Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Parshas Yisro 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Yisro

19 Shevat 5782/January 21, 2022

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

DESERTS OF LIFE

            One night just before Tu b’Shvat, our five year old son Gavriel asked for an apple. My wife cut up the apple into pieces for him to eat, but he insisted that she cut out the seeds. When my wife did so, Gavriel excitedly filled a plastic bowl with water and placed the seeds in the bowl.

            Gavriel informed us that his teacher had taught them about the seeds in the fruit that can be planted to grow new fruit trees. He was intrigued and excited by the idea and decided to plant an apple tree in a plastic bowl in our kitchen. Best of luck!

            This year, Tu b’Shvat happened to coincide with the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. day. Someone posed a challenge to explain a possible connection between the two days.

            I suggested that planting a tree requires foresight, a sense of vision and tremendous patience. Digging a hole and taking a few seeds and burying them in the hole seems to be an exercise in futility. In fact, those seeds will begin to rot in the ground before any growth occurs. But the planter has a dream of the tree that will one day grow. He envisions the luscious fruits that will one day emerge and the many people who will enjoy them. Martin Luther King had a dream of the future, at a time when the fulfillment of that dream seemed unrealistic. Planting trees and producing fruits similarly requires a dream and a vision.

            Subsequently, the connection deepened further: The night of “Tu b’MLK” day there was snow forecasted. Our children were excitedly anticipating a school cancellation, or at least a two-hour delay. To their chagrin, the temperature had risen overnight, and the snow had turned to rain. Martin Luther King famously said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

            That morning our children felt like they had been to the mountaintop and yet were barred entry from the Promised Land. Their hopes for snow were fulfilled, but it wasn’t enough to accomplish what they were hoping for.

            Although regarding my children’s snow day situation and their dashed dreams, I’m being slightly facetious, the truth is that one cannot give up on their dreams when they aren’t fulfilled immediately.

            A friend who was going through a challenging time remarked, “I know they say that whenever one door closes, another door opens. But these hallways are impossible!”

            While it’s important to have dreams and a vision of what could be, one must also have a great deal of patience for his dreams to be fulfilled. They may very well be fulfilled but not immediately and not even in the manner in which he first planned and hoped.

            When Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim, they had one destination in mind - to enter Eretz Yisroel and settle their familial land. However, they wouldn’t arrive there until they had spent four decades in the wilderness, dealing with challenges, vicissitudes, and daunting odds. They had to contend with thirst, hunger, fatigue, and doubt. There were many points where they were ready to give up and head back to Mitzrayim. The men who left Egypt largely never saw the fulfillment of that hope. But despite it all the nation plunged ahead, following the clouds before them. Eventually they arrived and fulfilled their national dream. But it wasn’t in the manner or based on the route that they had planned.

            We all have Promised Lands that we strive to reach, though we aren’t promised that we will get there. But the road to fulfillment of our dreams is often through the deserts of life. The road isn’t paved and straight, and there are many sharp turns and unforeseen bends. One who expects smooth and easy sailing will likely become despondent by the arduous journey. But one who maintains that sense of vision and knows that the difficult and serpentine terrain is the route home, will be able to stay the course, and enjoy the fruits of his labor along the journey home.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Parshas Beshalach 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Beshalach/Shabbas Shirah  

12 Shevat 5782/January 14, 2022

 

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לרפואה שלימה נטע יצחק בן רחל

NATURE-SWEET

            Our family enjoys eating cherry tomatoes, particularly “Nature-Sweet cherub heavenly salad tomatoes”. Ironically, I have other close family members that I grew up with who harbor a severe dislike for tomatoes and won’t eat salad that has any tomatoes in it. But the Staums who live on Landau Lane, go through a few packages of the little red guys each week.

            One week, my wife showed me that on the inside of the cover label of the Nature-Sweet tomatoes, there is a picture of one of their employees with the employee’s job description underneath. In fact, each container of Nature-Sweet tomatoes had its own picture of a featured employee with their job at Nature-Sweet featured below the picture. It also says that you can find out more about your featured tomato employee on the Nature-Sweet website. I decided that it was a great conversation piece and began collecting the Nature-Sweet labels and placing them on a shelf next to our Dining Room table.

            When I posted on my status that I was collecting the labels, I received quizzical replies from people who were very confused about what I was talking about. But I am grateful to one friend who actually sent me three labels.

