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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Pekudei

Parshat Pekudei

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Pekudei                                                                                   Print Version
2nd of Adar II, 5779 | March 9, 2019

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Rubinstein 
My First Student

When Project SEED found its way from America and took root in Gateshead, every Wednesday night a group of thirty boys from the Yeshiva of Gateshead would cross the River Tyne and learn with someone from the city of Newcastle. I was one of those individuals who crossed the river to teach Torah.

Fast forward thirty-six years.

When my son, who now lives in Israel and works as a photographer, was fourteen years old he was bound to a wheelchair and had to undergo major surgery on his feet. He had been through tough times, having lost his mother to cancer not too long before. At one point, my son phoned me and said, “Dad, I didn’t want to worry you, but I have just come back from the doctor and they have confirmed a diagnosis: I will be totally blind in ten years’ time.” When my son told me this, I was totally shocked.

Shortly after being diagnosed, he was in Manchester photographing a wedding. Scheduled to fly back on the German national airline Lufthansa from Manchester to Frankfurt and then to Israel, at the last minute the plane was canceled. And so, he had to fly on a cheap airline in Europe called Jet 2. The seats were made of plastic and the cup holder was clearly fashioned from an unscrewed coat hanger. My son therefore decided to pay some extra money and get a seat with a little bit more leg room up front.

Taking a seat beside another gentleman, after some back-and-forth conversation, my son mentioned that he was he born in Gateshead.” “Oh, I know Gateshead very well,” said the man. “When I studied medicine at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I used to learn every week with a very well-known Rabbi from Gateshead. Have you ever heard of Rabbi YY Rubinstein?” “Yeah, I have heard of him. He’s my father.”

My son, realizing that he was going to be spending the next five hours on a plane sitting next to a doctor, knew what this meant: free consultation. And so he began telling this doctor all about his problems. He mentioned the trouble he had undergone with his legs and how his mother had passed away. And now, he had just been informed that in ten years’ time he would be unable to see. The doctor turned to him and said, “Well as a matter of fact you are wrong. I am an eye specialist and we developed a surgical technique that stops this disease you have in its tracks. I will do this surgery for you.”

“This doctor,” concluded Rabbi Rubinstein, “was the first person I ever taught Torah to. He was my first student for whom I crossed the River Tyne to teach. My very first student was to be the one who would help save my son’s eyesight. All those one-on-one night learning sessions were remembered by Hashem and now used to merit that the very man I taught would help save my son’s sight.”

As we are all sons and daughters of Hashem, when we teach and take care of our fellow Jews we are taking care of Hashem’s children. We may never know the reverberating impact of touching even one Jewish soul until years later; but indeed, every effort spent on helping another is well worth it. And truth be told, they may return one day to repay the deed.

Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene 
Zeresh and Esther: Demolishing and Building

While we are all familiar with the names of Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and Haman, there is one particular character who, although less well-known, plays an integral role. Zeresh, the infamous wife of Haman mentioned only four times in the Megillah, quietly stands behind the scenes yet nefariously schemes against the Jewish people. Examining her story in depth, incredible insights into the subtle layers involved in the Purim story are revealed.

After Esther invites Haman to the festive meal she plans to make for Achashverosh, Haman’s good mood and high spirits are deflated as quickly as they came. Seeing Mordechai’s adamant refusal to acknowledge him, Haman returns home frenzied and fuming with anger. Venting his frustration to his advisors and wife, he is advised to put an end to Mordechai. “Prepare gallows fifty cubits high,” suggests his wife, “and hang Mordechai.”

The Midrash expounds that Haman had three hundred and sixty-five advisors, corresponding to the days of the solar calendar, yet his wife was the greatest of them all. The Megillah therefore singles her out as the one to voice her opinion that the way to kill Mordechai is with a method of death no Jew has previously in history been saved from.

Using a fifty cubit beam once part of Noach’s ark and ever since used as a foundation beam in Haman’s home, Zeresh, explains the Midrash, had workers demolish her home in order to remove the beam and ready it for Mordechai.

And of course, with the turning series of events and the gallows not being used for Mordechai, but Haman instead, the grand scheme of Zeresh is overturned. It is only then that frightened for her life, Zeresh flees and is eventually reduced to a life of begging and meets her own bitter death of execution.

