A Freilichin Purim!!
Special Purim Edition in the
Spirit (or Spirits) of the Times
(scroll down for the regular Tetzaveh issue)
לא הגידה אסתר את עמה ואת מולדתה כי מרדכי צוה עליה אשר לא תגיד (2:10)
It is well-known that Hashem’s name doesn’t appear a single time in the entire Megillah. This peculiarity is traditionally explained as hinting to the fact that the Megillah contains only “hidden miracles” but is lacking open miracles which more clearly demonstrating Hashem’s Providence (see Chullin 139b). Rav Eizel Charif, however, sharply suggested that nevertheless, one clear miracle remains, in that Mordechai told Esther not to reveal her religion or nationality, and a woman actually managed to keep a secret!
בימים ההם ומרדכי ישב בשער המלך קצף בגתן ותרש ... ויודע הדבר למרדכי (2:21-22)
שהיו מספרים דבריהם לפניו בלשון טרסי ואין יודעים שהיה מרדכי מכיר בשבעים לשונות (רש"י)
Sir Moses Montefiore once attempted to convince the Chiddushei HaRim of the importance of introducing secular subjects, particularly the study of foreign languages, into the yeshiva curriculum. He brought a proof from the Megillah, as we know that one of the crucial events of the storyline was Mordechai’s overhearing the plan of Bigsan and Seresh to kill King Achashverosh, and relaying the information to Esther so that their designs could be thwarted. However, Rashi writes that they were conversing in their native tongue, and had Mordechai been unfamiliar with any language but his own (Yiddish?), then he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend their scheme and put a stop to it. From here we see the value of Jews learning and being familiar with foreign languages.
The Chiddushei HaRim responded that a closer examination of Rashi yields precisely the opposite conclusion. The only reason that Bigsan and Seresh felt comfortable discussing their plot in front of Mordechai was because they assumed that as a Jew, he wouldn’t recognize their native tongue and they could therefore freely speak without worry. Although Mordechai was required to know 70 languages in order to serve on the Sanhedrin, it is obvious that they recognized that the average Jew has no such familiarity. Would the Jews of the time have learned foreign tongues, then Bigsan and Seresh would have been on guard around Mordechai. We may therefore conclude that it was precisely because the Jews sufficed with knowledge of their own language that they were able to be saved in the Megillah – ונהפוך הוא!
ובכן אבוא אל המלך אשר לא כדת וכאשר אבדתי אבדתי (4:16)
The Gemora in Megillah (15a) interprets the conclusion of Esther’s instructions to Mordechai as noting that until now, every time that Esther had had relations with Achashverosh, it was against her will, but now that she was voluntarily going in to him, it would be considered as if she was a willing participant. The law is that a married woman who has illicit relations becomes forbidden to remain married to her husband unless she was forced to do so (Sotah 5:1, Yevamos 56b). As Esther remained married to Mordechai all this time and continued secretly having relations with him (Megillah 13b), this was only permitted as long as her interactions with Achashverosh were against her will, but now that she was freely going in to have relations with him, she would now be forbidden to Mordechai for life.
Tosefos there questions why Mordechai didn’t divorce her at this time, as any relations she would have while single – even voluntarily – wouldn’t prevent her from later remarrying him. Tosefos answers that giving one’s wife a get (divroce document) to legally divorce her must be done in the presence of witnesses, and Mordechai feared that they might absentmindedly talk about the event, which would eventually make its way to the ears of Achashverosh, thereby endangering the lives of himself, Esther, and the entire Jewish people. However, the Rashba questions why Mordechai didn’t give her a get written in his own handwriting, which effects a divorce even in the absence of witnesses, and answers cryptically אין משיבין על דברי אגדה – it isn’t always possible to ask or answer questions regarding homiletical passages in the Talmud.
The Noda BiYehuda (Yoreh Deah 2:161) was once asked to resolve a difficulty in a different homiletical passage. He begins his reply by describing how pressed he is for time to answer even the most pressing and practical questions which come before him and apologizes that he is unable to delve into the deep, complex subject at that time. He further justifies his actions by quoting the aforementioned Rashba, who states that such questions can’t always be asked and may not have apparent resolutions.
The overworked Noda BiYehuda then continues, “But now that I’ve mentioned that comment of the Rashba, let me tell you the answer to his question!” He suggests that as a historical fact, Mordechai did indeed divorce Esther with a get that he personally wrote, exactly as suggested by the Rashba as a method to do so without requiring witnesses. If so, what is the intention of the Gemora which understands Esther as lamenting the fact that she would be eternally forbidden to Mordechai, which according to the Noda BiYehuda isn’t the case? He innovatively notes that while it was possible to divorce Esther without attracting attention, thereby preventing her from becoming forbidden to him, there was no similar option to subsequently remarry her, as a wedding must be conducted in the presence of witnesses to take effect, leaving her technically permitted to him but forbidden for all practical purposes!
לעשות אותם ימי משתה ושמחה (9:22)
The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 795:2) that the majority of the festive Purim meal must be eaten before sundown while it is still Purim. A priest once challenged Rav Yonason Eibeschutz to explain why the custom of so many Jewish families is to start the meal just before sundown and to conduct the bulk of the meal during the night after the holiday has already ended. Rav Yonason responded with a question of his own. The most popular holiday in the priest’s religion falls on December 25, and the non-Jewish day begins at midnight, so why is it so prevalent among his coreligionists to begin the festivities the night before? Having turned the tables and with the priest now on the defensive, Rav Yonason proceeded to answer his own question. The holiday they are celebrating on December 25 is really the commemoration of the birth of a Jew, so it’s only proper to celebrate it using the Jewish day and to begin with sundown the evening before. Purim, on the other hand, commemorates the death of Haman, a non-Jew, and it is therefore fitting for our festivities to be based on the non-Jewish day and to continue the meal into the night!
