Rabbi Rael Blumenthal

This week, our world will be shrinking.

This is not a deep or philosophical statement. It has nothing to do with current events or geopolitics. It's all about Pesach, and where we are not allowed to be.

In a very real way, spaces and places in our homes that are usually fair game will soon become out of bounds. The living room used to be a fun place to munch on a chewy bar but not any more! Invisible boundaries will quickly materialize; that which was normal yesterday, will become strictly off-limits.

Our kids do not enjoy this process. “Don't touch that! No food in that room! Pasta gets eaten outside!”

Most upsetting for our children is the steadily depleting supply of snacks – which will not be replenished until after Pesach. Last year, two days before pesach, one of my children opened the pantry to find nothing of interest, other than raisins (Gasp!). It was a tough day in the Blumenthal home.

Aside from the first-world-problems that our children are subjected to, we, as their parents, will be having a challenging week as well.


On Sunday I came home to find Aliza sitting on the couch feeding our baby. She was crying. Concerned, I asked what was wrong? What happened? She told me that a teen had fallen to his death at an amusement park in Orlando. It's a picture that's difficult to unsee.

Undoubtably, the horror of this tragedy strikes close to our hearts, and the sadness and shock made its way into our home.

On Monday, I walked into class and found my students embroiled in a heated debate about whether it was appropriate to slap another person in public for insulting ones spouse. Some of my students were raising their voices. Tensions were high, and apparently, the anger on display at the Oscars made its way into our classroom.

Last week, watching the levaya of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and hearing some of the hespedim filled me with sadness and tenderness, grief and gratitude. I hope that I have shared some of those feelings with my family, community, friends and students.

It's not a secret: Emotions are contagious. An event that happens to another person in another place that we don't even know can trigger a powerful wave of feelings, that, in turn can affect the people around us. But there is a peculiarity to these effects, because the strength of our emotional response is sometimes bizarrely disproportionate.


At the 13th Siyum Hashas of the Daf Yomi in NY, Rav Chaim Kanievsky זצוק״ל was live streamed from his tiny apartment in Bnei Brak. After making the Siyum, they asked Rav Chaim to give a Bracha to all those who had finished Shas. He responded, with his signature smile to those who finished Shas: “You should merit to know Shas.”

We all know that qualitatively, there's a big difference between finishing and knowing. Of those that finish Shas, there are few who know it, and none that know it like Rav Chaim knew it.

In a those few short words, Rav Chaim exposed the shame of most learners of the Daf Yomi. We simply don't know it. And he gave us all a bracha to remedy that fact.

Of course, the same is true of any intellectual endeavor. Merely completing a study of the material does not automatically convey knowledge. Once we have finished it, we need to constantly review and relearn it until we assimilate the material into our minds. And even once we have mastered a particular text or curriculum, we are charged with the constant battle against forgetting.

For this reason, Talmud Torah is a lifelong pursuit. We are constantly staving off the forgetfulness that threatens to wipe away our efforts. If we take the obligation of knowing Torah seriously, it necessitates a certain anxiety for which a diligent commitment to Torah is the antidote. Although, antidote is probably the wrong word. The anxiety never really goes away, some of us simply get better at remembering. Others tragically settle, exchanging nervousness for sadness. We adjust our expectations so that we don't really expect that we'll ever achieve “knowing”.

I seems then, that a life of Talmud Torah is a life of managing the anxiety of future failure, and/or the depression of never achieving success. True Simcha in Torah and Mitzvos is thus, by definition, quite rare, and reserved for the privileged few who are capable of superhuman efforts. This, in itself, is devastatingly disheartening.

But it doesn't need to be this way.


A few weeks ago, as I walked into shiur, my talmidim were already embroiled in a halachic debate. The question: Should you make a bracha before eating non-kosher food?

Before they asked for my thoughts, they told me the parameters of the question: Firstly, this is not a life-and-death situation. You know that this not kosher, and you also know that eating non-kosher food is prohibited. You are not starving and there are other food options available. You simply want to eat the non-kosher item.



