How Do We Understand Esther’s Suffering?

21 03 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Questions and Answers for Today's Jewish Woman, Part 13


Every year when I listen to the Megila, I am haunted by Esther’s tragedy. How can we understand her personal suffering?



Esther’s tragic saga is a living metaphor of the Divine Presence in exile. There was no exile worse than Esther’s. She was a prophetess, righteous beyond anything we can imagine, and yet she was forced to marry the evil Achashveirosh and bear his child. Her fortitude in maintaining her identity in spite of all she had to contend with is similar to the Second Temple condition. While the Divine Presence was apparent during the First Temple, it was hidden during the Second Temple. Finding Hashem in His place of concealment is in many ways greater than finding Him in his place of revelation.

At the end of time, the light of the moon will eclipse the light of the sun. The glow of those who only absorbed reflected light will equal those who gave forth light. The women of the tents, our imahot (foremothers), will recognize that there were women who weren’t of the tent who were as great as they were. This is what Esther teaches us. Her life is an inspiration to all of us to hold on to our heritage despite the darkness and pain of exile.

A Deeper Look Into The Purim Story

18 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

A Deeper Look Into The Purim Story

The Megilah begins with a lengthy description of the wealth and opulence of Achashverosh’s palace. The Persian exile was meant to rid us of the illusion of hedonism. We were destined to discover that our true selves are our souls and not our bodies. In many ways, this was the hardest of all exiles for we only have so much emotional capacity and time and if our empty space is filled with materialism it will not be filled with meaning.

The Jewish people’s participation in Achashveirosh’s feast was disastrous. They sinned because they had taken on the mentality of the Persians, who viewed life as nothing but material pleasure. Our Sages say that when our emotions are devoted to physical desire, when materialism captures our passion, then something is terribly wrong. The Jews had become so callous that they participated in a party celebrating their own spiritual defeat.

Vashti threw a feast of her own for the women. The Maharal explains that the word ‘Vashti’ means ‘and two.’  She saw Hashem in heaven and man on earth and they were not to meet. When she refused to come to her husband, he had her killed. He woke up the next day, realized what he did, and was at a loss. The Midrash calls this stupidity. Letting your emotions rule over your intellect without considering the consequence is foolishness of the highest order. This is idealized in today’s society where self-expression, independence, and heart over mind reign supreme.

Esther, an orphan at birth, filled her empty spaces with the joy of building a bond with Hashem. Esther means hidden. Although she was born into a time when Hashem’s face was concealed, she made the right choices and became a prophetess. She was taken by force to the palace and Achashveirosh married her. He did not marry her because she was beautiful, but, because she radiated a spirit of goodness and he was drawn to it. All of Esther’s seven maids converted because she brought out their inherent goodness. For nine years, Esther maintained a pact of silence and would not reveal her ancestry. The Maharal notes that the more world-oriented a person is, the more he talks about himself. Esther’s rich inner life enabled her to keep her promise of secrecy to Mordechai.

Mordechai, a descendant of Binyamin and Yehuda, was a natural hero. The Sages tell us that evil will be eradicated at the end of time by an offspring of Binyamin, the only tribe who did not bow to Esav. Yehuda’s names contains Hashem’s name and comes from the root word l’hodot, to thank and to confess. Mordechai had a sense of Hashem’s presence that was so real that when he was wrong he had to confess. The Megilah tells us, “Ish yehudi haya.” The Gemara writes, “Do not read it yehudi, rather yechidi, unique.” Mordechai took a brave, lone stand and did not prostrate himself to Haman.

Infuriated by Mordechai’s refusal to bow, Haman offered the king 10,000 silver pieces to kill the Jews. This equaled the exact sum the Jews had contributed to build the Mishkan. Our Sages tell us, “Charity saves from death.” We may not necessarily see results immediately but the merit of the deed protects us. Why is tzedakah different than other mitzvot? People have an emotional attachment to money. It takes on symbolic value. If you earn a lot you are worth a lot. In fact money is really from Hashem. Donating to charity is surrendering control to Hashem which earns us enormous merit.

