11 essays about the essence and depth
of the holiday of Purim
Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch
(845) 364 – 8040
3 Landau Ln
Spring Valley Ny, 10977
All Rights Reserved
The essays in this booklet were culled from various years of Stam Torah
about the holiday of Purim.
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To Chani, תחי'
Without whom there would be no Stam Torah
Table of Contents
1. The epitome of evil
2. A Time to Laugh
3. Indestructible, Ingenious, Intoxicated
4. The Meaning of Reality
5. The Audacity
6. Misplaced Mercy
7. Passionate Wake-up call
8. Between Knowledge and Emotion
9. Worthy Hatred
10. An Eye for an I
11. The Day After
IN THE PURIM SPIRIT
“Between shviggers and Purim”
“THE EPITOME OF EVIL”
Amalek versus the Jews!
Almost since the inception of our nationhood, Amalek has been our self=proclaimed nemesis, fighting a battle that will only culminate with the advent of Moshiach.
What is the essence of this insidious nation that is synonymous with evil and malevolence? How does the force of Amalek fit with the course of history and the future?
Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner zt’l (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim, inyan 2) explains that there are two classifications of enemies who attack Klal Yisroel. Each group attacks and seeks to enervate Klal Yisroel in its own distinct manner. The first group is the Four Kingdoms. These Four Kingdoms represent the four exiles that Klal Yisroel has suffered. It began with the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdash, with each of the next exiles following in relatively close succession. They are the exiles at the behest of the kingdoms of Babylonia (Nebuchadnezzar who destroyed the first Temple); Persia-Media (Achashveirosh and the Purim debacle); Greece (Antiochus and the miracle of Chanukah); and Rome (the exile which began with the destruction of the second Temple at the hand of Roman general Titus and has continued for two millennia until today).
The second class of enemies is the Seven Nations mentioned in the Torah. These are the Seven Nations that inhabited Canaan and sought to deny the Jews entry into their Promised Land.
In order for a slave to fulfill the will of his master, two things are necessary. Firstly, the master must formally acquire the slave. Then the master must notify the slave of his expectations so the slave can fulfill them. If either of these two requirements is missing, there will be a deficiency in the master-servant relationship. For example, if a person hires an electrician to fix the heat in his house, the electrician is definitely working for him; however, he does not become the home-owner’s slave. On the other hand, even if one acquires someone to be his slave and that is how the slave identifies himself, that still does not mean he will do anything specific for his new master unless the master clarifies his expectations of the slave.
The Four Kingdoms seek to destroy the notion that Klal Yisroel is the Chosen Nation. In a sense, they want to pull the rug out from under us. They are bothered by the adjectives we use to describe ourselves. They seek to prove that we are not an elite and lofty people but rather a lowly pitiful wayward nation. In each of the four exiles they tried to destroy the infrastructure and foundation of our pride. They exiled the Jews, destroyed the Bais Hamikdash, and sought to undermine our uniqueness as the Chosen Nation.
The Seven Nations on the other hand, care little about how we describe ourselves. Their goal was not to destroy our position as the Chosen Nation but to hinder service to G-d. They tried to detain the Jews from entering the Promised Land, the primary locale of Service to G-d. The Seven Nations cared little about the adjectives we use to describe ourselves. They were more concerned about our actual service to G-d. They attempted to make it impossible for us to fulfill G-d’s Will.
Both classifications of these enemies have a founding father, i.e. a nation who served as the genesis for its genre and form of aversion against Klal Yisroel. The Torah (Bamidbar 25:6) deems Amalek the, “first among nations”. In Tehillim (78:51) however, the verse refers to Egypt as, “the first of my strength in the tents of Cham.” G-d smote the firstborn of Egypt in the final plague as retribution for Pharaoh enslaving Israel, the ‘eldest’ of G-d, as it were.
Although both Amalek and Egypt are called, ‘first’ there is no further similarity between them. Amalek is the first, i.e. the root and foundation of the Seven Nations, while Egypt is the first of the Four Kingdoms.
There was no doubt after the exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai that Klal Yisroel was unique and elite. The Four Kingdoms sought to prove that those days were over and that the Jews had forfeited their position as a special people. Therefore, the exile in Egypt which preceded Klal Yisroel’s rise to greatness, sought to ensure that the future glory would never come to fruition. In other words, while all the future kingdoms sought to remove an existing title, Egypt sought to ensure that the Jews would never have the opportunity to become the Chosen Nation in the first place. As long as they held the Jews in an oppressive exile the Jews could never achieve greatness as the Servants of G-d. Therefore, although they are not actually counted as one of the Four Kingdoms per se, Egypt was the first in the sense that it lay the foundation of what the Four Kingdoms would try to accomplish.
The goal of the Seven Nations however, was to prevent Klal Yisroel from serving G-d. Therefore, their efforts only began after the Torah was given to Klal Yisroel. Once the Jews had the guidebook detailing G-d’s Will, then the Seven Nations sought to interfere.
Amalek, who attacked Klal Yisroel prior to their receiving the Torah tried to ensure that the Jews would never even be informed of how to carry out G-d’s Will in the first place. Therefore, in regard to the seven nations and what they stood for, Amalek is first, for Amalek opposed the very existence of a nation who fulfills G-d’s Will.
Only a kingdom can destroy the character of a people, because only a kingdom can proclaim that its citizens must be subservient to itself and not to any ulterior power. However, the attempt to impede entry to a land and/or serving G-d can come from any opposing force, even a nation of guerilla fighters who lack a land or king.
