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


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