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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Kiddush – Drinking the Wine

I tend to get dizzy when I drink wine too quickly – though in general I tolerate wine very well. How much of the Kiddush cup do I need to drink? Is it sufficient to take just a few sips – or to drink it slowly throughout the meal?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You do not have to drink the entire contents of the Kiddush cup. The amount one is supposed to drink is one cheek-full of liquid (Shulchan Aruch 271:13). This depends on the size of the person, but for an average person it is a little over half of the size of a minimal Kiddush cup.

(How large is a “minimal Kiddush cup” is a separate issue. I discussed it recently here:

This amount should also be drunk pretty quickly – in no more than 2 shots (based on Shulchan Aruch 612:10, see Mishnah Berurah 210:1). Many people are unfamiliar with this and sip their Kiddush (or Havdalah) wine slowly during the course of the meal. In truth, if you take up to 4 minutes to drink a cheek-full that is also acceptable (Chazon Ish O.C. 39).

I should also mention that the Kiddush cup should be filled entirely even if it is large and holds much more than you intend to drink (Rema 183:2).

One final point is that it’s actually better not to drink much more than a cheek-full of wine at Kiddush. It is better to drink the remainder of the cup during the meal (Bi’ur Halacha 174 s.v. “v’chain”). The reason is because when one consumes the full amount, it is possible that he should recite an after blessing on it right then – even before beginning his meal. If he drinks less and continues during the meal, the Grace after Meals covers the Kiddush wine as well.

Haman and the Half-Shekel

I read that the Half Shekel that Jews give relates to Haman's offer to pay 10,000 "kikars" to Achashverosh for the right to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:9).

My question: If one kikar equals 3,000 shekels, and Haman offered 10,000 kikars, then he gave 30 million shekels. But you wrote that he gave 300,000. If you could resolve this question, I would appreciate it.

Also, what is the approximate value of the biblical half-shekel in today's U.S. dollars?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You're right about one thing - the math here is confusing! Let's try to work through the steps:

A) Haman offered 10,000 kikars, and since one kikar equals 3,000 shekels, Haman was in effect putting a price tag of 30 million shekels on the Jews.

B) There are 600,000 main souls in the Jewish nation (see Numbers 2:32). At one half-shekel per person, that equals 300,000 shekels.

C) However, the "Holy Temple" currency is actually worth twice the value of a regular currency (such as that given by Haman). So actually the Jewish half-shekels totaled 600,000 of Haman's shekels.

D) Additionally, the obligation to contribute the yearly half-shekel begins at age 20 (Numbers 1:3). Given an average lifespan of 70 years, that means 50 years of giving half-shekels. Fifty (years) multiplied by 600,000 (main Jewish souls) equals 30 million - the exact amount offered by Haman to Achashverosh.

All this is explained by the "Bach" - Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (17th century Poland), based on the commentary of Tosfot to the Talmud (Megillah 16a).

Had enough? Another explanation is as follow: Since 50 shekels is the donation value of an adult male (as specified in Leviticus 27:3), this amount multiplied times 600,000 souls equals 30 million.

This and other explanations are given by Rabbi Yaakov Emden on the Talmud; Rabbeinu Bachaye - Parshat Pekudei; Midrash Chazkuni - Parshat Ki Tisa; Panim Me'erot 3:30; Binyan Tzion 144; Tzitz Eliezer XI 1:8.

As for the current value of a biblical half-shekel, Maimonides records it as weighing 160 grains of barley, which is equivalent to 8 grams, or 0.28 ounces. With the current rate of silver at about $28 USD per ounce, that means a biblical half-shekel equals about $8.

In other words, Haman was willing to pay about $200 million to annihilate the Jews.

Now don't you wish you'd been paying more attention in ninth grade math class?

Why Fast?

My daughter, a preschool teacher, has a child in her class with sickle cell anemia who is presently in the hospital. Yesterday she visited the hospital and was instrumental in cheering up the child. She was asked by the family and friends of the child to fast today since they were praying for the child's recovery and felt that fasting would be "giving back to God" for answering their prayers.

My daughter asked me what is the Jewish position on fasting. I thought that her visit to the hospital and perhaps making a contribution to an organization for sickle cell would be more in line with our beliefs. What are your thoughts?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In Judaism, the purpose of a fast is to lower the volume on our physical pursuits in order to focus more acutely on our spiritual selves. This facilitates the process of "teshuva" - literally "return." We return to God, and to our essential state of purity.

Communal fasts are held on six days in the Jewish year, Yom Kippur being the most well-known.

So how could your daughter's fasting help her student? Because if the student is the catalyst (so to speak) to spur your daughter to teshuva, then the resulting good is partly in the student's merit. Additionally, all of humanity is one unit, and when one person raises their own spiritual level, it has a positive impact on others as well.

For example, in the biblical book of Esther (4:16), Esther agreed to see the King uninvited, and asked the Jewish people to fast for three days beforehand. Esther called for a fast, knowing that through soul-searching the Jews would forge a spiritual connection necessary to make her mission successful. And it paid off, for indeed the Almighty sees and hears everyone at their time of need. (see Mishnah Berurah 686:2)

Similarly, there was another fast during the Purim story: The Jews fasted and prayed on the 13th of Adar in preparation for their defense against Haman's decree. The Torah prescribes that whenever a Jewish army goes to war, the soldiers should spend the previous day fasting. This ensures that when they go out to battle, the soldiers will be well-focused on the fact that success or failure is in the hands of God. And the fact that the soldiers are physically weakened when the battle begins assures that any victory cannot be attributed to physical prowess!

As for hospital visits and charitable contributions, those are separate mitzvahs which are very important in their own right. To learn more, see the excellent book, "Love Your Neighbor," by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.

May the Almighty send your daughter's student a full and speedy recovery.