Haman knew a great deal about spirituality. He built a wooden gallows fifty amot high to hang Mordechai. Wood signifies the tree of knowledge. Fifty symbolizes all the possibilities of human choice making. There are seven ways in which we resemble Hashem. Seven multiplied by seven equals forty nine. When the seven middot interact as a whole they become one entity greater than themselves totaling fifty gates. Haman wanted to show Mordechai that his insistence on morality had caused his death.  In the end he was proven wrong. Haman led Mordechai on a horse as a physical expression of something spiritual. Mordechai, whose name means pure, had overcome Haman at his evil core. This was the beginning of his downfall.

The Purim story concludes with, “Layehudim hoyta orah v’simcha v’sasson v’kar.” The Jews gained a new relationship to Torah. They saw Torah as light, instead of hedonism. They saw simcha as something not attained through materialism, but through the resolution of doubt and closeness to Hashem. Sasson, joy, could be acquired not by indulging in physicality but rather uplifting it. They saw brit milah as definitive and beautiful. And they saw that what makes us a serious presence in the world is not what we own but rather our ability to bring Hashem into our lives. This is symbolized by tefilin where Hashem’s name is carved into animal skin.

On Purim, Hashem gives us an opportunity to define who we are. Purim will remain even in the Messianic era. This is because all the other yamim tovim are emanations from Hashem, while on Purim we opened ourselves to Hashem.  It is a holiday of transcendence, a day akin to Yom Kippur when we can reach unimaginable heights through simcha. May this Purim bring us true joy. Announces Fogel Family Remembrance Learning Program

17 03 2011

In response the brutal murders by terrorists of Udi and Rut Fogel and three of their children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, three months, in Israel, has announced a special learning program in their memory.

People around the world are looking for ways to help but are left feeling frozen and helpless.  The only response to such overwhelming tragedy is to strengthen ourselves spiritually. is therefore now featuring a variety of classes, on the topics of Tefilla, Emunah, and Ahavat Yisrael, in memory of the Fogels. May the extra Torah study, and our inspiration to improve ourselves, serve as a merit for the innocent souls who died al kiddush Hashem.

The first two classes in the Fogel Remembrance Learning Program are now available for Free at in streaming video plus mp3 and ipod video download formats:
Tefilla: Proactive Response
by Mrs. Shira Smiles
Mrs. Shira Smiles teaches about Tefilla, prayer, as the proper response to tragedy.  Mrs. Smiles also shows the important role of Tefilla in the celebration of Purim.

Approaching G-d
by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg
Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg helps to understand our relationship to Hashem through a study of the wording on the brachot, the building blocks of prayer.

Over the next 2 weeks more classes will follow by these teachers: Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, Rabbi Shimon Isaacson, Rabbi Moshe N. Reichman and Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum.

Please join us in increasing Torah study and spiritual self- improvement through these shiurim, as a merit to the souls who were taken from this world al kiddush Hashem.

Question Index for Rebbetzin’s Perspective III

13 03 2011

Index for Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series- Rebbetzin’s Perspective III on

Class 1

  • Kibud av and reproaching parents about lashon hara
  • My son acts effeminate
  • Caught in the trap –not a fulltime mother nor free to pursue a career
  • Teaching children how to relate to non-Jews
  • My single older daughter does not dress in line with what she wants in a husband
  • Tzniut and covering ones legs
  • Why do married women need to cover their hair
  • How to build a personal relationship with Hashem
  • I’m a deep thinker, should I look for the same in my future husband?
  • Is the ‘fitted look’ really not ok?


Class 2

  • How to relate to parents disapproval of my husband and our choice to be chareidi
  • Dealing with non-Jewish kids on the block
  • My son tests me with hurtful comments
  • Balancing Gashmiut and Ruchniyut desires
  • Tzniut and how to give reproach


Class 3

  • Determing the minhag for wearing tights
  • How to manage eleven year old daughter going on fifteen
  • Shawls and Redids-Is it in line in today’s times?
  • Husband and wife on different spiritual levels
  • How to deal with five year old daughter’s alarming comments
  • Living in a frum community versus living in a less religious area
  • Help! My daughter hates reading

Purim: Living the Secret

13 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Purim: Living the Secret

The Shivelei Pinchas notes that the essence of Purim is found in one extra letter in the Megilah, “Layehudim l’abdam,” “to destroy the Jews”, which is spelled with an extra yud. Haman’s goal was to take away our “pintele Yid”-the aspect of holiness within us that is eternal. That deep spark came to the fore when Mordechai told Hasach “Parshat hakesef,”-the story of the king’s money. Kesef from the root word kisufim-yearning, hints at a Jew’s deepest longing which is to connect with Hashem. This is what Haman wanted to destroy. As a descendant of Amalek, the paragon of evil, he understood that for holiness to be decimated completely, it must be uprooted at its core.


