Thursday, March 31, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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Two Friends

By David Ignatow

I have something to tell you.

I'm listening.

I'm dying.

I'm sorry to hear.

I'm growing old.

It's terrible.

It is. I thought you should know

Of course and I'm sorry. Keep in touch.

I will and you too.

And let me know what's new.

Certainly, though it can't be much.

And stay well.

And you too.

And go slow.

And you too.1

A friend of mine related that he recently heard a comment which left him stunned. A colleague of his told him that his mother, a survivor of the atrocities and horrors of Auschwitz, who had recently become widowed from her husband of over five decades, quipped to her son, “You should know, being alone is worse than Auschwitz!”

At first glance, parshas Tazria seems to have limited relevance to our daily lives. Although the lesson of the severity of slander and gossip are as applicable as ever, the details about the laws of the metzora and the process of his purification seem to be non-applicable without the Bais Hamikdash. However, if one thinks about the process more deeply there are tremendously pertinent ideas to be gleaned from the Torah’s timeless words.

The law is that the metzora is obligated to leave the Jewish camp and dwell in solitude until the tzara’as is pronounced healed by a kohain. “All the days that the affliction is upon him he shall remain contaminated. He shall dwell in isolation; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.2

Rashi3 explains that the affliction of tzara’as is punishment for slander, which causes husbands to become distanced from their wives and friends to become distanced from one another. Therefore, it is fitting that he be punished by being isolated from society.4

The feeling of loneliness is not only the result of the metzora’s sociological state, as an outcast who was rejected from the community. On a more profound level the loneliness is internal, a sense of being scorned and banned from society. The metzora may in fact not have been completely alone; there may have been other metzoraim in his vicinity5. Yet his alienation ensures that he will still feel that he is essentially ‘alone’ and estranged.

This tragic and painful experience has existent parallels in our community. One of the tragic realities of our world is of adolescents searching for identity and a social network falling into the depraved world of drugs and street-life. Their search to feel connected and part of something erroneously leads them to the mirage of brotherhood that the streets present. They have their ‘love-hug’ (“show me some love”), but it’s all disingenuous6. They may have fun together and they may even feel protected and connected but it’s not real. The ‘love’ is a bond of commonality at best. They may be sitting together, but they are still all alone.

The book of Eicha (Lamentations), which expresses the profound grief that the city of Jerusalem experienced after the destruction of the Temple and the exiling of the Jewish people, begins “Alas, she sits in solitude!” There is no greater pain than solitude and loneliness. That is the greatest tragedy of all.

Our society which seems so ‘connected’ is actually mired in loneliness. People define their social circle based on how many Facebook friends they have, how many people follow their Twitters, and how many contact numbers are in their cellphones. But the overwhelming majority of those friendships are tenuous and superficial7.

Oprah Winfrey once quipped, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Our technologically advanced generation is so lonely – yearning for empathy, sensitivity, warmth, and care. The sense of community and the security of family is often sorely lacking.

Parshas Hachodesh8 details the laws of the Korbon Pesach brought upon the altar just prior to the onset of the holiday of Pesach. The law is that the meat of the offering must be eaten with a group of pre-registered members. If one did not register before the offering was brought, he could not partake of its meat. “Speak to the Assembly of Israel saying: On the tenth of this month, they shall take for themselves, every man a lamb, according to their father’s household, a lamb for a household. If the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor who is near to his house shall take, according to the number of people; everyone in proportion to his eating, shall you be counted for the lamb9.”

One of the underlying themes of the Korbon Pesach was fostering a sense of community. As the burgeoning nation made its final preparation for the mass exodus the following day, they were to sit together with their families and neighbors, not only in a display of freedom and fearlessness from their former captors, but also with a mood of camaraderie and closeness. They were not a band of freed slaves who would be leaving Egypt, but a proud nation.

In the eloquent words of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, “A people, a nation, a ‘social’ community, a state, should arise from this redemption, whose whole ‘social’ existence was to have its roots in G-d, to be built up by Him, rest on Him, be arranged and constituted by Him, and be dedicated to Him. With the Pesach offering, G-d laid the foundation stone of this edifice.”

A person can be surrounded by people, he can even be the center of attention, such as a professional athlete with thousands of people cheering for him, and yet feel completely alone. Conversely, a person may be physically alone - far from his friends and family - and yet feel very connected to something beyond himself.

The Metzora who caused dissidence and strife among others must suffer the feeling of loneliness. He must leave, not only the physical borders of the community, but the psychological feeling of belonging and being connected.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Korbon Pesach. It promoted a feeling of connectedness - that every Jew, no matter where he is in the world - is part of a nation and a community, who genuinely care for each other and feel that they are inextricably bound to each other.

