Thursday, March 7, 2013


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


          It was the final day of the semester. The proctor placed an exam on every desk, facing downward. The nervous students fidgeted quietly in their seats. The proctor completed her round and returned to the front of the room, “You will have exactly one hour to complete the exam. At that time, you must hand in your test. Any student failing to do so, will automatically fail. You may begin now.”
          Well before the hour was over, most of the students had completed their exams and left. When the hour was up, the remaining few handed in their tests and exited. The proctor was preparing to leave when she noticed one student still working feverishly on his test, oblivious to his surroundings. The proctor sat down and patiently waited. Another forty-five minutes went by before the student finally put down his pencil and made his way to the front of the room.
          By now the proctor was quite agitated, “Young man, I hope you realize that you will be receiving an ‘F’ on the exam.” The student looked at her nonchalantly, “Ma’am do you know who I am?” The proctor shook her head. “Do you know who my father is?” The proctor began to gather her belongings. “I don’t know who your father is, and frankly I don’t care.” The young boy edged toward the pile of exams, “You’re sure you don’t know who I am?” The proctor firmly shook her head. “Good!” he replied, as he shoved his paper in the middle of the pile of tests and ran out of the room.

           “These are the reckonings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony, which were reckoned at Moses’ bidding… Bezalel, son of Uri son of Chur, of the tribe of Yehuda, did everything that Hashem commanded Moshe.[1]
          Why does the Torah make it a point to repeatedly note Bezalel’s extended pedigree[2]?
          Rashi explains that the Mishkan is called the “Mishkan of Testimony,” for the fact that G-d’s Presence rested there, served as testimony that G-d had forgiven Klal Yisroel for the sin with the golden calf.
          If anyone had reason to want to abstain from assisting with the construction of the Mishkan, it was Bezalel. The Mishkan served as a testimony that G-d had pardoned Klal Yisroel for the heinous sin that included the murder of his righteous grandfather, Chur. The blood of his Zayde cried out from the walls of the Mishkan[3].  
          Meshech Chochma[4] explains that it was specifically Bezalel who was commissioned to construct the Keruvim above the Aron. After the nation had constructed and served the Golden Calf, how could G-d instruct them to place golden Keruvim in the Holy of Holies? Perhaps they would end up deifying them as well. It was only Bezalel, who was so manifestly pained by the sin of the Golden Calf, who could be trusted to create the Keruvim with pure intentions.
          By overcoming his personal feelings, Bezalel demonstrated an incredible dedication to the unity of Klal Yisroel. Bezalel understood that if Klal Yisroel required atonement than he did as well. As a nation, Klal Yisroel rises and falls together.

          Haman, the instigator of the Purim miracle, understood this idea well. When he approached King Achashveirosh to proposition him to eradicate the Jews, he offered him ten thousand silver talents to compensate for any loss the destruction of the Jews would incur.
Tosafos[5] notes that Haman gave precisely ten thousand silver talents to counter-balance the half-shekalim given by the six hundred thousand Jews in the desert[6].
          Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz zt’l explains that the reason G-d commanded every Jew in the desert to contribute a half shekel - no more and no less[7] - was to symbolize that every individual Jew is a part of a bigger whole.
          The Gemara[8] records that when Haman went to seek Mordechai in order to parade him through the streets of Shushan, as per Achashveirosh’s instruction, Mordechai was learning with his students. Mordechai was sure Haman had come to kill him, and he urged his students to flee. They insisted on staying at his side, and Mordechai continued his Talmudic lecture.
Haman waited respectfully until Mordechai finished, and then asked him what he was studying. Mordechai explained that that day was the sixteenth day of Nissan and the second day of Pesach. When the Bais Hamikdash stood, the Kohanim would offer the Korbon Omer that day[9]. The designated Kohain would remove a fistful from the Mincha offering to be burnt on the altar, and what remained in the bowl was eaten by the Kohanim. Haman replied that Mordechai’s fistful of flour had outweighed the ten thousand silver talents he had offered Achashveirosh to destroy the Jews.
          What did Haman mean?
          Chazal explain that one of the chief motivations of Achashveirosh’s seven day feast for all of the inhabitants of Shushan was to lure the Jews into sin, so that they would be worthy of punishment. This was actually Haman’s plan, which he convinced Achashveirosh was flawless. When the vast majority of the Jewish inhabitants defied Mordechai’s explicit instruction that they not attend the feast, they were indeed held culpable in the celestial court.
Alshich explains that when Haman heard Mordechai’s explanation about the Minchah, he saw in it the symbolic undermining of his arguments to Achashveirosh. The rule is that as a collective people, the Jews are held accountable for individual sins only if no one protested the sin. If the leaders protested however, the rest of the nation is not held accountable.
          While only a small fistful of the Minchah was offered on the altar, that fistful was sufficient to permit the remaining majority for consumption by the Kohanim. Haman understood that because Mordechai and the other sages had protested Klal Yisroel’s attending the party of Achashveirosh the nation could not be completely liable for attending.
          The Purim miracle and its salvation came about because of the unification of the Jewish people in their darkest hour.
          The Kotzker Rebbe notes that Haman told Achashveirosh that the Jews were, “A scattered and diverse nation.[10]” The rectification for their flaw of disunity lay in Esther’s clarion call to Mordechai to, “Gather all of the Jews together[11].”
          Klal Yisroel had not heeded Mordechai’s warning to keep their distance from Achashveirosh’s party. They rectified that sin by surrendering themselves to his instruction to fast and repent.
          Tanna D’vei Eliyahu[12] writes that during the Egyptian exile, the hapless, persecuted Jews made a treaty to do kindness with each other[13].
When the nation stood at Sinai they surrounded the mountain “like one man with one heart”. The key to redemption, and the perquisite for receiving the Torah, is unity. 
The Mishna[14] quotes Hillel who stated, “Do not separate yourself from the public”. One who distances himself from the public risks individual scrutiny. But one who ‘slips his paper in the middle of the pile’ by negating himself to the ‘Klal’ will merit salvation along with all of his brethren.  
The holiday of Pesach is a national celebration. In the time of the Bais Hamikdash the nation would gather together in Yerushalayim, and offer their Pesach sacrifices together. Then, on the eve of the Seder, after they had completed their meals, every family would ascend to the flat rooftops of the Holy City, and they would sing hallel in unison. The gemara records that the melodious hallel was so powerful that it would metaphorically ‘break the rooftops’[15].
The reading of Parshas Hachodesh recounts all of the laws pertaining to the offering of the Korbon Pesach on the eve of their redemption. We hope and pray that this very year we will yet merit to sing hallel together with all of our brethren in Yerushalayim, praising G-d not only for the miracles of then, but also for the miracles of now!

