Thursday, March 28, 2019



From mourning to mission: Miriam Peretz, a mother of all the boys
By Deborah Fineblum/
Before 1998, Miriam Peretzs life was rather ordinary. She and her husband were living in the same house in the Jerusalem suburb of Givat Zeev where theyd been for many years. Her work as principal of a local elementary school kept her busy. Their six kids were coming and going as dictated by their school schedules and army duty.
That was until the bottom fell out of Peretzs life at the moment every Israeli parent fears: the knock on the door announcing their 21-year-old son, Uriel, had been killed in action in Lebanon.
Nearly 12 years later, the knock came again, this time with the terrible news that their younger son Eliraz, 32, a major in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Golani Brigade and a father of four, had been killed in a Hamas ambush near the Gaza border. His death came more than a decade after eulogizing his big brother. Sometimes we pay a price for doing the right thing, Eliraz had said at the time. The price of life.
Whatever thin thread of normalcy Miriam Peretz had clung to was gone. Her husband Eliezer had also died, at age 56, between the deaths of their two sons. For this bereaved mother, the only way to cope with her pain was to leave the education of young children behind and begin teaching soldiers, bereaved families, parents of incoming IDF soldiers, and Jews around the world (an estimated 1,000 people now hear her speak during a typical month) about what was important enough for her sons to give their lives to defend.
I know my sons did not die in vain, Peretz told My children fell so other children can live in peace, so we Jews can give a huge light to the world. They viewed military service as a mitzvah and a privilege, not an obligation.
In fact, despite the fact that Israeli law excuses younger siblings of fallen soldiers from army service, Eliraz, followed by Peretzs two youngest sons and a daughter, also insisted on joining the IDF. The two younger sons are still serving in reserve combat units
 Peretz is too honest to whitewash her pain, having described the terrible choice she must make each year on Israels Memorial Day (Yom Hazikaron), when families visit their fallen childrens graves at Mt. Herzl Cemetery.
The dilemma I face on this day is inhuman, she said. During the ceremony, by which grave do I stand?
And now this ima shel kol hayeladima mother of all the boys, as the soldiers call heris protecting the Jewish people in her own way.
Peretz said its the soldiers she speaks with who give her the greatest satisfaction.
Honestly, I prefer being with them than wearing the crown of celebrity, she said. I bless them that they should return peacefully to their homes, but that no matter how hard the road ahead and how long it takes, they cant give up hope and faith in this nation, this people, and this Torah that keep us strong.
 “The sons of Aharon – Nadav and Avihu – took, each man his firepan, and they placed in them fire, and they placed upon them incense…and a fire went out from before G-d and it consumed them, and they died before G-d. Moshe said to Aharon ‘This is what Hashem said ‘through those who are close to me, I will be sanctified and in the presence of the entire nation  I will be honored’’. And Aharon was silent.”[2]
Rashi notes that as a reward for Aharon’s silence in the face of such personal tragedy, he was rewarded that the laws forbidding a kohain from performing the avodah while intoxicated[3] were instructed directly to him.   
Why were these laws particularly taught to Aharon as a reward for his restraint?
Ateres Mordechai explains that when the Torah forbids a kohain from performing the avodah while under the influence of an intoxicating beverage, it is also alluding to the fact that a kohain may not perform the avodah if he is under the influence of anything, including strong emotions. Life events, especially unexpected vicissitudes, can cause a person to become befuddled and lose his equilibrium and ability to continue is normal functioning. Every aspect and stage of life is a challenge for a person and can distract him.
The gemara[4] explains that when the pasuk refers to “walking modestly with G-d”[5] it refers to one attending a wedding or a funeral. These two events represent the extremes of emotional experiences which one can attend. The task of a person is to maintain his sense of balance and what his role and responsibility are even when dealing with the greatest celebration or the most challenging tragedy.
The greatness of Aharon was that even as his righteous sons - for whom he undoubtedly had dreams of greatness - lay dead during what had moments before been the happiest day of his life, he did not lose himself to his profound grief. He did not become intoxicated by the magnitude of the tragedy that had just befallen him and a word of protest or complaint did not escape his lips. Thus, Aharon demonstrated mastery over the deeper meaning of the prohibition for the kohanim to perform the avodah while under any foreign influence. For that reason, it was appropriate that those laws were commanded to him alone.
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt’l quipped that in a sense throughout the year we operate in a state of emotional intoxication. In the words of the prophet we are “drunk – but not from wine”.[6] We become overwhelmed with anxieties, pressures, stresses, deadlines, inclinations, desires, and strife and it causes us to lose perspective and connection with our only real source of security, G-d. One day a year, on Purim, we have a mitzvah to drink wine to help us traverse the angst and fear that dominates us continuously, so that we can get in touch with our real essence and emotionally connect with the soul within us. How ironic that in that sense Purim is the day when we achieve and celebrate emotional sobriety!