“He shall dwell in isolation”

“He and his neighbor shall be counted for the lamb”

1 For those readers who have a hard time understanding poetry (as I did when my eleventh grade English teacher gave this out to our class) this poem is about two conversing ‘friends’ who obviously don’t really care about each other.
2 13:46
3 Quoting the gemara Arachin 16b
4 Last year I had the privilege to spend a week in Eretz Yisroel as part of the Orthodox Union’s Rabbinic Mission. It was the Shabbos of parshas Tazria, and on Friday night after the seudah we had the pleasure of hearing some thoughts from Rabbi Jonathon Rosenblatt, Rabbi of the Riverdale Jewish Center, who joined us on the tour. The basic idea presented here is based on that discussion.
5 There is a discussion among the Poskim whether metzoraim are allowed to be together in their place of isolation.
6 Rabbi Rosenblatt noted that the insincerity of the ‘love’ becomes apparent when funds run out. “Hey buddy, do me a solid and lend me on credit.” “No man, I need the cash!”
7 Some of those friendships fall into the category of “I’ll let you list me as a friend if I can list you as one of my friends.”
8 Special reading from Parshas Bo read the Shabbos prior to Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
9 Shemos 12:3-4

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




Geneen Roth lost her lifesavings in the Madoff scandal. The book she wrote following the ordeal, “Lost and Found” became a New York Times Bestseller. The following excerpt is from an article entitled, “What I learned from losing it”1:

“If being rich made people happy, all rich people would be happy – yet we’ve all read stories about rich people who are abjectly miserable. It’s not that having enough money to buy food and shelter and basic comforts doesn’t make life easier. But when we begin ignoring what we do have, we miss the only place from which we can glean any kind of happiness or satisfaction or love – which is here, now.

“Before my husband and I lost our money, I’d been complaining about our house. Built as a vacation home in 1960, it’s drafty and the plumbing doesn’t always work. After Madoff confessed, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have a house, for that day and the day after.

“Before Madoff confessed, I didn’t like the way my husband chewed his cereal, wore ankle socks, and was insistent on focusing on the positive. After Madoff confessed, it seemed miraculous that I’d ended up married for more than 20 years to a man I adored…

“Having money is sort of like being thin: It’s never the way you imagined it would be when you were on the other side…

“At crisis times – I call them death-bed moments – we clearly see the difference between how we want to live and how we are living, between what we value that is priceless and the ways in which we’ve sold our souls. Then the crisis wears off, and we get back on the horse of more, more, more…

“When we spend as much time investing in our inner lives as we do in getting and having more, how we live on this earth and inside our bodies will change…”

The first day of Nissan the second year after the exodus was one of the most joyous days since the Creation of the World. After much arduous labor and anticipation, and seven days of ‘practice’ the Mishkan was finally completed and the Service was ready to commence. A Divine Fire descended from heaven in full view of the enthralled nation, symbolizing that their efforts had been vindicated and the celebration was complete.

Then suddenly, tragedy struck. The two elder sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, sought to add fire to the Divine Fire and were immediately struck down and killed. Despite their noble intent, their act was viewed as presumptuous and unbecoming. The extreme joy was instantaneously transformed into shock and intense grief.

G-d then immediately commanded Aaron to be wary of the danger of drinking wine prior to performing the Divine Service:

“Do not drink intoxicating wine, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of the Meeting, that you not die – this is an eternal decree for your generations. In order to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the contaminated and the pure. And to teach the Children of Israel all the decrees that G-d had spoken to them through Moshe.2

Why was it necessary for this austere prohibition to be conveyed to Aaron specifically now?

In his final address to the nation just days prior to his passing, Moshe recounted3, “I led you for forty years in the wilderness, your garment did not wear out from under you, and your shoe did not wear out from under your foot. Bread you did not eat and wine or intoxicant you did not drink, so that you would know that I am Hashem, your G-d.”

Why did Moshe feel it necessary to remind the nation that they did not drink wine during the forty year sojourns in the desert just as they stood on the threshold of the Promised Land? What did the absence of wine have to do with the nation’s ultimate understanding that Hashem is the true G-d?

One year on Simchas Torah, the Chassidic Master, Rabbi Elimelech of Luzhensk, instructed his Chassidim not to drink wine or schnapps until after they concluded hakafos4. He explained that he wanted their dancing with the Torah to be purely out of joy for the Torah. He did not want there to be any ulterior motive other than, “We will rejoice and we will be glad in You.5

Based on this story, Rabbi Avrohom Schorr shlita6 explains that Moshe Rabbeinu was conveying to the nation that their understanding of G-d and their extreme faith in Him was developed during their forty years in the desert with perfect clarity. The deep understanding they had achieved was not distorted one iota by wine or any other cognitive-distorting agent. Their progeny had to know that the first generation’s passionate enthusiasm in accepting the Word of G-d unequivocally was done with untainted lucidity.