Purim is about focusing in on our inner souls. “Nichnas yayin yatza sod.”-When wine goes in, secrets are revealed. In this state, our externals are stripped and we can see what really matters to us. Is our essential being one of wanting to do Hashem’s will or do we find our enjoyment in the outside world?  What brings us happiness? What is our focus? What speaks to us? The sin of the Jews was that they took pleasure in the feast. They found joy in a realm outside Torah. Purim is tapping into the Oneness of Hashem, it is rededicating ourselves to Torah and to becoming ovdei Hashem.  The Pachad Yitzchak points out that Purim is like Yom Kippur. However while Yom Kippur is connected with remorse, Purim is not. On Yom Kippur we tell Hashem, “Sin is not my true essence, I will repent. On Purim we proclaim, “This is me, under all the outer trappings I am one with Hashem.”


Happiness is a critical factor in Judaism. Therefore it is prominently highlighted on Purim. People who look for happiness from an external source, will find their simcha limited. Happiness needs to be connected to something internal. Love leads to simcha. Knowledge and understanding enhances love. Therefore to acquire self-love, we must know clearly who we are. In this way we can come to love Hashem.  Ahavat Hashem will then lead to profound happiness. There is no greater simcha than recognizing that we are children of the King. Each of us has a unique relationship with Hashem made up of our individual life situation, trials, and challenges. Purim is the climax when we ask ourselves, “Do I feel a personal bond with Hashem?” Purim is experiencing the joy of kabalat haTorah, the marriage with Hashem, the fact that He tailor designs everything in our lives to help us reach our purpose.  Our challenge on Purim is to experience a day of tremendous physical enjoyment and direct that joy to the most essential joy of  Kiymu v’kiblu. There is no greater happiness than being a Jew.


The Netivot Sholom notes that when the king asks Esther, Mah bakashaseich, “What is your request”, it is really Hashem questioning us, “What is it you need to be more successful in serving Me?” Purim is a day when the heavenly vaults are open. We can ask Hashem for the gift to be a better eved Hashem. Taanit Esther is a time to introspect, a time to focus on what is really important in our lives. Once we have that perspective, we can then proceed to the simcha of Purim with the realization that we are the beloved children of Hashem. May all our prayers be answered l’tova.

Shabbat Scenarios: Kotev and Mochek Part III

11 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Kotev and Mochek Demonstrations, Part 3

·Can you zip or unzip a sweatshirt with words on it on Shabbat? A problem arises with bringing together and breaking apart letters on the shirt much like a book with wording on the side. Therefore, it should be avoided if possible. One can be lenient in cases of necessity as per the Mishna Berura.

·Jigsaw puzzles that are meant to last may not be put together on Shabbat.  Wooden picture puzzles where pieces are fitted into corresponding holes are permitted. Picture puzzles with a background are ok for children. Puzzles that are meant to be taken apart and are affixed to a surface may pose a problem. However if the pieces are on a cardboard background, one can posit that it is the same as affixing a background to a background, which is permitted. Nevertheless adults should avoid this if possible.

·Writing with icing on a cake violates the Rabbinic prohibition of Kotev. It follows that if one cuts  through the letters, one is violating Mochek.  One may not cut through icing with script writing as the letters are attached.

·Are biscuits with lettering ok to eat on Shabbat? The Maharam MiRottenberg prohibited this. Most Acharonim permit it on the basis that the Maharam ruled stringently in a specific case of biscuits which were meant to be erased/consumed as a Kabbalistic segula (good sign) for wisdom.  Indeed the Dagel Merivava notes that it is permitted as one is eating the letters directly, there is no intention to erase, and the writing is temporary. Likewise, the Mishna Berura permits it as one is swallowing letters in the normal manner of eating.

·Are chocolate bars with imbedded words a problem? Here too, the letters are engraved in the bar and one breaks the words with one’s mouth and not with an instrument. The Chazon Ish, ruled stringently and prohibited it. The custom is to be lenient.

·A four- pack yogurt, which when attached form a complete picture, may not be broken apart on Shabbat.

·Food particles stuck to a bentcher may not be removed on Shabbat as one can come to pull letters off a page.

