was a welcoming place for all different types of Jews. It’s amazing how much delicious food and warmth emanated from that minuscule kitchen on the Lower East Side.

I should add that in the 1970s the shul’s membership dwindled until the shul was forced to close its doors and sell the building. After that my Zaydei became a kashrus mashgiach.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often wondered how hard that must have been for my grandparents. I was born well after my Zaydei had left the rabbinate. My memories of him are of his ever-present warmth and sense of humor. If there was any bitterness no one ever saw it.

The real question in life is how we respond to each situation. My grandparents came from a generation that had far less choices than we are privy to. Though we may have more options, we too often find ourselves in different situations than we had envisioned for ourselves.

We may not be able to be anything and everything we want to be. But we can choose how we proceed in every circumstance and what our attitude and perspective is.

Perhaps the more accurate message we can convey to our graduates is:

“Dear Graduates - the serpentine paths of life may not always lead you where you expected. Nevertheless, we are confident that you will be able to proceed into the vagaries of life with conviction and fortitude and to accomplish great things. Dream big, graduates, pursue your dreams. But remember that even when our dreams are not fulfilled, Hashem is leading us on a path tailor made for our greatest growth and spiritual accomplishment.”

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


Thursday, June 16, 2022

Parshas Behaloscha 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beha’aloscha

18 Sivan 5782/June 17, 2022

Avos perek 2

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

EXCESS BAGGAGE

One of the more unpleasant parts of traveling is dealing with luggage. Not only do you have to pack your clothing, toiletries, and accessories for your trip, but it has to remain under a certain weight.

I have had the inglorious experience of having to open suitcases at the check-in counter in the airport, trying to shift contents from one bag to another and into carry-on. There’s nothing quite like a long line of people pretending not to look as they watch you in the corner of their eye try to subtly gather clothes off the floor of the airport.

If you’re lucky enough to get a compassionate agent, when she feels you have sufficiently humiliated yourself, and when she gets impatient enough, she may tell you just to put it on the belt and send it. Otherwise, she will tell you that you have to pay the fee for the excess weight.

I have also on occasion traveled for a day and didn’t have any luggage to check in. What a pleasure it was to be able to go through security without having to stop by the check-in desk and worry about weight and size. But traveling for any significant amount of time requires baggage, and there’s not much anyone can do about that.

In our vernacular we refer to people’s “stuff” - their emotional, familial, and personal challenges, as well as their internal struggles as their baggage.

In our baggage we carry our history of negative messages received or perceived throughout our lives, from parents, friends, teachers, society around us, and most significantly from within ourselves. Packed in there is also our bad habits, past failures and negative thoughts about ourselves and others. Basically, anything that can impede our confidence and ability to grow is in our baggage.

There is no one who doesn’t have baggage. The worst about it is that it accompanies him wherever he goes, and he cannot check it in or send it underneath in cargo. Somehow it evades the extra fines and weight limitations and finds a way to be with us constantly.

One of the greatest inhibitors of happiness is that no one knows exactly when he has achieved it. I’ve heard from many clients that they “don’t feel happy”. When I ask them what it is they feel they are lacking in their lives, they shrug and say they just feel they should feel happier.

I ask them to consider if perhaps this is their moment of happiness, and one day they might look back and wonder why they didn’t enjoy or appreciate it more.

In 1979, a woman Vivian Green wrote a short poem that included the following powerful quip: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass but about learning to dance in the rain.” There is a great deal of unappreciated wisdom in that quote. Most of the time we have no control over the storms of life that we encounter. The question is only if we can learn to dance in the storm, and to see the light in the tunnel. We don’t know when we will emerge from the tunnel or when/if the storm will end. The most we can do is to learn to navigate and even celebrate the present moment with all its frustrations and imperfections.

The same holds true for happiness. True happiness can only be achieved when one learns to make peace and see the blessing in whatever situation one finds himself.

We may feel we will be truly happy when we get a raise, move to the house of our dreams, get married, have a child or a grandchild, etc. But the real challenge is to find joy here and now.

If we want to rid ourselves of the weight of our emotional baggage, we have to first realize that we are schlepping it around with us. Only when we realize that it contains a lot of stuff we don’t need, can we begin to counter the negative messages that have become embedded within ourselves. We can then confront our traumas and demons and begin to process them in a healthy manner, so that they don’t lurk menacingly in the shadows of shame and pain.

