Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          Rabbi Mendel of Rimanov zt’l[1] once mused, “When there were no roads, one had to cease all travels at sundown. The weary traveler had the leisure to recite a few chapters of Tehillim, immerse himself in Torah study, and converse with those around him. Today, one can travel the roads throughout day and night. There is no longer any peace of mind.”

          Chumash Vayikra commences with a lengthy discussion of the various korbanos- offerings brought in the Bais Hamikdash. Each offering was unique, requiring particular adherence to minute detail and the particular laws endemic to that offering. If one were to deviate one iota from the meticulous requirements of his particular obligatory offering, not only would he render his offering invalid, but he would be placing his life in great peril.
          There was one ingredient that had to be added to all offerings, salt! “You shall salt every meal offering with salt; you may not discontinue the salt of your G-d’s covenant from upon your meal offering – on every offering you shall offer salt.[2]” The Medrash explains that when G-d divided the heavenly waters above the firmament and the earthly waters on the second day of creation, the earthly waters protested. They too wanted to remain in close proximity of G-d. To assuage the lower waters, G-d assured them that they would have a share in the service of the Bais Hamikdash. Salt, which comes from the sea, would be an integral additive to every offering. [3]
          Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains the reason why salt is the agent which was used to appease the lower waters. He explains that aside from salt’s practical use as an indispensable enhancer of taste, it is also used as a sterilizing and neutralizing agent. A field sown with salt will cease to produce.
On the other hand, salt is also a preservative, and will help maintain a food’s freshness from rotting. Salt represents immutability and resistance to change. A covenant, which represents an eternal bond, is appropriately represented by salt, which symbolizes consistency and unchanging constancy.

          For over two centuries the burgeoning Jewish nation remained enslaved to Pharaoh in oppressive draconian servility. Yet, the millions of enslaved Jews never organized a protest or revolution. There is no record of any mass assemblies, Jewish unions, or agencies. Nor do we find any mention of Jews gathering to contemplate why G-d was allowing them to suffer so. There were no appeals outside foreign embassies asking for intervention from the U.N. Security Council, or million-man protest marches on Cairo or prayer vigils outside Pharaoh’s palace. 
Mesillas Yesharim[4] explains that Pharaoh understood that the key to growth stems is constant introspection, and sincere desire to grow spiritually. Pharaoh knew that the only way to curtail that growth was by not allowing the Jews to contemplate their spiritual status. It was for this reason that Pharaoh ensured that the servitude include unbearable quotas. “Intensify the men’s labor and let them not gain hope through false words”[5].
In the vernacular of the Mesillas Yesharim, “His intention was not merely to deprive them of all their leisure so that they would not come to oppose or plot against him, but he strove to strip their hearts of all thoughts by means of the enduring, interminable nature of their labor.”
Mesillas Yesharim continues, “This is precisely the device that the evil inclination employs against man; for he is a warrior, well versed in deception.” Our evil inclination does not merely seek to impede our performance of mitzvos, but rather he goes for the juggernaut by challenging the source of all spiritual growth. He ensures that we are so involved and overwhelmed with the demands of daily life that we lack time and ability for introspection and self-assessment. We thus lose perspective of our goals and personal aspirations, instead fading into monotonous passivity of our daily affairs.   
          The commentators question the justification for Pharaoh’s austere punishments during the ten plagues. What justification was there for G-d to harden Pharaoh’s heart and then to punish him for being perfidious? Is it fair to punish someone for doing something he was compelled to do?
           My Zayde, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Kohn zt’l, related an explanation offered by the Ba’alei Mussar[6]: In truth, Pharaoh was being treated in the same manner that he treated the Jews, middah k’negged middah – measure for measure.  When Pharaoh overburdened the Jews with unbearably harsh servitude and body-breaking labor, he essentially robbed the Jews of their ability to think. Doing so was akin to removing their free choice, because without reflection and introspection a Jew is easy prey for his trenchant evil inclination. Therefore, it was perfectly fair for Pharaoh’s free choice to be suspended so that he should be forced to suffer the consequences of his folly.
With this in mind, we can offer a novel reason why we dip the karpas vegetable into salt water at the Seder[7]. Salt, the neutralizing agent, represents the secret to Pharaoh’s entrapment of the Jews in Egypt. Pharaoh understood that if he was able to strangle and impede the Jews’ spiritual growth, they would be at his mercy. Salt, which represents stagnancy and torpidity, also represents the suspension of the Jews’ ability to pray, reflect, and hope. In a sense, salt water is symbolic of the root of the entire exile and servitude. How apropos that the representation of Jewish tears and inner pain is also a reflection of the spiritual choke-hold that the Jews’ found themselves in at the behest of Pharaoh in Egypt.

