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New Zman: …And Mordechai Will Not Bow

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Bowing To No Other

As background to this month’s cover story, let me share a thought told by Rav Shlomo Brevda, zt”l.

One of the key moments in the Purim story is when Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman (Esther 3:2). Haman was the second most powerful man in the Persian Empire, which ruled the entire civilized world, including all its Jews. Everyone bowed to him — except Mordechai. When Haman found out, he vowed to kill Mordechai.

That set in motion the events that led to the royal decree to exterminate all Jews – as well as the miracles that thwarted the decree, ending with the execution of Haman, his sons and thousands of other anti-Semites throughout the empire.

Rav Brevda, quoting the Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Aggados Megillah, says that Mordechai’s act served as a tikkun for an old communal transgression that had never been properly expiated. When the Jews were first sent into exile by Nevuchadnetzar he erected a huge statue and called all the leading dignitaries of all the peoples in his domain to meet in the valley where the statue resided. At the designated moment, everyone was supposed to bow. Those who refused would be thrown into a furnace.

Everyone bowed, including all the Jews, except for three brave youths, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were miraculously saved.

The Gemara (Megillah 7) tells us that those Jews who bowed to the idol of Nevuchadneztar did not intend it to be an act of avodah zarah. Rather, they acted out of fear of Nevuchadneztar. However, it had the appearance of avodah zarah, and thus was a chillul Hashem.

It was several generations after Nevuchadnetzar when Mordechai refused to bow to Haman. “Why are you defying the royal decree?” the royal servants asked him.

Mordechai informed them that he was a Yehudi (a Jew), and avodah zarah was forbidden; he would never bow down to Haman, who had made himself into an object of worship (Megillah 10b, 19a; Sanhedrin 6Ib).

Mordechai’s kiddush Hashem served as rectification, tikkun ha’chet, for the chillul Hashem of bowing to Nevuchadnetzar’s idol. In so doing, he undid the earlier wrong and thus set up the deliverance of the Jewish people.

Rav Brevda goes onto explain that the real sin here was that the Jews had come to rely on a power other than Hashem. They looked for help from foreign powers, from persons of great influence or on their own ingenuity and efforts. The tikkun was to absolutely disregard all powers on Earth; to turn only to Hashem for a salvation through prayer and teshuvah.

That is one of the great lessons of Purim: our reliance on Hashem and the primacy of tefillah and teshuvah.

The situation in our cover story was not exactly the same, but there are striking similarities. As such, perhaps it is meant to drive home the point that this lesson is still very current, and one of the primary challenges of our times.

Yaakov Astor, Editor-in-Chief

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Light in the Kingdom of Darkness

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Aushwitz-Birkenau. The main Nazi guard tower is the highest point, offering a view of virtually the entire camp. In that tower, we davened mincha…

Last month, I joined a group of 24 educators visiting the concentration camps in Poland. It was the culminating leg of a year-long fellowship program sponsored by Zechor Yemos Olam, the Holocaust education branch of Torah U’Mesorah. Its director, Rabbi Sholom Freidmann, and I worked all year with these highly experienced and accomplished teachers helping them to become in effect the vanguard of a new generation of Holocaust educators.

From the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps at Treblinka and Majdanek to the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin (presently being rebuilt) to the kevarim of the Remah, Sfas Emes, Chozeh of Lublin, Maharal and others – none of us came back the same.

Undoubtedly, the most moving experience was Auschwitz…

Auschwitz – its name alone sends a chill down the spine.

Peering through the barbed-wire fence for the first time, the thing that struck me was its size. Nothing had prepared me to grasp the sheer expanse of Birkenau, Auschwitz’s main death camp. Besides the unimaginable numbers murdered there, it housed 80,000 slave laborers.

80,000!

That’s larger than most Jewish communities today; think of a medium-sized town.

Row after row of barracks stretched almost as far as the eye could see. Straight ahead, the infamous railroad tracks extended into the distance further than I had imagined until they veered off to the equally infamous disembarkation point where Dr. Mengele conducted the Selektion, deciding who would live and who would die….

A chilling thought as we head into the days of Elul and Yemei HaDin….

It took hours to tour the camp. Terrifying… horrifying… yet uplifting don’t properly convey the emotions… especially by the “Pool of Ashes,” a marsh-like area of human ash next to the tangled concrete and metal of the now destroyed gas chambers and crematoria, listening to Rabbi Shmuel Klein talk about Kiddush Hashem… which was followed by a rousing kaddish.