But there is another important component to recognize in dealing with emotional baggage. Some of our emotional baggage is not easily left behind. Much as we wish we could discard it and move on, at times it may hold onto us. Even when we cannot rid ourselves of it however, we can still count our blessings and seek to be happy in the moment. Regarding that baggage we can proceed to the best of our ability despite its weight. It will tire us and take a toll, but we can keep our head up and not let it impede our progress to the best of our ability.

Happy travels.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Parshas Naso 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Naso

11 Sivan 5782/June 10, 2022

Avos perek 1

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

BENEATH THE SURFACE

Among the list of things we take for granted is our dishwasher. What a gift to be able to place dirty dishes inside it, push a few buttons to run a cycle and then open the door to find all the dishes fresh and clean.

Of course, the cure for taking things for granted is when we run into a problem with the device. One day recently we ran out of the specialized soap pellets for the dishwasher. Our cleaning help surveyed the problem and figured that if we don’t have the pellets, she could just add liquid dishwashing soap.

Our younger children were delighted when they come into the kitchen shortly after to find bubbles rapidly oozing out from the sides of the dishwasher. It took a great deal of bubble cleaning and running a few cycles before our dishwasher was successfully ‘debubblized’.

We often tell our children that when someone bothers them, they should just ignore it. While there is merit to that idea, at times it can be unproductive. When a person is constantly angry and doesn’t know how to handle their intense feelings, over time just squelching them can have negative consequences. This is all the more true with children who have harder time navigating their emotions.

I often tell clients that there are two vital ideas regarding emotions to bear in mind. The first is that we need to notice and respect our emotions. Our immediate emotions are generally automatic. We can learn a great deal about ourselves when we pay attention to our emotions in any given situation. We may wish that we didn’t feel a certain way. But wishing away an emotion doesn’t negate its reality.

In fact, this is an integral part of being honest with ourselves. Often, we convince ourselves that we don’t feel something because it’s not socially or even morally acceptable. Yet the feeling lingers beneath the surface. Until we are willing to admit it, we will be unable to confront it and contend with it.

A simple example would be if one feels envious of another’s success. It’s hard to admit to feeling jealous. After all, jealousy feels petty and is also forbidden by the Torah. But it’s only if one faces the fact that he feels jealous that he can begin to try to exorcise those feelings.

At the same time, we must also bear in mind that emotions don’t always reflect reality. Although I may feel a certain way, and I need to be candid about those feelings, just because I feel them doesn’t mean my feelings are correct. Just because I feel angry at someone for something they did doesn’t necessarily mean that the person was wrong or deserving of my ire.

These seemingly paradoxical ideas are very much part of our reality.

When I was an elementary school social worker, students would often meet with me to discuss their frustration with another student who was bothering them. (It was not a bullying situation.) They would often begin by telling me, “I tried to ginore him but he’s not stopping.” (I noticed that quite a few children think the word ignore is pronounced ginore…) Their frustration and anger were compounded by the fact that after following instructions to “just ignore it” it didn’t make them feel any better.

Learning to ignore is incredibly important, but it’s part of being able to forgive and move on. If one is not able to actually let it go, pretending it doesn’t bother him will not alleviate the problem.

I tell younger children about a cat named Fester who is often forced to stay under the carpet. The longer he is kept under the carpet the angrier he becomes. Eventually he bursts out and begins running around madly, often even hurting people. Keeping Fester under the carpet is a recipe for disaster.

For us too, allowing feelings to fester by sweeping them under the carpet, only compounds the problem.

In marriage too, we are taught how important it is to forgive and forget. However, at times we may be unable to do so for whatever reason. If we shove down the unaddressed feelings, they will not disappear but may resurface in more unpleasant ways later on. We may try to ignore feelings because it’s uncomfortable to address them. But doing so causes them to fester.

If we try to pour soap on our emotional dirt and quickly shut the door on them, we will have to deal with the mess that will unwittingly ooze out from the sides. To fix the problem we have to face the problem. It may not be pleasant in the moment, but there’s a much better chance that the situation will be able to be resolved, fresh and clean.

 

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Parshas Bamidbar, Shavuos 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bamidbar

Erev Shavuos

4 Sivan 5782/June 3, 2022

Avos perek 6 - 48th day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

 

I am happy to report that my Striving Higher Haggadah is currently being edited and will be published by Mosaica Press before Pesach 5783 iy”H.

Although much of the book has already been sponsored, I am looking for more sponsors to help offset publishing costs.

Sponsors can be in memory, in honor or as a zechus.

Please contact me if you are interested in partnering with me in the production of this unique Haggadah (stamtorah@gmail.com).

