Category Archives: JEWISH HOLY DAYS



                  Even when change involves something longed for – marriage, a promotion, a new job, a new house – there is often a reluctance to leave the old and familiar.  The story of yetzias Mitzrayim, Kriyas Yam Suf, the midbar and the entry into Eretz Israel are all narratives about the challenges that accompany transformation. They teach profound and enduring lessons about change and what it means in terms of development and growth.

                 During the forty year journey in the midbar, whenever the pillar of fire stopped, the nation began a period of temporary encampment before moving forward to the next level. Each stage of the journey, although demanding, was a golden opportunity to reach even greater heights in faith and submission.  

       At various stages of our lives we also have our “protective clouds” lifted from us and are then directed with a “pillar of fire” to move from our “comfort zones” in order to meet the challenges that engage us along the way. Our biggest asset in development is when we overcome the barriers and inconveniences that hinder our growth. Transcending these impediments requires a redefining of self, therefore it is precisely when we allow those tests to remold our consciousness from a position of complacency and over confidence to a place (encampment) of humble acceptance that we are most rewarded. 

            As we progress through life, we find that some of our most difficult changes involve shifts in attitude. A very common feeling is that hard work should be rewarded with achievement and benefits. When lack of seeming accomplishment follows on the heels of tremendous effort, a person can go into a paralysis of sorts.  Whether we are pursuing a new job, a shidduch or better davening, when we have put forth much effort it is natural to feel we are entitled to some measure of success. This is especially true because our society around us puts such a premium on results, rather than on effort.

         So let us travel through the Yam Suf together now, cleansing ourselves of the old ideologies in order to make room for the Sinai experience that will follow. We were all surprised when we first learned that the Israelites did not cross over to the opposite side of the Yam Suf, but rather traveled in a half circle, emerging from the Yam Suf on the same side that they had entered in.  Although it would seem that the Bnei Israel were going “around in circles” and did not actually proceed on their journey, yet this proved to be of the greatest benefit.  As a result of this circuitous passage, the possessions of the Egyptian pursuers washed up at their feet; with the Chazal informing us that this treasure was even far more valuable than the wealth that the Israelites brought out of Mitzrayim. Here is a lesson for all generations that when we follow the path of the Torah, accepting Hashem’s  will irregardless of the results, we become beneficiaries of  the greatest of treasure which is closeness to Him.

   Perhaps we can also learn another valuable insight from the fact that each of the twelve Shevatim traveled in their specified positions both through the Yam Suf as well as during the forty years in the Midbar. This can help to teach us never to feel envious if a sibling, fellow student, co-worker or neighbor looks to be in a better “position” in life, as illustrated by the following:  In a jewelry store, the gold and diamonds are placed behind the glass counters, while the silver ornaments are more frequently handled because they need to be polished. The conclusion that could be mistakenly drawn by a stranger unfamiliar with the values of precious stones and jewelry is that the silver items that receive the “shiny” attention are more valuable. Therefore a possible lesson that we can derive from the individual positioning of the Shevatim is to realize that following our perfectly divinely crafted pathways in life will lead us to the development of our own unique “golden” talents which are truly our most cherished possessions.

             May we all always merit to pass through our personal Yam Suf challenges with joy, gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to experience change and the growth that accompanies it, transforming ourselves into vessels worthy of holding the Torah. May our inner and outer essence be as pure as refined gold, inlaid with sincere humility.

               Zeh Keli V’anveihu!

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia





     In a few  verses (pesukim) in the beginning of the
Book of Exodus (Sefer Shemos) , the Torah sets in motion the political
and emotional forces that were to keep the children of Israel in bondage for
the next two hundred and ten years. 
These same forces which were aimed at keeping this nascent people
enslaved to  materialistic pursuits,
goals and values have operated as a snare throughout history and are present
today, only the stage setting has changed and the fact of the bondage has been well

The mindset that led to the
subjugation of the Children of Israel in Egypt was their yearning to be like
everyone else – to assimilate into the Egyptian culture.  In their eagerness to be a part of that culture,
many mistakenly replaced their service of the Creator (Hashem) with loyal
service to the governing regime in a manner far beyond and above that which is
required by the ordinary dictates of good citizenship.                     