Kiddush Hashem – it’s hard to explain to the uninitiated the connection between Auschwitz and Kiddush Hashem. But, nowhere more than the depths of the deepest darkness can the brightest light of spiritual heroism emerge.

By day’s end, we were the only group remaining in this Empire of Evil. That was eerie enough. But then we were given special permission to ascend the main Nazi guard tower. And there, high above Hitler’s Valley of Death, we turned east, bowed and poured our hearts out to Hashem.

After mincha, the guard tower became engulfed in a supernatural orange glow of the now set sun. Spontaneously, we formed a circle and danced — silhouetted against heaven’s glow — singing Aleh Varechev, Ani Ma’amim and L’shana Habah b’Yerushalayim.

View from atop the guard tower where we davened mincha. (View is west; we prayed facing east.)

It was a flash of light in the Kingdom of Darkness. A moment of triumph. A proclamation! The Thousand Year Reich is dead… Om Yisrael chai….

Elul is a time for introspection… and inspiration… to make light, not darkness… to choose life… to live lives of Kiddush Hashem… for the six million kedoshim… for ourselves.

Zman – Av: “I had 3 million Jews in my hands and they were torn away”

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"I had 3 million Jews in my hands and they were torn away."

In This Issue

Striking It Rich… In The Catskills?

You’ve heard of Texas oil magnates. Now, allow us to introduce you to… Catskill gas magnates. Yes, you’ve heard right. Beneath the soil of our beloved Catskill Mountains, the yearly summer refuge for thousands of Jewish vacationers, lies a hidden treasure – a large reservoir of natural gas that can possibly spawn a new generation of Jewish tycoons and Torah philanthropists. How will this affect the myriad religious summer camps and bungalow colonies across the Catskills?

On the Trail of the Tylenol Terrorist

In 1982, a coldblooded murderer slipped cyanide into bottles of Tylenol, resulting in seven deaths. The entire nation was thrown into a panic that nearly spelled the end for Tylenol and many other medicines — and spawned “copycat” incidents that killed more. After 29 years with no convictions, is the FBI at last “On the Trail of the Tylenol Terrorist”?

 “The World Is Coming To An End!”

On May 21, 2011, the world almost stopped – well, not really. However, that was the day the world was supposed to stop according to a famous American Christian preacher. Of course, May 21 came and went, and so did the millions of dollars his supporters had donated to advertise the end of the world. In the year 1524, millions of people were also convinced that the world was about to come to an end. Read about the Great Panic of 1524 and other strange panics that teach us more about human psychology than the apocalypse.

The Dark Side of FDR

While America and her allies deserve great credit for ending the hellish reign of the Nazis, and thus playing a crucial role in the survival of the remnant of European Jews, they failed to act and even at times prevented actions that could have saved countless Jewish lives! Shockingly, it was one of America’s most beloved presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was responsible for bureaucracy and decisions that resulted in countless preventable deaths. Even more shockingly, he did so with the full backing and even the proactive involvement of some of America’s most prominent Jewish “leaders”!

Soul on Fire

Already a legend in his lifetime, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl rose to even greater heights when the circumstances of the Holocaust forced him into the role of rescue worker. Often maligned by the secular world, efforts to refute his claims and minimize his efforts have been disproven time and again.Zman had the privilege of an exclusive interview with one of Reb Michoel Ber’s sons, who undertook to uphold his father’s legacy, defending him against those who sought to diminish the undeniable influence of his fiery father in the field of wartime rescue.

A Ride with Ohio’s State Police Aviation Unit

They are not your typical state police traversing the highways for speeding drivers. Rather they are a division of the police that do their work from 1,500 feet or higher. Find out what a day in the life of an airborne Ohio traffic cop is like, how they work and what the type of driver behavior they are looking for that will trigger a ticket.

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Smoking

When Columbus sailed from Spain in search of spices and gold, he hardly expected that among his most treasured finds would be… tobacco. A Marrano Jew traveling with Columbus was the first European to take a puff of tobacco. Seven years later, smoking had become common in Spain. Zman presents this important and informative article, authored by a highly respected oncologist, that covers not only on the history of smoking, but current information about its medical and halachic aspects (the latter reviewed by our Rabbinic authority).