The Netziv explains that the Divine Service must be performed with joy7. However, it is not always easy to achieve a feeling of inner serenity and joy. This is surely true during times of tragedy or misfortune. It is conceivable that even the saintly Aaron would have a difficult time feeling joyous in the face of the tragic death of his holy sons. It is logical to reckon that perhaps in such a situation it would be permitted for Aaron to drink some wine to help him overcome his grief and feel the requisite joy in performing the Service. To counter that rationale G-d immediately instructed Aaron that a Kohain may never perform the Service after drinking any intoxicating beverage. As difficult as it was, the joy Aaron was obligated to feel when doing the Service had to be genuine and not at all artificial.

How can one possibly achieve such a level of sublime joy, even in the face of challenge and adversity?

The key lies in the continuation of G-d’s message to Aaron, “To distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the contaminated and the pure. And to teach the Children of Israel all the decrees that G-d had spoken to them through Moshe.” Proper Torah study and performance of mitzvos generate within a person a feeling of inner joy and satisfaction. In the words of King David8, “The commandments of G-d are upright, gladdening the heart.” When one passionately performs the Will of G-d with devotion it engenders within him a realization that he is special and different. It is that feeling of true joy that Aaron had to feel upon entering the Sanctuary to perform the Service.

True happiness does not result from things or events, but from a feeling of inner satisfaction and pride in one’s own value and sense of mission and purpose.

Chazal relate that when Moshiach comes all of our current holidays will become nullified because they will be superseded by greater holidays. The holiday of Purim however, is eternal.9

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurebach zt’l noted that while it may be true that the holiday of Purim itself will not be nullified, there is one aspect of the day which will indeed become nullified, i.e. the obligation to drink excessively to the point of intoxication.

He explains that the joy of Purim does not come from drinking, for such joy is not sincere or soulful. The reason for the obligation to drink excessively on Purim is because we often have a hard time accessing the joy in our hearts due to the many worries that consume us. We drink to free ourselves from those anxieties so that the spiritual joy within our souls can manifest and express itself ostentatiously and without restraint on Purim10. But in the future when our lives will be free of worries and burdens we will no longer need to drink to reach that level of euphoric joy.

As the holiday of Pesach rapidly approaches, we must ensure that we hold onto the joy of Purim and use it to segue into the great holiday of redemption. Just prior to the onset of the Pesach holiday, the Korbon Pesach was offered in the Bais Hamikdash. The offering could only be brought if one was ritually pure.

The special reading of Parshas Parah11 details the process of purification from ritual impurity via contact with a corpse. As long as one is impure he may not approach the Temple nor partake of any sacrificial meats. It was only after he underwent the purification process that he was once again able to ‘touch holiness’.

Our goal in life is to always seek to purify ourselves. A corpse is what remains after the spiritual soul has departed from a body. Wherever there is a loss of spirituality there is a certain measure of death and impurity that inevitably sets in its place. The most profound level of spiritual loss is at the moment of death, and therefore it requires an extensive and punctilious purification process. On the flip side, whenever there is an added level of spirituality and striving for holiness there is greater purity and greater inner joy.

The joy of Purim is the inner joy of our souls exploding from within, all barriers torn away. To preserve that joy we must persist in our pursuit for greater spirituality and purity. The more we purify ourselves and yearn for greater growth the more we will be able to keep the joy of Purim manifest throughout the year.

“To distinguish between the contaminated and the pure”

“Wine you did not drink so you would know that I am your G-d.”

1 Reader’s Digest, March 2011
2 10:9-11
3 Devorim 29:4-5
4 The seven ‘circuits’ of dancing with the Torah with intense joy
5 i.e. in G-d
6 Halekach V’halibuv, Shemini 5762
7 As the verse (Tehillim 100:2) states, “Serve G-d with joy.”
8 Tehillim 19:9
9 Medrash Mishlei 9:2
10 Rabbi Shlomo Zalman explained that this is also the reason why the customary greeting on Purim is to say “Freilichen Purim/Purim Sameach/Happy Purim”. It is essentially a blessing that we should merit an uninhibitedly jovial Purim.
11 About the offering of the Red Heifer, this reading is read the Shabbos before Parshas Hachodesh, which is read the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:



PURIM 5771


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After defeating the Red Coats and ousting the British in 1781, the colonists were faced with the daunting task of revising their system of government. The original system, the Articles of Confederation, was a failure. The states were too powerful while the federal government was too weak to accomplish anything.

In May 1787 each state1 sent delegates to convene in the Philadelphia statehouse2 to revise the Articles of Confederation. Throughout that summer the meetings, known as the Constitutional Convention, continued. In order to ensure that the meetings proceed unhindered, they were closed to the public. Doing so required guards to be stationed at the doors and the doors and windows to remain shut, making the room stifling hot.

The delegates were heavily influenced by the writings of3 Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, and they strongly debated how to merge those ideas into a practical form of government.

On September 17, 1787 the delegates completed their task. They had not revised the Articles, but had drafted a new governing body known as the Constitution of the United States.

As Benjamin Franklin, the elderly Pennsylvania representative, made his way out of the statehouse a woman asked him, “So what kind of government will we have Mr. Franklin?” He purportedly replied, “A republic Madame; if you can keep it!”