            ”Bezalel… son of Chur… did everything Hashem commanded Moshe”
“Like one man with one heart”

[1] Shemos 38:21-22
[2] see Shemos 31:2 and 35:30
[3] The gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) relates that when the Eiruv Rav came to the conclusion that Moshe was not returning from Sinai, they aggregated around Chur demanding that he do something. Chur vociferously countered that Moshe would return and they should disperse. They responded with a mass upheaval that resulted in Chur getting stoned to death. It was only when Aharon saw his nephew murdered in front of him that he fearfully sought to detain the evil aggregate by telling them to amass all the gold and jewelry they could find, which ultimately led to the emergence of the Golden Calf.
[4] Shemos 37:1
[5] Megillah 16a
[6] See Hagahos haBach who explains how Tosafos understood Haman’s calculation
[7] see Shemos 30:11-16
[8] Megilla 16a
[9] Its base ingredients were flour and oil, like any Korban Mincha
[10] Esther 3:8
[11] 4:16
[12] T.D.E. Rabbah, end of perek 23
[13] They didn’t just pledge it; they forged a treaty with each other!
[14] Avos 2:5
[15] In America we would say it ‘raised the roofs’.


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshios Vayekhel-Pekudei/Hachodesh
26 Adar 5773/March 8, 2013

How many Dani Staums does it take to change a light bulb?
Although I have been blessed with certain talents and capabilities, construction and home improvement are not on that list. In that regard, the good Lord has endowed me with two left hands. While I have some friends who absolutely love stores like Home Depot and Lowes, I have anxiety attacks when I have to go into one of those stores. I have a tool box at home that I received as a housewarming gift from a friend, but I am not really sure what to do with it (a wrench is a decent paperweight).
I also have a very hard time picturing things. When we were looking at houses a few years ago, and even now whenever we are doing any home improvement which requires some imagination of what the finished product will look like, I have a very hard time. I just can’t picture things that don’t yet exist.
It becomes a point of frustration whenever Chani excitedly tells me about her plans for something and I have the look on my face of a third grader sitting in a college level calculus class. Still, I do my best to try to pay attention (sometimes).
For example, iy’h in the near future we plan to redo our kitchen. I try to listen to the plans and picture what it will look like. I must admit that from my mental images, I have a hard time understanding why we are putting the dishwasher on top of the fridge, or why we are placing the milichig sink next to the fleishig oven, with “plenty of place for storage”. But I just nod my head and try not to interfere.
Even though it’s a challenge, since it’s important to her I try to make it important to me.
The parshios at the end of Chumash Shemos are particularly challenging. It’s not easy to follow the depictions and descriptions of the Mishkan, or its vessels and vestments, from a cursory reading of the verses. Even with the wonderful resources available today, including pictures and interactive CD-ROMs, it’s still a challenge to follow the pesukim.
In a certain sense, investing effort to understand these parshios is a greater testament of our love and loyalty to Hashem, than other parshios which contain intriguing stories, or contemporary lessons.  
Why should I bother to try to understand what the mizbeiach (altar) looked like, how the eiphod (Kohain Gadol’s ‘apron’) looked, or how the kerashim (boards) were placed in the sockets surrounding the Mishkan? Only because it is the House of Hashem, and therefore I make it important to me!
So while I don’t know how many Dani Staums it will take to change a light bulb, I will say this: Don’t try to describe to me where the bulb is that needs changing, or you might just end up with a bulb affixed inside your garbage can.
Home Depot says “you can do it we can help”. I say if you can help why should I do it?

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

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


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