Thus, in regards to serving G-d there are two facets. It is not enough that we fulfill His will but we must also see ourselves as His servants who completely subjugate ourselves to His Word. Similarly, it is not enough for us to deem ourselves His people if we do not seek to carry out His commandments to the best of our ability. G-d informed us that, with our acceptance of the Torah we would become a, “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.” We were to become a kingdom in the sense that we would be the Kingdom of G-d, and a Nation in the sense that we had a united mission, a raison d’etre, to serve G-d.
Rabbi Hutner explains that, although Amalek is the root and founder of the ‘Seven Nations movement’, during the final exile he will undergo a metamorphosis whereby he will become an extension of the Kingdom of Rome. In the final exile, Amalek will once again rise to continue his never-ending quest to obliterate Klal Yisroel. The final exile is titled the exile of the Kingdom of Rome/Edom only because Rome was the progenitors of the exile when they destroyed the Bais Hamikdash. However, the final exile is not restricted to Rome or any other individual nation. Rather, it is an encapsulating exile that incorporates all who dedicate themselves to the destruction and downfall of Klal Yisroel
The final exile however, is not the first time when enemies joined the kingdom that was the “catalyst nation” of the exile. The first time that it occurred was during the Purim debacle. Before Achashveirosh assumed the monarchy, his predecessor, King Koresh allowed the Jews to commence the rebuilding of the second Bais Hamikdash. As soon as Achashveirosh assumed the throne, he stopped the building, in effect launching the second exile of Persia-Media. However, Achashveirosh had a partner named Haman who was a descendant of Amalek. It was during that time that the notion of Amalek ‘leeching on to a kingdom’ (which would later resurface in the fourth and final exile) was initiated.
The Purim story actually involved two enemies that Klal Yisroel simultaneously battled, a nation and a kingdom. In turn, the miracle and salvation was not only the downfall of Haman but also Achashveirosh’s change of heart. Because Achashveirosh was the same wicked person until the end it was truly miraculous that he allowed the Jews to retaliate and defend themselves even after Haman was killed.
Rav Hutner concludes that this is the meaning of the words in the Megillah, (3:7) “He (Haman) cast a pur, which was the casting of the lots, in the presence of Haman.” The pasuk is alluding to the depth of this second exile. Haman, an Amalekite, was casting a pur, the Persian word for lots. In other words, Haman coupled himself to Achashveirosh, in essence, merging Persia-Media (a kingdom) with Amalek (a nation). Haman was casting Persian lots because he had joined forces with her.
With this idea in mind, perhaps we can explain another enigmatic passage in the Megillah. During the second feast with Achashveirosh and Haman, Esther finally revealed her motives to Achashveirosh. She had come to beg him for her life and the lives of her people. Then Esther added, “Had we only been sold into slavery as slaves and maids I would have kept quiet, for the damage would not have been so great to the King.”
The commentators are baffled by Esther’s words. Firstly, why did she even mention anything about slavery? Why would Achashveirosh even entertain the notion of slavery? Secondly, why did she mention it now; was she trying to give Achashveirosh ideas? [It is reminiscent of the foolishness of the American media who, after September 11th, would post articles detailing how American security could be penetrated. It was ludicrous that they would candidly publicize America’s vulnerability, as if to cordially invite all enemies to prepare their next attack.] Why give ideas to the enemy?
Achashveirosh was a monarch and therefore, his animosity toward Klal Yisroel was not due to how they served G-d as much as it was against the very idea that they were the People of G-d. Because he was a sovereign ruler, Achashveirosh felt threatened by a people who pledged allegiance to a Supreme Power. Like the other three kingdoms, his objective was to strip the Jews of their greatness and demonstrate that they were Persian citizens as much as every other citizen in the kingdom. Haman, on the other hand, was a descendant of Amalek and, therefore, his enmity for the Jews was completely irrational. His objective was to eradicate every trace of service to G-d. Haman’s objective could only be accomplished if he would wipe out the Jews completely.
Esther wanted Achashveirosh to realize that he was being manipulated by Haman. She told him that only if he had only sold them into slavery - as his role as king dictates - Esther would have kept quiet, for then he would be fulfilling his ‘mission’ as ruler of one of the Four Kingdoms. But now that Haman had joined forces with Achashveirosh he had overstepped his boundaries and forced Achashveirosh to play by his rules and fulfill his own objectives. Esther thus demonstrated to Achashveirosh that he himself had become a puppet of Haman. She successfully ignited Achashveirosh’s wrath against Haman causing Haman’s imminent end.
This idea seems to be clearly expressed in a comment by Rashi. The Gemarah (Megillah 15a) comments on the verse, (4:1) “And Mordechai knew all that had been done”, that Mordechai cried out that Haman became haughtier than Achashveirosh. Rashi explains that Haman’s heart was filled (with a desire) to accomplish something that Achashveirosh didn’t want to do. Perhaps Rashi is alluding to this idea that Achashveirosh - as a king - wanted Klal Yisroel to be subservient to only him but he had no intent to destroy them completely (just as Nevuchadnezzar, Antiochus, and Titus did not seek the complete eradication of Klal Yisroel, only their humiliation and broken spirit) . It was only his advisor Haman, a member of Amalek whose goal was to hinder all G-dly service, who sought the eradication of the entire nation.
Why is there such an important mitzvah to always remind ourselves of our obligation to eradicate the force of Amalek from this world? Because Amalek is not an enemy of the past; he is alive and well. Sixty years ago he was the kingdom of Germany and today he includes the scattered nations of the Middle East. The Arabs today are very much a nation, as opposed to a kingdom. We must remember the battles we fought against Amalek in the past because therein lies the key to our survival in our current battle against Amalek.