והימים האלה נזכרים ונעשים בכל דור ודור (9:28)
The Mishnah in Megillah (17a) rules that one who reads the Megillah backwards doesn’t fulfill his obligation. The Ostrovtzer Rebbe questions why a person would even consider reading the Megillah backwards? He suggests that although we are familiar with the plot of the storyline from a very early age, somebody who is encountering the narrative for the first time may quickly become frightened by the rise to power of the inimical Haman and his diabolical schemes to eradicate the Jews. Such a person may quickly flip a few pages to see if the story, as
Every person’s life is full of struggles and challenges. The lesson of the Megillah is that a Jew must face them with a deeply-rooted recognition and trust that an all-knowing, all-powerful and loving Hashem is watching over him and will orchestrate the unfolding events in a way which is for his ultimate good. The Rebbe writes that the Mishnah is hinting that somebody who reads the Megillah “backwards,” only willing to relive the difficult and scary events after he is assured of the happy ending, has missed the point entirely and therefore failed to fulfill his Purim obligation!
לקים את ימי הפרים האלה בזמניהם (9:31)
The Gemora in Megillah (2a) derives from the plural reference to “times” of celebration in our verse that the day on which walled cities are to observe the Purim festivities (the 15th of Adar) must differ from the day on which unwalled cities do so (the 14th of Adar). Rav Zev Leff once noted that Purim is known as the Yom Tov of Achdus (unity), as we focus on coming together both to hear the Megillah and to eat the festive Purim meal, sending packages of food to friends and family, and remembering to help out our poor brethren so that they may enjoy the meal as we do. If so, wouldn’t it have made for more of a sense of community for the Rabbis to insist on the exact opposite, that everybody should specifically observe Purim together at the same time on the same day?
Rav Leff answered that when everybody is doing the exact same thing, at precisely the same time, in an identical fashion, that can hardly be called true togetherness. The reason why everybody would feel united wouldn’t be because of any genuine, deeply-rooted sense of identification with other Jews, but merely because they all happen to be doing the same thing at present. Rather, true unity is when one Jew is able to tolerate and accept that another Jew is conducting himself differently than he is, and to nevertheless recognize that each in his own unique way is equally fulfilling the will of Hashem! The Rabbis further commanded the sending of Mishloach Manos to our fellow Jews, which represents the concept that one Jew sends his own food from his personal kitchen, prepared according to his customs and preferences, to his friend, and in a demonstration of genuine unity, the latter happily partakes of it!
Purim Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Achashverosh showed off his wealth and splendor by making elaborate feasts full of delicious food and drink (1:3-8). Why wasn’t there any musical entertainment? (Derashos Maharam Shiff)
2) Esther tells Mordechai (4:11) that there is a well-known law that anybody who attempts to enter and approach Achashverosh without being called in to see him will be put to death, yet we find later (6:4) that Haman was on his way to speak to Achashverosh about his plan to hang Mordechai on the gallows that he had just built when Achashverosh called him in to discuss a different subject. How was Haman planning to approach the king if he hadn’t been requested to do so?
3) If one of the obligations of Purim is drink to the point that one is unable to distinguish which of Haman and Mordechai deserves to be blessed and cursed (Orach Chaim 795:2), why did the Rabbis establish that the central song of the day, Shoshanas Yaakov, is one which clearly states that Mordechai should be blessed and Haman should be cursed? (Pachad Yitzchok Purim 6)
4) The Gemora in Megillah (7b) relates that Rabbah and Rav Zeira once ate their Purim seudah together. They became so intoxicated that Rabbah actually killed Rav Zeira, only to pray for him the following day and successfully bring him back to life. At this point, was Rav Zeira still married to his wife, or did their marriage terminate with his death, thus requiring a new kiddushin? (Birkei Yosef Even HaEzer 17:1, Ben Yehoyada Megillah, Haaros Al Kiddushin 13b)
5) Before the performance of a mitzvah, we are accustomed to making a blessing thanking Hashem for commanding us regarding that specific mitzvah. Why is no such blessing recited before fulfilling the Rabbinical obligation to send Mishloach Manos? (Mikraei Kodesh Purim 40)
6) Was the year of the Purim miracle a regular year with one month of Adar or a “leap-year” with two Adars? (Yerushalmi Megillah 7a)
7) It is well-known that at the Pesach Seder we do several unusual things in order to arouse the interest of the children and encourage them to question the reasons for our actions. Where do we find in Hilchos Purim that we do something unusual for the same reason? (Mishnah Berurah 789:16 quoting the Levush, and Eliyah Rabbah there 789:10)
8) We sing on Chanuka in Maoz Tzur that רוב בניו וקניניו על העץ תלית – Hashem hanged most of Haman’s sons and possessions on the gallows. What possessions of Haman’s were hanged with him, and how did they constitute the majority of his estate? (Mayan Beis HaShoeivah)
9) We sing on Chanuka in Maoz Tzur that רוב בניו וקניניו על העץ תלית – Hashem hanged most of Haman’s sons and possessions on the gallows. The Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (49) states that Haman had 40 sons, yet only 10 were hanged on the gallows (9:14), so how can we say that the majority of them were hanged? (Tosefos Yoma 31a D.H. Amah)
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