Thursday, March 22, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch




At the previous Siyum Hashas[1] on March 1, 1995 in Madison Square Garden, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon shlita, the Mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., delivered the final address, in which he mentioned that the Siyum was dedicated to the memory of the six million who perished during the Holocaust. During that lecture he related the following story:

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l recounted that he once asked a survivor how he was able to bear five years in a forced labor camp and remain a believer? How could he have emerged with undiminished love for G-d?

The man replied, “They didn’t allow us to keep any mitzvos in the camp. They deprived us of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Torah, etc., and from early morning until late in the evening they guarded us closely.

“But there was one thing they could not take away from us – the moon! There were inmates among us who calculated when Rosh Chodesh was and when Kiddush Levanah[2] could be recited. On that night, as we would walk back to the barracks with soldiers on both sides, someone would whisper that it was time to recite Kiddush Levanah. We would hold hands and recite Kiddush Levanah, and that symbolized everything to us. "וללבנה אמר שתתחדש עטרת תפארת לעמוסי בטן שהם עתידים להתחדש כמותה ולפאר ליוצרם על שם כבוד מלכותו" – To the moon He said that it should renew itself, as a crown of splendor for those borne from the womb, those who are destined to renew themselves like it, and to glorify their Creator for the sake of His glorious kingdom.[3]

When Moshe Rabbeinu taught Klal Yisroel the laws of the offering of the Korbon Pesach in Egypt just prior to the exodus he introduced it with a statement about the greatness of the month of the redemption. “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months, it shall be for you the first of the months of the year.[4]

The Sages explain that every Rosh Chodesh symbolizes a new beginning, a chance to rededicate oneself to his ideals and his Service of Hashem with renewed vigor. Rosh Chodesh Nissan - the first Rosh Chodesh of the year - has an even greater propensity for renewal. It is the ‘first of firsts’. What is the meaning of this spiritual renewal?

In the Haggadah we quote the verse from the prophet Yechezkel[5] “I made you as numerous as the plants of the field.” Why is the growth of Klal Yisroel analogous to plants in the field?

The Ohaiv Yisroel explained that plants grow upwards defying the natural laws of gravity. The Medrash[6] explains that every single blade of grass has its own angel or constellation above which encourages it to grow. Because of the prodding of its celestial angel, the plant desires to reconnect with its spiritual root. Therefore, it pulls itself and grows upwards from the ground.

So too, the spiritual source of the soul of every Jew has its root beneath G-d’s Heavenly Throne, as it were. Thus when a Jew feels the ‘Light of G-d’s Countenance’, it fills his soul with an unbridled yearning and passion to reconnect with its source. Through that deeply-rooted desire one grows and is spiritually elevated.

The Darchei Noam[7] adds that as plants grow they produce fruits and new growth that did not exist prior. The potential for that production was always present, but until it emerged it was impossible to know it was there beneath the surface.

While Klal Yisroel wallowed in the elongated Egyptian exile it was impossible to see the incredible greatness that lay dormant within their souls. The redemption was like the sprouting of plants when suddenly one notices luscious fruits and beautiful vegetation that could not be imagined prior.

This is the profundity of the renewal of redemption. There is so much greatness inherent in the Jewish people, collectively and individually, which is not apparent and cannot come to fruition, because of the challenges and burdens of life in exile. But at the moment of redemption all of that latent greatness appears.

This is the meaning of the Medrash[8] which commenting on the verse, “this month shall be for you” states, “In me kings will reign”. Darchei Noam explains that every Jew is a king who possesses regal bearing. However, in exile that majesty is not always apparent, for it remains dormant inside him.

It is analogous to the king who was captured and taken prisoner. He was forced to wear sackcloth, eat inferior foods, not allowed to shower, and was beaten mercilessly, all to break his spirit. But those who were imprisoned with him would later remark that the demonstrated greater royalty during those trying days of imprisonment than he did when he sat upon his throne.

As the month of Nissan begins, symbolizing redemption and a new beginning, and surely on the night of the Seder itself, our inner greatness shines forth and we are able to see a glimpse of the royalty that hitherto remained latent within us. We sit as kings around the Seder table, because essentially we are all kings, albeit we are generally too spiritually weary to recognize it.

The Darchei Noam also notes that every redemption requires its own covenant. In Egypt the covenant was symbolized by the blood of the Korbon Pesach and the blood of circumcision[9]. At the time of the giving of the Torah at Sinai too there was a new covenant through the blood of their sacrifices[10]. The Prophet[11] also states that when Moshiach comes there will be a new covenant.

Blood contains the essence of physical life. When we refer to a deep connection with someone/something we say ‘it’s in his blood’.

Redemption is the revelation of inner greatness that was unrecognizable throughout the exile. Therefore that resurgence of life is aptly symbolized by blood, for redemption grants a person a new lease, and appreciation, of life. Redemption also allows one’s soul to reconnect with its Creator and pine for deeper connection. When one feels excited his heart beats more rapidly, pumping blood throughout his body with more feverish intensity. The covenant of redemption symbolizes that added spiritual intensity and inner revelation.