The lessons of Purim are the lessons that give us the fortitude to hold firm until our contemporary Hamans are again hanging from the gallows they will build for themselves. Who knows if the nuclear reactors in Iran which so frighten us will be the very weapons that G-d will use to destroy our enemies themselves?
“He cast the lots, in the presence of Haman”
“Amalek - the first among nations”
”A TIME TO LAUGH”
One day a Christian fellow met the erudite Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz (1690-1764) as he was walking down the street. After exchanging formal greetings, the Christian said, “I’ve been studying your holidays and there is something I cannot comprehend. I noticed that all of your holidays begin at sundown of the night prior to the first day of the holiday and conclude at sundown on the last day of the holiday. But on Purim, the most joyous day on your calendar, you celebrate as we do by allowing your festive meal to continue well into the night after the holiday?
Rabbi Yonason was quick to respond, “In your religion, the holiest day of the year is December twenty-fifth. Is it not strange that that holiday begins the evening prior, the Jewish way? The Christian fellow was stunned. He admitted that he had never thought of that.
Rabbi Yonason smiled, “I’ll explain to you the reasons for both. You see, the holiday of Purim came about because of the efforts of a wicked gentile named Haman. When he sought to destroy the Jewish people, the entire nation banded together as one and repented in an unprecedented manner. So the holiday of Purim is directly attributable to him. Therefore, as a (spiteful) tribute to that evil gentile, we perform a portion of the Purim celebration according to gentile tradition. Similarly, on December twenty-fifthyou are indebted to a Jew and so you celebrate it the Jewish way…”
The Megillah describes Purim as a day for rejoicing, (9 22) “Like the days when the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and the month which had been turned about for them from one of sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to festival to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor.”
In the prayers of all major Jewish holidays we express that the holidays are times of sublime joy. “And You gave us - Hashem our G-d - with love, appointed festivals for gladness, festivals and times for joy, a holy convocation, a memorial of the Exodus from Egypt.”
Joy and celebration are an inextricable component of every Jewish holiday. In fact, there is a Biblical obligation to be in a constant state of joy throughout the duration of each holiday. We enjoy festive meals, and special customs to enhance our joy during those special times.
Yet only Purim is termed, “A day of feasting and rejoicing”. Feasting on Purim is not to enhance our joy, rather it is the source of our joy. Although all holidays require joy, no other holiday is dedicated to external joy and laughter on the caliber of Purim. [Even Simchas Torah - the day when we dance to celebrate our annual completion of the reading of the Torah - is not a day of physical celebration in the same vein as Purim.]
What is the underlying theme of Purim and how do masks, wine, parties, and laughter fit into the very foundation of the holiday?
[The following thoughts are based on a lecture by Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky entitled, “Why do Jews become comedians?”]
In order to comprehend the connection between Purim and laughter we must first understand what causes laughter and humor. In a word, humor lies in the unexpected. When we see something ironic it makes us laugh; the stranger the irony the funnier it is.
Consider the following quip from a famous male comedian “We didn’t have much money when I was younger and I had to wear my cousin’s hand-me-downs. It was a little embarrassing because she wasn’t my size.” The quip is humorous because originally one thinks the comedian is referring to a male cousin. But at the last moment the listener is caught off guard with the irony of the quip.
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro shlita noted that the greater a person is, the funnier it is when he stumbles. If an average person is walking and he stumbles, it may be somewhat funny. But if the Queen of England is walking with regal elegance accompanied by a large entourage including the press and she stumbles, it’s that much funnier. The contrast is the root of the humor.
The Talmud (Makkos 24b) relates that one time the great Rabbi Akiva was walking alongside other sages next to the Temple Mount. This transpired shortly after the destruction of the second Temple and the disbursement of most of the Jewish people. Suddenly, they saw a fox emerge from the place where the Holy of Holies had stood. Immediately the sages burst into tears. Rabbi Akiva however, began to laugh.
The sages were shocked. “How can you laugh?” Rabbi Akiva replied, ‘Why do you weep?” Through their tears they answered, “About that place the Torah warns that a non-Kohain may not enter and now a fox roams freely. Is that not a valid reason to cry” Rabbi Akiva replied, “It is for that same reason that I laugh. The prophets revealed to us two very different prophecies. The first prophecy warned of the impending doom that was to befall Klal Yisroel, culminating with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash. The second prophecy was that the exile would eventually end, the Bais Hamikdash would be rebuilt, and Moshiach would come. Now that I see the fruition of the first prophecy, l am convinced and excited about the fulfillment of the second prophecy.”
What is the meaning of this intriguing story how indeed was Rabbi Akiva able to laugh at such a sight?
The Gemara (Berachos 31a) quotes Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who stated that it is forbidden for a person to laugh “with a full mouth” in this world, as it says (Tehillim 126 2), “THEN our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song. Then they will declare among the nations, ‘G-d has done greatly with these.” When will it become permitted to laugh completely? Only at the time when the nations will say ‘G-d has done greatly with these’ [i.e. at the time of the future redemption]”
In this world Kial Yrsroel does not laugh fully, for in this world we are subject to constant scorn and derision. The nations view us with contempt, and no matter what we do, we just can’t seem to do anything right. [It’s a sordid story that has not changed in 1900 years.]
When Moshiach comes however, the truth will become known. The irony that every thing that transpired in exile was really only for the benefit of the Jewish people, and that the mocked will become the world leaders, will be absolutely hysterical. At that point we will laugh.
In our perverse society, obtuse lowlifes are often idolized because they possess various talents. They may be immoral and dissolute personally, but because they know how to play sports, or can act or sing well, the world is willing to look askance from the crass and depravity-filled lives that they lead.
