Thursday, March 24, 2011


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead

Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch

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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.


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