Ramban4 explains that the Book of Shemos is dedicated to relating how we were able to achieve closeness with G-d on a national level. The final verse of the Chumash states, “For the Cloud of G-d would be on the Mishkan by day, and fire would be on it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel throughout their journeys.” Chumash Vaykira is essentially dedicated to the laws of the offerings brought in the Mishkan as well as the laws pertaining to the Kohanim. After the nation merited ‘Divine closeness’, they needed to have a way to maintain that lofty holiness. There had to be a system wherein they could achieve atonement and forgiveness for iniquity and sin. Chumash Vayikra immediately follows Chumash Shemos because it contains the key to maintain what the nation achieved at the conclusion of Chumash Shemos.

Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l5 made the following observation: If someone were to ask what we are celebrating during the holiday of Shavuos, we would respond that on this day we received the Torah, which is analogous to light6. If someone were to ask what we are celebrating during the holiday of Purim, we would respond by quoting the words of the Megillah7, “To the Jews there was light,” and the gemara explains8 that that light refers to Torah. Thus Shavuos is a celebration of Torah which is light, while Purim is the celebration of light which refers to Torah. What is the depth behind that subtle difference?

The exodus from Egypt is considered the genesis of our nationhood. Until then we were an enslaved group lost in the morass of exile. But when we emerged triumphantly from the shackles of Egypt en route to receiving the Torah we underwent a drastic metamorphosis and became a nation. The exodus was the preparation for the new covenant which we agreed to at Sinai when we received the Torah. All subsequent redemptions served to preserve that original covenant, which was threatened in each exile.

The Zohar relates that the Torah and Klal Yisroel are inextricably bound, reflecting each other in many ways. There are two levels of growth in regards to proficiency in Torah study. One way is to learn new concepts and ideas. The other is to review and strengthen within one’s self ideas which he already learned but were somewhat forgotten over time.

The exodus from Egypt reflects the first level of growth, like one being exposed to new concepts and ideas in Torah which he never knew. The salvation in the time of Purim however, is analogous to the second level of growth. Although there may not be any new learning, an in depth review of what one already knew raises him to greater vistas of understanding and appreciation for the concepts he previously learned.

During the time of the Purim story Klal Yisroel reaccepted the Torah. It was the same Torah they accepted over a thousand years earlier at Sinai, but at that point they had a deeper and more significant understanding and attachment to the Torah. In this sense the celebration of Purim was not for something new but for something old that was renewed within them.

Based on this idea Rabbi Hutner explained that on Shavuos we received the Torah, which is analogous to light. On Purim however, we ‘discovered’ new light; a new light in the Torah we had accepted previously. Therefore, Shavuos is a holiday of Torah which is light, while Purim is a holiday of light which refers to Torah.

The Gemarah Ta’anis (29a) states the famous words, “Meeshenichnas Adar Marbin b’Simcha- When Adar arrives we increase our joy.”

There is a concept in halacha of “Ayn m’arvin simcha b’simcha - We do not ‘mix’/blend two different sources of joy. When there is cause for celebration our complete focus should be on that celebration. Therefore, we do not celebrate another event at the same time so as not to detract from the original celebration. For example, it is forbidden to get married during one of the major holidays. During the holidays our complete focus must be on the joy endemic joy to that holiday. The joy of a wedding would detract from the joy of the holiday.

It is therefore intriguing that the Rema rules that it is permitted to get married on Purim9. Why aren’t we afraid that the joy of the wedding will detract from the joy of Purim?

The Zev Yitrof10 explains that the joy of Purim is not specific or exclusive. Rather, the focus of the day is to reach a state of sublime joy and devotion with G-d in any way one can. Purim celebrates the incredible story of the overturning of the decree calling for the annihilation of the Jewish people. Therefore, the holiday of Purim is the celebration of life itself! That joy is all inclusive. Any celebration that brings a person to feel that sublime level of rejoicing is part of the celebration of life itself. Therefore, a wedding would be permitted on Purim.

With this in mind we can understand the reason for our increased joy during the month of Adar. During the year our celebrations center around specific blessings in our life, such as our connection with Torah, specific blessing of G-d, a new house, or property, etc. All of those celebrations warrant the recital of the blessing “Shehechiyanu”11. During Adar however, we celebrate the fact that we can celebrate.

It is analogous to someone involved in a serious accident, who was rushed to the hospital and not given much chance for survival. Yet after months of surgeries, painful therapy, and slow recuperation, he miraculously has a complete recovery. When he walks out of the hospital for the first time everything is exciting. His ability to walk, to hear the birds chirping, to smell the fresh air, and to see people hurrying to their daily affairs, all feels like an incredible gift. It’s a joy of life itself, in every breath he takes. At least during that first day, he appreciates and cherishes everything he always took for granted.

The joy of Adar does not warrant the recitation of Shehechiyanu, because the joy of Adar is the blessing itself. It is a month-long celebration that He has, “kept us alive, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this time”. When Adar arrives we have an added awareness of the gift of life and that breeds a resurgent feeling of joy.