But when Moshiach comes that will change. We can only imagine the following futuristic scene: An old Jerusalemite Jew with a long white beard is being surrounded by myriads of reporters from all major news stations, including BBC and CNN. They will throwing microphones and cameras in his direction and will be fighting to ask him his opinion about the incredible changes taking place in the world. In his broken English, he will be trying to explain to them his views, while they feverishly write down every word he says. When Moshiach comes every Jew will become a celebrity. The holier the Jew the more popular and idolized he will become. The world always wants to connect with “the new rage”. The day will come when truth will be ‘the rage’ and we will be the bearers of that banner.
Rabbi Orlofsky continues: “Did you ever see someone telling a joke and the person sitting next to him has already heard the joke, so he starts laughing before the speaker gets to the punch line? He laughs because he anticipates the punch line and, therefore, he can appreciate the humor before it is actually presented. To Rabbi Akiva, the prophecies were so tangible that he viewed them as if they had already transpired He “got the joke before the punch line was actually said”. Therefore, he was able to laugh. The other sages however, were not on the same level and so they cried from the tragic sight they were witnessing.”
In a similar vein, by the plague of locusts in Egypt, G-d informed Moshe that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart. “So that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt.”What was the big joke of the locusts that they would cause Pharaoh to become an object of mockery?
To understand the humor of the plague of locusts one must understand the preceding events. During the previous plague of hail, Pharaoh was so shaken by the hail that vowed that this time he would really let the Jews go. However, as soon as the plague ended, Pharaoh realized that the hail had not completely eradicated all of Egypt’s produce. The unripe produce had survived. Pharaoh characteristically reneged on his word and mocked, “There’s a little bit of produce left; the hail didn’t do its job!” The irony was that G-d was mocking him. “Of course there’s a bit of produce left, otherwise what are the locust going to eat?”
The thirteenth day of Adar was to be a one-day holocaust. What took the Nazis six years to accomplish, Haman planned to do in one day, and then some. The Jews had nowhere to run because Achashveirosh was king over the entire civilized world.
The irony that the tables turned on Haman and that Haman ended up on the very gallows he constructed for Mordechai is downright hysterical. [It’s tantamount to a terrorist trying to open fire on a group of innocent Jews, G-d forbid, but the idiot has the gun turned the wrong way and blows off his own head.] The turnabout of Purim and its becoming a day of salvation and national victory is the greatest possible irony.
Thus the day of Purim forevermore became a day of role reversal (Esther 9 1)” V’nahapoch hu asher yishlitu hayehudim hamah b’sonayhem- It was turned around, the Jews gained the upper hand over their adversaries.”
When one wears a mask it makes us laugh because when the person takes off his mask we realize, “Oh, it’s only you!” In the events leading up to Purim, G-d wore a mask, as it were. It was only when the miracle was complete that we were able to realize that the hand of G-d was orchestrating the events all along. G-d’s Name is not overtly mentioned in the Megillah, but His Hand is clearly present to any discerning individual. That too is part of the irony of the holiday of Purim.
Purim is a glimpse into the future. It is a day of laughter in the same vein as the future redemption will be. A time when irony will become clear, that everything that occurred and occurs was only for the sake of Klal Yisroel.
“To observe them as days of feasting and gladness”
“It was turned around”
"INDESTRUCTIBLE, INGENIOUS, INTOXICATED "
In America today the Jews have once again made their mark. Consider some of the following statistics:
In December 1984, the Science Digest reported a survey of America's brightest scientists under 40. Among the sciences included were: mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, astrophysics, computer science, environmental science, and psychology. These young scientists achieved
their distinction by advancing their knowledge in their particular specialties. Approximately thirty of the top hundred are Jewish.
Through 1991, Jews received approximately 18% of all Nobel prizes awarded, highly disproportional to their small percentage in the world population. Approximately 25% of the top 400 richest Americans are Jewish. The three most prominent business families in Canada are Jewish. Jews make up 33 of Australia's top 200 wealthiest magnates. In England where the listing of its top 200 richest includes more than half (114) who inherited their fortunes, approximately 15% are Jewish. (For proper comparison, the Jewish proportional population in these countries should
be noted: United States- 2.5%; Australia- .43%; England- .73%) Statistical studies have shown Jews ranking significantly higher over the general population in income, professional occupations, and education.
The United States Bureau of Census and the National Jewish Population survey reported that Jews have the highest income of any ethnic group in the United States, earning 72% more than the national average, and 40% more than the Japanese, the second highest earning ethnic group.
American Jews are over-represented in medicine by 231% in proportion to the general population, in psychiatry by 478%, in dentistry by 299%, in law by 265%, and in Mathematics by 238%.
The following are the percentages of Jews at several top American universities (graduate and undergraduate): Harvard/Radcliff- 26%; Yale-30%; University of Pennsylvania- 30%; Columbia/Barnard-39%.
The brilliance and wit of the “Jewish mind” is legendary, and has often been a catalyst for great jealousy among the other nations. G-d sent us into exile but He also granted us ingenious wit and wisdom to help us withstand it.
Our collective wisdom has helped preserve us and persevere against the tempests of time. My Bubby (grandmother) often relates to me that when her family were prisoners in Siberia during World War II, they had to employ cunning tactics to outsmart their captors and commanding officers. They were expected to meet an inhumane daily work quota. It was not as if they had any choice in the matter, for if they did not finish it they would not receive their food rations. Were it not for their ability to outwit their captors on a constant basis they would never have survived.
Indeed there are an infinite amount of such legendary anecdotes of Jews outsmarting their enemies over the generations.