The Midrash (Mishlei 14:1) commenting on the Pasuk, “חכמת נשים בנתה ביתה ואולת בידה תהרסנו” –“The clever woman builds her home, while the foolish one tears it down with her hands,” explains that the ‘clever woman’ is a reference to Esther, while the ‘foolish woman’ is a reference to Zeresh.

In a similar vein, the liturgical poem Shoshanat Yaakov, sung after the conclusion of the Megillah reading, ends with the stanza, “Cursed is Haman who sought to uproot me; blessed is Mordechai, the Jew. Cursed is Zeresh, the wife of the one who terrorized me; blessed is Esther who sacrificed everything for me.”

As clearly seen from the contrasts underscored in these two sources, Zeresh and Esther counterbalance one another. Zeresh with her plot to uproot the Jews is offset by Esther’s relentless attempts to spare them from annihilation. What remains vague, however, is why exactly this is the parallel. Why is Esther measured up to Zeresh and not Queen Vashti?

In order to proper evaluate the character of Zeresh it is necessary to consider a cryptic statement made by the Arizal: “Zeresh was like the tail of a snake and the drawn-down leg in the Hebrew letter Kuf (ק).” What does this mean?

When Adam HaRishon, the pinnacle of creation, was infused with life, the Torah states that Hashem blessed him. Simply understood, Adam was to be the realization of blessing in the world.

The concept of a blessing, explains Rav Chaim Volozhin, is that one acknowledges G-d as the source of all blessing and the means by which beneficence flows to the world. In this respect, a righteous individual is praised for being the medium through which blessing descends to the world, while a wicked individual is condemned for achieving the opposite. The wicked man, pursuing his malevolent agenda, steers mankind away from reaching fulfillment and only introduces curse to the world.

Chazal teach that Adam and Chava were created together as one unit and only then separated (Eruvin 18a). Fused together in Gan Eden, it was Chava who would bring blessing to Adam and the world at large. This is because a woman through supporting and consolidating her husband and family suffuses holiness and beneficence to her home. R’ Yossi accordingly was wont to refer to his wife as “My home” (Shabbat 118b) in recognition of her prominent role in creating its spiritual infrastructure.

In this sense, a woman can either make or break her home. If she is wise, as Shlomo Hamelech tells us, she will build her home; on the other hand, if she is foolish, she will tear it down and bring ruination to herself and her family.

Esther, the epitome of an Eishet Chayil, is forever remembered as a wise woman for she loyally supported her husband, Mordechai, and preserved the lives of Klal Yisrael. Zeresh, on the other hand, did the exact opposite. Besides being unfaithful in her marriage to Haman, her scheme to kill Mordechai in fact provoked her husband’s downfall. The quintessence of a foolish woman, her sadistic ploys literally devastated the lives of her husband and children.

She is for this reason compared to the tail of a snake and the leg of the letter Kuf. As the primordial snake successfully enticed Chava to sin by eating from the Tree of Knowledge in Gan Eden, curse was introduced to the world. What punishment did the snake suffer in consequence? Its legs were cut off (Bereishit Rabbah 20:5). The snake would now have to slither its way around.

The tail of the snake is both the point of consolidation and vulnerability. It is the site with which it can maneuver or be taken advantage of by those seeking to trap it. The same is with the leg of the Kuf. In contrast to the word אמת (truth) whose letters are firmly grounded and solid at the bottom, the letters spelling שקר(falsehood) all come to a point. This is representative of the fact that honesty will endure while falsehood will topple and not last. In this regard, Chazal have coined the phrase, “Falsehood has no legs.” This is why the snake lost its legs. Cunningly misleading Chavah to sin, it was punished by losing its supportive legs.

Chavah as well, according to one opinion, was fashioned from a tail-like appendage attached to Adam HaRishon when Man was initially created (Eruvin, loc. cit.). As a wife, she too bears a resemblance to the tail in that she can either support her husband or cause him to topple and be led to ruination.

Herein exists the difference between Zeresh and Esther. Zeresh supplanted blessing for curse and instead of supporting her husband, engendered his demise. Esther, on the other hand, lived up to her pristine feminine role and galvanized Mordechai and the Jewish people to salvation.

Such is the unbelievable impact each and every woman can have. Consolidating her family and surroundings, she can choose to follow in the ways of Esther and graciously lead them to a life of blessing and “light and gladness and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16).

