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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayikrah "The Fistful"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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In 1940, the Nazi war machine was a virtually unstoppable force. It had already annexed Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Alsace-Lorraine without firing a single bullet. Then beginning in September 1938 they decimated Poland in four weeks, overran the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, and brought France to its knees. The only country still holding out was Britain. During August 1940 Hitler initiated the ‘battle of Britain’[1].

Despite innumerable casualties and damage caused by relentless bombing, Britain held strong. Their resolve was maintained because of the rousing oratory of its legendary Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and by the courage of the RAF (Royal Air Force) fighter pilots, who valiantly continued the battle against the fierce Nazi onslaught by repeatedly bombing strategic Nazi military positions.

On August 16, 1940 Churchill addressed the House of Commons, delivering one of his signature rousing speeches, in which he stated one of his most renowned quotes:

The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity. It is too soon to attempt to assign limits either to its scale or to its duration. We must certainly expect that greater efforts will be made by the enemy than any he has so far put forth.…

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few…

There were many different classifications of offerings brought in the Mishkan[2]. Some of the offerings were voluntary while others were obligatory. Although most offerings required different types of animals, a Mincha (Meal) offering consisted of nothing more than finely ground wheat flour, oil, and frankincense. There were different forms of this offering, depending on the type of pan used, and how it was baked, but essentially all Minchos were the same.

After the ingredients were mixed together, a kemitzah (fistful) had to be removed from the mixture. “He shall bring it to the sons of Aaron, the Kohanim, one of whom shall scoop his fistful[3] from it, from its fine flour, from its oil, and from its frankincense; and the Kohen shall cause its memorial portion to go up in smoke upon the Altar – a fire offering, a satisfying aroma to G-d. The remnant of the meal-offering is for Aaron and his sons; most holy, from the fire-offering of G-d.[4]” Once the Kohain removed the fistful and offered it upon the altar, the remaining majority of the mixture was given to the Kohanim to eat.

The Gemara[5] relates that when Haman was ordered by Achashveirosh to parade Mordechai through the streets of Shushan and proclaim before him, ‘Such shall be done to the man whom the king wishes to honor’, the dejected Haman had no choice but to comply. When he entered the study hall to summon Mordechai, he found him studying with his disciples. Haman asked Mordechai what they were learning. Mordechai explained, “When the Bais Hamikdash stood one who would offer a Mincha offering would bring it to the Temple, whereupon a Kohain would remove a fistful and offer it upon the Altar to serve as atonement for its owner.” Haman replied, “Come and get up, for your fistful of flour has outweighed the ten thousand talents of silver that I offered Achashveirosh (in order to destroy you).”

Rabbi Mordechai Rogov zt’l explains the exchange between Mordechai and Haman. After Haman convinced Achashveirsoh to pronounce the heinous decree calling for the destruction of the Jewish people, Mordechai was very concerned. On the one hand he knew that a national wave of repentance could alter the decree in heaven. But, on the other hand, the nation was so broken and traumatized by the events that Mordechai feared he would be unable to jolt them out of the psychological paralysis that consumed them. At that point Mordechai truly feared for the salvation of the Jewish People.

As Mordechai learned the laws of the fistful however, he began to feel buoyantly confident. The Mincha was as an offering to G-d although, essentially, only one fistful was offered on the Altar. Yet that one fistful was sufficient to effect a status change in the remainder, for now everything left in the bowl was worthy of consumption by the Kohanim.

Mordechai saw in that deep symbolism. Perhaps there was indeed only a handful, a fistful, of truly devout Jews who remained steadfast in their faith, and perhaps those who were truly G-d-fearing were merely the minority. However, that quantitative minority was analogous to the one fistful offered on the Altar, which transformed the remainder.

When Haman heard Mordechai explain the procedure, he too understood the implications of the Service. He obsequiously admitted to Mordechai that his fistful – which symbolized the handful of righteous valorous individuals - was enough to outweigh his own efforts to destroy the nation.

There are times when we may wonder how Klal Yisroel can persevere. The vastly overwhelming majority of our people are completely unaware of their rich heritage, if they even know (or admit) to being Jewish at all. Most of our brethren are ignorant of Shabbos and have never heard of Rashi, and tragically most of them never had the opportunity to know better. Still-in-all, we can take comfort in knowing that we – the Torah loyalists – are the fistfuls who validate the remainder. However, along with that incredible merit comes the realization of what an awesome responsibility we shoulder, for the fistful must be offered properly.

The truth is that at times we may become disheartened even by viewing the state of our own communities, for we too have much that needs to be improved. But amongst us too we have ‘a holy fistful’, i.e. our great leaders and visionaries who guide us and lead us along the path of Torah observance. As long as we allow ourselves to be part of ‘their offering’ we can become elevated through our connection with them.

The renowned hymn sung on Purim commences, “Shoshanas Yaakov – The Rose of Yaakov was cheerful and glad, when they jointly saw Mordechai robed in royal blue.” Their extreme joy was rooted in the image of seeing their Torah leader resplendent with glory and honor, as the Megillah states, “Mordechai left the King’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Sushan was cheerful and glad.[6]

We did not become the Chosen People because of our qualitative numbers. We were chosen because we are the ‘fistful which validates the remainder’. And amongst ourselves we have our leaders, for whom we pray in Shemoneh Esrei thrice daily that G-d preserve and strengthen, for they are the fistfuls who give us our validity. Indeed, “so many owe so much to so few.”

“One of whom shall scoop his fistful from it”

“The Rose of Yaakov was cheerful and glad”

[1] At the end of the month Hitler began the infamous Blitzkrieg, ‘the lightning war’, in which German planes would fly over British cities and mercilessly bomb civilians.

[2] And subsequently in the Bais Hamikdash

[3] Actuality it was not a full fistful but rather threefingersful. The Kohain would scoop from the mixture with three fingers bent inwards while his pinkie remained straight out, gathering whatever ended up in that space.

[4] 2:2-2

[5] Megillah 16b

[6] Esther 8:15

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