April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

For a number of years I was the general studies principal of Mesivta Ohr Naftoli in New Windsor, New York. During that time, the students of each grade had the good fortune to have me as their teacher for one period weekly. For the 11th graders, I gave a course in public speaking.

As their final exam, each student had to present a speech to his classmates. I created a list of possible venues and occasions, and by lottery, each student was given the topic/venue that he had to address. The occasions included sheva brachos of your sister, promoting a kiruv event at your shul, bar mitzvah of a younger brother, opening words as emcee of a shul dinner, class representative at graduation, Bubby’s surprise 90th birthday party, speaking to a group of eighth grade students and their parents to promote the yeshiva, class valedictorian, convincing the non-Jewish mayor of the city to allow the yeshiva to build a new building, etc.

(I should add that I currently teach a class in public speaking at Yeshiva Ohel Torah in Monsey, for the wonderful organization, LifePrep.)

Eight years ago, a student in Ohr Naftali was assigned to speak at his neighbor’s 50th anniversary party. He began his speech by relating a dvar Torah that emphasized the importance of having good middos and being a pleasant person. He continued by saying, “Everyone knows our dear neighbors – Rabbi and Rebbitzin Staum – who are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary today, possess these wonderful qualities…”

When he concluded his speech, I couldn’t help but share with him that, believe it or not, that day, February 17, happened to be my anniversary (coincidentally it was also my wife’s anniversary), albeit that year was our 14th, not quite our 50th. I also told them that there was no place I’d rather be on my anniversary than with them.

The following week in the middle of class, the boys presented me with an ice cream cake and a card that read: “Happy Anniversary. Better late than never!”

It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture and, thankfully, still having my teeth, I was able to enjoy the cake. But it did give me a moment’s pause to think about my 50th anniversary. I pray that God will grant my wife and me the blessing to reach such a beautiful and precious milestone.

We live our lives trying to balance our short-term, immediate focus with our long-term, future focus. The challenge is that the pressures of today make it so difficult for us to focus on the growth and goals of tomorrow.

It’s been said that youth is not so much a matter of chronological age as it is a matter of attitude. In the Torah, Yehoshua bin Nun is referred to as a na’ar (youth) despite the fact that he was well advanced in his years. The Nesivas Shalom explains that as long as one is still growing and has not stagnated spiritually, he is still deemed a na’ar. Yehoshua may have been advanced in years, but he still sat at the feet of his mentor, Moshe Rabbeinu, with youthful exuberance and vigor. Therefore, he is still called youthful.

Nesivas Shalom adds that when the brothers of Yosef demanded that he release Binyamin and allow him to return to Cana’an with them, they said, “For how can we go up to our father if the na’ar is not with us?” This is a question we must each ask ourselves: “How can we return our souls after we leave this world if our na’ar—that youthful exuberance and drive to grow and accomplish—is not with us because we have allowed ourselves to become old, withered and frumpy.

More impressive than 50 years of marriage is when it is also a celebration of 50 years of growth and accomplishment. The only way to achieve that is to grow every day. Not easily done, but well worth the price.

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck and an experienced therapist who has recently returned to seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. To schedule an appointment with Rabbi Staum, call (914) 295-0115.


Looking for an inspirational and motivational speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience by emailing [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info.

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