            On the website it says there are 36 featured employees. So far, our family has collected 11 of the employee labels. Although we’ve gone through far more packages, recently we keep getting doubles. Each week when my wife returns home from shopping, we excitedly open the new tomato packages to see which ‘tomato employee’ we got. I haven’t had so much excitement collecting anything since I collected sports cards in high school, and no, I don’t need a new day job. (By the way, speaking of old sports card collections, I have Shaq’s Fleer Ultra rookie card. I should add that unlike my father’s generation who had Mickey Mantle’s rookie card until their mothers threw out all their cards, I actually still have the card. Just saying.)

            Beyond my new hobby of collecting tomato employee labels, it was fascinating to realize how many different employees are involved in the production of those little tomatoes. There are workers in pre-harvest, manufacturing, packing, packaging, maintenance, sales, as well as tractor drivers, grafting associates, backhoe operators, and irrigation leaders.

            It’s reminiscent of a story with Rav Yisroel Salanter. He once traveled to a posh hotel in Paris in an effort to inspire and influence secular Jews. As he was preparing to deliver a speech in the restaurant of the hotel, the waiter came by to take his order. Rav Yisroel replied that he only wanted a glass of water.

            After he finished his address and was preparing to leave, the waiter handed Rav Yisroel a bill for an exorbitant fee. Rav Yisroel asked the waiter if perhaps there was a mistake, as he had only ordered a glass of water. The waiter replied that it was not a mistake at all. He explained that while enjoying the water, Rav Yisroel was also benefitting from the elegant ambiance of the restaurant, the exquisite furniture, the stunning draperies, and the quartet that was playing pleasant music in the background. In addition, the restaurant afforded a magnificent view and the service of a dignified waiter wearing a tuxedo and a towel draped over his arm. The waiter explained that, from that vantage point, Rav Yisroel had actually gotten quite a bargain.

            After Rav Yisroel paid the bill, he wrote a letter to his students recounting his experience at the restaurant. He explained that it had given him a new understanding of a beracha we recite constantly, and often nonchalantly.

            Generally, we recite berachos whose text relates to the specific food we are eating - “Blessed are You Hashem…Who creates fruits of the tree”, “Who creates the fruits of the ground”, “Who creates different types of grains”. The beracha of shehakol - “That everything was created with His Word” - is an exception. Why do we recite such a beautiful and encompassing beracha, noting that all of creation is the result of G-d’s word, on a mere glass of water?

            Rav Yisroel noted that he learned from that waiter that we are not merely thanking G-d for the water. Aside for the miraculous natural process that created the water, we are grateful for having access to the fresh water, as well as the incredible process wherein the water refreshes and rejuvenates us.

            Beyond that, we are expressing appreciation for the magnificent surroundings in which G-d serves the water to us - the fresh air we breathe as we drink that water and the sun that gives us light and the tree that shades us. That one glass of water symbolizes the elaborate miraculous process involving many different facets of our magnificent world.

            The Kotzker Rebbe once quipped that he does not understand why people don't become more G-d fearing when reciting the words of bentching, after eating a bread meal.

            It was through bentching that Avrohom Avinu was able to draw so many people close to Hashem. When they would thank Avrohom for the delicious food he served them, Avrohom would reply “was it from me that you ate?” He would then redirect their gratitude towards Hashem, after which guest and host would sing praises to G-d for the food they had eaten and for all His goodness (Sotah 10b).

            When the Kotzker’s quip was repeated to the Chiddushei Harim, he replied that he could not comprehend how people do not become more G-d fearing from food itself. In the opening words of bentching we thank Hashem “Who sustains the whole world with favor/charm, kindness, and with compassion.” We have an incredible variety of foods. Foods can taste spicy, sweet, tangy, sharp, or sour. Its texture can be crunchy, mushy, hard or soft, and each has a different color and shape. Just look at any salad and you will see beauty and charm, if you spend a moment contemplating it. One can become a believer by appreciating the wonder of the food he eats. But one must dedicate time and attention to think about such profound things.

            It should be added the studies show that eating mindfully promotes better digestion and helps a person feel satisfied eating less. Unfortunately, scrolling or checking messages while eating isn’t considered eating mindfully.

            Whether anyone decides to start collecting Nature-Sweet tomatoes labels or not, we should appreciate just how much is necessary for us to enjoy those tomatoes, and all other vegetables in our salad, as well as fruits we enjoy. Think about how much was involved in its production, cultivation and transportation just to end up on your plate for you to enjoy! It’s particularly appropriate to focus on this profound idea as we mark and celebrate Tu b’Shvat.