  • All Jews over the age of Bar/Bas Mitzvah are obligated in hearing the Megillah. Children should be encouraged to attend Megillah for as long as they can without disturbing.
  • The night Megillah reading should begin after dark. This year in Boca Raton, after 8:05PM.
  • The day Megillah should be read after sunrise. This year in Boca Raton, after 7:28AM. One should not delay the mitzvah of Megillah, but in extenuating circumstances, the Megillah can be read at any point throughout the day. The latest time to conclude the Megillah is sunset: 7:30PM.

Mishloach Manos

  • The purpose of Mishloach Manos is to increase friendship amongst Klal Yisrael (Manos HaLevi, Ester 9:20), and to ensure that every Jew has food for Seudat Purim (Terumas HaDeshen 111). Both men and women are obligated in Mishloach Manos.
  • The obligation is fulfilled by giving two foods to one person on Purim day. (Shulchan Aruch OC 695:4)
    • The items should be fully prepared foods that are usually eaten at a Seuda. (Meat, chicken, fish, bread, kugel, wine etc...)
    • These foods may have the same bracha, so long as they are two distinct portions.
  • In addition to the obligation of Mishloach Manos, many have the custom of giving gift/goodie bags to friends and neighbors. These do not have to be “ready for Seuda items.”
  • One fulfills the obligation of Mishloach Manos by contributing to the Shul's Mishloach Manos drive.

Matanos L'Evyonim

  • Both men and women are obligated to give Matanos L'evyonim. The purpose of Matanos L'Evyonim is to ensure that no Jew feels left out from the Simcha of Purim. It is better to upgrade our gifts to poor than to upgrade the Seuda or Mishloach Manos. (Rambam Hilchos Purim 2:17)
  • The obligation is fulfilled by giving a minimum of a “perutah” (approximately $1.25) to at least two poor people on Purim day.
  • One fulfills the obligation of Matanos L'Evyonim by contributing to the Shul's Matanos L'Evyonim. This money will be distributed on Purim day.
  • You can give ahead of Purim by visiting brsonline.org/mle

Zecher L'Machatzis HaShekel

  • In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, one was obligated in paying dues to the Beis HaMikdash. In the absence of this mitzvah, we give a sum of money to commemorate this mitzvah (Rama 694:1).
  • Some have the minhag to give it before Mincha of Ta'anis Ester, while some have the minhag to give it after Mincha but before reading of the Megillah.
  • Ashkenazic minhag is to give three coins which are half the value of the common coin in that time and place. In America, the minhag is to give three half dollars.
  • Sephardic minhag is to give an amount worth 7.5-10 grams of pure silver (Kaf HaChaim 694:20). At todays price, approximately $8.25.


  • During the Seudah, one should have intent that one is eating the meal in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Seudas Purim.
  • The meal should be eaten with friends and family during Purim day.
  • The meal should ideally consist of meat and wine (Rambam Megillah 2:15). The seudah can, however, be fulfilled by eating other foods.

Ad D’lo Yada

  • It is important to prioritize the mitzvos of proper Chinuch, Derech Eretz and looking after our health and wellbeing over the obligation of getting drunk on Purim. This can be fulfilled by drinking slightly more than one is used to.
  • In general, there are many mitzvos that we can choose to be strict about. If one is looking for chumros, drinking on Purim should not be the first place to start.


  • During the year of mourning for a parent, one is obligated in Mishloach Manos and Matanos L'Evyonim as usual. However, Mishloach Manos should not be given to the mourner.
  • Mourners may accept Mishloach Manos that are given to them. (Best practice is to address Mishloach Manos to the family, rather than an individual.)
  • Mourners are likewise obligated in the mitzvah of Seuda, taking care that it not be excessive in size or attendance.

”...From Refidim to Shushan, and from Shushan to France, and from France to Spain, and from Spain to Ukraine... The length of our 'Parshas Zachor' is too terrifying to hear.”B'Ikvos HaYirah pg.34

These frighteningly relevant words were not written this week. They were said over 100 years ago in Berlin by Rabbi Avraham Elya Kaplan, the brilliant talmid of Teshe and Slabodka. At the age of thirty, he was was appointed to Rosh Yeshiva of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary, a position that he held until his tragic passing just four years later.