THE REAL THING

The story is told about a poor Jew in Europe who came home one day and told his wife that he wanted to eat blintzes, like the rich people. The wife replied that rich people eat blintzes because they can afford the ingredients.

When the husband asked what they needed, his wife replied that they didn’t have money for eggs, cottage cheese or the other fillings.

The husband instructed her to make the blintzes without those ingredients. The wife did so and dutifully served her husband.

After eating a few bites, he said to his wife, "You know, I don't see what rich people see in blintzes."

Since the 1940s Coca Cola has been known for its slogan, “It’s the real thing”. In 1999 they adapted it to “Can’t beat the real thing” and in 2005 to “Make it real”. Among other things, the slogan aims to affirm the supremacy of coke over its rival, Pepsi. Although Coke is only 12 years older than Pepsi, founded in 1886, Coke uses that seniority to emphasize that it has ‘soda supremacy and authenticity’.

On Shavuos we celebrate not only the giving of the Torah three-and-a-half thousand years ago, but also that we continue to observe the Torah as we received it then, in its pristine form.

We don’t just learn Torah; we seek to internalize its messages and to make them the central focus of our lives. The more we invest in Torah study and Torah living the more it becomes part of our being.

Rabbi Jonathon Sacks noted that people think the reason why many don’t become more observant is because Judaism is too constricting and too difficult. If only it were easier and less demanding more people would embrace it. But the reality is not that way. In thinking about the three major Jewish holidays, more Jews observe Pesach than Sukkos and more Jews observe Sukkos than Shavuos. Paradoxically, Pesach is by far the most difficult to properly observe. It involves cleaning the house, koshering the kitchen, using special utensils, and much else besides. Sukkos is not as challenging but also entails building a sukkah and gathering the Four Species. By far, Shavuos is the easiest holiday to observe, with no special mitzvos.[1]

Most difficult of all is Yom Kippur, when we pray much of the day while fasting and reflecting on our shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, that is the most observed day by Jews across the religious spectrum.

The counterintuitive reality is that the things we value most are the things that are the most demanding.

“Things that cost us little, we cherish little. What matter most to us are the things we make sacrifices for. If Judaism had been easier, it would have died out long ago. Never doubt that it’s a privilege to be a Jew. Head for head our people have done more to transform the world than any other. There are easier ways to live, but none more challenging. G-d asks great things of our people. That’s what made our people great.”

In one of his masterful letters, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner wrote that in large cities there was a city clock hanging atop a tall building or tower. Most assumed that the clock was hung there so it could be viewed even from a distance.

The real reason, however, is that if the clock were easily accessible, every person would adjust the city clock to match their watch, which they perceived to have the correct time. But once the clock was placed out of reach, it would be seen as the standard, and everyone would set their watches according to the City Clock.

The Torah is our city clock. It is the standard bearer for all times, and we seek to adjust our lifestyles and decisions by its expectations, and never the other way around.[2]

When the Constitution was drafted in this country, the Founding Fathers wisely recognized that times change and there is a need for adaptations. They therefore created a process to create and ratify amendments. To date, 27 amendments have become law.

The Torah, however, contains no amendments. Its laws and commandments are infallible and are as applicable today as they were when they were given at Sinai.

To be sure, there have been many necessary precautions, customs and rabbinic enactments that have been added over the years. But those are all to bolster and safeguard the Torah itself.

No matter what society advocates, Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, our code of morality and values have never changed and will never change.

The gemara (Shabbos 31a) states that one of the first questions one is asked by the celestial courts after one departs this world is, “Did you set aside time for Torah?”

Aside for the simple meaning of those words, there is an additional understanding: Did you set the times you lived in to fit with and into the dictates of Torah? Did you ensure that no matter what people around you said or did, you strove to maintain the laws of the Torah?

The alternative is trying to fit the Torah into the whims and practices of the society surrounding. What we know is that those who have embarked upon that path often don’t have many Jewish descendants.

We remain Torah observant not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. We have endured by rising to the challenge and investing ourselves in it. It is those ceaseless efforts that we celebrate on Shavuos. Our Torah is truly the real thing.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Freilichen Yom Tov & Chag Sameiach,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       



[1] Staying up all night is a custom, but not obligatory

[2] In that letter Rav Hunter was making the point that the Rabbi of a community must be like the city clock. He must set the standards of Torah observance in his community, and not that he flails according to what everyone wants. The same point can be made about Torah generally.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Parshas Bechukosai 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bechukosai – Chazak!