When a person became ritually impure through contact with a dead body, the purification process required that he be sprinkled with the ashes of the parah aduma (red heifer) on the third day and seventh day of his purification.
The symbolism is extremely profound; the ashes of the burnt heifer purify those who are sprinkled by its ashes. Our generation has been sprinkled with the ashes that emerged from the chimneys of the crematoria. That sprinkling has miraculously generated a spirit of purity – a regeneration of Torah and avodas Hashem in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the diaspora. We, as a people, personify the poignant symbolism of the process of parah aduma throughout the generations. Time and again, when it seemed that we would never be able to recover from the pain and tragedy that befell us, we rose from the ashes and regenerated the world of Torah.
Life has a way of challenging us so deeply that there are days when we feel like surrendering to our grief and fears by pulling the blanket over our heads and not picking our heads off our pillows. The greatness of Aharon was “Vayidom Aharon”, despite his personal anguish he silenced his inner turmoil so that he could continue doing what G-d wanted of him.

When our forefathers marched forth from Egypt at the time of the exodus, they did so with incredible self-sacrifice and devotion. Virtually the entire nation was still within the initial thirty-day mourning period for numerous relatives who had perished during the plague of darkness[7], the men had undergone circumcision just days earlier[8], and they left behind beautiful and comfortable homes[9] to march into unchartered and inhabitable desert terrain with all of their possessions, livestock, and numerous children.
To undertake such an arduous journey required incredible faith. There too, every Jew had to silence the undoubtable fears that rumbled within him in order to follow Moshe’s lead.
The ability to not become swept away and intoxicated by one’s inner raging emotions requires fortitude and staunch faith. It was personified by our ancestors at the time of the exodus, and poignantly displayed by Aharon at the time of the demise of his two sons. It is what has kept our nation going in the darkest of times. 

“Remember the day that you left from Egypt”
“And Aharon was silent”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Shemini/Parah 5776
[2] Vayikra 10:1-3
[3] Which was taught immediately after the tragedy
[4] Makkos 24a
[5] Micha 6:8
[6] Yeshaya 51:21
[7] Chazal say that four fifths of the nation perished during the plague of darkness because they did not want to leave the country. It happened when the Egyptians would not be able to see and gloat over our massive tragedy. The plague began one month before the exodus on the fifteenth of Adar and lasted for six days.
[8] One of the prerequisites for offering the Korbon Pesach is that all males have to be circumcised. That is the last thing one would want to do before one emigrates on foot with his entire family.
[9] The Jews became wealthy from the plagues and conceivably raised their living standards

Wednesday, March 20, 2019



Randy Pausch, a computer science professor, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in September 2006.
On September 18, 2007, he delivered an inspiring lecture entitled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". The video of the lecture went viral and has been viewed by millions. Pausch subsequently co-authored a book called, “The Last Lecture” on the same theme, which became a New York Times bestseller. Pausch died on July 25, 2008.
The following quote is from his book:

“In 1969, when I was eight years old, my family went on a cross country trip to see Disneyland. It was an absolute quest. It was the coolest environment I’d ever been in.
“As I stood in line with all the other kids, all I could think was “I can’t wait to make stuff like this.”
“Two decades later when I got my PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, I thought that made me qualified to do anything, so I dashed off my letters of application to Walt Disney Imagineering. And they sent me some of the nicest go-to-purgatory[2] letters I have ever received. They said they had reviewed my application, and they did not have “any positions which require your particular qualifications.”
“Nothing? This is a company famous for hiring armies of people to sweep the streets. Disney had nothing for me? Not even a broom?
“So that was a setback. But I kept my mantra in mind: The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something…”

At the beginning of parshas Tzav, the Torah instructs that the first avodah performed each morning in the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash was terumas hadeshen, removal of the ashes from the previous day’s korbanos. If the ashes remained upon the Mizbaiach the fire would dim. When the kohain removed the ashes, it enabled the fire to surge upwards and consume the new day’s korbanos.
Rabbi Meir Shapiro zt’l[3] explained that this avodah contains an important message: Every Jew has a spiritual fire within him. At times that fire can become dimmed because of sin or the rigors of life which dull his emotions.
The role of the kohain was to help the person whose fire has dimmed, by removing his spiritual/psychological ashes which are impeding his inner fire, so that his inner flame can surge upwards again. No matter how much one has strayed, his internal flame can always be stoked and revitalized. But the first step is to remove the ashes and spiritual debris that have amassed.
Every Yom Tov affords us a unique opportunity to fan our inner flame. But perhaps there is no time of year when that inner fire bursts forth and manifests externally as on Purim.

