Wednesday, February 28, 2007

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 Providence. Rav Eizel Charif sharply suggested that nevertheless, one clear miracle remains. Mordechai told Esther not to reveal her religion or nationality, and a woman actually managed to keep a secret!

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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Monday, February 26, 2007

Parshas Tetzaveh

ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלת נר תמיד (27:20)

As our verse discusses the use of olive oil for the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, the Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 36:1) expounds upon a verse in Yirmiyahu (11:16) in which the prophet compares the Jewish people to olives. One explanation of the Medrash is that just as olive oil is unique in that it remains completely separate and rises to the top when combined with any other liquid, similarly the Jews will always remain distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors and will be superior to them as long they perform Hashem’s will.

In his commentary to a very similar Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:21), the Y’dei Moshe quotes a fascinating legal ruling which he heard from the Rav of Krakow, who was his brother-in-law. The Medrash states that olive oil will rise to the top when mixed with every משקה (liquid) in the world.

However, when he mixed it with whiskey, he found that the olive oil actually settled to the bottom. In order to resolve this scientific challenge to the words of the Medrash, we are forced to conclude that whiskey is not legally considered a liquid, and as a result one shouldn’t use whiskey to make Kiddush on Shabbos day, which must be recited over a “liquid!” (See however Machatzis HaShekel Orach Chaim 272:6 who quotes this opinion and concludes that it is inappropriate to derive legal rulings from Aggadic sources; additionally, highly unscientific tests seem to contradict his claims about the result of mixing whiskey with olive oil.)

ועשית בגדי קדש לאהרן אחיך לכבוד ולתפארת (28:2)

Rav Yitzchok Hutner once related that while studying in Slabodka, he often heard America referred to as the “goldeneh medina..” Lliving in the poverty that was rampant in Eastern Europe at that time, he couldn’t even begin to imagine the wealth and excess being referred to. Even upon arriving at America’s shores, he and all of the immigrants with whom he associated continued living under very simple and modest conditions. Hearing everybody complain about the difficulty in finding a job which paid a decent salary and allowed a person to respect his religious traditions, Rav Hutner remained cynical about the reports that America was a country where money was the most precious commodity and dollars rolled through the streets.

One day, that all changed. Rav Hutner was walking down a Brooklyn street during the week of Parshas Tetzaveh, and he observed two small Jewish boys playing ball in front of their house. The older of the two was regaling his younger brother with all that he had learned from his Rebbe about the lofty role of the Kohen Gadol – his eight beautiful garments, made to invoke glory and splendor; the sacrifices he was able to bring daily in the Beis HaMikdash; and of course, his unique role in effecting atonement for the entire Jewish people once annually, on the holiest day of the year in the holiest place on earth. The young boy listened with interest and fascination, envisioning the action transpiring before his very eyes. He paused to take it all in and digest it before asking … “Tell me, what do you think his annual salary was?” Sadly, Rav Hutner would say later that he had finally been welcomed to the goldeneh medina!

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

The Gemora in Pesachim (112a) relates that Rabbi Akiva gave seven commands to his son Rabbi Yehoshua. One of them was that he shouldn’t enter his house suddenly and unexpectedly. In his commentary on the Gemora, the Rashbam quotes a Medrash which relates that whenever he approached his home, Rabbi Yochanan would intentionally make noise so as to alert anybody who may be inside to his imminent arrival.

Rabbi Yochanan explained his actions 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 entered Hashem’s Sanctuary.

Rav Shmaryahu Arieli questions how an individual person, even one as great as Rabbi Yochanan or Rabbi Akiva, could derive guidelines for proper conduct from the Torah’s rules for the Kohen Gadol, who was subject to special stringencies due to the sanctity of the Temple in which he served?

Rav Arieli quotes the Gemora in Sotah (17a), which teaches that if a husband and wife dwell together in peace and harmony, the Shechina (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 recognize that the Shechina resides in his house and conduct himself just as the Kohen Gadol did.

Lest one think that these lofty levels were only for previous generations, a modern-day example of such behavior can be found in a beautiful story involving Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Somebody was once discussing an important issue with Rav Shlomo Zalman on his way home. As they walked through the streets of Jerusalem, Rav Shlomo Zalman suddenly paused to straighten and clean his clothes.

