Wednesday, March 12, 2014


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


A young student, sporting a beard, wearing a long black coat, and a large brimmed hat boarded a subway train in New York. He sat opposite a well-dressed businessman who looked at him scornfully. For the first ten minutes, the businessman kept eyeing the student as though he wanted to tell him something. Then he could no longer contain himself.
With passion in his rising voice, the businessman began. "You know I'm sick and tired of Jews who think that they are still in the Middle Ages! You are a disgrace! I'm Jewish too, I even speak Yiddish. Do I wear a long coat? Must I let my beard grow or wear an over size hat? No! Why do you wear those clothes? It's time people like you realized that this is the twenty first century and joined the rest of us here in America."
The startled student looked at his accuser in confusion. In a perfect New England accent he replied:
"Jewish? I'm sorry sir but I'm Amish. I apologize if my mode of dress had caused you offense, but we keep the traditions which were passed down to us from our families in Europe. This is part of our heritage and culture. I'm sorry if I have offended you.”
The business man was stunned. “Please, please forgive me. I didn't realize. I was insensitive and offensive. I actually think that it's wonderful that you maintain your traditions and culture with real pride and enthusiasm. I hope you will forgive me"
The student looked at the business man as a grin spread across his face. In perfect Chassidic English he asked the reeling business man one simple question......
"For a Gentile to maintain his traditions it is wonderful but for a Jew it’s a disgrace?"

The reading of Parshas Zachor, which recounts Amalek’s savage attack against Klal Yisroel shortly after the Egyptian redemption, is Biblically mandated[2].
Our custom is to read the three verses on the Shabbos before Purim after the weekly Torah reading. The reason for the reading of the Amalek debacle just prior to the holiday of Purim is because Haman, the instigator of the whole Purim story, was a descendant of Amalek and followed his ancestor’s example.
The fact that the obligation to read Parshas Zachor is specifically on Shabbos symbolizes that the eternal battle against Amalek is inextricably bound to the sanctity of Shabbos. What is the connection?

Chumash Vayikra commences with a detailed exposition of the many different Korbanos[3] brought on the Altar in the Mishkan. Many of the offerings were brought by individuals to atone for sins they committed inadvertently.
As any educator can attest, when a child is called to task for hurting another child, he will often excuse his behavior by claiming that, “it was just an accident”. The fact that an act was committed without malicious intent is a sufficient excuse to absolve the offender of considerable guilt.
Why was Klal Yisroel held so accountable for inadvertent sins as to be obligated to bring an offering to the Mishkan for atonement?

The entire parsha of Vayikra discusses different classifications of offerings, i.e. Olah (elevation offering), Shelamim (Peace offering), Chatas (sin offering), and Oshom (guilt offering). The parsha concludes with the Oshom-offering brought by one who swears falsely. “Or anything about which he had sworn falsely – he shall repay its principal and add a fifth to it…the Kohen shall provide him atonement before G-d, and it shall be forgiven him for any of the things he might do to incur guilt.”[4]
 Sefas Emes[5] notes that there is a fundamental difference between the way a Jew and a non-Jew serve G-d. The nations of the world have a responsibility to subjugate themselves before G-d, as a servant subjugates himself before his master. G-d is the Supreme Power of the world and therefore His Will must be adhered to. The nations possess certain requisite requirements that they are obligated to fulfill. However, beyond the seven Noachide laws they are free to choose whichever path of life they desire.
A Jew on the other hand, is more than a servant of G-d. A Jew has the status of a witness. His very existence, as well as his conduct and example, bear testimony to the Omnipotence of G-d. This idea is clearly expressed by the prophet “It is I who foretold, I who saved; I made it known, not any strange god among you; You are my witnesses, says the Lord. I am G-d.”[6] The very survival of Klal Yisroel as a people as well as our continued uncompromising infallible commitment to Torah and mitzvos is a testimony that, “נצח ישראל לא ישקר -The eternity of Israel will not falter”[7].
A witness has far greater responsibilities than a servant. A witness must have sterling character and a reputable name as an honest G-d-fearing individual who can be trusted to preserve and uphold the testimony which he bears. It is for this reason that a Jew is held to such a high standard that he is even accountable for inadvertent sins. A Jew has a responsibility to be vigilant that he not falter, even accidentally. If he does he must bring an offering to make amends for his lackadaisicalness.
It is for this reason that the parsha concludes by recording the required offering of a witness who swears falsely. The concept of bearing testimony as a witness is at the core of the entire idea of korbanos and atonement. It is because we have the status of witnesses that we are liable even for relatively ‘benign wrongdoing’.