·Food packages with printed words or images should be opened before Shabbat. If one needs to tear them on Shabbat, one should be careful to tear where there are no letters or pictures or between the letters.

·Shoes with soles that leave a written imprint in the snow may be worn on Shabbat as the writing is unintentional.

Advice for a Mother of a Rebellious Daughter

10 03 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Questions and Answers for Today's Jewish Woman,Part 3


I have a daughter who has a streak of rebellion in her.  She is a very intense, responsible, and caring girl. I know that if channeled properly, she can really use her talents.  However, the problem is that her personality often clashes with mine.  She likes to be in control and so do I. She also has a hard time speaking respectfully to me and will accuse and blame me for things.   How shall I manage this eleven year old who is going on fifteen?

First, count yourself lucky. You have a daughter with leadership qualities who will make a great mother and be a wonderful asset to Klal Yisrael. You do however need to consider how to properly guide her. Give her responsibility. If you like her taste, have her choose the clothes for the children for the next day. This will give her something to do and take the chore off of your head. If your preferences clash, tell her, “I’m preparing the clothes for tomorrow. Would you like to get the shoes and book bags ready?” Be clear about the areas you would like her to take responsibility for and then don’t talk, unless something gets radically out of hand. You definitely should not tolerate any insolence. Listen to what she tells you and affirm her words by rephrasing what she said. Tell her she can suggest possibilities, but be very firm that the way you run the house is the way she will have to deal with it. When she wants to offer helpful advice she will need to say things differently. You can tell her, “Let’s not hear complaints, let’s hear positive ideas. If you want to have a constructive role in the house you need to learn how to talk to me.” Repeat this many times. Be very clear that she may not criticize or blame you. She may make suggestions or ask questions. You will listen and if she is right, you will consider her words seriously. Have your husband back you up on this. Be firm but friendly, keep her parameters defined, and hopefully things will work out.

Shabbat Scenarios: Kotev & Mochek Demonstrations

9 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Kotev and Mochek Demonstrations, Part 2

·Can you play Scrabble on Shabbat? The Chayei Adam’s view is that any game that requires keeping score and would normally involve writing should not be played on Shabbat.  The standard Scrabble games which is simply bringing together and distancing letters without affixing them to a permanent surface do not pose a problem with Kotev. However the deluxe editions, where the pieces are affixed to a groove, constitute writing according to Rav Moshe. He also ruled that the game was muktzah.

·Developing X-Ray films creates an image and is prohibited on Shabbat.

·Can you open and close a book that has writing on the side? The Rema rules leniently and permits it. He explains that one is not actually writing or erasing, one is simply bringing together and separating letters. Others add that it is similar to opening and closing a door or window in that it is part of the functionality of the book. However the Levush disagrees and argues that it may be a d’orayta prohibition. The Chazon Ish also rules stringently. Therefore one should avoid doing this if possible. If there is no alternative, one can follow the accepted lenient view held by the Mishne Berura. Random designs on the side of a book do not pose a problem.

Safeguarding Our Holiness

9 03 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Safeguarding our HolinessIn his discussion on Parshat Shekalim, the Shem MiShmuel asks two penetrating questions. The machazit hashekel was donated in Adar and was used to fund the new cycle of korbonot tzibbur (public sacrifices) which commenced in Nissan. Why was it necessary to dedicate the entire month of Adar to collecting the half shekel when it could have easily been accumulated in less time?  Additionally, why is Nissan the beginning of the new season of sacrifices? Why do we not count from Tishrei, when the Jewish year actually begins?


The Gemara in Rosh Hashana notes that the Divine machshava (thought) to create the world took place in Tishrei. The actual creation began in Nissan. Rashi adds that when Hashem first conceived the world, he intended to create it with middat hadin (strict justice). However, because man is such an unpredictable and fickle creature, he foresaw that din alone would not work. Although angels are programmed to do good, humans have free choice and are constantly changing. This is our greatness and also our weakness. Life is a road with many curves, ups and downs, and triumphs and failures. The ultimate victory of good over evil, the battle of the inner self, is the ultimate human struggle. Therefore Hashem decided to use an unpredictable system, midat hachesed. A world based on mercy is a world filled with surprises. Indeed chesed is at the heart and soul of the teshuva process. Man can rectify his deeds by changing his ways. Our instability can create something wondrous, a transformation of self. In Tishrei, we face Hashem’s din. Not too many of us can pass muster. Therefore Hashem gave us a different time frame, Nissan, the month of chesed, the month when the Jewish people sunk in the forty ninth level of impurity were redeemed through Hashem’s mercy.