            Pharaoh, who personifies the Jewish
nemesis, the yetzer hara, understood that as long as the Jewish people
were living in accordance with high standards of spiritual development,” he
would not be able to subjugate them. 
They were the beneficiaries of Hashem’s promise to Avraham our
forefather  – a promise which was to be
eternally evidenced by the bris mila, covenant of circumcision.  However, after Joseph died, some of the Jews
stopped circumcising their sons because they wanted to emulate the
Egyptians.  (Midrash Rabba
I:8).  In order to prevent their assimilation,
Hashem transformed the appreciation the Egyptians previously had into a feeling
that the Bnei Israel had become a threat to them.

The yetzer hara, in the
guise of Pharaoh, then changed its form, face and presentation in order to
subjugate the Israelites and turn them into servants of the state. 

To induce the Israelites to participate in their building
program, the Egyptians hung a brick kiln around Pharaoh’s neck, inviting the
Jews to join him in brick making.  Each Israelite
man went to work making as many bricks as possible, which thereafter became the
expected quota. The Jews thus became willing accomplices in their own
enslavement, wooed and won over by this appeal to “love of country.” This
technique, oft repeated in Jewish history, trapping them into assimilation and
distancing them from their connection to the teachings (Torah) of the

              Modern society today poses a
different but equally challenging test, by placing the modern equivalent of the
brick kiln around the necks of those who act as role models teaching that true  value can be measured only in terms of money
and or  fame.


to Bondage

By the time the Israelites began
to see the futility and hypocrisy of their alliance with Pharaoh, it was too
late. The bondage had become an addiction.   The Bnei Yisrael were given the task
of building arei miskenos, cities, whose names were Pisom and Ra’amseis.
The word miskenos has the same root as the word miskein which
means misfortune or poverty.    Pisom
means sudden or immediate.  It also can
refer to the mouth of the abyss, pi tehom (Midrash Rabba
I:10).  Ra’am means loud, like a

            In our hectic lives, where sudden and
immediate claims upon our time are an all too frequent occurrence, if we are
not discerning, we may find that we are building Pisom.  We may also necessarily be building Ra’amses,
since these calls to duty are usually loud and very difficult to ignore. One of
the ploys of the yetzer hara is to persuade us that we must accomplish everything
we have set out to do which can lead to feel overwhelmed. Pharaoh well
understood that working without respite on purposeless tasks that could never
be completed would weaken the physical, mental, emotional and most importantly
spiritual health of the Nation.

         Acting too
quickly and assuming excessive obligations without enough considered thought as
to their value and purpose can make a person feel like a slave. The connection between
such a distressing state of affairs and the bondage in Egypt is apparent. We
can now readily see how these words of our eternal Torah apply to anyone at any
time:  “They embittered their lives with avoda
, hard work, bechomer, with mortar and with leveinim,
bricks, and with every labor of the field; all the labors that they performed
with them were with crushing harshness” (Shemos 1:14).   The work was kasha, hard.  This word is related to the word for straw, kash,
to hint to us that work is hard when it is like straw to us, that is, when it
is commonplace and purposeless.   Mortar,
chomer, which in Hebrew also means material, represents that which is stripped
of spiritual content and inspiration. 
Even without purpose and without inspiration we can still produce leveinim,
bricks, but when one works under those circumstances they are reduced to field
laborers (avoda basadeh) deprived of higher motivation, dignity and joy.



But take heart; there is a way out.  There is an answer that may surprise us.  Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh to release us
because we are being called upon to serve Hashem.   Service of the Creator is not always easy,
but it has all of the components that make it humane and perfect.  It provides meaningful obligations that have
an eternal reward.  It provides periodic
rest periods on Shabbos and Holy Days dedicated to  joy and rest for our weary souls. 

           When we
stop and take stock of our options and our strengths, the time we have, the
things we must do in order to fulfill our obligations as Jews as opposed to
those things that we may be doing to serve some other cultural demand, we may
be pleasantly surprised by the result. 
We may be able to simplify our lives and our goals and live in greater
harmony then we ever thought possible.