            And if anyone does decide to collect the Nature-Sweet labels, we have triples of Genaro Barcelo from the packing department, and would be happy to trade.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum      

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Parshas Bo 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Bo  

5 Shevat 5782/January 7, 2022

 

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

DIVINE STREAKS

            I can’t say I know much about Yeshiva University’s sports teams. I also don’t really understand what it means to be part of division 3. I never really liked math in school and division was always a particular weakness. Truth is, until the last few weeks, I don’t even know if I would have realized the difference between the YU basketball team, the Maccabees, and the noted music group which began in YU, the Maccabeats.

            Recently however, the Maccabees became the Macca-beats, beating their opponents in fifty straight games. In fact, their fifty-game winning streak made national news. But all good things must come to an end, and the impressive streak was stopped by Illinois Wesleyan (whatever that is).

            Streaks are very exciting in professional sports. When a player or a team plays well consistently for a stretch of time, it is a mark of athletic greatness.

            It is reminiscent of a noted event in the world of sports that took place on July 17, 1941. On that day in Major League Baseball, a player’s failure to get a hit made national news. In a night game played in Cleveland in front of 67,468 fans, New York Yankees center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, failed to get a hit against the Cleveland Indians. That brought his historic game hitting streak to an end at 56.

            DiMaggio confided to a teammate after the game that by failing to get a hit that night, he had also lost $10,000 promised to him by Heinz ketchup for matching the number “57” featured on their labels.

            Still, the hitting streak made him a legend, and it was the biggest story in sports. Newspapers and magazines were filled with tales about DiMaggio and the streak. In the era before television, when radio was the source of all news, radio shows were interrupted with bulletins about the latest DiMaggio hit.

            A hitting streak is not easy. The player can’t have even one bad day and the pressure mounts with every game. Several times DiMaggio had to get a hit in his last at-bat to keep the streak alive.

            Notably, DiMaggio struck out only five times during the 223 at-bats he had during the streak.

            What was even more remarkable was that DiMaggio started a 16-game hitting streak the game after the 56-game one ended. In all, he hit in 72 of 73 games. In those 73 games, he had 120 hits and 20 home runs.

            But while we are all enamored by streaks, in the real world the mark of greatness isn’t uninterrupted streaks, but rather general consistency, especially in the face of setbacks.

            A few years ago, a group of Yeshiva students were on their way to the wedding of a close friend. They realized that they weren’t going to make it to the wedding before shekiah (sunset) and they would have to daven Mincha beforehand. If they would look for a minyan, they would miss the chupah. But if they would pull over to the side of the road and daven themselves, they would still make it on time for the chupah.

            Unsure what to do, they called their Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Epstein. Rabbi Epstein replied that because they were close friends of the chosson, it was more important that they make it on time for the chuppah then to daven with a minyan. The caller replied that one of the boys in the car had not missed davening with a minyan since his bar mitzvah, and he was hesitant to do so now for the first time.

            Rabbi Epstein poignantly replied that Judaism and Avodas Hashem are not about streaks. Rather they are about trying to fulfill the Will of Hashem to the best of our ability in every situation. If in this situation the proper thing was to daven without a minyan, that’s what was incumbent upon him to do!

            Rabbi Epstein’s message is extremely important for us to know and to convey to our children. Our goal is not to be better than anyone else or to be perfect in anyway. It’s about challenging ourselves to do our best and to constantly try to be a little better than we were yesterday. The barometer of success is constant yet methodical growth.

            Perhaps the most important idea to know about spiritual growth is that it’s never all or nothing. Even after a rough patch, we can get back up and start again, every single day!

            The greatest success is when someone is able to push himself through on the hardest of days. Even when he’s not feeling it, he remind himself that it’s about doing your best even when you might not be feeling your best. Even on days when he might be feeling blue (or Brown) he will never pull off his jersey and march off the field.

            The path to greatness is not paved with streaks or perfection, but with consistency and resilience.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Parshas Vaeira 5782

 

“RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Vaera  

Mevorchim Chodesh Shevat

27 Teves 5782/December 31, 2021

 

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

ENDURING MESSAGES  

            Try to tell a child today that when you were a kid you used to write letters, and he will look at you strangely. He may even ask you if you wrote a, b or c?

            Once upon a time, children went off to summer camp and their parents would remind them to write letters. Wise parents would place self-addressed, stamped letters in their child’s suitcase before the child left to camp. Even wiser parents would remind their children that canteen money would be sent in response to letters written home.

