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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Ki Sisa/Purim 5772 "The Day After"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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My Rebbe, Rabbi Berel Wein shlit”a, relates that a number of years ago, while visiting Yerushalayim[1], he was davening shachris one morning in a shul opposite a tall blue-eyed blond-haired man whose features were unmistakably Aryan. His three sons were davening beside him. Rabbi Wein was struck by the intensity and seriousness of their davening. The four of them stood dutifully throughout davening, praying with great fervor.

Afterwards, when Rabbi Wein mentioned to a friend how impressed he was by their davening, the friend explained that the man was a microbiologist at Hebrew University, and had an extraordinary story. The friend then proceeded to introduce Rabbi Wein to the man, “Avrohom, this is Rabbi Wein. I’m sure he would like to hear your story.” They agreed to walk home together. As they walked, the man related:

“I was born and raised in Germany. My father was an officer in the elite Gestapo killing squad, the Todtenkopf (Deathbed Squad). He served throughout the war and after it was over successfully eluded apprehension. But his crimes were so heinous that years later the western German Republic continued to pursue him. When they finally caught up with him he was sentenced to ten years in prison. Later, because he was so old, he was freed after only serving four and a half years. My father never spoke about his past. However, when he was caught, I read about his crimes in the newspapers. I was mortified to realize that my father had led such a monstrous life.

“The family was shaken by the news. I was a teenager at the time and I was confused by the notoriety. When we went to visit him in prison I refused to see him. I felt he had betrayed me.

“I tried to get as far away from Germany as possible. I didn’t even want to read about German history. On the way, I decided to visit Israel to learn about my father’s victims. While on a kibbutz, I saw a poster advertising a summer program at Hebrew University in desert zoology, and I enrolled. I did very well and during the summer I registered for a graduate program. While engaged in graduate work, I also became very interested in Judaism.

“I loved Israel so much that I applied for citizenship. After two years of studying, I decided to convert to Judaism. I married and settled in Yerushalayim. My wife was a German Lutheran, but she too converted.

“About a year ago, I found out that my father was not well. My wife felt it would be a mitzvah for me to visit him and introduce him to his grandchildren. At first I was apprehensive about returning to Germany but in the end I took a sabbatical and went with my children to Darmastadt to visit my father. It was an amazing scene. My sons wore their yarmulkes and had their tzitzis showing. Their payos were tucked behind their ears and they spoke Hebrew.

“When we first came in, my father was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t embrace anyone. However, as we began to talk he seemed to be pleased by how things had turned out.

“My father was over ninety and I wanted to know what he did to merit longevity and to have such grandchildren. When I asked him point blank, he looked at me and pondered the question. At first he couldn’t think of anything. But then he told me that once in Frankfurt they were rounding up the Jews and he had the chance to save three Jewish boys who were hiding in a Catholic Orphanage. He didn’t know why, but for some reason the plight of those three lost and forlorn boys aroused his sympathy and he allowed them to escape. He didn’t know what happened to them but he didn’t kill them.

“I thought his answer over and I said,”You know Papa, if you had let four boys go, you would have had four grandchildren.””

The Gemarah Megillah (5b) relates that Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda NaNassi) planted a shoot on Purim day. The Gemarah questions how he was permitted to do so, since he himself had reprimanded another individual who engaged in mundane work on Purim. One of the Gemarah’s answers is that Rebbe was engaging himself in “a planting of joy”.

The question is, even if his planting was permitted, why did he busy himself with such labor on Purim day. There are so many mitzvos to be fulfilled and the day is so fleeting, could he not find a better time to tend to his gardening?

The Gemarah Ta’anis (29a) states the famous quote, “Meeshenichnas Adar Marbin b’Simcha- When Adar arrives we increase the magnitude of our joy.” Simply understood, the reason for our elevated joy is out of anticipation for the upcoming holiday of Purim. Rashi however explains that the increased joy is because of Purim AND Pesach. Thus, it is erroneous to think that when the holiday of Purim concludes so does the added joy of Adar. In fact, au contraire! As Pesach approaches, the joy must increase in our efforts to connect the two joyous holidays and achieve a sublime level of inner joy in our Service to G-d.

On a few occasions I had the pleasure of visiting my rebbe Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman shlita[2] in his home on Chol Hamo’ed Pesach. On those occasions I thought it peculiar that a bright festive “Meeshenichnas Adar” sign was still hanging behind his chair in his Dining Room. When I asked him why it was still hanging if Adar was long over[3], he replied that his Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita[4] explained that the increasing joy of Adar continues and, in fact, gains momentum until Shavuos.

Rosh Chodesh Adar is merely the starting point for a period of intense joy that continues from Purim through Pesach and the counting of the Omer, and climaxing with Shavuos, when we reaccept the Torah each year. Therefore, it is only after Shavuos that the “Meeshenichnas Adar” sign comes down.