One of my favorite stories of Jewish wit is a legend about a simple Russian Jew named Berel. Berel lived in communist Russia but desperately wanted to escape into Poland where practicing Judaism was not
“BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND EMOTION”
“One is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim until he can no longer differentiate between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”.”
Modern psychology is very involved with the study of the subconscious and unconscious mind. The founders of modern psychology devoted inexhaustible efforts to analyze and understand the affect of the unconscious mind, and its effect on human behavior. They posited that much of how we act and manage our daily homeostasis is governed by defense mechanisms and cognitive processes in parts of our brain that we are not even aware of.
On Purim we drink such an excessive amount that, in essence, we temporarily obscure and remove our conscious mind Alcohol is a tranquilizer that serves to remove all inhibitions, thereby distorting the perception of reality.
When one’s conscious mind has been ‘removed’, his subconscious and unconscious mind rises to the fore and begins to govern his actions. He is no longer in a realm of reality but is speaking and acting on the whim of the deepest recesses of his soul. Generally when people reach such a state, a repulsive and grotesque side of the person is revealed. One who must contend with an intoxicated individual eagerly awaits his sobriety and return to the world of conscious reality.
But the ‘real Jew’ who drinks himself into a Purim frenzy, reveals a most beautiful aspect of his inner soul. Instead of acting inappropriately, he proclaims, sings, and often cries out a cry from within his soul, yearning with unbearable depravity to develop a connection with his Creator.
Perhaps, this is part of the meaning of the law that one must become so inebriated on Purim that he no longer KNOWS (ad d’lo yada) the difference between ‘Arur Haman’ and ‘Baruch Mordechai. The point is for a person to realize that although he no longer possesses the capacity for logic and rational thinking, he is still able to differentiate between the two aforementioned extremes. Even in a state of utter inebriation, any Jew would be able to declare that Haman is evil and Mordechai is the righteous hero of the Purim story.
At such a heightened state of inebriation when his logic has dissipated, and one is ‘running on’ emotion, and base instinct, the true depth of one’s inner self emerges. Within the soul of a Jew lies a pining for sanctity and holiness and a natural connection to (what is represented by) Baruch Mordechai. At the same time, there is a natural feeling of disgust and revulsion for all that fits within the category of ‘Arur Haman’. However, because a Jew is vulnerable to the influence and vicissitudes of society his true inner desire for holiness and greatness can become obfuscated.
On Purim the subconscious essence of the Jew’s soul comes to the fore and proclaims its everlasting allegiance to G-d and His Torah. He may no longer KNOW but he surely FEELS the difference between ‘Arur Haman’ and ‘Baruch Mordechai’ In other words, Purim - the celebration of life - is the celebration of the potential we have to cling to G-d.
Throughout the year, we often become confused about our selves- our goals, and our inner nature. But on Purim who we really are comes to the surface. We leave behind our logic so that we are driven by emotion. At that point we are able to prove to ourselves that even when we do not KNOW the difference between Haman and Mordechai we are still very much aware of that distinction. It is not logical awareness but an instinctive feeling.
The Arizal relates that Purim and Yom Kippur are inextricably connected. On Yom Kippur we deprive our bodies of its most basic needs. Yet somehow, as the day is waning, we feel a surge of emotional energy which we infuse into our final prayers with the greatest fervor and zeal. It is an almost magical feeling, and sometimes we wonder how we were able to do it.
On Purim a similar experience occurs, but without self-abnegation. On Purim we enjoy the physical world and allow ourselves to become swept away in the emotional swirl of Purim joy. There, in that emotional bliss we again are able to connect ourselves with our Creator in a way that we are unable during the rest of the year.
On Yom Kippur we do not KNOW the difference between good and bad; we FEEL it in our bones. On Purim we enjoy that same experience, through joy and feasting.
Rabbi Dovid Blinder was a noted scholar and pedagogue in Russia in the late 1800s. He was called ‘Blinder’ (blind man) because he never lifted his head to look outside his immediate area. Among his other achievements, he had the distinction of teaching Rabbi Chaim Brisker in his youth.
Reb Dovid taught children Torah when the egregious Cantonist decrees were in place. To hide from the soldiers, Reb Dovid would learn with his students in underground cellars. One day, while studying with a student, a soldier standing near the house heard his voice. The soldier immediately burst into the cellar and rushed at the child. But before the soldier was able to apprehend him, Reb Dovid pushed the soldier to the floor, and rescued the child from conscription.
As can be imagined, Reb Dovid’s actions were seen as treasonous and it took a tremendous amount of appealing and prodding to exonerate him from prison. The next time the Bais HaLevi met Reb Dovid, he asked him how he had the courage to assault a soldier. Reb Dovid sheepishly replied, “The truth is that I had no idea that he was a soldier. All I knew was that I was trying to teach my student Torah and someone barged in and impeded my lesson. So, without thinking more about it, I shoved him.”
After the splitting of the Sea, "The nations heard... fright gripped them" (15:14). Even the most avowed adversaries of the Jews were overwhelmed by the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Sea. At that point, no one would have the audacity or temerity to attack the Jews, save one nation. Defying logic Amalek, the nemesis of Klal Yisroel, attacked the Jews.
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt’l explains that this strident unprovoked attack was a continuation of the epic battle that began centuries earlier. Prior to Yaakov’s confrontation with Eisav he was challenged by Eisav’s Angel. That battle was essentially a struggle for supremacy and superiority, as to whose philosophical outlook would reign supreme. Was Yaakov and his devotion to holiness and divinity the true dominator of the world or was it Eisav and life by the sword? Although Yaakov triumphed over the Angel he had not vanquished him. Now centuries later, when Yaakov’s descendants were redeemed from the Egyptian exile, they were immediately greeted by Eisav’s grandson, Amalek.