I am now older than Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan was when he left this world, and this year is the first time that I have witnessed an inkling of the war-torn world that defined his life in the early 20th century.

It seems so distant to us now, but for most of Jewish history, we didn't need an annual Torah reading to remind us about Amalek. The scars on our skin and the pain in our hearts were sufficient reminders that there was real evil in the world.

But our generation has been fortunate. We are living in a period historians have called “the long peace”; almost eighty years since world powers met in direct combat. Perhaps that peace is now over, though we daven that it not be.


This past week, we have seen the world return war, in a way we hoped would never resurface.

On Erev Shabbos, Rabbanim in Ukraine told their community that they should violate Shabbos in order to get out of the country. It's a frightening thought that takes us back to questions the were posed to Gedolim in Europe decades and centuries ago.

But not everything is the same. There is one thing that is fundamentally different this time:

Sivan Rahav Meir posted this incredible story:

Natan Sharansky spoke at a Sheva Brachot gathering in honor of the wedding of Benaya and Neta Dickstein. Benaya's parents, Yossi and Chanah, were murdered in a terrorist attack when he was seven years old. It's too bad that only those in attendance heard Sharansky, the famous prisoner of Zion, speak as follows:

“When I was growing up in Ukraine, in Donetsk, there were many nations and nationalities. There were those with identity papers that read 'Russian,' 'Ukrainian,' 'Georgian,' or 'Kozak.' This was not so important since there was not much difference between them. The single designation that stood out was 'Jew.' If that was written as your identity, it was as if you had a disease.

“We knew nothing about Judaism. There was nothing significant about our Jewish identity other than the anti-Semitism, hatred, and discriminatory treatment we experienced because of it. When it came to a university application, for example, no one tried to change his designation from 'Russian' to 'Ukrainian' because it did not matter. However, if you could change your designation of 'Jew,' it substantially improved your chances of university admission.

“This week, I was reminded of those days when I saw thousands of people standing at the borders of Ukraine trying to escape. They are standing there day and night and there is only one word that can help them get out: 'Jew.' If you are a Jew, there are Jews outside who care about and are waiting for you. There is someone on the other side of the border who is searching for you. Your chances of leaving are excellent.

“The world has changed. When I was a child, 'Jew' was an unfortunate designation. No one envied us. But today on the Ukrainian border, identifying as a Jew is a most fortunate circumstance. It describes those who have a place to go, where their family, an entire nation, is waiting for them on the other side.”

For the first time in Jewish history, we are not caught in between the wars of other nations. Our people in Ukraine have the possibility and the resources to escape. We have a homeland to run to, and brothers and sisters around the world who can and do help. We, here in Boca, can make a difference, and those who have means to help contribute to the rescue of Acheinu Beis Yisroel should absolutely do so. I'll be happy to help you direct those funds.

But I want to understand, deeply, how it is that we have this power today, when we never had it before. The secret is hidden in a Chizkuni in Parshas Beshalach. When Moshe tells Yeshoshua to choose people to fight against Amalek, there is a specific group of people that he knows will win the war: People born in the month of Adar Sheni.

בחר לנו אנשים – שנולדו באדר השני ואין להם לירא ממכשפות שהרי אין בו מזל, ובני עמלק מכשפנים הם, ויש להם יכולת בי״ב מזלות, ובעת שאין בו מזל אין כשוף מצליח.

The Bnei Yissachar (אדר מאמר ד׳ אות י״א) explains:

The system of this world operates with the laws of nature – the constellation/Mazalos. These can be exploited, perverted and harnessed for evil. But we have the power to exist beyond that. We can declare another month: Adar Sheni. This month is outside the natural order. We chose it; and by doing so we declare that we are not bound by the powers of the world. We can escape.

Amalek represents the world of randomness, nature and determinism. But Adar Sheni is the proof that we can overcome any and all the circumstances in our life.