            Back then, during dinner in camp, every camper would excitedly rush to the table, eager to find out if someone sent him a letter.

            I have many fond memories from the letters I received from my parents, grandparents, and friends, when I was a camper. Aside from asking how things were going and hoping I was having a great time, my father’s letters often included lamenting about how poorly the Yankees were doing (in the early 1990s the Yankees were pretty bad). Without those updates, I would have had no clue. Those letters were our connection to the outside world.

            These days, campers know the scores of every game often before their parents back home know. Campers also receive numerous printed emails delivered to their table each night. It’s rare for a camper to receive a handwritten letter. If he does, he may be confused about how to open it. Sometimes his teenage counselor is just as bewildered.

            More than the information they contained, handwritten letters helped us feel connected to the writer of the letter.

            According to the US Postal Service, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. In recent years, the average American only received 10 pieces of handwritten mail throughout the year! Who has time for stamps, stationery, and “manual” spell-check?

            Cousins of ours who made Aliyah a few decades ago were looking to move to a newly developing yishuv (settlement) in Eretz Yisroel. As part of the vetting process to decide if they were a good fit for the community, they were told they had to submit a handwritten essay that contained certain pertinent information, that would be reviewed by a graphologist.

            After they submitted it, the graphologist wrote a report describing their personalities and other information about them that she gleaned from their writing.

            My cousin related that the results were eerie. The graphologist’s report was incredibly accurate. It was as if she had known them for years. All that from one essay written in his and her own handwriting.

            Seeing someone’s handwriting is seeing a piece of the person.

            The beauty of a handwritten note is that it shows deeper investment and appreciation than a simple verbal or emailed thank-you.

            A valuable, yet often forgotten, way to enhance relationships is to leave written messages in different places.

            A friend related that one year before Yom Kippur he left a personalized note in each of his older children’s machzorim, telling them how proud he was of them and blessing them with a wonderful year. Of course, he could have just told them. But he wanted them to have the written note that they could reread many times.

            Personally, as a rebbe I know how meaningful it is when I receive a handwritten personalized message of gratitude from a student or his parents. Checks are always nice, but written messages recognizing effort and devotion are far more memorable.

            Between spouses especially, handwritten notes are invaluable. A brief message of gratitude or affection left where the other spouse is sure to see it, can go a long way in keeping the spark of love aflame.

            In addition, handwritten Torah notes, are especially precious. When my rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein, made Aliyah with his wife in 1997, he had to downsize and leave behind many seforim from his vast library. He allowed talmidim to take many of his seforim.

            To that end, I have in my possession Rabbi Wein’s gemara Kiddushin from his Yeshiva days. It is marked up with many notes in the margins, as well as quite a few loose pages full of notes from his Rebbe’s shiurim.

            My Zaydei, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn, was also an avid note taker. Most of his notes, however, were written shorthand in a makeshift Lithuanian script in with the all the letters of a word were connected, making it challenging to decipher. He also often wrote on the back of any paper next to him when he was learning, including old bills, invitations, and advertisements.

            It is always a painstaking process, going from word to word trying to decipher what my Zaydei wrote. Thankfully, I have had some success, and I feel blessed to have been able to glean a pittance from his wellsprings of knowledge through his written notes. But even the many notes that I cannot read and don’t know what he meant, are very near and dear to me, because when I hold and read his writing, I feel connected to him.

            In many yeshivos, a rebbe will hang up a small paper containing ‘mareh mekomos’ (reference pages that are pre-studied in order to understand an upcoming shiur/ Talmudic lecture). A friend related that in his Yeshiva, students would vie to get hold of that paper after the shiur. Whoever got it would then tape it into the front of their Gemara. It was a pride-thing to have the Rebbe’s handwritten notes.

            I don’t think my children can relate to having an old shoe box filled with old letters or short notes from former colleagues or friends? Periodically, when I come across my box full of old letters from decades ago, I take some time to read the messages. It brings back fond memories, smiles, and often evokes strong emotions.

            We don’t print emails and display them on our desks or refrigerators, the way we might with letters from friends. Handwritten notes have permanence and conveys a message of appreciation. It shows that we are willing to take a few minutes from our day to actually put pen to paper in an attempt to convey emotions and deeper feelings. It is a forgotten art that helps forge true and meaningful connection. What’s even greater is that those notes and messages remain for years to come.

            As our world becomes more impersonal and regimented, it’s worthy to remember the value and unparalleled sense of connection of the written word.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

            www.stamtorah.info