When G-d first appeared to Moshe to summon him for his lifelong mission, He appeared to him from within a burning bush. “Moshe thought, ‘I will turn aside now and look at this great sight - why will the bush not be burned?[12]’” Moshe saw a thorn bush with a fire raging in its center but, contrary to the laws of nature, the fire did not spread and the bush remained fresh and unaffected.

The commentators explain that G-d was demonstrating to Moshe that the Jews were more than what he saw on the outside. The Jews may have seemed unworthy, but that was only their exterior. In the center of the bush, beyond what the human eye could see, there was a raging fire within their hearts and souls. Moshe assumed that the fire had been extinguished, but G-d demonstrated that it had only been enveloped by decades of suffering and exile. At its core that fire was still as vibrant as ever, and when Moshe would fulfill his mission, that inner fire would surface and be apparent to all.

The most important step of the offering of any Korban was the ritual sprinkling of its blood upon the Altar by the Kohain. Based on the aforementioned idea we can add that when a person sins and is obligated to bring a Korban, as he watches the Kohain sprinkle the blood of his animal it causes him to reflect ‘on his own blood’.

If the covenant of redemption is symbolized by blood which represents an inner surge of life, a korban offered as atonement for sin represents the opposite. The sinner must realize that his blood ‘flowed too slowly’, i.e. he was not sufficiently passionate or vigilant with his mitzvah observance. The sprinkling of tgeh blood symbolized to him that he must awaken himself and internalize its message.

If he understands that message then the offering of the Korban will serve as a spiritually liberating event, a form of redemption. As the Torah says, “The Kohain shall provide him atonement, and it shall be forgiven him[13].”

“As numerous as the plants of the field”

“Those who are destined to renew themselves like it”

[1] Completion of the Talmud, once every seven and a half years

[2] ‘Sanctification of the moon’, recited when the new moon is visible after Rosh Chodesh each month

[3] From the text of the blessing of Kiddush Levanah

[4] Shemos 12:2; the special reading for Parshas Hachodesh begins with this verse

[5] 16:7

[6] Bereishis Rabbah 10:6, Zohar Chodosh - Bereishis

[7] Tazria/Hachodesh 5765

[8] Shemos Rabbah 15, 13

[9] See Rashi Shemos 12:6; Rashi explains that the redemption was contingent upon the performance of those two mitzvos. We express this idea in the Haggadah when we quote the verse in Yechezkel 16:6 “In your blood shall you live; in your blood shall you live.”

[10] See Shemos 24:5-8

[11] Yermiyah 31:30-31

[12] Shemos 3:3

[13] Vayikra – repeated a few times in the parsha in reference to different korbanos



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra/HaChodesh

Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan

I Nissan 5772/March 23, 2012

Someone once related to me that he has a hobby, almost to the point of obsession, for metal detecting on beaches after hours. He bought himself an expensive detector and walks around areas which were heavily populated during the day. He told me he has amassed a small fortune’s worth of valuables including jewelry and cash over the years. What’s more, there is an art to metal detecting and those who take it seriously know exactly how to do it and where to go. There is even a magazine which has all sorts of ideas and tips for successful metal detecting.

But even that is not as fascinating as Raffi Stepanian, who finds valuables on 47th Street in Mid-Town Manhattan using nothing other than his eyes.

Stepanian told a reporter that "The streets of 47th Street are literally paved with gold." The reporter discovered Stepanian on all fours - armed with tweezers and a butter knife, digging through cracks in the sidewalk in a driving rainstorm.

The freelance diamond setter explained that he was sifting through "very valuable" New York City mud for tiny diamond and ruby chips, bits of platinum, white-gold industrial loops for jewelry assembly, and gold earring backs and loops from broken chains, watches, broaches and necklaces, all carelessly dropped.

He explained that material falls off clothes, from the bottom of shoes, drops off jewelry, falls in the dirt, and sticks to the gum on the street.

Over six days he collected enough gold for two sales totaling $819 on 47th Street.

Stepanian explained that it’s no different than collecting cans on the street and redeeming them for nickels. It's redemption of reusable gold. This is the gold that has been on this street for 60 years.

In his words, "You just have to get down on your knees and get it."

The significance of Stepanian’s story is that it brings to life one of the classic parables of the Chofetz Chaim. In part, it is the story of an impoverished fellow who travels to a distant island where there are diamonds in the streets, but people fail to see their value. Over time, the silly fellow forgets his purpose in coming to the island and becomes involved in futile pursuits which have vale only on the island. He nonchalantly steps on the diamonds along with everyone else.

The Chofetz Chaim explained that in this world opportunities to perform mitzvos and Avodas Hashem abound. But oftentimes we follow the masses who don’t have the time, patience, or wisdom to take advantage of the plethora of diamonds in the streets.

Pesach and Spring are times of renewal. It is a time when we take stock of our goals and dreams and remind ourselves not to step on priceless opportunities like everyone else

How eloquently applicable are Stepanian’s words: “The streets are literally paved with gold…You just have to get down on your knees and get it.”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos

Good Chodesh,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum


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