27 Iyar 5782/May 27, 2022

Erev Yom Yerushalayim

Mevorchim Chodesh Sivan

Avos perek 5- 41st day of Omer

 

לזכר נשמת חו"מ נטע יצחק בן אלכסנדר

 

I am happy to report that my Striving Higher Haggadah is currently being edited and will be published by Mosaica Press before Pesach 5783 iy”H.

Although much of the book has already been sponsored, I am looking for more sponsors to help offset publishing costs.

Sponsors can be in memory, in honor or as a zechus.

Please contact me if you are interested in partnering with me in the production of this unique Haggadah (stamtorah@gmail.com).

DESIGNATED OPENER

To be a father entails fulfilling many roles. One of the most important of those unstated tasks is to be the family “opener”. During the summer months it means opening your children’s ice pops. As any parent knows that’s no easy feat. Some parents try to use a knife to cut off the top, which sometimes works but often doesn’t. Eventually, most fathers get frustrated and just bite off the top. If he’s not careful he ends up with some splotches of the ices on his shirt. This is especially annoying on Shabbos when he is wearing a white shirt and for the rest of the day everyone will know what kind of ices he had. Then there’s always that gnawing question of whether he should say a beracha before biting off the top. He doesn’t really want to eat it, but he did taste it….

Dads also have the unenviable task of opening jars and bottles. After a few unsuccessful tries, a child (or wife) hands a stubborn jar or bottle to the father to open. In that moment his position as man of the house is unwittingly being called into question.

With a silent prayer he grabs the bottle and aggressively tries to turn the cap. If he’s not successful, he turns the bottle over and gives it a potch on its bottom for its disobedience. If that still doesn’t help, he’ll stick a knife under the cap, even though that probably doesn’t do anything.

If that doesn’t work, he may run to the cabinet and try to switch the bottle (hoping he can find one) without anyone realizing it.

A few years ago, a young woman named Elisa Fernandes was competing in a timed round in the final of 'Masterchef' Brazil. As the clock ticked, she couldn’t open a jar she needed which itself could’ve ended her hopes of winning. After trying twice unsuccessfully, she ran over to her father who was watching on the side and handed him the jar. With one mighty twist he opened the jar and handed it back to Elisa who went on to win the competition. The clip is still viewed and circulated.

As I am sitting in my kitchen typing this brilliant literary masterpiece, my daughter just handed me a pickle jar to open. I kid you not. I am happy to report that, for the moment, I have defended my title as man-of-the-house.

Creating new openings is no small feat. Every speaker knows how key his opening words are in trying to reel in his audience.

On Shabbos there is much halachic discussion regarding the permissibility of opening cans and bottles. The question is essentially whether opening them is considered creating a new vessel or not. Without creating an opening, the vessel is essentially useless. If you can’t access its contents, it will do you no good.

The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:2) relates that Hashem tells us, as it were, “Create an opening for Me like the opening of a needle and I will open for you like the entranceway to a banquet hall.” If we make the initial effort, Hashem will help us continue along the spiritual road we have begun to trudge.

The caveat is that it’s not so easy to create that minute opening. I picture it as trying to open a door in a massive gale with sixty mph winds blowing against it. It will require tremendous exertion to push the door open at all against such strong opposing force. But as soon as there is a crack of an opening, those winds will slam the door open until it’s barely hanging onto its hinges.

Ben Azzai advises, “One should run to perform a “light” mitzvah and flee from sin because one mitzvah drags along (i.e., leads to) another mitzvah and one sin drags along with it another sin. The reward for performing a mitzvah is another mitzvah and the reward for a sin is committing another sin.” (Avos 4:2).

In the natural world the law of inertia states that anything at rest will remain at rest unless it encounters an opposing force. In the spiritual world the same is largely true. Our actions create a momentum that continue to carry us along that trajectory. To change course all we need is an “opposite act”. However, doing so entails countering the momentum and fighting against the tide we have created. That is the challenge of creating a new opening.

Perhaps there is nowhere that this principle holds true than regarding education. The first requirement of education is to win over and open the hearts of one’s students. If the child’s heart is closed for whatever reason, regardless of who the educator is, the child will not be influenced much.

Creating an opening can sometimes take significant time, patience, insight and tenacity. This is especially true with children who have erected a thick coat of armor to protect their fragile sense of self. But once even a crack of an opening has been made, the sky is the limit with how much can be accomplished.

It’s far easier to open a jar or a can than it is to open a heart and soul. But creating such openings helps us along the proper path and is the true test of great parenting and education.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       


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