The struggle between Yaakov and Eisav, which re-manifested itself in the struggle between Klal Yisroel and Amalek, is the ongoing struggle between holiness and impurity. Rabbi Hirsch asserts that even Pharaoh, who sanctioned ruthless slavery, could be a promoter of freedom if it served his interests. Amalek however, will never allow his sword to rest as long as Klal Yisroel exists. The mere existence of Klal Yisroel is an anathema to Amalek.
“In Israel he sees the object of moral hate and complete disdain, where one dares to think the sword is dispensable, where one dares to trust in spiritual-moral powers, powers of which the sword has no idea, and which are beyond its reach. In the representative of the idea of the greatness which Man can attain by peace, Amalek sees the utter scorn of all his principles, sees in it his own real enemy, and senses somehow his own ultimate collapse… Attacked by Amalek, Israel had to wage war, but it is not Israel’s sword but Moshes’ staff that conquers Amalek; and it is not any magical power in the staff but the faith which is expressed and brought to the minds of the people by the uplifted hand, the giving oneself up with complete confidence to G-d that achieved the victory.”
Rabbi Hirsch continues, “It is not Amalek who is so pernicious for the moral future of mankind but zecher Amalek, the glorifying of the memory of Amalek which is the danger.“ He explains that as long as mankind glorifies those who accomplish their objectives through violence and force Amalek will endure. Only when the divine laws become the sole criterion for the worth of man and society will Amalek finally be vanquished. Only when there is no longer any trace of his nefarious agenda, i.e. his memory is blotted out, that Amalek himself will cease to exist.
Klal Yisroel is involved in a perpetual war with Amalek. “Amalek’s greatness lies in ‘destruction’. Israel’s mission is ‘building’, the peaceful human building up of everything earthly up to G-d.” One of the great lessons of the commandment that we blot out the memory of Amalek while at the same time remembering the havoc that he wrought is to realize that “building” will at times require battle. Our mission to be the nation of builders entails that we be prepared for combat to defend our cause. The war maybe fought with an unconventional arsenal of weapons, but it is a war nonetheless.
On September 30, 1938 English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact with Adolph Hitler. The pact, part of the Allies’ efforts at appeasement, granted Hitler the Sudetenland. When he returned to England, Chamberlain addressed throngs of cheering crowds. He concluded his address with haunting words: “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time… Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
The Amalek of our time is as virulent and enmity-filled as ever, but there are many who refuse to face it. We simply have a hard time believing the extent of the evilness of Amalek. How much blood has been spilled trying to pacify and appease Amalekites who never had or have any intentions of making peace?
Judaism is not a “religion of love”; Judaism is a religion of G-d and fulfillment of the Divine Will. The wisest of men stated,“There is a time to love and a time to hate”. Our mission is to spread holiness and to wage war against those who seek to destroy it.
In the late 1960s during the era of hippies, flower children, and free love, Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld zt’l told a self-proclaimed ‘lover of humanity’ that he was paying lip service to an ideal that he didn’t really believe in. He continued with a powerful thought: “You say that you are in love with everything. But if nothing makes you angry, then you don’t really love. If you don’t hate you can’t love! Ohavei Hashem sinu ra- Those who love G-d abhor evil!”
When someone loves someone passionately he wants to honor and glorify that person as much as possible. If someone dedicates himself to defaming the person he loves, he will inevitably feel disdain for that person. If one does not feel such strong emotions his love isn’t genuine.
Our battle against Amalek has not yet reached its resolution. It serves as a reminder of the capability of man to descend into a state of human beastliness. We maintain our enmity for Amalek, not merely for the sake of our own welfare, but because Amalek has dedicated itself to the desecration of all that is holy and Divine. Amalek may wear a different mask, but his mission has not changed at all.
Our sages warn that one who has misappropriated mercy for an evil person will end up suffering and regretting it. This was demonstrated by the debacle of King Shaul. Shaul had been instructed by the prophet Shmuel to destroy all of Amalek, including all women, children, and animals. Out of compassion Shaul spared the sheep. Shaul did not realize that the Amalekite King, Agag, had magically transformed himself into a sheep and thus escaped the sword. From Agag descended Haman, the villain of the Purim story.
The Mishna (Rosh Hashana 1:1) relates that Tu B’shvat is the ‘New Year for Trees’. Every tree’s production during the coming year is decided on that day.
In order to produce growth and vegetation, any farmer knows that it is not sufficient for him to put seeds in the ground and water it. He must also pull up the weeds around his vegetation and prune the unnecessary branches on his fruit-bearing trees.
The physical world is a metaphor for the spiritual world. As the Chosen Nation it is not enough for us to engage in altruistic acts of kindness and holiness. We also have an obligation to weed out the evils of this world and chop away at those who seek to undermine our message.
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to accompany a friend who was driving Rabbi Aharon Schechter shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn NY, to a wedding. It was shortly after Yasir Arafat had died and I asked the Rosh Yeshiva how a Torah Jew should view his death. Rabbi Schechter replied succinctly by quoting a verse in Mishley (11:10), “ובאבד רשעים רנה – And when the wicked are destroyed (there is) joy.”
Tu B’shvat is not only a holiday in and of itself, but it also ushers in a joyous period of celebration. Tu B’shavt is thirty days prior to Purim (except in a leap year) and Purim is thirty days prior to Pesach, which begins the count toward our annual (re)acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos. [In fact, there are opinions that directly connect the joy of Tu B’shavt with the imminent days of joy.] The winter may still be casting its bitter cold and dark days, but within the trees the sap is beginning its ascent in its preparation for the rebirth of spring.