When Haman maligned the Jews to Achashveirosh, in building his case why the Jews should be eliminated, Haman noted that the Jews are eccentric and different. “Their laws are different from all of the other nations, and they do not perform the laws of the king.”[4] The gemara explains that Haman particularly noted that the Jews work productivity is subpar because they are always saying “Today is Shabbos; today is Pesach.”[5]
Why did Haman specifically point out these two holidays?
More than other holidays, these two special times entail tremendous preparation in order to observe them properly.
During the summer months, expert rabbinic personalities go out to the wheat fields to inspect the wheat that will be used to produce the flour for the next year’s matzah production. The actual baking of matzah begins Chanukah time.[6] Ridding one’s home of chometz is also a tremendous undertaking that requires time and effort. To properly observe Pesach, one also needs to be versed in the many nuances of the unique laws of kashering, cleaning, and preparing for the Seder. Pesach is not a one-week holiday. It requires months of prior preparation.
Shabbos too is not a one-day event at the end of each week. Every morning we recite the Yom[7], in which we refer to that day as part of “Shabbos”. The first three days of the week are still connected to the previous Shabbos, and we begin preparing in earnest for the upcoming Shabbos in Wednesday. Shabbos consumes the entire life of a Jew.
The mission of Amalek is to eradicate G-dliness from this world. The first step in doing so is to dull our excitement and devotion to avodas Hashem. Therefore, Amalek/Haman particularly challenges the holidays of Shabbos and Pesach because they are not merely celebratory events, but they become the entire focus of a Jew and fill him with a sense of complete subservience to G-d.

When Haman prevailed upon Achashveirosh to agree to the genocide of the Jews it was during the month of Nissan.[8] As soon as he received Achashveirosh’s signet ring that enabled him to enact the edict, Haman hurried to have it dispatched immediately. “The couriers went out in haste with the word of the king.”[9] If the decree wasn’t to take effect for another eleven months, why the rush to dispatch it?
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita explains[10] that Haman wanted to ruin the Jews’ celebration of Pesach. This is a tactic that Haman’s successors, the Nazis, utilized as well. They would purposely schedule selections, as well as impose other nefarious decrees and torture tactics, particularly during Jewish holidays, to break the spirits of the hapless inmates, and ensure that they would not be able to receive any inspiration from the holiday.

At the beginning of parshas Tzav the Torah instructs the kohanim about the procedure for offering the korban olah – the elevation offering, which was completely consumed upon the Mizbeiach. “These are the laws (procedures) of the Olah – the Olah upon the fire upon the Mizbeiach, the entire night until the morning, and the fire of the Mizbeiach shall burn upon it.”[11]
The Ben Ish Chai derives a lesson from these words:
When the pasuk says ‘this is the procedure of Olah” it is also asking what is the way for a person to grow and ‘ascend’ spiritually? The answer is, “It is the Olah upon the fire”, i.e. one must invest heart and passion into his divine service.
The Mizbeiach’s dimensions equaled 32 (לב) a hint to the heart of a person. One’s heart must be fired up throughout the nights, and challenging times, and remain that way until the morning sets in.

The gemara[12] relates that in a leap year, we observe Purim in the second Adar in order to juxtapose the redemption of Purim with the redemption of Pesach as much as possible. The calendar has done its part to help us connect Purim to Pesach. Now, it is incumbent upon us to take the excitement and emotional fire of Purim, to carry it over and fuse it into our celebration of Pesach in just a few weeks. 