Our foremost nemesis, the nation of Amalek, attacked us soon after we had left Egypt. At that time we had achieved an almost invincible persona. After all the miracles Klal Yisroel had been privy to during the exodus and afterwards, no nation dared to attack or even threaten us. We were on a spiritually high level and felt extremely close to G-d as we prepared to accept the Torah. Just then Amalek attacked. Despite the fact that they were vanquished their mere attack had a profoundly negative impact. Our cloud of invincibility was gone and we ourselves felt weakened.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you left Egypt. Asher karcha baderech - He cut you off along the way…” The commentaries explain that the word ‘Karcha’ also means cooled. Our war with Amalek is eternal, and we are obligated to never forget what they did, for they cooled our enthusiasm, and quelled our passion. The nation which was so confident and proud suddenly doubted itself and its greatness. Amalek may have been defeated but they had achieved their objective. They had weakened our resolve and confidence.

It is the Amalek within ourselves that causes us to lack appreciation for the daily gifts of life. Conversely, it is the fires of inner passion and devotion which destroy the Amalek within ourselves.

Purim is not the celebration of something new, but a celebration of a new appreciation of what we always had, but heretofore failed to appreciate. On the highest level this refers to our reacceptance of Torah. But it is also a celebration of the gift of life which we don’t sufficiently ponder or appreciate.

It is well-known that it is far easier to diet and lose weight than it is to keep the weight off. It is one thing to receive a tremendous gift or achieve greatness. But the question is if it can be preserved.

Shavuos was our receipt and achievement of greatness. But at that point it was unclear whether we could keep it. Amalek sought to ensure that we would indeed be unable to preserve it. But Purim is the celebration of our vanquishing Amalek12 by maintaining our greatness and appreciating it day in day out.

“When Adar arrives we increase our joy”

“To the Jews there was light”

1 With the exception of Rhode Island who refused to send delegates
2 Later to be named ‘Independence Hall’
3 Locke (Natural right to life, liberty, and property, and governments responsibility to protect those rights), Montesquieu (Separation of governmental power into three branches – legislative, executive, and judicial), and Rousseau (Social Contract; people are basically good but become corrupt by society).
4 Introduction to Sefer Vayikra
5 Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, Inyan 3
6 Mishley 6:23
7 Esther 8:16
8 Megillah 16b
9 Darchei Moshe 696
10 Rabbi Zev Hoberman, Purim chelek 2
11 Blessed are You Hashem… that You kept us alive, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this time.”
12 Haman is a descendant of Amalek

Friday, March 11, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

To receive Stam Torah via email each week, send an email to:




In 1940, the Nazi war machine was a virtually unstoppable force. It had already annexed Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Alsace-Lorraine without firing a single bullet. Then beginning in September 1938 they decimated Poland in four weeks, overran the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, and brought France to its knees. The only country still holding out was Britain. During August 1940 Hitler initiated the ‘battle of Britain’1.

Despite innumerable casualties and damage caused by relentless bombing, Britain held strong. Their resolve was maintained because of the rousing oratory of its legendary Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and by the courage of the RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter pilots, who valiantly continued the battle against the fierce Nazi onslaught by repeatedly bombing strategic Nazi military positions.

On August 16, 1940 Churchill addressed the House of Commons, delivering one of his signature rousing speeches, in which he stated one of his most renowned quotes:

Your browser may not support display of this image. “The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity. It is too soon to attempt to assign limits either to its scale or to its duration. We must certainly expect that greater efforts will be made by the enemy than any he has so far put forth.…

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few…

There were many different classifications of offerings brought in the Mishkan2. Some of the offerings were voluntary while others were obligatory. Although most offerings required different types of animals, a Mincha (Meal) offering consisted of nothing more than finely ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense. There were different forms of this offering, depending on the type of pan used, and how it was baked, but essentially all Minchos were the same.

After the ingredients were mixed together, a kemitzah (fistful) had to be removed from the mixture. “He shall bring it to the sons of Aaron, the Kohanim, one of whom shall scoop his fistful3 from it, from its fine flour, from its oil, and from its frankincense; and the Kohen shall cause its memorial portion to go up in smoke upon the Altar – a fire offering, a satisfying aroma to G-d. The remnant of the meal-offering is for Aaron and his sons; most holy, from the fire-offering of G-d.4” Once the Kohain removed the fistful and offered it upon the altar, the remaining majority of the mixture was given to the Kohanim to eat.

The Gemara5 relates that when Haman was ordered by Achashveirosh to parade Mordechai through the streets of Shushan and proclaim before him, ‘Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor’, the dejected Haman had no choice but to comply. When he entered the study hall to summon Mordechai, he found him studying with his disciples. Haman asked Mordechai what they were learning. Mordechai explained, “When the Bais Hamikdash stood one who would offer a Mincha offering would bring it to the Temple, whereupon a Kohain would remove a fistful and offer it upon the Altar to serve as atonement for its owner.” Haman replied, “Come and get up, for your fistful of flour has outweighed the ten thousand talents of silver that I offered Achashveirosh (in order to destroy you).”

Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l explains the exchange between Mordechai and Haman. After Haman convinced Achashveirsoh to pronounce the heinous decree calling for the destruction of the Jewish people, Mordechai was very concerned. On the one hand he knew that a national wave of repentance could alter the decree in heaven. But, on the other hand, the nation was so broken and traumatized by the events that Mordechai feared he would be unable to jolt them out of the psychological paralysis that consumed them. At that point Mordechai truly feared for the salvation of the Jewish People.

As Mordechai learned the laws of the fistful however, he began to feel buoyantly confident. The Mincha was as an offering to G-d although, essentially, only one fistful was offered on the Altar. Yet that one fistful was sufficient to effect a status change in the remainder, for now everything left in the bowl was worthy of consumption by the Kohanim.

Mordechai saw in that deep symbolism. Perhaps there was indeed only a handful, a fistful, of truly devout Jews who remained steadfast in their faith, and perhaps those who were truly G-d-fearing were merely the minority. However, that quantitative minority was analogous to the one fistful offered on the Altar, which transformed the remainder.

When Haman heard Mordechai explain the procedure, he too understood the implications of the Service. He obsequiously admitted to Mordechai that his fistful – which symbolized the handful of righteous valorous individuals - was enough to outweigh his own efforts to destroy the nation.

There are times when we may wonder how Klal Yisroel can persevere. The vastly overwhelming majority of our people are completely unaware of their rich heritage, if they even know (or admit) to being Jewish at all. Most of our brethren are ignorant of Shabbos and have never heard of Rashi, and tragically most of them never had the opportunity to know better. Still-in-all, we can take comfort in knowing that we – the Torah loyalists – are the fistfuls who validate the remainder. However, along with that incredible merit comes the realization of what an awesome responsibility we shoulder, for the fistful must be offered properly.

The truth is that at times we may become disheartened even by viewing the state of our own communities, for we too have much that needs to be improved. But amongst us too we have ‘a holy fistful’, i.e. our great leaders and visionaries who guide us and lead us along the path of Torah observance. As long as we allow ourselves to be part of ‘their offering’ we can become elevated through our connection with them.

The renowned hymn sung on Purim commences, “Shoshanas Yaakov – The Rose of Yaakov was cheerful and glad, when they jointly saw Mordechai robed in royal blue.” Their extreme joy was rooted in the image of seeing their Torah leader resplendent with glory and honor, as the Megillah states, “Mordechai left the King’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Sushan was cheerful and glad.6

We did not become the Chosen People because of our qualitative numbers. We were chosen because we are the ‘fistful which validates the remainder’. And amongst ourselves we have our leaders, for whom we pray in Shemoneh Esrei thrice daily that G-d preserve and strengthen, for they are the fistfuls who give us our validity. Indeed, “so many owe so much to so few.”

“One of whom shall scoop his fistful from it”

“The Rose of Yaakov was cheerful and glad”

1 At the end of the month Hitler began the infamous Blitzkrieg, ‘the lightning war’, in which German planes would fly over British cities and mercilessly bomb civilians.
2 And subsequently in the Bais Hamikdash
3 Actuality it was not a full fistful but rather threefingersful. The Kohain would scoop from the mixture with three fingers bent inwards while his pinkie remained straight out, gathering whatever ended up in that space.
4 2:2-2
5 Megillah 16b
6 Esther 8:15

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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“There is a cemetery not far from my house, with graves that date back to the nineteenth century. I have never seen anyone come there to lay a flower. Most people just wander through, read the engravings and say, “Wow. Look how old.”

“That cemetery came to mind in the Rabbi’s office, after he quoted a poem both beautiful and heartbreaking. Written by Thomas Hardy, it told of a man among tombstones, conversing with the dead below. The recently buried souls lamented the older souls that had already been forgotten:

They count as quite forgot

They are as men that have existed not

Theirs is a loss past loss of pitiful breath

It is the second death.

“The second death. The unvisited in the nursing homes. The homeless found frozen in the alleys. Who mourned their passing? Who marked their time on earth?

“Once on a trip to Russia,” the Rabbi recalled, “we found an old Orthodox synagogue. Inside, there was an elderly man, standing alone, saying the mourner’s kaddish. Being polite, we asked for whom he was saying it. He looked up and answered, “I am saying it for myself.”

“The second death. To think that you died and no one would remember you. I wondered if this is why we tried so hard to make our mark in America. To be known. Think of how important celebrity has become… It’s as if we are screaming: Notice me! Remember me! Yet the notoriety barely lasts. Names quickly blur and in times are forgotten.1


“And it came to pass in the days of Achashveirosh… in those days when King Achashveirosh sat on his royal throne which was in Shushan the capital. In the third year of his reign, he made a feast…”

The gemara2 explains that Achashveirosh made his grand feast in the third year of his reign when he felt that his monarchy was secure3. The world was respectfully aware that the prophet Jeremiah had prophesized4 that the Babylonian exile would only last seventy years, after which the Bais Hamikdash would be rebuilt.