My dear friends, we are living in the generation of Adar Sheni. We are Adar Sheni Jews. There's a escape hatch from the insanity of the world – All we need to do is say “I am a Jew!”, and the Master of All Worlds will schlep us out to the world of Nisan, the real redemption.

Hashem, we need Your help. Our brothers and sisters need Your help. Please give us the strength to be Adar Sheni Jews this Shabbos, this month, this year.

This week, I had the privilege of spending time with some old friends and colleagues at the YU Alumni Yarchei Kallah here in Boca. (For those that are wondering about the picture, it turns out that Rabbis are pretty good at Axe-Throwing.)

Aside from the learning, connecting and sharing of ideas, simply being together with friends from Yeshiva invites a certain nostalgia. Of course, this experience is not unique to Rabbanim; we all feel it to some extent when encountering people and places that take us back to different times in life.

I have grown to appreciate these moments as an opportunity to reengage with the parts of myself that made the decision to become a Rabbi. Speaking to like-minded friends in similar positions reminds me of the excitement, passion and joy that I have for a life of community service, learning and teaching.

Truthfully, dedicating time to reflect on these thoughts and emotions is something that I don't do enough of in any area of my life. I'm working on getting better at it. But from discussions with friends, colleagues and guys in shul, I don't believe I'm the only one struggling with this issue.

To crystallize the problem: At some point in time, we fell in love with an activity, an idea, a dream, or a person. That passion drove us to choose to make it a priority in our lives. But in the weeks, months and years since that choice, passion has given way to a sense of obligation. And all too often we grow resent those obligations.

I hear this from good, well-meaning, loving parents all the time. Recently, a close friend told that for years he and his wife had davened and yearned for children. But now he's feeling strangely guilty since their tefillos were answered. A few years later the daily grind and the constant obligations of child raising have stolen the joy of parenting. It is not as inspiring and uplifting as he once dreamed.

The staggering divorce rates in our communities prove that the same happens in marriages. At some point, the spark which was so bright under the Chuppah is barely flickering.

Ba'alei Teshuva and converts have often described feeling this way about Yiddishkeit in general. “I fell in love with something, but I don't even know what it is anymore. I certainly don't feel the same way.”

We have all felt and thought these things in the worlds of dieting, exercising, starting a company, learning the Daf, coming to minyan, learning a new language, or mastering a musical instrument. At some point, enjoyment fades and obligation sets in. As time marches on, it seems less and less likely that the results we once dreamed of will ever come to fruition.

We begin to wonder why we made these choices, why we obligated ourselves in the first place. We question if perhaps these decisions were simply made by younger versions of ourselves that were more naive and less practical. But most tragically, we feel the acute loss of those pristine idealistic dreams that are now muddied with the hard truths of reality.

All this raises the question: Is this just a sad reality of life? Or is it possible to be stuck in the daily grind, and still enjoy, appreciate and love what we do?

I'd like to suggest that this question, and these feelings are not a bug, but a feature. This is built into the way that Hashem made us, and made the world. These experiences are so common, that it seems to be by design. But to what end?

Before we begin, we need to understand that there are two types of work in the Torah: מלאכה and עבודה. The HaKsav V'HaKabblah (ר׳ פרשת ויקהל) explains that while both are translated as “work”, they have entirely different meanings. מלאכה is purely results oriented; which is the reason that it is this type of work which is forbidden on Shabbos. For one day each week, we do not change Hashem's world; and we are prohibited from performing the 39 Melachos. עבודה, on the other hand, can exist even without any result. Foe example: Shlepping furniture from one room to another is עבודה, but it is not מלאכה.

With this in mind, we can understand why the Mishkan was constructed with מלאכה. There was a goal, a result – something that Klal Yisrael brought into existence.

In general, all of the dreams and aspirations, the hopes and goals that we have for our lives are achieved with מלאכה. Raising children, building a home, a business and career, all require calculated work to produce these result. Likewise, training for a marathon, losing weight and learning Daf Yomi are all geared towards a goal.

Understanding this nature of מלאכה is essential to progress. It allows us to change course when things are not working well and ensure that our destination is reached. But at the same time, it is this perspective that leads directly to the burnout, exhaustion, frustration and cynicism that we struggle with. Anytime that our efforts fail at achieving a result, we have wasted precious time that cannot be reclaimed.

