Why Mishloach Manot is Why We Celebrate Purim, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

The Mitzvah of Mishloach Manot has become synanomous with the word Purim, but why? Why is this mitzvah so unique to Purim. “Unique?” you may ask, and the answer is yes. Other mitzvot associated with Purim, can be found in elsewhere in the mitzvot, Matanot la’evyonim the mitzvah of tzdakah, can be found in many others contexts, a seuda—the obligation to have a meal—can be found on Shabbat, Yom Tov, and more, even to obligation to read a Megilah, according to many can be found on Pesach, Sukoot and more, what we are left with is Mishloach Manot. Mishloach Manot remains a mitzvah that is uniquely synanimous with Purim in a way that no other aspect of this day shares. Why?

In order to understand this Mitzvah that is of the essence of Purim, we need to understand what the essence of the holiday of Purim is all about and why we celebrate Purim to begin with. There is a famous story[1] about a person who showed up in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and said that he had decided to become religious and study Torah. The rabbi, dean of that Teshiva, asked him what had inspired this idea. The young man shared with the rabbi that he is an avid mountain-bike rider. One day, when riding on the edge of the mountain, on the verge of a cliff, his mountain-bike slipped and he began rolling towards the edge of the cliff. This life was about to end in a moment. Suddenly, his bike his a small bush and his bike stopped.

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Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Hannukah: Why a Local Military Victory, and a Small Jar of Oil Continue to Inspire Millions Around the World to This Day

Why celebrate Chanukah? It is easy to understand why we celebrate Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and even Purim; all of these holidays mark an even that has a direct impact on who we are. And yet, Chanukah marks two separate miracles, neither of which have any impact on us. The Maccabee revolt in 163 BCE lasted hardly until the year 63 BCE when the Romans occupied Judea, and cannot be considered something that we still benefit from. The oil lasting eight days? Indeed a miraculous event, but in what way does it impact us today? So why celebrate more than 2150 years later when the events it marks have little to no impact on us?

Commentaries wonder furthered: why it is that Jews around the world light the appropriate amount of candles every day of Chanukah despite the fact that Jewish law mandates only the lighting of one candle per day, per household? The stipulation to light more than one candle a day is only for the Mehadrin, those who choose to go the extra mile who light one candle for every member of the household. And so, the common Jewish custom[1] is that we light candles corresponding to the number of days of Chanukah, AND corresponding to the number of family member, something that is far from required but is rather a way of over-observing the laws of Chanukah, why?

To understand this we need to look at the historical background of Chanukah. The Jewish people have returned from their exile in Babylon and have lost the blessing of prophecy not long before. The Jewish people find themselves in a situation similar to those described by the Prophet Amos (8:10) not long before:” Behold, days are coming, says the Lord God, and I will send famine into the land, not a famine for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of the Lord.” The Jewish people felt spiritually abandoned by the disappearance of prophecy and clear leadership.

It is in that time that Hellenistic culture, with all of it’s power, sweeps through their country. For the first time the Jews meet an occupier, that admires their culture. The Greeks admired the Jews as a “nation of philosophers”. The Greeks do not aspire to destroy the Jewish Temple, just to modernize it. They do not reject the rights of Jews as citizens, quite to contrary, they seek to “empower” the Jews, educate them, and help them understand the beauty of Hellenistic culture. The Greeks are supersessionists, not seeking to uproot all that is Jewish.

And indeed, many Jews follow this trend. They became Hellenized, they began worshiping Greek gods, they adopted Greek culture. You did not need to reject your nationality or history to become Hellenized, you just needed to adapt.  It was the first time someone invaded, not the Jewish heartland, but the Jewish heart. It was the first time another culture has made it’s inroads with the language Jews understood better than any language: books and ideas.

Violating the Temple was just another example of what the Greek invasion looked like. It was not about destroying the Temple, it was about “modernizing”[2] it to worship Zeus. It was not about taking away the Menorah and its oil, it was about taking away its meaning and purity.

And so, the first Maccabee revolt and its success, did not only symbolize a military victory, but it signified an ability to maintain the Jewish spirit, in the face of cultural supersessions. It was the first time the Jewish people had experienced and invasion of the spirit, and were triumphant.

This also answers the question discussed by so many commentaries, why it is that Maccabees insisted on searching of a pure jar of oil, despite the law that permits using an impure one in the absence of pure oil? This is because the Maccabees were not looking for a compromise of the spirit; they were seeking its victory.

This is also why it is common custom for Jews around the world to follow the Mehadrin min HaMehadrin custom of lighting one candle per person per night and not just follow the strict letter of the law. On a holiday symbolizing the victory of the spirit and our ability to maintain our uniqueness in the face of the most intimate threats, we rejoice in going the extra mile, in our ability to serve Hashem in the most dedicated way, despite having ways out and the ability to compromise.

This may also be the reason that of all Jewish holidays, Chanukah is also the only one in which there is no instituted food related celebration. Yes, of course there are the latkes, sufganiyot, and more, but there is no obligation to celebrate with a celebratory meal. In a holiday that signifies the victory of the spirit we find nourishment in the most metaphysical element we can see: pure light. Happy Chanukah!













[1] Shulchan Aruch OC 671:2

[2] Special thanks to rabbi Uri Sharki for his eye opening explanation of this matter.

Tisha Be’Av and Why We Need to Forget About the Romans, By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“When bad things happen to a group, its members can ask one of two questions: “What did we do wrong?” or “Who did this to us?” The entire fate of the group will depend on which it chooses.”(Lord Jonathan Sacks)

It was the great Roman empire and Titus Vespasian who destroyed the Beit Hamikdash almost two thousand years ago, except it wasn’t and it would help us a great deal to understand that they were not the ones to destroy the Beit Hamikdash.

