May 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

At our Shabbos table a few weeks ago, a friend of ours related that some time prior to this, she had been attending a wedding. She was standing next to her table and schmoozing with a friend, when she felt a tapping on her shoulder. She completely ignored it and continued conversing.

After a minute, she heard a voice behind her say, “I imagine that you have young children and have trained yourself to ignore relentless tapping, but you are blocking the aisle. Could you please move aside?” She immediately moved aside, apologized and explained that the woman was exactly right. She was so used to the tapping that she hardly noticed it, even though her children were not with her.

The Gemara in Gittin recounts the tragic story which resulted in the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. There, the Gemara relates that after he destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, the arrogant and wicked Roman general Titus returned to Rome bragging that he had overpowered the Jewish God.

A short time later, a small gnat flew into his nostrils and entered his brain where it immediately began mercilessly pecking away inside his head. Titus tried all sorts of remedies, but all to no avail. One day, as he walked past a blacksmith who was banging away with his anvil, the pecking stopped. The gnat seemed to enjoy the noise. From that point onward, Titus had someone walk next to him banging away at all times. With time, the gnat became used to the banging and resumed its pecking, until Titus had the person bang a little harder. But then the gnat became accustomed to that too, and the noise had to be increased even more. Eventually, Titus died a slow and painful death.

In relating this story, the Gemara is reminding us of basic human nature. When someone is subjected to the same experience day after day no matter how awe-inspiring, terrifying or intriguing it is; eventually, it becomes trite and loses its intrigue. Eventually, it becomes nothing more than background noise.

When a parent or teacher is always shouting at their students/children, eventually, the children no longer hear the shouting and program themselves to just tune out. (This is not to say that they aren’t bothered by the emotional reprimand, but the intended jolt accomplished by the shouting no longer has the same effect. If anything, it begins to breed resentment.)

When Titus originally passed the blacksmith, the gnat was intrigued by the noise. But with time, it became accustomed to the noise and was no longer affected by it.[1]

To make an impression something must be exciting and fresh. In today’s world, educators possess the difficult task of maintaining excitement in their lessons. We, as individuals too, have the arduous responsibility to maintain excitement in our religious observance. When Torah and mitzvot become “background noise” and the “noises” of the world around us become louder and more exciting we no longer hear the sounds of our soul within us.

Tisha B’av and the preceding period of mourning come to jolt us out of our spiritual stupor. When we allow the Bais Hamikdash within our souls to be reduced to ashes, we can no longer relate to it. But when we mourn its loss, then we begin to reconnect ourselves with it and it begins to be rebuilt from within us.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, and an experienced therapist, recently returning to seeing clients in private practice, as part of the Rockland CBT group. For appointments Rabbi Staum can be reached at 914-295-0115. Looking for an inspirational and motivating speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience. Rabbi Staum can be reached at [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info

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