Thursday, April 19, 2012


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis zt’l, Rav of the Chareidi community in Yerushalayim, was known as a great Torah scholar who utilized his every available moment to study Torah. Every year, he would gather a minyan to celebrate his annual siyum (completion) of the Talmud.

One afternoon, a few weeks after he made his yearly siyum, Rabbi Bengis again gathered a minyan for another siyum on Shas. The assemblage was surprised; even an extraordinary scholar like Rabbi Bengis couldn’t possibly have completed the entire Talmud in such a short amount of time.

Rabbi Bengis explained that this siyum was for the completion of a completely different cycle of learning.

“I am often invited to attend and participate in many joyous celebrations, such as circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, weddings and sheva berachos. Frequently there is a delay before the proceedings begin. Many years ago, I decided to dedicate those moments to a unique study of the Talmud. A few days ago, while attending such an event, I completed the entire Talmud. Therefore, I am celebrating today with a special siyum.”

“It was on the eighth day, Moshe called Aharon and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aharon, ‘take for yourself a calf as a sin-offering and an unblemished ram as an elevation-offering and offer them before G-d.’” (Vayikra 9:1-2)

The Mishkan was finally ready for its inauguration. Beginning with Moshe’s mass appeal for the necessary raw materials through the meticulous construction of the Mishkan, followed by seven days of preparation, the ‘eighth day’ was a long time in coming. Moshe conveyed to Aharon the unique korbanos that were to be offered in the initiation of the Service of the Mishkan.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt’l asked why Aharon was instructed to bring these offerings without prior preparation. The law is that both the Paschal lamb offered prior to Pesach as well as the daily tamid sacrifice offered twice daily, required four days of analysis and inspection to make sure the animal was fit to be offered on the altar. If so, why were the instructions for these offerings thrust on Aharon so suddenly, not allowing him to ensure that the animals were valid?

Rabbi Feinstein answers that it was to demonstrate the importance of beginning a new mitzvah as soon as one concludes the previous one. The eighth day marked the conclusion of the previous seven days which themselves were unique days of preparation and training for the Divine Service. As soon as that period was completed, the new mitzvos had to commence without any time lapse. This is such an integral idea that it was worth it for Aharon to lack the usual preparation time to demonstrate this idea.

Rabbi Feinstein concludes by writing that this is an important concept in regard to all spiritual endeavors and service to G-d. One should never think that when he concludes the performance of one mitzvah or good deed, he is entitled to a break or a vacation. One must immediately seek to begin a new mitzvah and continue his never-ending quest for spirituality.

This is the reason why our custom is that as soon as we conclude one section of Torah, we immediately begin the next one, to remind us that Torah study - as well as all aspects of a Jew’s spirituality - is constant and boundless.

At the conclusion of the Torah’s recording of the Shiras Hayam[1], the final verse states “כי בא סוס פרעה ברכבו ובפרשיו בים... - For the horse of Pharaoh, along with its rider and chariot, entered the sea and G-d turned upon them the waters of the sea; and B’nei Yisroel went on dry land into the sea.[2]

In the Torah the shirah is written in a unique structure, which is discernable even from afar. While the verses in the Torah are generally written in block form, the shirah is recorded with a definitive structure consisting of large even spaces in a pattern known as “areach al gabei livaynah- a half-brick on top of a complete brick”[3]. The aforementioned verse is the final verse written in this unique prose-like form which seems to indicate that it represents the conclusion of the shirah.

In our daily prayers however, it seems that the previous verse is the final verse of the shirah. The custom to repeat a verse symbolizes that that verse is the concluding verse[4]. During the morning prayers we repeat the preceding verse, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועד - G-d will rule for all of eternity[5]” which implies that it is the conclusion of the shirah?

In addition, the final verse, “כי בא סוס פרעה- For the horse of Pharaoh…” seems be a repetition of the opening words of the shirah, in which they made reference to the horses and chariots being cast into the sea. Why repeat it at the end?

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l[6] explained that although the shirah essentially indeed concludes with the verse, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועדanother verse was added in order to connect with the opening verse of the shirah. This is to symbolize that the shirah never really ends, because our obligation, passion, and excitement to express our gratitude and praise to G-d is limitless.

Maharal notes that anything that has a specific beginning and a defined conclusion lacks ‘shleimus’[7] In order for the exalted shiras hayam to have a status of shleimus it must transcend limits and boundaries. Thus, although the original words and concepts of the shirah conclude with the verse which depicts the eternity of G-d’s Monarchy, “ה' ימלך לעולם ועד”, the ‘structure’ of the shirah (i.e. as it is written in the Torah) concludes with the following verse, which returns to the opening of the shirah, symbolizing that the shirah has no beginning or end.

Although the holiday of Pesach has concluded and we no longer recite hallel each day, or observe the laws endemic to Pesach, our feelings of gratitude to G-d cannot fade. The shirah concludes with the ideas mentioned at the beginning to demonstrate that shirah never ends[8].