In a spiritual sense as well, we recommit ourselves to our unyielding love for G-d and His Service and our passionate enmity for those who have committed themselves to its opposition.
The destruction and undermining of evil is a cause for celebration and song. Thus the Shabbos when we read about the destruction of the Egyptians and the weakening of Amalek becomes “Shabbos Shirah”, a Shabbos of song!
“Those who love G-d abhor evil”
“If you don’t hate you can’t love”
“AN EYE FOR AN I
The story was reaching its crescendo. Esther was poised to reveal to Achashveirosh the answers to the mysteries that baffled him for so long. Who was Esther? Where did she come from? Why did she keep hosting parties for him and Haman? And what was the reason for her inscrutable mystique?
(7:1-6) “The King and Haman came to feast with Queen Esther. The King asked Esther again on the second day of the wine feast, ‘What is your request Queen Esther?’… Queen Esther responded and she said, ‘If I have found grace in your eyes King, and if it is good for the King, grant me my life as my request and my people as my supplication. For we have been sold – I and my people – to be destroyed, slain, and obliterated. Had we been sold as slaves and maidservants I would have remained silent, for the adversary is not worthy of the king’s damage.’ Thereupon, King Achashveirosh exclaimed, and he said to Queen Esther, ‘Who is it? And where is the one who dared to do this?’ And Esther said, ‘An adversary and an enemy! The wicked Haman!’ Haman trembled in terror before the King and Queen.”
Esther’s impassioned plea to Achashveirosh seems difficult to understand. Why did she mention anything about the Jews being sold into slavery? When was there ever any mention about such a proposition, and what does selling the Jews into slavery have to do with Haman’s decree of genocide? Also, why did Achashveirosh angrily demand to know the identity of the promulgator of the decrees; was he not the one who granted Haman full authority to edict those decrees?
To answer these questions, the Apta Rav relates the following extraordinary story: In the time of Rav Sherira Gaon there lived a tremendously wealthy individual. Aside for the man’s extreme wealth he had in his possession a rare invaluable treasure, a Torah scroll written by Ezra the Scribe.
When the man died, his two sons had a strong disagreement about how to allocate their father’s possessions. Both were willing to forgo all of their father’s wealth so that they could take possession of their father’s ancient Torah scroll. When they presented their case to the Jewish court, the ruling was that they should cast a lottery to determine who would merit possession of the scroll. The ‘loser’ would receive all of the father’s wealth. After the lottery was cast, as can be imagined the winning brother was ecstatic. His brother however, was crestfallen. All of the money he received was little consolation to him.
There was an iniquitous fellow in the town who was very bothered by what had occurred. He sympathized with the losing brother and was very angry with the court’s ruling. One night he changed his clothes so that he would not be recognized by the townsfolk, and he entered the synagogue which housed the famous Torah scroll. When everyone had left the synagogue, he clandestinely removed the scroll form the Ark. He rolled it to the words which read, “ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם - And you shall serve Hashem, your G-d…” He scratched out the letter “ayin” in the word “ועבדתם ” and replaced it with the letter ‘aleph’, so that the verse now read, “ואבדתם - And you will destroy…” With the new blasphemous wording, the entire Torah scroll was rendered unfit for use. The man quietly returned the scroll to the Ark and left.
A few weeks later, when the congregation was reading the portion that contained those words, the ‘mistake’ was realized. One can only imagine the utter shock and devastation of the scroll’s owner. Although the scroll could easily be fixed, the egregious error indicated that the scroll had surely not been written by Ezra the Scribe. The owner was so devastated by the event that he became sick and bedridden.
One night the deceased father appeared to his son in a dream. He reassured his son of the scroll’s authenticity and he revealed what had truly transpired. As a sign that what he was saying was true, the father told his son that he should search underneath the table in the synagogue. There he would find the eyeball of the iniquitous fellow who had committed the deed. This was an apt punishment, based on the verse, ‘ayin tachas ayin’.
When this story was repeated to Rav Sherira Gaon he offered a novel explanation of the aforementioned events in Megillas Esther: When Haman first approached Achashveirosh to malign the Jews and convince the king of their unworthiness, he did not propose genocide as an answer to ‘the Jewish problem’. He knew Achashveirosh would not agree to such a socially and politically inept idea. Instead, he suggested to Achashveirosh that the Jews should be enslaved to ensure that they would be kept under control, and could not promulgate their religion any longer. To abet the process, Haman pledged 10,000 silver talents to offset any financial loss his proposition would cause.
It was for that idea that Haman had procured the signature of Achashveirosh. It was strictly a document of sale stating that Haman had permission, “לעבדם – to enslave them.”
As soon as Achashveirosh affixed his signature to the document however, the wily Haman amended it. He erased the letter ‘ayin’ and replaced it with an ‘aleph’, so that it now read that Haman had permission ‘לאבדם - to destroy them’. He also added a few more adjectives calling for their utter obliteration and destruction.
It was to that original decree that Esther was making reference to. “Were we only sold as slaves and maids I would have remained silent”, for that was the original decree to which Achashveirosh had consented. Achashveirosh had never acquiesced to the decree calling for the complete destruction of the entire Jewish people. In fact he was shocked by it. He demanded to know, “Who is it? And where is the one who dared to do this?” When he found out that Haman had duped him into affixing his signature to a decree he had never agreed to, his rage overcame him. The ever-scheming Haman was hung for treason before he had a chance to say a word.