“Remember what Amalek did to you”
“The Olah upon the fire the entire night until morning”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Tzav 5776
[2] My alteration of his words
[3] Imrei Da’as
[4] Esther 3:8
[5] Megillah 13b
[6] I’ve asked employees at matzah bakeries how they are able to eat matzah on Pesach after spending months producing matzah all day every day…
[7] The psalm that was sung by the Leviim in the Bais Hamikdash
[8] The decree was for the Jews to be killed eleven months later on the thirteenth of Adar
[9] Esther 3:15
[10] Ta’ama D’kra
[11] Vayikra 6:2
[12] Megillah 6b

Thursday, March 14, 2019



A fellow meets his elderly neighbor Bernie, one afternoon, and they begin conversing. Bernie starts telling his neighbor about a new class he and his wife were taking. “You know, how we are getting older, and sometimes we tend to forget details, events, and even names. So, we’re taking a class called memory by association. If you can’t remember something, you remember something else associated with what you are trying to remember and that helps jar your memory.”
The neighbor is impressed. “My parents are getting older and I think they could benefit from such a class. What’s the name of the instructor?”
Bernie thinks for a second. “Well now is a perfect time for me to show you what I’ve learned. What’s the name of that beautiful flower, it comes in different colors, and people like to give red ones to someone they love?” The neighbor replies, “Do you mean a rose?” Bernie nods and smiles, “Yes, that’s it!” Then Bernie screams into the kitchen, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of the instructor of the association class we’re taking?” 

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt.”[2]
What is it about Amalek and their attack that we are obligated to remember? 
In addition, why is Megillas Esther specifically named for Esther? Granted, she was a heroine in the story, but couldn’t it have been called Megillas Mordechai or Megillas Purim?

The gemara[3] relates two opinions about Esther’s physical beauty. The first opinion is the classically known view that she was very beautiful. The gemara then quotes a second opinion that Esther had a pale complexion and wasn’t all that attractive. Still, she had a certain charm and regal bearing to her that made her exceedingly attractive to Achashveirosh. 
Why does the gemara relate the second opinion which seems degrading about Esther?
The Vilna Gaon explained that originally Esther was indeed exceedingly beautiful and attractive. However, being forced to remain in the harem of Achashveirosh had a detrimental effect upon her. Esther was a person of depth and lived with higher values and aspirations. The women in the palace on the other hand, spent their days consumed in beautifying themselves, dousing themselves in oils, creams, and lotions.[4] Their conversations were all about their physical appearance and how they could make themselves even more attractive. For Esther living among such superficiality was mental torture. Being in such an environment for a prolonged amount of time had a physical effect upon her and made her appear pale.
The gemara relates that fact to demonstrate her depth and righteousness.

The gemara[5] notes that Vashti’s humiliating end was a worthy punishment for her, because she would force the Jewish girls to undress and work on Shabbos. That was why she was summoned to appear before the king undressed on Shabbos.
Vashti didn’t literally force the Jewish girls to undress. Vashti was the queen and celebrity that every girl aspired to be like. She was beautiful, powerful, and royal.[6] She was also an immodest woman who dressed provocatively to garner attention.[7] Being that all the girls looked up to her, they also imitated her mode of dress. Invariably this effected the Jewish girls as well. This is what the gemara refers to as “stripping the Jewish girls”. By dressing inappropriately, she served as a negative role model to violate the standards of modesty and decency. [8]
Esther was the antithesis of Vashti. Esther was sickened to her core by the immodesty that Vashti personified.

Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita[9] explains that when one devotes themselves selflessly to a cause, it is remembered and referred to in their name. The Torah is referred to as “Toras Moshe”[10] because Moshe Rabbeinu devoted his heart and soul, and even his physical self, to teaching and transmitting Torah to Klal Yisroel.[11]
At the beginning of Mishlei, Shlomo Hamelech states: “Listen my son to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother.”[12] Why is the Torah referred to as the “Torah of your mother” when a woman isn’t even obligated to learn Torah? The most important component in conveying Torah to one’s children isn’t the actual wisdom of Torah, as much as it is the influence of Torah. That influence is instilled into the home by the woman of the home who inculcates the values and love of Torah into her family.[13]
During the unfolding of the Purim story, there was no one who devoted themselves more selflessly to the Jewish people and to their salvation than Esther. It was Esther who lived in the palace away from her loved ones, had to put her life on the line for her people, and remained married to the wicked Achashveirosh for the rest of her life, even after the miracles of Purim occurred. Therefore, the megillah is named after her.
Esther was also a worthy role model for Jewish women, personifying modesty, selflessness, devotion, and boundless love for her people. There was no one who offered herself so completely on behalf of her people. That is the meaning behind the words we sing,[14] “Blessed is Esther on my behalf”.

