This year, the Staum family enjoyed a wonderful Purim s’udah at the home our friends and neighbors, the Binders, around the corner from our home. Before Purim, I had invited talmidim and rebbeim from our yeshivah, Heichal HaTorah, to our home at 8 p.m. for a post-Purim-s’udah s’udah.
At 8:05 p.m., while getting ready to bentch at the Binders, my friend Rabbi Yehuda Schuster arrived to wish me a freilichen Purim. Rabbi Schuster is an old friend (I don’t mean that he is old, but that we have been friends for quite a few years). He had come a few times, during the last few years, to visit on Purim, towards the end of our s’udah, but this time we weren’t home. I’m still not exactly sure how he tracked us down, but he advised me that I might want to hurry home, as there was a large crowd of excited boys converging outside our house. Our poor devoted cleaning lady, who was babysitting our (until then) sleeping twins, wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
Rabbi Schuster walked with me up the hill towards our home. As we got closer and began hearing the singing and excitement from outside my home, Rabbi Schuster remarked that he was sure that next week he’s going to read a Rabbi’s Musings in which I would write, “I was walking home from the Purim s’udah with someone,” and that somehow I would conjure up some thought or lesson from the incident.
Well, I want to tell you, Rabbi Schuster, that you were wrong! I have no lesson that I wish to pontificate, based on that event. Instead I want to share something more personal about our friendship.
I have heard from numerous people that I look like Rabbi Schuster, and Rabbi Schuster often tells me that people confuse us all the time. On one occasion, at a chasunah that we were both attending, Rabbi Schuster came over to me, laughing, that he was just complimented on a speech that I had given. He thanked the person and walked away. When I was a high school literature teacher in a yeshivah in Monsey, many of my students had been talmidim of Rabbi Schuster when they were in seventh grade. They would ask me if I knew him, because I looked and seemed so much like him. I replied that I didn’t know what or who they were talking about.
The truth is that there are certain similarities that we share. We are both alumni of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah, spent many years at Camp Dora Golding, and consider ourselves talmidim of Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman, based on our summers there with him. Students say we have a similar sense of humor, though I am quite sure I am much funnier. We are also both Yankees fans. The one thing we absolutely do not share is that he is a proud Yekke and I am a proud Polish-descended, non-Yekke.
As alumni of Shaarei Torah, we also share another distinction, in that we both consider ourselves proud talmidim of Rabbi Berel Wein and find ourselves quoting him frequently. Aside for being our Rosh Yeshiva, an author of s’farim on Gemara and halachah, and a talmid chacham of note, Rabbi Wein has gained renown in the Jewish world for his sermons about Jewish history, and his unique perspective on Jewish life.
One of Rabbi Wein’s well-known analogies is that when a person is learning how to drive, one of the first lessons he is taught is to look into the rear-view mirror before pulling out. One needs to see what’s coming before he can decide where he is going. We, members of the Jewish people, need to understand our roots and our past – both the glories and the vicissitudes, in order to have an appreciation of our greatness and uniqueness. It is only with that perspective that we can begin to understand the destiny and responsibility every one of us has, as part of the eternal people.
We need to understand our roots and our past –
both the glories and the vicissitudes,
in order to have an appreciation of our greatness and uniqueness
Rabbi Wein infused within his talmidim an appreciation of the timeless messages of the Torah and the Prophets. His constant message is that the Torah and all of the words of the Prophets are contemporary messages that apply to current events as much as they did when they were originally uttered and taught thousands of years ago.
This week, with the help of Hashem, I have reached a personal milestone. I have completed studying all 24 books of Tanach for the first time in my life.
I don’t remember when I officially began, but Chani said she remembers me announcing to her about ten years ago that I felt remiss that I had never learned all of Tanach, and had therefore decided to begin a daily study of it.
It has been a most gratifying and rewarding study. Aside for all the incredible stories in Yehoshua, Shoftim, Shmuel, and M’lachim, I would feel emotionally charged when I learned the prophecies of Y’shayahu and Yirmiyahu. Their chastisement is as beautiful as it was sorrowful, and their prophecies of consolation and of the future glory that awaits us literally tugged at my heart. The incredible wisdom of Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei and Koheles, the resilience of Daniel, Ezra, and Nechemiah, and the penetrating messages of Iyov were uplifting and penetrating. Learning about the life of David HaMelech, and learning the majestic words of hope and longing throughout Sefer T’hilim was unparalleled. It is something I look forward to each day.
I write these words in the hope that, as I begin again with a prayer that I be zocheh to finish it many more times, others may also be inspired to undertake the study of the most basic teachings of our faith.
So, if you see Rabbi Schuster around town, please wish him a mazal tov upon his completing Tanach. And if you see a group of excited teens outside my home, please tell them the party is over.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is the Rabbi of Kehillat New Hempstead, as well as a rebbe and the Guidance Counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, New Jersey, and Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor. Rabbi Staum is a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He also presents parenting classes based on the acclaimed Love and Logic methods. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.stamtorah.info.