If Rabbi Mendel of Rimanov was apprehensive about people’s mental state in his day, what would he say about our volatile generation? We have cars that go from 0 to 60 M.P.H. in less than five seconds, jets that can traverse oceans in a few hours; we have landed men on the moon and sent unmanned rockets to the ends of the Milky Way. We have discovered new medical procedures, including non-invasive laser surgery, and technological advances that allow us to communicate from one end of the world to the other efficiently and with ease. Yet, we feel less fulfilled, depression abounds, and anxiety is almost as common as the flu.
The irony is that the faster technology becomes and the more efficient our world is, the greater the expectation and demand, and the less time we have. Reflection, introspection, the art of dialogue, and the vital ability to be patient with others and ourselves, is rare.
Physically, Pharaoh may be long gone but his legacy is alive and well. If the Jews at the time were stuck in the morass of stagnancy, we are sinking in it. The ability to grow spiritually is contingent upon our ability to reflect upon our past accomplishments and to consider what we still need to accomplish. In today’s day and age stopping for anything is a challenge, even a red light. 
The holiday of Pesach celebrates our emergence as a dignified people from the depths of Egyptian exile and persecution. A baby needs constant devotion and attention and no machine can fill the shoes of a loving parent. If Pesach celebrates our birth and maturation from infancy, than it also celebrates the nurturing love that G-d granted at the time of the exodus. If the exile was due to stagnancy, the redemption was a result of G-d’s devotion and love. The antidote for our generation’s personal stagnancy and antipathy is also with love, patience, devotion, as well as introspection and reflection.   

 “Let the work be increased upon the men”
“On every offering you shall offer salt”

[1] one of the great Chassidic Masters of the late eighteenth century,
[2] Vayikra 2:13
[3] In addition, there would be a special water libation offered on the altar during the Yom Tov of Succos.
[4] chapter 2
[5] Shemos 5:9
[6] Master Ethicists
[7] The noted reason why we dip the karpas into salt water is because salt water is reminiscent of the tears the Jews shed because of the unbearable Egyptian oppression


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayikra
4 Nissan 5773/March 15, 2013

In case you didn’t know, the United States celebrates National Potato Chip Day on March 14. Not that I think Americans need any added excuse to consume potato chips, which are the largest selling segment of the salty snacks market ($6.8 billion in sales in 2010).
But I think a lot of people wonder how much of that $6.8 billion was spent on chips, and how much on the air that fills half the bag. It seems that a lot more chips can easily be stuffed into the bags. Is it all a scam?
Potato chips companies argue that the air is necessary for the quality of the chip. If the bag would be completely filled, the chips inside would end up being very crummy. The air in the bag serves as a cushion to protect the chips from crumbling. In fact, the FDA allows some air as food protection. [The question becomes if they are adding more air than necessary.]
At this time of year, as we gear up for the annual chometz war, the concept of air in food is significant. Matzo and bread contain the same basic ingredients, are both baked in an oven, and are both very nourishing. The significant difference is that matzah remains flat, while bread is given time to rise and fill with air.
One of the greatest lessons to be derived from Pharaoh’s downfall is the power of arrogance. His country and people were on the brink of utter decimation, yet he would not back down.
A person who is so focused on himself that he cannot see beyond, is trapped in the symbolic arrogance of chometz.
The truth is that our ego plays a vital role. We need to appreciate ourselves and understand the incalculable value that we possess in order to utilize our capabilities properly. But before one can have a healthy sense of ego, he has to be able to be able to see beyond his ego.
Pesach is a training period where we symbolically remove all traces of “I” so we can fully focus on the salvation G-d granted us. Only after spending a week focusing on that point are we confident that we can maintain a healthy sense of ego, and introduce chometz back into our homes. Much like the air in the potato chip bag, which when used in moderation protects the freshness and quality of the chip, so does a healthy ego leads a person to be caring and sensitive to others. But when there is too much air and the bag becomes inflated with vapid nothingness, it becomes nothing more than wasted space which frustrates everyone.
One of the most humble people I knew was my Sabbah, Mr. Abe Staum a’h. He was a prince of a man, with a genial laugh, and a kind word for everyone. His yahrtzeit, 4 Nissan, is always during the season when we rid ourselves of chometz. [The fact that his yahrtzeit coincides with National Chip Day this year is just a coincidence, though Sabbah would have gotten a good laugh out of it…] Sabbah remains an example of true humility – a healthy sense of self which allowed him to live a life beyond himself, a life immersed in chesed. 
I conclude with the timeless wisdom of one of the great philosophers of yesteryear, Lou Costello, who once asked his erstwhile companion: “If hot air makes a balloon go up, tell me what’s holding you down?”

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

720 Union Road • New Hempstead, NY 10977 • (845) 362-2425 


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