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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Ki Sisa 5771 "Divine Aroma"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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KI SISA 5771


“In March 1988, Vendyl Jones and his team of Bnei Noah volunteers found a clay juglet about five inches in height in a cave in Qumran, just west of the northern end of the Yam HaMelach (Dead Sea). The juglet contained a reddish oil. It is believed to be the only surviving sample of the balsam oil that was prescribed in the Torah for anointing the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels, as well as the Cohanim-Priests and Kings of Israel. The oil, when found, had a honey-like consistency. The juglet in which it was found was wrapped in palm leaves and carefully concealed in a 3-foot deep pit which preserved it from looting and the extreme climatological extremes of the area.

“In April 1992, Vendyl and his team discovered 600 kilos of "reddish-brown organic substance" in a carefully sealed rock silo in another part of the Qumran cave complex. Subsequent palynological analysis determined that this reddish-brown substance contains traces of at least eight of the eleven spices that were used in the manufacture of the Pitum HaQetoret (Incense Mixture) and burned in the Temple.

“In 1994, the incense spices were presented to Rabbi Yehudah Getz of blessed memory, late Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Places in Israel. A sample was also given to Rabbi Ovadiah Yoseph. Rabbi Ovadiah had his own chemist analyze the mixture to confirm its organic nature. Then both rabbis requested that Vendyl Jones "burn" some of the incense for scientific purposes (not with fire but with hydrochloric acid). At their suggestion, he had the spices combined together with the Sodom Salt and Karshina Lye which were also found stored separately in the cave in Qumran.

“The results were astonishing. Although the spices had lost some of their potency over the two millennia since their burial, it was still powerful. The residue of its fragrance lingered in the vicinity for several days following the experiment. Several people present reported that their hair and clothing retained the aroma. More amazing, the area in which the spices were burned changed. It had been infested with a variety of flies, ants, moths and other insects. After the Qetoret was burned, no sign of these pests was seen for quite a while. This is reminiscent of the Mishnah in Avot (5:5) which states that there were no flies in the area of the Temple, nor was a snake or scorpion ever able to harm anyone anywhere in Jerusalem as long as the Temple stood.[1]

G-d commanded to Moshe to create a compounded mixture of certain oils and spices that would be used to consecrate and anoint the vessels of the Mishkan, as well as the Kohanim, who would perform the Service.

“G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Now take for yourself choice spices: five hundred shekel weights of Mar D’ror – pure myrrh…[2]

The gemara[3] asks where there is an allusion to Mordechai, the progenitor and hero of the Purim story, in the Torah. The gemara quotes Rav Masne who explained that the fragrance “mor deror” is translated into Aramaic by Onkelos as “maira dachya”. When those two words are blended they sound like Mordechai.

The fact that the allusion to Mordechai is to be found in the first ingredient used for creating the anointing oil is not haphazard. There is an important idea about Mordechai’s greatness and success as a leader that lies here.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita[4] explains that as the drama of the Purim story reached its climax there was a fundamental dispute between the protagonists about how to proceed[5]. When Mordechai conveyed to Esther that he felt she must unlawfully approach Achashveirosh in order to intercede on behalf of her people, Esther reasoned that doing so was imprudent since it would almost invariably mean she would be killed instantly, depriving the nation of their last reservoir of hope. Mordechai emphatically countered that it was her responsibility to put her life on the line and to do what was incumbent upon her. What would result from her efforts was indeed beyond her purview; but she had to do whatever she was able.

Rabbi Elyashiv explains that Esther felt an unlawful entry would be foolish. Barring miraculous intervention there was no doubt that Esther would immediately be charted off to death for her impudent entry. And if they were relying on the occurrence of a miracle, why was it necessary for Esther to place her life on the line at all? Surely G-d could perform miracles without Esther having to place herself at the mercy of the wicked king.

Mordechai however, felt that they had to do as much as they were able. Only when they pushed themselves to their limits could they throw up their hands and leave the rest to G-d. Mordechai learned this lesson from Nachson ben Aminadav. When the Jewish nation, who had departed Egypt days before, were pursued by the Egyptian forces and they arrived at the sea they had nowhere to go. Nachshon proceeded to march into the raging sea until the water reached his nostrils. At that point he had done everything within his power and there was nothing more he could do. At that precise moment G-d split the sea.

This was what the gemara wanted to identify. Mordechai was confident that his instruction to Esther was correct, despite the fact that he was endangering her life. The gemara wonders what was the basis of Mordechai’s approach; i.e. where is such an attitude expressed in the Torah?