In fact, as long as one is alive and breathing, he has not completed his quest for growth and accomplishment. As long as he is part of the ‘circle of life’ he must seek to promote his ‘inner circle’ of spiritual growth and vitality.

Perhaps, this is part of the reason why there is a unique custom to bake and eat ‘schlissel challah’ during the Shabbos after Pesach[9]. Not only do we unlock blessings for physical well-being and sustenance, but our efforts during the holiday of Pesach grant us the ability to transcend blocked doorways of spiritual heights.

The gemara writes that sins create a barrier between us and G-d. With the opportunities afforded to us throughout Pesach via its many mitzvos and prayers, we have the key to dismantle those barriers.

That opportunity is in our hands. If we allow the holiday of Pesach to fade into oblivion, those keys become nothing more than digested Challah. But if Pesach is part of a circle of greatness and shirah to G-d, then we retain our possession of the keys which help us open spiritual doorways and reaccept the Torah anew on Shavuos.

“And it was on the eighth day”

“The horse and its chariot were cast into the sea”

[1] The song Klal Yisroel sang in exultation to G-d for splitting the sea and the other miracles that transpired at the Sea of the Reeds

[2] Shemos 15:19

[3] Gemarah Megillah 12b

[4] This is why we repeat the verse, “Kol Haneshamah tihallel Kah Hallelukah” during Pesukei D’zimrah, doing so demonstrates that we have reached the conclusion of the Psalms recited in Pesukei D’zimrah.

[5] Shemos 15:18

[6] Pachad Yitzchak, Pesach, Ma’amer 38

[7] Although shlemius is loosely translated as ‘completion’ it also connotes perfection and eternity

[8] The Kotzker Rebbe explained that this is why there is a prevalent custom to recite Adon Olam after davening on Shabbos and Yom Tov - to demonstrate that although we have completed the text of davening we feel that we have hardly fulfilled our obligation to praise G-d; it is as if we are still at the beginning reciting Adon Olam.

[9] Schlissel means a ‘key’ and there is a prevalent custom on the Shabbos after Pesach to either bake a challah in the shape of a key, bake a challah with a real key wrapped up inside it, or shape seeds on top of the challah in the form of a key.

The accepted reason is that the Shabbos after Pesach is an opportune time for one to merit ‘unlocking’ blessings for sustenance and success.



Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Shemini – Mevorchim Chodesh Iyar

28 Nissan 5772/April 20, 2012

A few months ago, my father – who is the Administrator of the Friedwald Center for Rehab and Nursing, located about a five minute drive from our home - called me to tell me about an interesting experience he had. Earlier that day while making his daily rounds, which includes greeting patients and residents, he introduced himself to a new patient who had just been admitted.

My father asked the patient where he was from, and he replied that he lived in Hillcrest. When my father asked him which street, he insisted that it was a small street and my father never heard of it. But at my father’s prodding he said that he lived at 5 Landau Lane. My father smiled, “I believe you live next door to my children.” The patient looked up, surprised, “You mean you’re Ronnie and Kani’s dad?” (At least he remembered that our names rhyme…)

When I heard that my neighbor was there I bought a tray of candy and went to visit him. He didn’t look well at all but he was very appreciative and touched by my visit.

The following Shabbos morning when we returned home from shul there was a small package at our door – a card with a bow taped to a bottle of Manischewitz wine, a sentiment of gratitude from our neighbors.

Although they forgot the matzah balls and the gefilte fish, when I saw the bottle of Manischewitz wine I felt very ‘Jewish. I told Chani that after Shabbos we should hold up the bottle and see if we can hear a distant hum of Hava Nageela.

I recently heard a fascinating statistic: Over 70 % of American Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Considering how assimilated American Jewry is that is pleasantly surprising. What was even more astounding is that 92% of American Jews state that they have some sort of Seder on the first night of Pesach. Perhaps many of those sedarim are replete with chometz and non-kosher food, but at least they are sitting at a Seder. Obviously the holiday of Pesach and the symbolism of the Seder tugs at the heartstrings of even distant Jews.

Pesach is not merely a week-long celebration, and the Seder is not merely for 1-2 nights. Rather they are experiences which help define a Jew’s observance and what being a Jew means to him/her.

To some Judaism is a culinary experience. The tantalizing aromas, the glimmer of the table, the amicable conversations and family time, the Maxwell House haggadah, and of course the symbolic foods – matzah, chasroses, (Manischewitz) wine, chicken soup, and matzah balls, all create a nostalgic emotional holiday experience.

But if that’s all the holiday is it’s a tragic loss of a much deeper, enriching experience. Pesach represents internal freedom, the liberty to serve G-d and uphold the banner of Torah. We don’t merely ingest the symbolic foods, we internalize them as well.

Going through the motions and experiencing Pesach superficially is like leaving a bottle of wine in its pretty wrapping at the door. What a tragedy not to bring the bottle into the house, open it, and enjoy its contents.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

Ronnie and Kani


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