A freilichin Purim!!!
Special Purim Edition in the
Spirit (or Spirits) of the Times
(see archives for Tetzaveh)
המלך מהדו ועד כוש שבע ועשרים ומאה מדינה (1:1)
The Medrash relates that Rav Akiva was once in the middle of teaching a class when he noticed his students beginning to doze off. He digressed from the subject he had been discussing and asked, “Why did Queen Esther deserve to rule over 127 countries? She merited this because she was descended from Sorah, who lived 127 perfect years.” Why did Rav Akiva interrupt his class specifically to interject this tangent at this time?
The Chiddushei HaRim explains that a person could view Esther’s kingdom as simply a collection of countries, and for each year of Sorah’s life she merited to rule over another one. In reality, each country consists of states, cities, neighborhoods, streets, and even houses. Similarly, a year can be subdivided into months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.
Rav Akiva explained that Sorah didn’t live a “mostly” good life which allowed Esther to receive the same number of countries as the years of her life. If Sorah would have let up for a week or even a second, it would have resulted in a corresponding deficiency in Esther’s empire, causing her to be lacking a city or even just a house. It was only because Sorah’s life was equally good from the beginning until the end (Rashi Bereishis 23:1), every second of every day, for her entire life, that Esther’s kingdom was complete.
Rav Akiva’s students were obviously quite tired, and they assumed that if they would take a short nap and miss a little of the class, it wouldn’t have any substantial ramifications. Realizing this, Rav Akiva wanted to teach them that every second of our lives, every word that we say, and every action that we take, have very real and direct consequences.
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 demonstrate Hashem’s
ויבז בעיניו לשלח יד במרדכי לבדו כי הגידו לו את עם מרדכי ויבקש המן
להשמיד את כל היהודים אשר בכל מלכות אחשורוש עם מרדכי (3:6)
Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. 1, 76-77), quoting the Alter of Kelm, derives a fascinating insight into trusting our Sages from the Megillah. Historically, the events described in the Megillah span a period of nine years, beginning with the party held in the 3rd year of the reign of King Achashverosh (1:3) and concluding with the triumph of Mordechai and Esther over Haman in the 12th year of his reign (3:7).
The Medrash relates that Mordechai warned the Jews against intermingling and attending Achashverosh’s lavish and excessive party, but they answered that not to attend would endanger the lives of the entire Jewish nation, and they attended as they felt that saving lives overrode all other concerns. To the naked eye, there were no immediate negative consequences to their attendance, and they surely concluded that they had acted properly and Mordechai had erred in his zealotry.
Nine years later they had surely forgotten the entire affair when Haman was promoted to second-in-command and ordered that every passerby must bow down to him. In reality, it was permitted to do so, as the Gemora in Sanhedrin (61b) states that there was no actual idolatry involved but merely a question of improper appearance. As a result, the Jews en masse once again maintained that it is obligatory to do so in order to protect themselves and their coreligionists.
Mordechai, on the other hand, felt that it was appropriate to be stringent even where not strictly required to do so by the letter of the law, and he refused to bow down. The Medrash records that once again they begged Mordechai not to endanger their lives, but he refused to listen.
True to their worst fears, Haman learned of Mordechai’s intransigence and, filled with rage, declared war on Jews everywhere. From the perspective of the Jewish people, their reasoning was once again proven correct and “Rabbi” Mordechai’s misplaced piety was to blame for the decree. In reality, things work differently in Heaven.
The Gemora in Megillah (12a) states that the Jews of Shushan were deserving of annihilation because, nine years prior, they had refused to listen to Mordechai’s advice and had enjoyed themselves at the forbidden bash. While the Satan convinced them that Mordechai was to blame for their current dilemma, the truth was the exact opposite. It was their failure to respect and heed the Rabbi’s instructions which eventually brought about Haman’s diabolical decree.
When Mordechai approached them and ordered that everybody must fast for three consecutive days, they could have easily responded, “For too long you’ve been ignoring us. We kept telling you that your fanaticism was going to get us killed, and now you finally learned the hard way. You made this mess, and now it’s your job to go get us out of it!”
This was exactly the “logic” which the evil inclination attempted to impress upon them. Fortunately, in this time of national danger, they were inspired to repent and correct their ways. They chose to listen to Mordechai’s instructions and joined him in the fast which allowed Esther’s risky gamble to succeed.