In the prayer Uva L’tzion we state: “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says G-d: My spirit that is upon you, and My words that I have placed in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children, says G-d, from now for eternity.” To convey Torah values and Torah living to our children, we must invest in them the ‘spirit’ of such values. It’s not enough to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos, we must live them and convey the spirit of the law. That spirit is chiefly created by the woman of the home through her love, devotion, and emotional warmth.
It is that spirit that Amalek sought, and seeks, to destroy. Amalek is the consummate scoffer who mocks, minimizes, and degrades all that is sacred. When we emerged from the splitting of the sea, we were emotionally fired-up and felt deeply connected with G-d. Amalek’s attack may have been a military failure, but their desire to destroy our spiritual momentum and break through our aura of invincibility was a booming success.
All the miracles and the entire Sinai experience was to foster that spirit within us. In one fell swoop Amalek let the air out of the tires, causing spiritual and psychological damage that can never be fully repaired.

A tenth-grade boy who had always done well in school and had been the pride of his family, suddenly had a terrible slide. In a short time, he became involved in negative and risky behaviors and kept pushing the envelope.
One evening the boy’s father took him on a long walk for a crucial heart-to-heart conversation. During that talk the boy admitted that a few bad friends had been having a terrible influence upon him. They prevailed upon him to experiment with different things, claiming that it was no big deal, and everyone was doing it. They introduced him to places and things he knew were wrong for him to be involved in but he couldn’t face up to the peer pressure.  
The father looked his son in the eye and said, “Son, your life is in your hands. No one can stop you from these behaviors or from these friends, except for yourself. Just remember your dreams and what you want to become. Think about the path you’re on now and where it may likely end up. Recapture your dreams before it’s too late!”
Thankfully, the son hearkened to his father’s message and extricated himself from those friendships and got himself back on track.
Then, when the boy began eleventh grade, and then again at the beginning of his senior year, when he began college, and then again when he moved into his own apartment, the father gently told his son, “Remember what happened during your sophomore year. There will be others who will try to do the same, and if you forget the lesson you learned then, you may quickly find yourself back in the same predicament, and perhaps even worse.”

Remember what Amalek did to you! Remember what they robbed you of – your pride, and your indomitable and unyielding spirit and faith in G-d. Remember how they tried to deflate your inner fire and passion, to make you feel like we weren’t special and unique.
Remember - because if you forget, Amalek has many disciples and permutations and will attack again!

Purim is a celebration of reigniting of that inner fire!
Chumash Vayikra is the book of the Torah that relates the laws of offering korbanos to Hashem. Today, in exile, our heart is our sanctuary, and we offer our very souls to G-d.[15] 
On Purim we offer our very selves to G-d through joy and fiery passion. That is the greatest revenge against Amalek and that is the ultimate way to remember what they perpetrated against us.
Beyond the wonderful laughter and gaiety of the day, one is remiss if he doesn’t feel intense pride and intense joy in being part of the chosen, eternal people.

“Remember, what Amalek did to you.”
“My spirit that is upon you shall not depart for eternity”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Vayikra/Zachor 5776
[2] Devorim 25:17
[3] Megilla 15a
[4] One would think that the women vying to be queen would spend their days learning about royal etiquette and expectations. But the megillah relates that their sole preoccupation was on their physical looks. That was the criteria that Achashveirosh would base his decision on. That speaks volumes about what kind of a person he was.  
[5] Megilla 12b
[6] She was the featured picture of every magazine in “Shushanawood”
[7] The gemara relates that Vashti was only too happy to appear naked before the drunken men, until she realized that she was suddenly besieged with unsightly marks all over her body.
[8] I heard this from my rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. I was not able to ask Rabbi Finkelman who he said this over from.
[9] Tiv HaPurim
[10] Malachi 3:22 “Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant”
[11] Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 15:1
[12] Mishlei 1:8
[13] Ibn Ezra "כי האשה חכמה מורה דרך הישרה לבנה"
[14] In ‘Shoshanas Yaakov’
[15] Rabbi Elazar Azkari in Sefer Hachassidim expressed this idea very movingly: "בתוך לבי משכן אבנה לזיוו, קרבן תקריב לו נפשי היחידה" – In my heart I will build a sanctuary to His splendor; I will offer to Him the depths of my soul” .Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt’l wrote a well-known variation based on these words which was composed into a very moving song called ‘Bilvavi’