 The job of the Egyptian taskmasters was to
maximize the burdens upon the Israelites which ultimately shortened their
servitude and enhanced their purification in the caldron that was Egypt.  It is precisely when the “task masters of
time” bear down upon us that we have the opportunity to cull the necessary from
the unnecessary and focus upon those matters that are essential to our spiritual
work.  This level of discernment can be  achieved by sincerely asking for Hashem’s
help in the process. 

This will actualize Pharaoh’s
fear that we will  “go up [be raised up]
from the land.”  “The land” which
represents our physical and mental attachment to this world will no longer have
a hold on us.  When we cleave to Hashem
through His Torah, we will be elevated to a higher level of consciousness
referred to as “the children of (Bnei) Israel.”

The Torah teaches us that the
more the Jewish nation was afflicted the more they increased and spread out.
This means that even during this period when we, as a nation, were far from
reaching the perfect service of Hashem, His Divine Radiance was still with
us.  In the dark and immoral environment
of Egypt,
Israelite slaves, who were deprived of all the benefits that culture and civilization
are thought to bestow, were being forged into a holy nation.  The very harshness of the bondage actually
strengthened the potential in each Israelite, so that when the time was ripe,
Hashem would redeem us. The teaching here is very profound as it is a lesson to
us that suffering and affliction can have very beneficial results. We do not
ask for tests, but if they come, they can inspire our best performances. From
this spiritual plateau we will not only be free from Pharaoh and Mitzrayim but
we will be able to fulfill the will of the Creator in the holy land of Eretz Israel.

               May we
merit this soon in our days.  

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia





  It’s the night of the first seder and your grandfatheris sitting at the head of the table. He breaks the middle matza, wraps it upand hides it behind his  pillow. This isthe afikoman which is destined to become the highlight of the seder.

  You are still very young and don’t yet appreciate its value. Your grandfather gets upfor a moment and when your uncle points to the pillow saying, “Get it now,quickly, while he’s not looking,” you hesitate, feeling quite shy.

Itisn’t just this unfamiliar prompting, but it’s everything –the house looks sodifferent. The table is much longer than usual– it’s white and beautiful withlots of shiny glasses, sparkling silver and guests. All the table tops andcounter tops are covered with colorful plastic and the sink has some kind ofmetal tub inside it. Nonetheless, you finally get up and  with a burst of courage you move closer to yourgrandfather’s chair, hesitating, until some one prompts you, “Quick, grab itand run.”

Fora second, you feel afraid, but as soon as it is in your hand, your brothertells you to quickly run and hide it. You run to do what he says and you startto feel excited and happy.  The sedermoves ahead. Everyone has eaten. Just when  you are starting to feel very sleepy, yourgrandfather asks you for the afikomen. You go to get it, and your big brother tells you to wait, and explainsthat you must ask for a really big present and get a promise  before you give it back. This scene isrepeated in tens of thousands of Jewish households across the world on Passovernight.

Doesn’tit seem a bit odd?  Here we are seeminglyallowing our small children to take something that doesn’t belong to them and ontop of that extort a prize for their efforts. All this takes place on one ofthe holiest nights of the year.  How canwe possibly understand this conduct?

  Usually the evil inclination tries to lure aperson into improper behavior using thrills and excitement. Even though we wantto avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply cannot discard theevil inclination.  As in the well known Medrash,when the Sages prayed to remove the yetzer hara and Hashem answered their prayers,even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The evil inclination is necessary but needsto be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur mei ra, avoid evil, yetpreserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our good deeds.  But how do we do this? 

     We are, perhaps, doing precisely this whenwe encourage our children to take the afikomen. We are allowing our young and pure children to experience the excitementthat is motivated by the evil inclination when engaged in risky, dangerous andthrill seeking conduct.  We do this bygiving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.” As the child grows up,that spiritual inoculation that was administered in the name of Heaven and withlove continues to act as an antidote against the infectious powers of the evilinclination.  Indeed, that small dose, onPassover Night, affords the child the ability to rekindle those exuberant feelings directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing mitzvos and good deeds.

How can the same small “taste of desire” act as a vaccine shielding the child from harm, while at the same time inspiring the child with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the setting in which this taste is given.  The seder night is called, lay’l shemurim,the night of watching – the perfect night for this process to take place. It isa time when the forces of evil are subdued. 