As happy as they were at the time, the Jews never came to appreciate what Mordechai knew through Divine Inspiration. They never connected the seemingly disparate events to form the big picture that he grasped all along. So many times it seems so “clear” to us the rightness of our thinking and the error of our leading Rabbis’ logic. At such times we would be wise to remember this lesson of Purim and to recognize that perhaps the Rabbis are privy to pieces of the puzzle that we never even knew existed.
לעשות אותם ימי משתה ושמחה (9:22)
The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 695:2) that the majority of the festive Purim meal must be eaten before sundown while it is still Purim. A priest once challenged Rav Yonason Eibeshutz 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 sharply responded with a question of his own. The most popular holiday in the priest’s religion falls on December 25. If the non-Jewish day begins at midnight, 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 brilliantly answer his own question. The holiday they are celebrating on December 25 is really the commemoration of the birth of a Jew. As such, it’s only proper to celebrate it using the Jewish day and to begin at sundown on the evening before. Purim, on the other hand, commemorates the death of Haman, a non-Jew, and it is therefore fitting for our festive meal to be based on the non-Jewish day and continue into the night!
וכל מעשה תקפו וגבורתו ופרשת גדלת מרדכי אשר גדלו המלך
הלוא הם כתובים על ספר דברי הימים למלכי מדי ופרס (10:2)
Rav Yechezkel Abramsky questions the purpose of the Megillah in mentioning that the events detailed therein are also recorded in the historical annals of the Persians. Upon reading this fact, has even a single person ever attempted to track down this version in the recesses of some institutional library?
Rather, it is coming to teach us not to make the mistake of viewing Megillas Esther as nothing more than the historical recounting of an ancient event in our people’s history. If that were its sole purpose, we would be able to research and track down the mundane facts in some academic archives. Instead, the reason that Mordechai and Esther chose to recount the events and the Rabbis saw fit to canonize their Divinely-inspired version must be that it is full of inspiration and moral lessons which are relevant in every generation.
The Mishnah in Megillah (17a) rules that a person who reads the Megillah backwards doesn’t fulfill his obligation. The Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov (agreeing for once) suggest that this law can be symbolically understood as suggesting that one who reads the Megillah but views it “backwards” through a chronological lens, relating to the events described therein as nothing more than a historical narrative, has failed to internalize the lesson of Purim and doesn’t fulfill his Purim obligation!
Purim Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Megillah emphasizes (2:22) that Esther related the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh in the name of Mordechai, from whom she originally heard it. The Mishnah in Avos (6:6) derives from here that whoever states something in the name of the original source brings redemption to the world. Why doesn’t this Mishnah tell us who stated this lesson?
2) Esther told 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 the king 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) Which two wicked people in Megillas Esther have names which rhyme?
4) If one of the obligations of Purim is to drink to the point that one is unable to distinguish which of Haman and Mordechai deserves to be blessed and cursed (Orach Chaim 695:2), 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)
5) If a father commands his post-Bar Mitzvah son not to get drunk on Purim, does the mitzvah of honoring his father obligate the son to obey his father’s request, or is this considered a command to violate a mitzvah which a child is required to disregard? (Halichos Shlomo Vol. 2 19:25)
6) Which mitzvos, if any, of Purim won’t be applicable in the Messianic era? (Shalmei Moed)
7) If a minyan of men can be arranged only once for the reading of the Megillah on Purim, is it better to do so at night or during the day? (V’Aleihu Lo Yibol pg. 242, Aruch HaShulchan 687:3)
8) If Purim falls on Motzei Shabbos, is a person permitted to practice reading the Megillah on Shabbos, or is this forbidden as an act of preparation for after Shabbos? (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchoso Chapter 28 Footnote 169)
9) How many cities can you name which read the Megillah on both 14 and 15 Adar because they are in doubt whether they had walls from the times of Yehoshua bin Nun?
10) On Shavuos and Shabbos Chol HaMoed Sukkos, Megillos Rus and Koheles are respectively read before the reading of the Torah. Why is Megillas Esther read on the morning of Purim only after the reading of the Torah? (Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchoso Vol. 2 Chapter 58 Footnote 106)
11) Rashi writes (Devorim 25:19) that in order to completely blot out the memory of Amalek, a person must also destroy the possessions of the Amalekites so that their name shouldn’t be mentioned in conjunction with the item. How was Esther permitted to accept the house of Haman (Esther 8:1), who was descended from Amalek (Targum Sheini Esther 3:1), instead of insisting upon its destruction? (Rav Yerucham Perlow on Sefer HaMitzvos of Rav Saadyah Gaon Aseh 59, M’rafsin Igri Inyanim Vol. 2, Chavatzeles HaSharon Esther 8:1)
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