Achashveirosh was frightened that when the Bais Hamikdash would be rebuilt his kingdom would be disbanded. But in the third year of his reign he was convinced that the seventy years had concluded and yet the Temple had not been rebuilt. He was overjoyed that Jeremiah’s prophecy was incorrect and he was confident that his monarchy was secure.

The gemara explains that Achashveirosh was so confident that the prophecy would not be fulfilled that at the party he donned the Holy vestments of the High Priest which were looted from the Bais Hamikdash prior to its destruction.

Seven years earlier the wicked Babylonian king Belshazzar was also convinced that Jeremiah’s prophecy had been flawed5. To celebrate, he arranged a tremendous feast during which he donned the Priestly garments. It was an act of brazen sacrilege which no one had dared to do until then. His retribution came swiftly. By morning he was dead, and his kingdom immediately invaded and conquered, relegating the mighty Babylonian Empire to the history books.

Achashveirosh too did not go unpunished for his brazenness. By the day’s end his beloved Queen Vashti - his only legitimate connection to royalty6 - was dead; a consequence of his own inebriated fury.

It seems from the gemara’s discussion that Achashveirosh and Belshazzar were only blameworthy because they had miscalculated the seventy years. However, had they been correct in their calculation they would not have been worthy of punishment. Why should the status of the Priestly vestments be based on whether the seventy years were over or not?

The gemara7 rules that if a sanctified rooster8 ‘rebels’ by acting erratically it forfeits its holy status. The commentaries question how a status of holiness can be lost? Rashba explains that if an object’s holiness is based on its value, it is tantamount to a monetary lien on the object9. But once the object ceases to function as it should – in this case when the rooster began acting erratically – the Temple treasurer ‘gives up’ on his ability to collect the value of that rooster. Once that occurs, the rooster has no market value, and it no longer possesses any holy status.

With this in mind, the Chavatzeles HaSharon10 offers a fascinating explanation of why the culpability of Achashveirosh and Belshazzar depended on whether the seventy years of Jeremiah’s prophecy had indeed passed or not. If the seventy years had concluded with the Temple not being rebuilt, the Jews themselves would have despaired. Once that occurred, the vestments of the High Priest would have lost their sanctified status, no different than the rooster which loses its sanctified status when the Temple treasurer ‘gives-up’ on its possessing any value11.

It is an intriguing concept. If the Jews would have reached a level of despair it would have had halachic ramifications vis-à-vis the status of the holy clothing of the High Priest! The very feeling of forfeiture would have transformed the holiest articles of clothing into commonplace (though expensive) garments12.

When the Torah recounts Amalek’s virulent attack against Klal Yisroel in the desert the verse states13, “He ambushed (vay’zanev) all the stragglers (hanecheshalim) behind you, and you were tired and weary, and did not fear G-d."

The commentaries explain that, although the Divine Clouds enveloped and protected the nation, it did not harbor sinners. There were malfeasant members from the tribe of Dan who were guilty of idolatry and therefore did not merit the protection of the Clouds of Glory. It was to those individuals who the Torah refers to as ‘the tired and weary’. Their weariness was not physical but rather a spiritual fatigue which precluded them from the Cloud’s protection. Amalek reasoned that since those Jews were rejected by the Clouds, G-d had rejected them completely. They were sure that the nation would never go to battle in defense of such sinners. Yet it was in their defense that Moshe led the nation out to war in order to fight Amalek.

It is noteworthy that the Armageddon between Klal Yisroel and Amalek began in defense of blatant sinners. The battle against Amalek symbolized that no Jew is ever scorned and rejected by G-d. Even if a Jew has committed sins which warrant his rejection from the community, he is never rejected by G-d. G-d never gives up on any of His Children no matter how far they stray. The holy spark within them is innate and eternal.

The gemara14 states that G-d commanded every Jew to contribute a half-Shekel tax in the desert in order to proactively ward off the affect of the Shekalim that Haman offered Achashveirosh as compensation for the genocide of the Jews during the unfolding of the Purim story. Tosafos explains that Haman gave Achashveirosh 10,000 Kikar Kesef, which is equal to all of the half-shekel given by the 600,000 Jews that left Mitzrayim.15

When the Torah gives a reckoning of the contributions to the Mishkan it says that the total amount collected from the mandatory half-shekel tax was one hundred talents of silver. That silver was used to construct the ninety-six silver sockets upon which the forty-eight wooden boards surrounding the Mishkan rested.

However there was still a certain amount of silver remaining after the sockets were made. But Moshe could not recall what that silver was used for. The scoffers immediately began accusing Moshe of pocketing the excess silver. Their unfounded accusation caused Moshe untold distress. Then finally the Divine Presence reminded Moshe that the excess silver had been used to construct the hooks which held up the pillars. “And from the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five he made hooks for the pillars…16

Why did Moshe forget about that remaining silver?

Rabbi Moshe Wolson shlita explained that the silver contributed by the 600,000 Jews was used for the sockets. The remaining 3,550 Jews were sinners who were evicted from the main camp. The silver that they contributed was not used for the sockets but was used for the hooks that upheld the pillars. Because that silver was donated by those who were rejected from the camp, Moshe could not recall what they were used for.17

Haman offered Achashveirosh 10,000 silver talents to counterbalance the half-shekel that the 600,000 Jews gave in the desert. But he did not offer more to counter the contributions of the remaining 3,550 Jews. Haman, like his ancestor Amalek, was sure that the sinners were rejected and were no longer counted with the rest of the nation. Therefore, he felt no need to counter their contribution.

In fact, this was the logic behind Haman’s entire diabolical plan. He was sure that if he could lure the Jews to sin by having them participate in the party of Achashveirosh they would be rejected by G-d and vulnerable to destruction18.

But Amalek and Haman were severely mistaken. Every Jew is beloved and precious, and that never changes.

One who would say kaddish for himself has given up on himself and has allowed despondency and despair to overtake him. He may be breathing but he is no longer alive for he has allowed his spirit of vibrancy to wither.

Amalek was convinced that G-d would forsake egregious sinners. The fact that we continue to wage war against our implacable foe proves that no Jew - no matter how far he has strayed - is dispensable or replaceable.

The holiday of Purim is the celebration of the infinitesimal and innumerable value of every single Jew. Even when a Jew has given up on himself he must know that His Creator will never give up on him.

“He ambushed the stragglers behind you”

“He made hooks for the pillars”

1 “Have a little faith”, Mitch Albom.
2 Megilla 11b
3 It was in the year 3395 from Creation
4 Jeremiah 29:10
5 He erred in his calculation because he thought the seventy years began from when his father, King Nebuchadnezzar, ascended the throne. Achashveirosh also erred in his calculation because he too began the count prematurely. He reckoned that the seventy years began when the Jewish King Yechoniah was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar since that was when the exile first began. In truth, the calculation should have begun from when the first Bais Hamikdash was destroyed in 3338. Indeed in 3408, seventy years after the first Temple has been destroyed, King Darius, the son of Achashveirosh, permitted the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash to commence.
6 Achashveirosh himself possessed no royal blood. He was a valiant general who ruthlessly fought his way to the throne. His only legitimacy lay in the fact that he married Vashti, a Babylonian princess.
7 Chullin 139a
8 The rooster’s owner pledged the value of the rooster to the Temple.
9 There are two forms of holiness: “Kedushas haguf” (literally ‘holy body’) which means the object was infused with an intrinsic holiness, and “Kedushas Damim” (literally ‘holy value’) which means that the object itself has not become innately holy, but rather its value is dedicated to the Temple treasury. Our discussion involves an object that possesses the inferior level of Kedushas Damim.
10 Rabbi Mordechai Carlebach shlita
11 The Chavatzeles HaSharon then debates whether the Priestly vestments indeed possessed only Kedushas Damim and not Keushas Haguf.
12 The only reason Belshazzar and Achashveirosh were culpable is because they erroneously reckoned the seventy years prematurely and the seventy years were not yet over.
13 Devorim 25:17
14 Megilla 13b
15 The commentaries seek to explain how the numbers add up. If half a shekel for 600,000 Jews is 300,000 Shekalim, Haman's 10,000 Kikar is the equivalent of 15 million shekel (A Kikar is 60 Mana and a Mana is 25 Shekel). It seems that Haman gave 25 times the amount of Shkalim that Bnei Yisroel gave?
The Shnayim Mikra brings from the Chizkuni that since a person lives 70 years, if one started contributing the half-shekel at the age of 20, and continues to give for the next fifty years, he will have given a total of 25 Shekel throughout his life. Thus Haman did not only compensate for the one time contribution of the nation, but he paid the equivalent a lifetime's worth for every single Jew.
See also Maharsha, Chizkuni to Shemos 30:14, Vilna Gaon to Esther 3:9, Rav Tzadok Hakohain in Divrei Sofrim (p. 84).
16 Shemos 38:28
17 Rabbi Wolson explained that all materials donated to the Mishkan was used for the holy vessels or holy courtyards. The only exception was these hooks. The hooks were used to hang the curtains upon the outer courtyard walls. The curtains themselves represented the outermost boundary of the inner elevated sanctuary. Therefore, the hooks that upheld them and protruded outwards did not contain the level of sanctity that the Mishkan had. However they were still ‘connected’. This was symbolic of those who donated the silver for those hooks. They themselves may have been ‘cast out’ but they always remained connected.
18 As noted Achashveirosh’s party celebrated the fact that the Temple would not be rebuilt. The Jews’ participation in that feast was a terrible affront to G-d and to themselves!