Sefas Emes continues that a Jew’s status as witness is most manifest during the holy Shabbos. Gemara Shabbos states[8], “Whoever recites (the paragraph beginning with the word) ‘Vayechulu – And He finished’[9] is accompanied by two angels who say to him, ‘Your iniquity will be removed and your sins will be forgiven’.”
The commentators wonder which sin is forgiven when one recites ‘Vayechulu’?
Shiltei Hagibborim[10] explains that when one recites vayechulu it is a testimony of one’s belief that G-d created the world. For this reason the paragraph is recited while one is standing and with at least two people, in the same manner as testimony is stated in a halachic court. “Were one not to recite vayechulu he would be guilty of withholding testimony and would transgress the sin of not stating testimony. Therefore, when one does recite vayechulu, the angels say to him that his iniquity was removed because he did not withhold testimony.”
Essentially, Shabbos is a day of testimony. “The Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever…”[11]. Our very observance of the day is a testimony of our belief that G-d is the Creator.[12]

Based on this idea from Sefas Emes, we can understand why Parshas Zachor is specifically read on Shabbos. Amalek, the great antagonist and nemesis of Klal Yisroel, does not merely seek to destroy the Jewish religion. Amalek seeks to obliterate and decimate the entire existence of every Jew, “להשמיד להרוג ולאבד - to destroy, to kill, and to render obsolete.” Every Jew, by virtue of his pedigree, is a living testimony of the oneness of G-d. Amalek, whose supreme mission is to destroy all sense of spiritual existence and divinity, is at complete odds with that testimony. We bear witness to everything Amalek abhors and detests![13]
Adolf Hitler yemach shemo wrote in Mein Kampf: "It is true we Germans are barbarians; that is an honored title to us. I free humanity from the shackles of the soul; from the degrading suffering caused by the false vision called conscience and ethics. The Jews have inflicted two wounds on mankind: circumcision on its body and conscience on its soul. They are Jewish inventions. The war for the domination of the world is waged only between these two camps alone, the Germans and the Jews. Everything else is but deception."
On Shabbos, the day when our testimony is so candid, the perennial war against Amalek comes to the fore. During the holy day we strive to dedicate our very beings to enhancing our conscience and connecting with our Creator. If Amalek detests us generally their enmity reaches unimaginable proportions on Shabbos. On Shabbos the battleground and the war become even more pronounced, and it is truly, “these two camps alone… everything else is but deception."
Therefore, specifically on Shabbos, we read of the attack of Amalek, for ultimately it is the strength that Shabbos imbues us with that gives us the spiritual courage and fortitude to continue to fight the war against Amalek.  

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the road when you were leaving Egypt
“Remember the holy day of Shabbos to sanctify it”


                                              The following is the conclusion of Stam Torah – Parshas (Vayikra) Zachor as it appeared in 5768:
            In light of the recent traumatic and heinous events of last week’s savage terrorist attack at Yeshivas Merkaz HaRav, I humbly offer an added explanation of the connection between Shabbos and the perennial struggle against Amalek:
          At the beginning of the week, Ilana Dayan, a noted Israeli television personality and reporter, interviewed Rabbi Yerachmiel Weiss, the head of the Yeshiva High School Division of Yeshivas Merkaz HaRav. Five of the eight murdered students in last week’s attack were his students.
          The interview was very intense with Ms. Dayan asking very pointed questions about faith, tears, and mourning. Rabbi Weiss’s responses were impeccable. He answered each question posed with poise, dignity, a measured level of emotion, and patience.
           The following is an excerpt from the interview, as recorded by Hillel Fendel in an article posted on the Arutz Sheva website:

When Rabbi Weiss said that he had returned home from a funeral just a half-hour before the Sabbath, Dayan asked, "What type of Sabbath did you have?"
Rabbi Weiss reflected and said, "Our Sages taught, 'Shabbat hi mi-liz'ok' - on the Sabbath we do not cry.  We try to take leave of pain and sorrow on the Sabbath.  It may seem artificial, but, in fact, it is very deep and gives much strength.  We don't forget what happened, but - there is some type of agreement, of acceptance."

Q. Agreement with what, Rabbi Weiss? With what is there to agree? With the loss of eight young lives? With the futility of life? With what is there to agree?
A. With the 300 students who are alive. With Am Yisrael Chai. Agreement with the hopes of life, with the faith in life, with the health of life, with the progress of life.