Parshas Ki Sisa recounts the tragic account of the sin of the Golden Calf. The sin transpired hardly a month after the awesome Revelation of Sinai when the world heard G-d proclaim, “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out of Egypt”. The nation was filled with angst that their leader Moshe was not going to return from Mount Sinai, and so they constructed the Golden Calf. G-d was ready to destroy the nation and rebuild His Chosen People from Moshe’s progeny but Moshe interceded and implored G-d to forgive them, requesting that if G-d would not do so, He should erase his (Moshe’s) name from the Torah. G-d acquiesced and proclaimed, “I have forgiven according to your word.” The anniversary of that declaration was the tenth of Tishrei, forevermore immortalized as Yom Kippur, the day of forgiveness and atonement.

The Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchok Luria zt’l, noted that there is a hidden connection between the holidays of Yom Kippur and Purim. In fact, the holiday dedicated to atonement and repentance is known as Yom HaKippurim, which can be read as “the day which is like Purim”.

These two holidays which seem like polar opposites - one dedicated to contemplation and catharsis, the other to feasting, gaiety and joy - are inextricably bound. The commentators go to great lengths to explain the depth of that connection. However, there is one ‘external’ connection between the two. Both Yom Kippur and Purim are days of intense emotion, deep feelings which are necessary every day in the life and Service of a Jew.

Yom Kippur is a day when one realizes the Awesome Omnipotence of G-d when G-d is served out of fear, while Purim is a day of unbridled joy in the service of G-d. The fusion of the emotions of these two holidays creates the ultimate level of Avodas Hashem (Serving G-d), עבדו את ה' ביראה וגלו ברעדה" – Serve Hashem with fear and rejoice in trepidation.”

Our Sages note that during the waning moments of Yom Kippur, one should accept upon himself a spiritual undertaking which he will perform throughout the year. In this way, whenever he fulfills his pledge consistently throughout the year it will remind him of Yom Kippur and its exalted spirituality and sanctity. For that brief moment, he will reconnect with Yom Kippur and be reminded of the lofty angelic level he achieved.

The day of Purim on the other hand, is dedicated as a day of feasting and joy. There is a display of external happiness that permeates the Torah World on Purim. It is a celebration of our being worthy to be Jews and the knowledge that we are G-d’s Chosen Nation. On Purim we embrace everything that Amalek despises about us, celebrating our uniqueness.

The all important question is what happens the next day? When costumes are returned to closets, empty wine bottles are discarded, and piles of shalach manos nosh are slowly sorted, is the joy and blissful elation of the previous day also discarded and soon forgotten?

The gemara relates that Rebbe planted on Purim because Rebbe wanted to somehow capsulate the greatness and essence of Purim. He wanted to retain the blissful limitless joy of the great day, so that he could preserve it throughout the year. Therefore, specifically on Purim itself, he planted a shoot so that every time he would look at the growing tree, it would remind him of the intense joy of Purim.

The true measure of a spiritually successful Purim and Yom HaKippurim can only be realized after the day is over. True spirituality can only be measured by how much one grows and is able - not only to seize the moment - but also to capture and hold onto it.

The Gemarah[5] writes, “The descendants of Haman taught Torah in B’nei B’rak; the descendants of Sisra taught children in Yerushalayim; the descendants of Sancherev taught Torah in public.” Haman, Sisra, and Sancherev were all nefarious individuals whose enmity for the Jewish people was limitless. They all share the distinction of being members of the perennial group who tried (and try) to eradicate the Jews. Although undoubtedly they had many descendants who followed their legacy, they also had descendants who “stabbed them in the back” and dedicated their lives to the very people and ideals that they sought to destroy.

Events come and go and nothing in our transient world is eternal. The question is what remains? The legacy of Haman and his cohorts did not turn out as they hoped. Hitler’s nephew’s grandson is Shabbos observant, and Matthias Goering - a descendant of the infamous Nazi, Herman Goering - is also Jewish.

Ironically it is Haman and many of our most infamous enemies themselves who teach us that it is not only the event but the effect that counts. In a global sense we must ponder our legacy and our posterity. But on a smaller scale, we need to contemplate what we are taking with us from every experience. Is Purim a one day fleeting holiday or are we able to ‘plant that joy’ so that it segues into Pesach and Shavuos?

“Rebbe planted a shoot on Purim”

“The descendants of Haman taught Torah in B’nei B’rak”

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[1] Before he made aliyah

[2] Mashgiach of Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim in Queens N.Y. More personally, he is the Spiritual Leader of Camp Dora Golding where I am fortunate to be able to gain much from being in his close proximity all summer.

[3] Though we all know people who have yet to take down their succah on Pesach, Rabbi Finkleman is very much not that type…

[4] Mashgiach in Yeshiva Torah Voda’as Brooklyn N.Y.

[5] Gittin 58a

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