A theme that has been mentioned here a number of time is the importance of teaching by example. The reality is, it can not be stressed enough. The Torah dedicates an entire Sefer to teach us Maaseh Avos Siman La’Bonim. Sefer Beraishis is read yearly and over the course of a number of weeks – to make the point of how significant this message is and how vital it is that this message gets repeated.
In this weeks Haftorah this message gets reiterated albeit via an inference. This week’s Parsha talks about the laws of a Nazir. Included in those Halachos is the prohibition for a Nazir to eat grapes or drink any of its derivatives including wine. The Haftorah echoing these Halachos relates the story of Shimshon Ha’Gibor. In the beginning of chapter thirteen, the Navi tells us how the Angel tells Shimshon’s mother that she will give birth to a child who would be a Nazir. The Angel also instructs her to abstain from drinking wine.
Why was it so critical for Shimshon’s parents to refrain from drinking wine? In addition, the language of the Possuk implies that these instructions were to be fulfilled immediately, why? Shimshon was merely a thought at this point. What impact will his mother’s drinking have on her yet unconcieved child?
The lesson is very clear, as parents we are the primary influence on our children. How we live, even to the extent of what we eat, will have a tremendous impression on the development of our child. If we want our child to grow with a particular value, certainly one that we have not yet adopted we need to make the change in ourselves long before we become their example. In fact, it needs to become second nature to us for it to be transferred to our children.
Reflecting on the theme of teaching by example I was struck by an observation that bears repeating. Every morning at school we provide an opportunity for the students to Daven together, to Daven with a Minyan and to Daven in the place that they learn. During which, I have the opportunity to observe the way different students Daven. I see students who don’t talk during Davening, who Daven with the appropriate Kavana, and ones who are able to focus on the Davening and not get distracted.
It is clear to me that they learned these traits from their father. As it is Davening can be a challenge. Davening is the service of the heart – it takes focus and commitment. This makes it especially difficult for teenagers. For a teenager it is a struggle to Daven considering the numerous internal as well as external distractions. When a student does Daven properly I can say with certainty that they have learned how to, by example, from their father – Kudos to you.
In a very short week lots has happened. Along with all the amazing teaching and learning that occurred, the drone club has almost completed their quadcopter builds, Sci-Tech students presented their projects in school, the debate team hosted the Spring Jewish Congress (congratulations to Mr. Benji Halprin for placing third in the competition!) and we administered SAT-10’s. However, while my weekly communication is always focused on what happens in our school community, my mind is on another community that I used to call home.
This week Houston, Texas was devastated with torrential downpours causing massive flooding throughout the city. I quickly found out this was occurring as I watched Facebook status updates and pictures of flooding streets and homes from friends and families I used to see daily at school and in the community I lived in for three years. The next morning after a long night of hoping the rain would end pictures appeared of my friends homes with four feet of water in them, furniture floating in living rooms, roads washed out and cars submerged in the street. Pictures of shuls I used to daven in were posted with black water hiding the legs of its chairs and the bima platform submerged. The next day as the water receded the destruction became even more transparent as news of deaths, missing people and millions of dollars of destruction were reported. What also became transparent is why I have always missed the Houston Jewish community. It is a community that is always there for each other.
As light shined the morning after the flooding, I was amazed (but not surprised) by the acts of kindness in the different Houston Jewish communities being reported. First, community members left their safe homes to rescue others. Some on foot and come in canoes.
Then the community focused on those who were left without electricity, food, clothing and more. This “I want to help” form was quickly created for people to sign up to help. I saw one post about a family who needed clothes and within a few minutes they had more clothes than needed. People donated food and hundreds of meals were being made at the local shuls. Emails were sent out to organize the baking of Challahs and meals for Shabbos. People whose homes were dry opened their homes to those whose homes were not. I saw one post that said there are 70 washing machines ready for anyone who needs to wash and dry their clothes. Replacement games for children were made available. One local Jewish school gave students the option to not take finals if they help out flood victims during finals week. I am also sure this only scratches the surface of the chessed that is truly happening.
I had the misfortune of moving to Houston a couple months before Hurricane IKE landed at our doorstep. We had minor flooding, damage to our home and friends homes and loss of power for a couple of weeks. However, I also had the fortune of experiencing first hand how the Houston Jewish community takes care of each other and their non-Jewish neighbors (so many families in the Jewish community gave power and food to their non-Jewish neighbors) in a crisis. I would have preferred to not have experienced the destruction of IKE and would have never wished this recent flooding on anyone, yet, my memories of the hurricane were quickly replaced by the memories of great acts of kindness, strength of a community and warmth of a people. I hope the same will happen to those impacted by this flood.