Life’s purpose is to build a relationship with Hashem. This is achieved through movement from above and below which will always affect a response. In Chassidic terminology it is called “iserusa d’letata” (arousal from below) and “isresua d’leyla” (arousal from above).  This is the difference between Tishrei and Nissan. In Tishrei, the month of din, man must take the first step. It is our obligation to do what is right and Hashem responds in kind. Chesed, on the other hand, begins from Hashem. It comes from above.  We have no claim on it. However there is a factor that can trigger it. Hashem redeemed us from Egypt despite our unworthiness because he saw our potential for greatness. He invested in us. This is the chesed of Nissan. It is a month of awakening, a month when Hashem extends us a credit line and gives us blessings, not for what we are today, but for what we have the potential to become. This is a moving testimony of Hashem’s love for us. We  actualize His trust by tapping in to our will to grow and connecting to the inner point of our soul which can never be destroyed.


Modesty and chastity are the hallmarks of the Jewish nation. Discarding this can cause us to lose our very identity. Yosef was the epitome of modesty. He remained holy despites the many temptations he encountered in Egypt. Mechirat Yosef was the abandonment of that model. The twelve tribes sold Yosef for twenty geira and each of them received half a geira. With the machazit hashekel, we make a commitment to rectify Mechirat Yosef and to follow the example of our holy leaders. We can then be deserving of Hashem’s beneficence.


The month of Adar is dedicated to correcting the sin of immorality, to connecting to the Beit Hamikdash, to bringing the sacrifices necessary to lead a holy life, to becoming a tzaddik like Yosef, and to actualizing the potential Hashem implanted within each of us. In this way we will merit the  heavenly mercy, the isrusa d’leyla, which immediately follows in Nissan, the month of chesed and ultimate redemption.

Purim Inspiration: Esther’s Role

6 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

Purim Inspiration: Esther's Role

Esther, the hero of the Purim story, is a fascinating study in contrasts. If we examine the beginning chapters of the Megilah she appears passive and even somewhat apathetic.  Yet suddenly in the second half of the Megilah, she takes on an entirely different persona. Esther assertively directs Mordechai to gather the Jews and have them fast for three days.  In fact, the Midrash describes a halachic debate which took place between them. While Mordechai protested that the Jews could not fast on Pesach, Esther argued that if all the Jews would be killed there would be no Pesach. And indeed she won out. The Megilah notes further, “Va’yas Mordechai k’chol asher zivsa Esther…”-Mordechai did all that Esther commanded. This is in striking contrast to the beginning of the Megilah where it says, “Es mamar Mordechai Esther asa,”-Esther followed all of Mordechai’s wishes. The formerly passive Esther creatively comes up with twelve different reasons as enumerated in Mesechta Megilah, for inviting Haman and Achashveirosh to a double feast. Later on in the Purim story, she convinces Achasheivrosh to give her Haman’s house, and then places Mordechai in charge. While at the beginning of the Megilah, Mordechai raised Esther, here Esther elevates Mordechai. After Haman was killed, it is Esther who again approaches the king to have the death sentence on the Jews rescinded.  The Megilah continues to emphasize Esther’s active role in writing down the Megilah and establishing Purim as a holiday.


Rav Lichtenstein asks the obvious question, what happened to Esther? How does she suddenly take on the role of an entirely different character? When Mordechai sent Hasach with a message for her to go to the king, she initially refused. Mordechai sent back a message, “Mi yodea im le’s k’zos higat l’malchus”-Who knows whether it was just for a time like this that Hashem selected you to become the queen. Mordechai gave her mussar and she took it to heart and was aroused to action. She resolved to drop her formerly passive behavior and use all her abilities to save Klal Yisrael.  This is a lesson for all of us. Every Jew gifted with a unique ability, quality, or special power has a responsibility to use it in a productive way to help the Jewish people.  This is what Mordechai told Esther and this is what we need to learn for our own lives, whether in our professional, personal, or general interactions with people. Mordechai’s forthright words catalyzed Esther into action. It transformed her from a passive follower into a valiant hero who played a paramount role in saving the Jewish people.