Mrs. Joanne Dove 
Minor Stresses, Major Crises

It was Friday afternoon, minutes before I was about to light the Shabbos candles. My husband was away in Israel, leaving me with a handful of young and energetic children. With all the children dressed except for one, I figured that I would dress him after I lit the candles, whereupon we would walk down the street and drop off the food I had cooked for the hundred-plus people who would be joining a communal Shabbos meal. But as I began lighting the candles, I heard a scream. I remained calm, although I froze, unsure what to make of it at the moment.

A few seconds later, I began to hear a real cry. Finishing off with lighting my candles, I headed upstairs to see what the source of commotion and distress was. And to my unanticipated surprise, my little angelic two-year-old son had tried to pull his shirt off above his head as opposed to unbuttoning it, which he was unsure how to do. Yet, as he quickly learned, that wasn’t the greatest idea, as in doing so, he managed to dislocate his shoulder and leave himself in uncomfortable pain.

I remained relaxed, knowing that there were plenty of doctors in the neighborhood which we could go to and ask for help. Yet, as matters worked out, the best thing my son could do for the meantime was take some medicine and try to relax. Only after Shabbos would we be able to visit a doctor who could slip the shoulder back into the socket.

As I assumed, Friday night wasn’t too peaceful. My son didn’t sleep much, which of course meant that I didn’t sleep much either. But I remained positive and poised, confident that everything would work out and he would recover. Aside from this, I knew that it wouldn’t help to panic, as I was planning to host fourteen students for the Shabbos day meal, and I would only be able to put everything together if I was in the right frame of mind.

And so, there I stood the next morning, looking on at the set table, nicely arranged for our incoming guests. I still remained a bit worried about my little son, although he seemed to be feeling decent. Everything, thankfully, seemed to be under control. At least I thought so.

Within minutes, I overheard the commotion of two children yelling and playing, which was followed by a loud noise which sounded like something had fallen over and spilled. This time I really froze still in my place, almost wishing not to find out what had occurred. Slowly, I inched my way out of the kitchen, praying that everyone was alright. And then I saw.

A tub of paint had been knocked over and it was making its way down my carpeted stairs, staining them all along the way. I then flashbacked to the week before when I had painted, yet forgotten to take that tub and place it outside where it belonged. And now I was looking at my beautiful carpets all covered in paint. Yet, if this wasn’t enough, just twenty minutes later, a handful of students were expected to be at my door. All I could think about was how I was going to manage cleaning up the mess.

I remained silent, as I counted to three hundred and inhaled and exhaled deep breaths. Baruch Hashem, I didn’t lose myself and break down nervously and helplessly. In looking back at this incident years later, I have often wondered, what was it that kept the calm?

I once heard Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen make an interesting observation, which lends insight into finding our inner calm and tranquility. When a child is born, with its very first breath, it comes in touch with its neshama, its G-dly spirit, which was blown into its body. Every breath of air is reflective of the gift of life breathed into the child. Breathing thus serves as a trigger and reminder that contained within us is a G-dly spirit.

When we therefore face a stressful situation, it is not coincidental that taking deep breaths and maintaining an inner calm and equilibrium helps. Aside from the physiological benefits, it serves to remind us of our breath of life and G-dly spirit we have. In turn, we are led to recognize that Hashem has granted us the tools to control our inner emotions and thought processes. Never are we placed in a predicament or given a challenge we cannot overcome or where we lack the inner strength to regulate our actions. The key is to take a moment to pause and reflect upon this thought, ingraining within ourselves that we can handle with the distress we are facing, and can positively put ourselves together and pull through.

As it turned out, after returning from the hospital later that Saturday night, I found a few young men scrubbing my carpets in earnest attempt to clean up the paint. Thankfully, I felt quite fine. I told myself that either our carpets will be left with a paint stain or our insurance will replace them, something though which I didn’t anticipate. But, Hashem had His plan in mind, and sure enough, I later received a call from our insurance company, reassuring us that they would cover the cost to replace the carpets.

As I look back at this seeming overwhelming and tense situation, I consider it to have been an opportunity for significant growth. Not only was I able to choose new carpets and my child’s arm was healed, but I escaped without blowing a fuse. And that, arguably so, is the greatest inner triumph. Hashem offered me a test, and I proved to myself that I could deal with such strain and stress and come out a stronger person. And that is a lesson I still remember to this very day.

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