Setbacks are disheartening and frustrating; and we lose sight of our dreams and goals.

The antidote to this problem, however, is addressed directly in our Parsha. The previous four parshiyos have cemented in our understanding that the Mishkan was constructed with מלאכה. This work is quintessentially and definitionally מלאכה. And yet, when the Mishkan is finally completed, the Torah (שמות לט:לב) tells us:

וַתֵּכֶל כׇּל עֲבֹדַת מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד – And the Avoda of the Mishkan Ohel Moed was completed...

Why is the Torah now switching to עבודה?!

Both the Netziv and the Malbim explain that the Melacha of the Mishkan was ensuring that each detail was successfully completed. But the entire project was ultimately an עבודה.

When we schlep heavy things from one place to another and back again, there is no change or result in the item. But we become stronger. When we practice our craft, nothing is created, but we become more skilled.

Melacha is about changing the outcome, but Avoda is about transforming the self.

If the entirely of our lives are about the result, we will always feel drained, strained and tired. Marriage, parenting, careers, learning etc... are not supposed to be exclusively about the goals. Of course, results matter; but beyond it all, the ultimate goal is the change in ourselves. To this end, Yiddishkeit is defined by Avodas Hashem. We are not changing Hashem, we changing ourselves.

What then was the Avoda of the Mishkan? The Netziv explains:

The goal of ונתתי משכני בתוככם – Hashem residing inside of the Jewish people – was finally achieved.

Through the careful consideration of each and every detail of the building, Klal Yisrael were getting better, getting stronger, becoming greater people. This transformation of self is what enabled Hashem's presence to be felt in their hearts, minds and lives.

We can do them same. When we view our challenges as a training ground to become greater, then every moment, every failure is an opportunity to get better and stronger.

That's the real goal of the Mishkan of our lives: To create the space and time to become different people. This way, despite any setbacks, our passion, dreams and aspirations live on.

Growing up, I was blessed to have more than enough of everything I needed; clothes, food and school supplies. This statement alone puts me into a category shared with very few humans in history. It's a fact for which I am incredibly grateful.

But while it is true that my family lacked nothing, we lived with very little luxury. Almost nothing I owned was fancy or expensive. This was partially due to the much higher cost of luxury items in South Africa, and partially due to the fact that we didn't have much expendable income.

I didn't really resent not having luxury, though, there were times that I wanted something that we simply couldn't afford. Not having those things was not terribly disruptive to my life, and I don't believe I am worse off for having worn the knock-off “Mike” shoes rather than Nikes. This was my life in South Africa, and afterwards in Kerem B'Yavneh.

All of that changed when I came to the USA to learn in YU. For the first time in my life, items that were prohibitively expensive in South Africa were affordable. And there were sales every week!


In the past month, three families in our BRS West community have lost parents – all three, survivors of the Holocaust. Our community is relatively young; we have many more baby naming and bris celebrations than Shiva houses. But listening to the stories of children and grandchildren, I was confronted with a number of powerful realizations, none of them are novel, but the reminders are important.

I guess it's this kind of reflection that Shlomo HaMelech (קהלת ז:ב) advocates for when he tells us:

טוֹב לָלֶכֶת אֶל־בֵּית־אֵבֶל מִלֶּכֶת אֶל־בֵּית מִשְׁתֶּה בַּאֲשֶׁר הוּא סוֹף כָּל־הָאָדָם וְהַחַי יִתֵּן אֶל־לִבּוֹ It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting; for that is the end of every man, and a living one should take it to heart.

Firstly, the reality that our generation is the last to know these heroes first hand. This truth creates a deep sense of responsibility to the past and future.

Secondly, the knowledge that these towering personalities are our only link to entire worlds that were destroyed. With the loss of each one, there are countless names, faces and places that go along with them.

But perhaps the most profound realization is the most simple. I was stuck by the sheer impossibility of attempting to confine such rich, painful and tumultuous lives into words. How does one summarize a life?


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