The gemara points to the creation of the anointing oil. The gemara[6] states: “The anointing oil which Moshe made in the desert, how many miracles were done with it, from the beginning until the end? They started with only 12 Lugim. See how much was absorbed into the pot (in which they cooked it), and how many of the roots were absorbed, and how much evaporated during the cooking. Yet, (with that paltry amount of oil) they anointed the entire Mishkan, its vessels, and Aharon and his sons, during all seven days of the Mishkan’s inauguration. And they used that oil to anoint all Kohanim Gedolim, and all the kings… and it is that oil which will used in the future which is to come“

The creation and preservation of the anointing oil required miraculous intervention. Yet, Moshe was commanded to do as he was told. The result was G-d’s concern, but Moshe had to do his part.

Henry Louis Mencken, the long-time editor of the famous American Mercury magazine, entered the office and shouted to his employees, “It’s coming in the doors!” Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked quizzically at their boss.

“It’s up to the bottom of the desk! It’s up to the seats of our chairs.”

“What are you talking about?” asked one of his confused colleagues.

“It’s all around us. Now, it’s to the top of our desks,” shouted Mencken as he jumped to the top of his desk.

“What do you mean?” inquired the newsroom staff.

“Mediocrity. We’re drowning in mediocrity!” Mencken shouted as he jumped from his desk and bolted out of the room.

After Klal Yisroel committed the sin of the golden calf, Moshe interceded on their behalf, imploring G-d to forgive His Nation. G-d agreed and instructed Moshe to write the Ten Commandments on a new set of Tablets of Stone (Luchos). Moshe descended on the tenth day of Tishrei bearing the new Tablets which he presented to the nation.

“When Moshe descended from Mount Sinai – with the two Tablets of the Testimony… Moshe did not know that the skin of his face became radiant...” The Torah relates that Moshe’s face had such a strong radiance that the people could not look at his face. When he addressed the nation he had to don a veil, so that they could look towards him without shielding their eyes.

It is noteworthy that Moshe’s face only began to shine now, when he recorded the second set of Tablets. The first tablets, which he brought down from Sinai, were written by the Hand of G-d, as it were. Logic would dictate that his face would have radiance when he carried the Tablets made by G-d.

The commentaries explain that although the first set of Tablets may have indeed contained a greater level of holiness, they did not have as much of an effect on Moshe as the second set, because Moshe invested effort in the second set. Holiness does not make an impression upon a person unless he personally struggles and works to achieve it. Spiritual growth and holiness are only attained with effort. Thus Moshe was more profoundly affected by the second set of Tablets – which he wrote, than by the first, which he only had minimal participation in.

The holiday of Purim came about because Klal Yisroel pushed themselves to their limits. Based on the instruction of Mordechai, every man, woman, and child fasted for three consecutive days and nights. They spent those days engaged in mass repentance and prayer, until they literally ‘broke the decree’.

The holiday of Purim is a jolt of spiritual energy and passion. After a long and cold winter, it is conceivable that we have lost some of our enthusiasm, dedication, and passion in our Torah and mitzvah observance. Purim comes to rectify that forfeiture. It is a day of intensely internal joy which manifests itself externally.

Purim is a celebration of the knowledge that despite all of our shortcomings and faults, we still possess a certain measure of perfection. We have to strive for that perfection and never settle for mediocrity and half-heartedness.

This year we have an additional, albeit minor, celebration of Purim, this Friday and Shabbos on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar I - Purim & Shushan Purim Katan.

The Jewish calendar is predominantly a lunar calendar, as our months are based on the new moon. However, in order to keep our holidays consistent with their appropriate seasons, the calendar contains a system of modification to keep the Jewish calendar, which has 354 days, in sync with the solar calendar, which has 365 days. That system is the added month of Adar in a leap year. Thus the added Adar is a process of rectification, ensuring that our calendar is perfectly synchronized.

At a b’ris we declare, “Zeh hakatan gadol yihyeh – This small one will yet become great.” On Purim Katan we wordlessly declare those same words. This small Purim is ensuring that the great Purim will be celebrated in its proper time, thirty days before Pesach, in the season of spring.

Purim Katan - a holiday which helps us attain perfection, which, in turn, helps us achieve renewal.

Zeh hakatan gadol yihyeh!

“Now take for yourself choice spices”

“Moshe did not know that his face became radiant”

[1] Excerpted from, “The Spiritual Significance of the Qetoret [Incense] in Ancient Jewish Tradition”, by Rabbi Avraham Sutton

[2] Shemos 30:22

[3] Chullin 139b

[4] Derech Agadah

[5] See Esther, chapter 4

[6] Horayos 11b

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