Q. Excuse me for interrupting, but I would truly like to understand: Isn't there something in this consent that nullifies the sanctity of those who died? Or that minimizes the importance of the individuals who died?
 A. You asked me what I'm happy about on the Sabbath, and I say that I'm happy with life, with the smiles of my grandchildren, with the fact that life continues.  If you ask me if the fact that I accept G-d's decree lessens the value of those who were killed - on the contrary. It could be that they were chosen specifically to atone for the entire nation; can I possibly know these things? All these Heavenly calculations are totally beyond us, they are on a different sphere.  Our Sages said, in a very picturesque manner, that the keys to life and death are in G-d's hands; we have no say.

He then proceeded to discuss the difficult issue of the Red Heifer [Numbers 19], "which is very complex and deep, but in brief we can say that it comes to purify the impurity of death.  Death harms not only the one who dies, but everyone around him.  This loss is called a type of impurity.  King Solomon wished to understand how the Red Heifer purifies the impurity of death, but was not granted this understanding.  Only Moses was allowed to understand it.  Moses is on a different plane; he could communicate with G-d as if through a clear crystal, without losing his normal senses.  He can understand how death is purified; we are not there.  We know that it exists, and that we are on the way there, and the world is getting there, and the world will get there.

                Perhaps, part of the reason why we “remember Amalek” on Shabbos is because the pain and anguish of all that Amalek has wrought upon us throughout the generations is almost too overwhelming to recall. But on Shabbos when we are raised to a different intellectual and spiritual level[14] we are able to view all of the events in a different light. We still surely cannot make sense of them. Yet, somehow on Shabbos, “there is some type of agreement, of acceptance." Shabbos is a window into the blissful future world when all questions will be answered.
When we hear the words read “Remember what Amalek has done to you…” we must remember ALL that he has done. Some of the most striking recent tragedies that we vividly and painfully recall,

Ø Rosh Chodesh Adar II 2008 massacre at Yeshivas Mercaz HaRav Kook
Ø Sbarros Pizzeria bombing, August 19, 2001
Ø Egged #2 bus bombing August 19, 2003
Ø September 9, 2003, Nava Appelbaum- the night before her wedding
Ø Chevron Massacre, August 23-24, 1929 (last week’s attack is most reminiscent of     that attack)
Ø The Toulouse, France massacre in which R’ Yonason Sandler was murdered along with two of his children outside their school
Ø every rocket, terrorist, bomber, and enemy of our people

               Perhaps this all seems too somber to be included in a pre-Purim thought. I feel that the opposite is true. Klal Yisroel survives and thrives based on our national collective memory. We never forget Amalek – and we never forgive! More importantly, G-d in Heaven does not forget!
           “Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?" Let there be known among the nations in our sight, Vengeance for the blood of Your servants which has been shed.”[15] As we recall the brutality and wickedness of Amalek, we include all of the savagery of Amalek throughout the generations.
           On Purim we witnessed the destruction of our enemy and the nullification of his nefarious plots. In that sense, Purim is a window into the Messianic era. Purim gives us the strength and resolve to transcend all of our pain and anguish with the knowledge that just as then “For the Jews there was light, joy, gladness, and honor”, so it will be for us!

"נצח ישראל לא ישקר"

[1] In 5768 when this essay was originally written, the reading of Parshas Zachor coincided with Parshas Vayikra. Although there is much overlap in the topics discussed in parshas Vayikra and Tzav (many of the offerings related in Vayikra are repeated in greater detail in parshas Tzav) the actual verses discussed here are from parshas Vayikra.
[2] See Tosafos, Berachos 13a; Rosh, Berachos 7:20; Terumas Hadeshen 108.
[3] sacrifices/offerings
[4] Vayikra 5:24-26
[5] Vayikra 5646
[6] Yeshaya 43:2
[7] Shmuel I, 15:29- see Radak
[8] 119b
[9] which discusses G-d’s cessation from work at the conclusion of the six days of creation thereby sanctifying the seventh day
[10] 44b dafei haRif
[11] Shemos 31:16-17
[12] See Pachad Yitzchak, Shabbos, chap. 13 who explains the depth and beauty of the bi-faceted testimony of Torah and Shabbos.
[13] Heard from Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer - Adar 5757
[14] See Stam Torah, Ki Sisa 5768
[15] Tehillim 79:10


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