    You may be wondering, how can this spiritualinoculation continue to protect us into our adult years?   Possiblythe answer is we use booster shots!  Oh,we are not suggesting that this Pesach you grab the afikoman, however we shouldwatch the child who is taking it and allow that small child inside of us torelive and rekindle those feelings of joy, exuberance and enthusiasm. Thatalone will allow us to tap into our wellspring of positive emotions.

Maywe all merit to bring the korbon Pesach,Passover sacrifice, to the Holy Temple inJerusalem soon in our days.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia



         On your way to (Pesach) Passover,don’t  pass over Purim.  Ah Purim, how we all appreciate you eventhough you tantalize us,  mystify usand  laugh with us as we struggle to understandyou.   Like Yom Kippur, you help us toreach a destination called forgiveness but what a difference in the trip.  You allow us to atone for our sins withmerriment and with eating and with drinking– a lot of drinking.    On Yom Kippur we abstain. On Yom Kippur weremove our shoes, while you get us to put on an extra pair of clown shoes. OnYom Kippur we refrain from anointing ourselves while you allow us to us smearour faces and bodies with extra creams and cosmetics. On Yom Kippur we stayawake and focused while you – Purim – lead us to take an extra drink and or alittle extra sleep.  How does this happen?

             Maybe we can find an answer using  your mitzvah of drinking wine –everythingbecomes clearer with a little wine and even clearer with more wine  . . . Let’s see, where was I ? Oh yes, Drinking can easily bring a person tofrivolity and nonsense, yet you, Purim, are (mehapech) the opposite,  you make a switch and the wine we drink takesus up the spiritual ladder towards purity and strivings towards kiddusha.

You’re reallyclever.  You  fool our (yetzer hora) negative inclinationby giving  it just what it wants lots ofwine and maybe even some more and then all of a sudden, it can’t connive ordeceive any more because (nichnas yayin yotzei sod) once wine goes in, on thisunique holy day, then the inner yearnings of our pure Jewish soul come out. 

You put masks onus to strip our masks away. All of a sudden we may realize that our regular,ordinary, middle of the road conduct is really the result of our inner battlebetween these two forces. Now we get a chance to glimpse at our dark side andthrough the special loftiness of this day can actually laugh at it, with that laughter freeing us from its negative influence hopefullynot just for this day, but forever.

When we see beyondthe mask, we learn how not to judge. Throughout the year we may be guilty oftoo quickly evaluating and judging others on a very shallow level. On Purimwhen a (adel) sweet person puts on a scary mask, we are not frightened becausewe know that behind the mask is a precious soul.  So, too, in the real world, every Jew hasgood points which we should focus on and therefore not be so quick to judgeanyone superficially.

               Ah Purim, you don’t have ussimply ask (mechila) forgiveness, of our friends, you tell us to say it withpresents.  How so? We give two gifts toat least one friend and minimally one gift to each of two poor people. One ofthe great Rabbis makes an observation asking why are we obligated to give atleast double to a friend and only minimally one gift to each of the poor?  He answers that the poor gratefully accept whateverwe offer, but we might have offended our friends over the course of the yearand they may continue to harbor resentment. On Purim we are commanded to make aspecial effort to repair these breaches in all relationships especially thosewhich have weakened. Therefore we should  “redouble” our efforts with sincere gifts andsend a clear message to both close friends and  estranged acquaintances  that we are sincerely interested in healing thepast and rebuilding the future together. Also we give them gifts that don’tneed preparation – ie. ready to eat – to hint to them that they do not have tomake any – preparations – changes in themselves – in order for us to acceptthem as they are.

            On Purim, the poor can make usrich.  One reason we are only minimallyrequired to give one gift to each of at least two needy people is because aslong as we don’t see the poor as our friends we ourselves are spiritually poor,however, if we see every Jew, including the needy, as our friends, then we willgenerously lavish them with gifts thereby taking them out of their physical povertyand ourselves our of our spiritual poverty.

       Ah Purim,

leave us with one more gift,leave us with your special smile which inspires our hearts as we prepare forthe next stage of our journey that being the wonderful Pesach transformation.


All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia