Thursday, March 09, 2006

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 Hollywood has taught us to expect, ends happily ever after. Upon discovering that indeed the Jews are saved, Haman and his sons are hanged, and Mordechai and Esther inherit Haman’s estate and position, he then turns back to the beginning to continue with the narrative and see how the suspenseful plot unfolds.

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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Monday, March 06, 2006

Parshas Tetzaveh

ואתה תצוה (27:20)

The Baal HaTurim notes that from the birth of Moshe Rabbeinu in Parshas Shemos until his death in the final parsha – V’Zos HaBracha – this week’s parsha is the only one in which his name isn’t mentioned even a single time (assuming that we consider Nitzavim and Vayeilech, which are generally read together, to be a single parsha). He explains that this is because in next week’s parsha, Moshe beseeched Hashem to forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf. He requested (32:32) that if Hashem won’t forgive them, then his name should also be erased from the entire Torah (מחני נא מספרך אשר כתבת). Although Hashem ultimately accepted his prayers and forgave the Jewish people, we have a maxim that a conditional curse of a righteous person will be fulfilled even if the condition itself doesn’t come to pass (in this case, Hashem’s refusal to pardon their sin), so Hashem partially implemented his request by removing him from one entire parsha. However, it remains to be understood why his name was specifically left out of our parsha as opposed to any other?

The Vilna Gaon points out that the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, 7 Adar, traditionally falls during the week of Parshas Tetzaveh, as it does this year. In order to hint that it was at this time that Moshe was taken away from us, the Torah purposely removed him from this parsha. The Oznayim L’Torah contrasts this with the non-Jewish approach of specifically establishing holidays on the day they believe their leader to have been born and died. We, on the other hand, recognize that great as Moshe Rabbeinu was, at the end of the day he was also human; the date of his death isn’t even explicit in the Torah, and during the time when he passed away his name isn’t even mentioned in the weekly parsha.

Others note that Rashi writes (4:14) that Moshe was originally intended to serve as Kohen Gadol, and the position was only transferred to his brother Aharon as a punishment to Moshe. Our parsha deals almost exclusively with the garments and inauguration procedure for the Kohen Gadol. One might have thought (as indeed some Rishonim explain) that Moshe was bitter at being reminded of the loss of what could have been his, and would therefore want to compensate by at least having his name mentioned repeatedly. To demonstrate that Moshe was just as genuinely happy at his brother’s appointment as Aharon had been at the selection of Moshe (see Rashi 4:14), his name isn’t mentioned a single time in the parsha which could have “been his,” as he willingly stepped aside to allow Aharon his moment in the spotlight.

Finally, I once heard in the name of Rav Ovadiah Yosef that the word ספרך, from which Moshe requested to be removed, can also be read as ספר-ך – the 20th portion in the Torah, which is Tetzaveh!

ואתה תדבר אל כל חכמי לב אשר מלאתיו רוח חכמה ועשו את בגדי אהרן לקדשו לכהנו לי (28:3)

Hashem instructs Moshe to command the wise of heart to make the garments for Aharon and his sons. Why does the Torah stress the wisdom in their hearts, when we are accustomed to thinking of wisdom as residing in the brain? Rav Leib Chasman explains that this understanding represents a fundamental flaw in human thinking. From the Torah’s perspective, a wise person is not merely a Harvard professor who is able to intelligently discuss esoteric topics in difficult academic subjects. If his actions don’t reflect his sophisticated intellectual knowledge (as most of the time they unfortunately don’t), then the facts and theorems which he has stored in his head are essentially meaningless.

An expert botanist who is intimately familiar with the characteristics and medicinal properties of every single plant and herb in the world, yet nevertheless chooses to recommend and distribute poisonous instead of healing ones can hardly be defined as wise. He is more comparable to a donkey loaded up with a heavy pile of thick tomes on the subject, as the knowledge he has acquired in his brain remains for him an external load which has failed to penetrate into his heart. The Torah recognizes that the primary criterion for determining wisdom lies in the ability to connect one’s mind, and the information one stored therein, with his heart, which so often guides and determines his actions, and it is for this reason that Hashem stresses the importance of selecting the truly wise – the wise of heart.

והיה על אהרן לשרת ונשמע קולו בבאו אל הקדש לפני ד' ובצאתו ולא ימות (28:35)

The Gemora in Pesachim (112a) relates that Rebbe Akiva once gave seven commands to his son Rav Yehoshua, among which was that he shouldn’t enter his house suddenly and unexpectedly. In his commentary there, the Rashbam quotes a Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 21:8) which relates that whenever he approached his home, Rebbe Yochanan would intentionally make noise so as to alert whoever may be inside to his imminent arrival. Rebbe Yochanan explained his reason for doing so based on our verse, which states that the Kohen Gadol must have bells on the hem of his Me’il (Robe) in order that the sound announcing his entrance should be heard whenever he enters Hashem’s Sanctuary. The Mishmeres Ariel questions how an individual person, even one as great as Rebbe Yochanan or Rebbe Akiva, could derive guidelines for proper conduct from the Torah’s rules from the Kohen Gadol, who was subject to special stringencies due to the sanctity of the Beis HaMikdash in which he served?

He answers that the Gemora in Sotah (17a) states that if a husband and wife dwell together in peace and harmony, then they will merit that the Divine Presence will rest between them and fill their house with an atmosphere of Holiness. If so, we can understand that any man with a successful marriage must indeed recognize that the Shechina resides in his house and conduct himself just as the Kohen Gadol accordingly! It is related that somebody was once discussing an important issue with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on his way home. As they walked through the streets of Shaarei Chesed, Rav Shlomo Zalman suddenly paused and began straightening and cleaning his clothes. As they didn’t appear disheveled to begin with, the man inquired as to the cause of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s actions. The saintly Rabbi replied that he has been blessed for decades to live in peace and tranquility with his wonderful, loving wife, and they are therefore fortunate to feel Hashem as a regular presence in their home. As they were turning the block to approach his house, he felt compelled to make sure his appearance would be appropriate for the important Guest he was about to greet!

ועשית ציץ זהב טהור ופתחת עליו פתוחי חתם קדש לד' (28:36)

The Gemora in Taanis (2a) derives from verses that there are three “keys” which are uniquely Hashem’s and which aren’t given over to intermediaries to execute: חיה, תחיית המתים, מטר – conception, resuscitation of the dead, and rain. The Vilna Gaon notes a beautiful allusion to this contained in our verse, which states that the opening up (פתוחי) of חתם, which is an acronym for the aforementioned three items – חיה, תחיה, מטר – is קדש לד', exclusively performed by Hashem and no other!

שבעת ימים ילבשם הכהן תחתיו מבניו אשר יבא אל אהל מועד לשרת בקדש (29:30)

A controversy once broke out when the Rav of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wished to appoint a new outsider to take his place, while some of the Rav’s sons claimed that they were suited for the position and deserved precedence as the “inheritors” of their deceased father. They agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim for his resolution. He began by noting that it is indeed true that Jewish law recognizes that a Rabbinical appointment, like all religious positions, is subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased.

However, the Gemora in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol, who may inherit his father’s purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen M’shuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not. Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody’s father was suited to the role is irrelevant to his capacity to inherit and fill the role. Similarly, it was true in the olden days that the function of the Rav was religious in nature – to render legal rulings and teach the people – and therefore his children were legally entitled to be offered his position before all other candidates were considered. However, all that has unfortunately changed due to the assault of the reform and communist movements on traditional religious standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rav has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the aforementioned Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased Rav!

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) It is the opinion of the Medrash Tanchuma (8), Rashi (31:18), and the Seforno (24:18, 25:9) that the sin of the golden calf recorded in Parshas Ki Sisa actually transpired prior to the commandments regarding the building of the Mishkan in last week’s parsha and the making of the garments for the Kohanim in this week’s parsha. The Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (17), Daas Z’keinim (25:2) and Ramban (35:1) disagree and maintain that these parshios are written in the order in which they occurred chronologically. However, prior to the Cheit HaEgel, the Divine Service was done by the first-born from each family and not by the Kohanim, who only merited to serve in the Mishkan as a result of their piety during the Cheit HaEgel (Rashi 32:29, Bamidbar 3:12). If so, how can our parsha, which according to the latter opinion was said before the sin of the golden calf, refer to the service in the Mishkan as being performed by Aharon and his sons when at that time it was still done by the first-borns? (Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 125:7)

2) In his commentary on Masechta Shabbos (21b), the Ran writes that because the miracle of Chanuka occurred through the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, the Rabbis applied the stringency of its laws to the menorahs we light on Chanuka and forbade the use of their light for any purpose. How can this be reconciled with the Medrash Tanchuma (3) which recounts that the menorah in the Temple miraculously lit up every single courtyard in Yerushalayim, allowing the people to work using its light? (M’rafsin Igri)

3) If female Kohanim would be permitted to serve in the Beis HaMikdash, would they be allowed to wear the garments of the Kohanim, or would doing so violate the prohibition against wearing a בגד איש (men’s clothing)? (Tosefos Kiddushin 36b, Gilyonei HaShas and Haaros (Rav Elyashiv) there)

4) Rashi writes (28:30) that the Kohen Gadol was able to ask questions of the Urim V’Tumim which was inside of the Choshen, to which he would receive answers from Hashem. Did the letters all light up or protrude simultaneously, requiring his knowledge to properly rearrange them, or did they sequentially spell out the answer for him? (Ramban, Maharsha Yoma 73b, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra, Rav Saadyah Gaon quoted in Shiras Dovid)

5) One Shabbos morning, on Parshas Tetzaveh, after davening had concluded, the Brisker Rav turned to those in his minyan and asked the following riddle: “What else was there in the Courtyard of the Mishkan besides that which is explicitly mentioned in the Parshios of the Mishkan?” (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha – hint: see Rashi 29:4; for another possible answer see Rashi 27:5)

6) Hashem instructs Moshe (30:1) to make the golden altar upon which incense was brought daily. Why is it referred to as a מזבח (altar), which comes from the word זבח (sacrifices), when no animals were ever brought on this altar as sacrifices? (Radak and Ibn Janach in Shaarei Aharon)

7) 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 Torah obligation to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors by reading about those events from a Torah scroll once annually?

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