Our thoughts and tefillos are with our brothers and sisters in Houston. If you would like to help the community needs funds to rebuild. Here is a link to the Jewish Federation if you would like to donate to help those impacted. Click here.
Here is drone flight that shows the flooding on a street I drove almost daily.
This past Sunday we had a pre-Shevous learning program. It was designed to allow fathers, brother and other relatives the opportunity to learn together with their relative student. Boruch Hashem it was a resounding success with a Kol Ha’Torah that permeated throughout the Bais HaMedrash. This Kol Hatorah brought back memories of a time that Valley Torah had a full time Bais Hamedrash program for post high school Bochurim.
The pre-Shevous learning program was enhanced by a group of four Bochurim that joined the school for the past few weeks (since Pesach). Their presence in these few short weeks has been tremendously impactful on all aspects of the school. Every morning our students have a chance to learn with the Bochrim. We setup a rotation of classes that went to the Bais Hamedrash to learn with the Bochrim BeChavrusa. Our students also had time to schmooze with the Bochurim during breakfast, lunch and their breaks. But it didn’t end there, The Bochurim generated their own energy by participating in Shabbatones (including a beach sleepover) , Onegs and even initiating a Baseball night for students and their parents.
Even with all of the above I believe what created the most impact for our students has been, the ability to see young men ready to give of themselves in a truly altruistic fashion. This was done while they continued to be focused on their own learning. All of this demonstrated to our students that you could be a member of today’s society (with all of its distractions) without compromising on being a true Ben-Torah. We were truly fortunate to have them here for the past few weeks and we hope B’Ezras Hashem to duplicate this program in the near future.
At the breakfast for our pre-Shevous learning program I had the opportunity to address the audience. I shared with them a very power Alshich (a biblical commentary) on Megilas Rus, who remarked on the juxtaposition between the death of Elimelech and his two sons marrying non-Jewish wives. Both the two sons Machlon and Kilyon were very respected members of the community as well as being tremendous Talmidei Chachomim. How was it that they fell to such depths and in such a short period of time? The Alshich explains that parental influence isn’t confined to giving our children the direction they need but to also providing a protection for their children not to stray. As soon as Elimelech died his protection was left which consequently led to his children going down the slippery slope that ultimately ended with them marrying out of the fold.
Activating the power of protection a parent has is by being relevant to one’s children. How do we achieve relevancy? It is not by becoming their bank, whenever they need money nor is it by becoming their local eatery for whenever they need food or their taxi service for whenever they a need a ride nor is it by being their local inn providing them with the shelter they need. It is by getting involved in their lives.
One sure and tested way is by learning with your son. What you learn or when you learn is not that critical however, having a consistent time that this is done is extremely important. The upcoming chag of Shevous is perfect opportunity. Make up a time to learn with your son even if it is only for 30 minutes. Find out what interests him and prepare it so that you can keep his attention for the duration. And by all means continue this, preferably every Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Last Thursday a group of VTHS students along with Mr. Joseph and myself headed up to the bay area for a Maker Shabbaton! A Maker Shabbaton you ask? Well, the main reason for our trip was to go to the Maker Faire which “is the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.” The maker movement is one filled with hobbyists, innovators and creative people who produce, create and bring value to the world. So, what better place to showcase to our student the importance of innovation and creativity as well as tap into their own then to go to the faire. However, we did so much more than that.
Our Shabbaton consisted of a fun road trip to the bay area, BBQ, soccer game, tour of Google, lunch with Jewglers (Jewish Googlers), stop at Facebook and Apple, adventure on the Stanford campus, amazing Shabbos in San Jose filled with beautiful davening, D’Vrei Torah, Zemiros, learning, improv games and Seudas as a group and at the homes of Rabbis, Googlers and Tech Marketers, Ice Cream extravaganza and of course, The Maker Faire. Below is a video that captures most of the excitement (minus Shabbos, but I am confident that the students captured memories of Shabbos that will last a lifetime).