Yes, this does refer in part to the rabbinic teaching (Talmud Bavli, Yuma 9a) that says:” why was the first Temple destroyed? Because of three things it had: idle worship, idolatry, and bloodshed. Why was the second Temple destroyed? Because of baseless hate(“sinat chinam”) that they had among them.” These words bringing Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, the great founder of the first modern day Yeshiva system, to write[1] that it is only after the Jews had destroyed the Temple’s spiritual infrastructure that God allowed Titus to come along and destroy the remaining physical representation of what the Temple was really all about.

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Ruth, Shavuot, and the Power of ‘Yes We Can,’ By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

While being a potential bestseller and most viewed on Netflix, the story of a Moabite princess who took upon herself poverty and estrangement in following her ex-mother in law into a strange land, would not be your predicted required text for a solemn day marking receiving the Torah at Saini. And yet, it is. Why did the rabbis Institute reading the book of Ruth on Shavuot and how did this once-impoverished-immigrant become the Royal Matriarch of the most powerful bloodline the Jewish people have ever seen–the House of David.

To properly understand this, we zoom out on the journey, which brought Ruth to the land of Israel. Midrashic sources teach that when Elimelekh, Ruth’s father in law, left Israel, he left in a cowardly manner[1]. Hunger and poverty descended on the land of Israel. Elimelekh, a wealthy man, did not want to hear more beggars knocking on his door nor did he want any more hungry neighbors dwindling his supply of food. He packed up and left for Moav. Elimelekh, the philanthropist and community leader, leaves his townsmen at the peak of their most difficult moment. Even as famine and poverty strike, he dives for the exit.

After Elimelekh’s family arrives in Moav and his two sons marry girls from among the Moabite aristocracy, he and his tow sons die in Moav. His two daughters in law, Ruth, and Orpah face a similar, yet far more difficult, choice than the choice Elimelekh faced not long ago. They can leave their old and impoverished ex-mother in law to her own fate of poverty and loneliness, or they can risk joining that very same fate, by joining her. Ruth and Orpah now can either remain with their well-established families in Moav, or they can join an old (former) mother in law who can guarantee only poverty and loneliness.

The right choice seems obvious—leave Naomi. And yet, unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. She accepts Judaism, its commandments, difficulties, and begins traveling with Naomi to an unknown land—the land of Israel.

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Chanukah and The World’s Oldest Love-Hate Relationship, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

How do the Greeks go down in Jewish history books? Are they the “good guys” or the “bad guys?” A look at the Chanukah story offers a seemingly obvious answer: the Greeks were the bad guys and the Maccabees were the good guys. However, when taking a closer look at Jewish historical and philosophical sources, the matter is not as simple as it may seem. The clash between Jewish and Greek cultures seems to be so great, only because of the profound similarities. When thinking of the relationship between the Jewish and Greek culture, one cannot help but think of Sigmund Freud’s words: “not infrequently…friend and enemy have coincided in the same person.”

The rabbis teach us that while it is forbidden to write a kosher Torah scroll in any language other than its original Hebrew, there is one exception to that – one can write it in Greek. The rabbis (Megilah 9b) learn this from the verse “May God expand Japheth, and may He dwell in the tents of Shem” (Bereishit 9:27). The rabbis understand this to be teaching that “the beauty of Yefet—Greece—may dwell in the tents of Shem (the Jews).” The fact that the only two languages in which a kosher Torah can be written are Hebrew and Greek, speaks volumes of the place of importance that Greece holds in Judaism.

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Yes, Being Jewish Means Being a Zionist, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

Does being Jewish mean that you are a Zionist? Realizing that Judaism is around for more than 3,300 years while Zionism is around for no more than 200 years, can easily lead to the conclusion that they are not the same. Sadly, such an understanding is no longer even thinkable. The existential threats made to Jews around the world, in the name of “anti-Zionism”, and our shared fate as a people, say it very clearly-if you are Jewish, you are a Zionist.

The term “Zionists” used by the enemies of the Jewish people, refers not only to one kind of Jews, nor does it refer to all kinds of Jews living in Israel, but it is used to refer to all Jews living anywhere in the world. When Hezbollah claims to be an anti-Zionist organization fighting Israel’s occupation and then goes on to call for killing Jews all over the world, that should be pretty clear evidence for this. When Gaza girls who are supposedly taught to hate only the “occupier”, sing for the death of all Jews, that should be pretty convincing. When Chassidic Jews are stabbed and beaten in Brooklyn, Antwerp, London, Melbourne, and Jerusalem-all when “anti-Zionism”, that should give a clear idea of what this is all about. When they attack the “Zionists”, they are really attacking all Jews.

Why is this so important? Can the enemies of the Jewish people really affect our religious and political outlook? It’s important because this has to do with the core of what being Jewish means.

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Chametz on Pesach: Making the Jewish People Late Again, by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko

“Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open”-Alexander Graham Bell

After years of eating Matzah on Pesach, I am starting to have second thoughts. No, not second thoughts about fulfilling this mitzvah of eating matzah- but second thoughts about the commonly known reason for eating matzah.

We are told in the Haggadah, that the reason we eat matzah is because the Jewish people did not have time to wait for the bread to rise[i]. If indeed this is really the reason, why is it that the Jewish people ate matzah on the first Passover night ever? After all, the Jewish people had been commanded to eat matzah on the fifteenth of Nisan-the night before the Exodus- even before the reason of “leaving in haste” has ever become applicable.

Furthermore, if indeed the reason for eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is to remember the haste in which the Jewish people left Egypt, one can only wonder why we are commanded to eat matzah Pesach night. Why not eat matzah when haste was in place, on the fifteenth of Nisan-the morning of Pesach?

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