Once the structure of the Mishkan was completed, the special clothes of the priests and High Priest had to be tailored. “Now you, bring Aharon your brother near to you, and his sons with him… You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor.” (Shemos 28:2)
This is actually not the first mention of clothing in the Torah. The concept of clothing is discussed in regards to primordial man.
After Adam and Chava sinned by partaking of the forbidden fruit, they suddenly became aware, and embarrassed of the fact, that they were unclothed. [The commentators explain that, until that point, evil was an external force. Before they sinned, Adam and Chava’s bodies were merely vessels that contained their inner soul. There was therefore no reason for them to cover their bodies. However, when they ate from the forbidden fruit, they ingested spiritual evil along with the physical food. Forevermore, mankind became a conglomerate of dichotomous forces struggling for supremacy within him. The body now became a rivaling faction that challenged the spiritual internal soul. At that point, the body became a source of shame and Adam and Chava became ‘aware of their nakedness’ and were ashamed of it.]
After Adam and Chava were banished from Gan Eden, the verse relates, “And Hashem, G-d, made for Adam and his wife (כתנות עור) garments of skin and he clothed them.”
The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 34) comments on this verse: “In the recorded Torah thoughts of Rabbi Meir they found written (a slightly emended text of the aforementioned verse) “And Hashem, G-d, made for Adam and his wife (כתנות אור) garments of light.”
The Arizal notes that clothing are called by two names: ‘Beged’ which stems from the root-word begidah- treachery, and ‘levush’ which stems from the root-word bushah-shame.
After Adam sinned his body, which now housed his evil inclination, became a subject of shame because of the treachery he had committed. Therefore, G-d granted Adam clothing to spare him that embarrassment. The message of Rabbi Meir was that even after sinning, one’s body need not be a source of shame and humiliation. One has the ability to sanctify himself and transform his body from an object of sin into a conduit/vessel of spiritual light. When one achieves such greatness, his clothing are no longer ‘garments of skin’ but they become ‘garments of light’. Our objective is to transform the ‘ayin’ (כתנות עור) into an ‘aleph’ (כתנות אור).
The clothing that the priests wore while performing the Service in the Temple, symbolized the idea of clothing being ‘garments of light’. They donned their ‘uniforms’ with a sense of duty and responsibility. They clothed their bodies in garments that reminded them of their elite mission and superior status, and it ensured that their bodies remained holy as well.
Why is there a custom to dress up in costumes and masks on Purim?
Haman sought to change the ‘ayin’ into an ‘aleph’ on the document about the Jews. He wanted to destroy every last vestige of the Jewish People, including their dead bodies. Haman recognized that even the lifeless body of a Jew contains holiness, by virtue of the fact that it contained a holy spark. Even after its soul had been snuffed out, a Jewish body had to be disposed of, because it maintains a certain level of holiness.
Our ‘revenge’ against Haman is to replace the ayin with an aleph, albeit in a different venue. We seek to transform our כתנות עור into כתנות אור by recognizing the holiness that our bodies are capable of.
It is appropriate that Haman’s plot was contingent upon one letter for the following reason. In the reading of Parshas Zachor the Shabbos prior to Purim, we recall the original battle that our forefathers fought against Haman’s ancestors, the original Amalekites.
In the final verse of that reading, there is a word which is not clear how it is to be pronounced. “תמחה את זכר עמלק – You shall erase the memory of Amalek”. Some authorities maintain that it is to be read “zecher” while others maintain that it is to be read “zaycher”.
The Torah portion describing the battle with Amalek, itself contains a manifestation of that perennial battle. The difference between the two readings is contingent upon one dot. That one ‘dot’ represents the ‘inner dot’, i.e. the one inner point/spark within the soul of a Jew. It is that dot that Amalek seeks to douse. His desire is to prove that Jews are no different than any other nation, and that they have no added ‘spark/dot’ within.
Amalek challenges the subtleties that Klal Yisroel takes pride in: A letter, a dot, an inner spark.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why we mask ourselves on Purim. Haman sought to destroy all of the Jews by changing a letter. On the day of our victory over Haman we symbolize his failure by showing that we can un-do what Haman did by changing the ayin back into an aleph. On Purim we declare that our bodies are “כתנות אור”, vessels encasing our holy souls. But our exterior is merely a façade, for our true greatness lies inside. Our clothing and our externals are ‘clothing of light’, i.e. they mask a greater internal. On Purim we hide ourselves, symbolizing the fact that we are always masking our real selves.
A Jew is ‘far more than meets the eye’. His impenetrable greatness lies within and permeates his externals as well. On Purim we celebrate, not only that inner greatness, but also the fact that our inner greatness manifests itself externally. Our bodies become “כתנות אור”, vessels encasing our holy souls.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner noted that the law is when one purchases a box of wheat, the seller does not have to give the buyer the box along with the wheat. However, when one purchases a barrel of wine, the buyer must give the seller the wine along with the barrel.
He explained that the reason for this difference is that wine improves with age. The betterment of wine is heavily affected by what it is being stored in. A fancy silver case may damage the taste of the wine, while a wooden one will improve its taste. Therefore, the seller must give the buyer the vessel which is holding the wine, since that vessel plays an important role in the value and taste of the wine.
Grain however, does not improve with time (in fact it can spoil and rot if left for too long). Therefore, its casing is irrelevant to the sale.
On Purim, we celebrate the holiness of the Jewish body. The Jewish body is the vessel which contains our souls and, therefore, is itself a vital component of our ultimate level of holiness. On Purim we drink wine because it reflects the essence of our joy on this day. Wine is bound to its vessel as the Jewish soul is bound to the body.
“For we have been sold – I and my people – to be destroyed”
“G-d made for Adam and his wife garments of light”
“THE DAY AFTE
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