I want to thank the students who were amazing on the Shabbton. I want to thank Mr. Joseph who partnered with me to make this happen. I want to thank my wife for her support and helping throughout the Shabbaton. I am forever grateful to Rabbi Shaya Guttenberg and his wife Mrs. Dina Guttenberg who opened their home to all of us and made us feel like family. I want thank my assistant Jessica who made the Google Tour happen and to the Jewglers, Greg, Ezequiel, Dimitri and Shabtzi who took time out of their busy day to show us around and have lunch with us. I would also like to thank those who hosted our students for Shabbos lunch in San Jose and to the Rabbi and the entire San Jose Am Echad Shul community who warmly welcomed our students.
As the Maker Movement Motto states “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” Well we opened this Shabbaton wide open and owned it!
This is the latest segment of the weekly video series from Rabbi Stulberger – You’ve Been Called to the Dean’s Office. It’s a short (four minute) message on a timely Torah topic.
Valley Torah Girls Shabbaton 2015 to Palm Springs
After a hearty bagel breakfast, the boys and their fathers returned to the Beis Medrash to prepare for the shiur by Rabbi Grama. The kol Torah was awesome. Many thanks to all the fathers that participated.
I large crowd joined us for fan appreciation day at the final baseball game of the season. In addition to free hot dogs and snacks, everyone enjoyed watching a come from behind win for Valley Torah.
This year coincides with the seventh year in a cycle that started when Bnei Yisreol inhabited Eretz Yisroel after leaving Egypt. It is vernacularly know as the Shmittah year. This weeks Parsha talks about the mitzvah of Shmittah (allowing the land to lie fallow) and it is distinctively introduced with the clause that it was given on Mount Sinai. It is also a mitzvah of great importance as evidenced by the Torah’s warning that if exile occurs, it will be for failure to observe Shmittah (Leviticus 26:24-35).
There are two unique components to the mitzvah of Shmittah that make it so important. First, it is a test of our Mesiras Nefesh (personal sacriﬁce), since it requires both the individual and the nation as a whole to refrain from working the land and harvesting crops for an entire year. Second, it highlights the Bitachon (belief in the Divine assurance) we need to have in HKB”H. The Torah promises us that there will be an overabundance of crops in the sixth year, which will suffice for three years (25:21).
The Bnei Yisroel upon settling in Eretz Yisroel observed the mitzvah of Shmittah and found that they suffered no loss by allowing the land to lie fallow, and the economy continued to thrive. So what went wrong how was it that shmittah was violated? Why would Bnei Yisroel take the risk of harsh consequences the Torah warns us about, that will result from transgressing the mitzvah of Shmittah?
Rabbi, Dr. Twersky a Rabbi and a Psychiatrist tells us that, a weakness of human nature is to have a compulsive urge to see if one can “get away with something,” even though rational thought dictates otherwise. He recounts how he has seen this frequently with alcoholics who relapse after a period of sobriety. Bnei Yisroel fell into this same mindset, while they had experienced the blessings that came with keeping Shmittah, they thought they could “get away with it” and capitalize on the additional income by working the land on the seventh year. Rabbi, Dr. Twersky tells that “getting away with it” does not work, it has never worked for the alcoholic, it did not work for our ancestors, and it will not work for us.
This additional, unspoken, message of the Mitzvah of Shmittah is that the word of Hashem is non-negotiable. If you keep the Mitzvos you will be blessed and if unfortunately you don’t the reverse will happen. This is underscored by the Torah singling out the mitzvah of Shmittah as having been given at Har Sinai to teach us that this message holds true for the other 612 Mitzvos. It is also reiterated in Moshe Rabbenu’s last communication to the Bnei Yisroel when he tells them behold “l have placed before you life and good, death and evil. . .and you should choose the good” (Deuteronomy 30:15- 19). The Mitzvah Shmittah is the concrete expression of this principle.
Our children are more susceptible to this phenomenon of “getting away with it”. Perhaps it is their lack of experience of the consequences; perhaps it is their natural impulsivity coming from their development. We have to factor that in when we parent our children. The innocent request to stay over by a friend may be an opportunity for them to try and get away with ______________ (you can fill in the blank). When your child tells you “Oh there is no school this Sunday” the prudent thing as a parent is to verify it through a third party or to subscribe to the schools newsletter. The flip side to this phenomenon is the curiosity that precedes discovery, which is a part of a child’s maturity. As in everything in life it is about finding the balance and that’s where we as parents are there to help our child.