As his clothing didn’t appear disheveled to begin with, the man inquired as to the cause of the Rav’s actions. The saintly Rav replied that he had been blessed for decades to live in peace and tranquility with his wonderful, loving wife, and they were 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 ensure that his appearance would be appropriate for the important Guest he was about to greet!

In light of such daily behavior, it shouldn’t be surprising to conclude by mentioning that at the funeral of his beloved wife and lifelong partner Rebbetzin Chaya Rivkah, the normally humble Rav Shlomo Zalman announced that it is customary that at the funeral of one’s spouse, he should ask forgiveness from the deceased for anything he may have done or said that caused pain in any way.

However, Rav Shlomo Zalman continued, “I have no need to do so, for I can say with complete confidence that in almost 54 years of marriage, I never once upset or hurt her in any way, and there is nothing for which I need to ask her forgiveness.”

Although marriage brings its daily challenges for even the most compatible of spouses, let us learn to overcome them by viewing our efforts to keep the peace as bringing the Divine presence into our homes, thereby turning ourselves into High Priests who serve Hashem every time we enter our homes and instill an atmosphere or happiness and harmony.

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 wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while some of the Rav’s sons argued 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 resolution.

The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are 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 Meshuach 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 was suited to the role is irrelevant to his son’s capacity to inherit and fill the role.

Similarly, it was once true that the function of the Rav of a community was purely religious in nature – to render legal rulings and to teach the people – and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered.

However, the Chofetz Chaim continued, this 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 Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased Rav!

זכור את אשר עשה לך עמלק בדרך בצאתכם ממצרים (דברים 25:17)

The Kli Yakar writes (Shemos 17:8) that in relating that Amalek attacked the Jewish people in Refidim, the Torah is hinting to the source of their ability to have any power over the Jews. As long as the Jewish nation is in a state of internal unity, Amalek has no ability to harm them. Refidim (רפידם) contains within it the letters which form the root of the word פירוד – separation – hinting to the fact that when the Jews encamped there, they were stricken by strife and discord (see Rashi Shemos 19:2).

The Chiddushei HaRim suggests that this is alluded to by the Torah’s emphasis on remembering what Hashem did לך – to (the singular) you, as Amalek holds no sway over a united Jewish nation. Rashi writes (Devorim 25:18) that Amalek struck at those who had been expelled by the Clouds of Glory from the Jewish camp as a result of their sins. Those individuals didn’t enjoy the merit of being part of the community, and they were therefore susceptible to Amalek’s attacks.

Haman, who was descended from Amalek, learned this lesson from his ancestors. The Sfas Emes notes that Haman described to Achashverosh (Esther 3:8) his desire to eradicate an עם מפוזר ומפורד. Literally, he described the Jews as a people who are scattered and dispersed around the world, but this may also be understood as a nation of people are who separated from one another and lacking in unity.

The Shelah HaKadosh writes that recognizing the true source of Haman’s power, Esther immediately began efforts to unify the nation, instructing Mordechai (Esther 4:16) go gather together all of the Jews, not just physically but also symbolically. Not surprisingly, it was this national togetherness which prevailed, as is memorialized in the well-known song Shoshanas Yaakov צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי – the Jewish nation was cheerful and glad when they saw together that Mordechai was robed in royal blue – a lesson which should inspire us to new levels of feeling a sense of community and togetherness with our fellow Jews in these difficult times for our people.

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

1) Hashem told Moshe (27:20) to command the Jewish people to take pure olive oil in order to light the menorah. Is it also preferable to use olive oil instead of candles to light one’s Shabbos candles? (Mishnah Berurah 264:23, Pri Megodim Aishel Avrohom 264:12, Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 264, Dibros Moshe Shabbos Chapter 2 Ha’arah 23, Shu”t Az Nidb’ru 3:4)

2) Hashem told Moshe (28:3) to instruct the “wise of heart” to make garments for Aharon. Hashem later added (31:6) that He had placed wisdom into the hearts of those are wise to allow them to do so. From this latter verse the Gemora in Berachos (55a) derives that Hashem only gives wisdom to one who already possesses it. How did these wise-hearted individuals escape the apparent catch-22, and from where did they attain their initial wisdom? (Baal HaTurim 28:3, Nefesh HaChaim 4:5, Sichos Mussar 5733:2, Shiras Dovid)

3) The Gemora in Yoma (9b) states that the first Temple was destroyed for the sin of idol-worship. As the Gemora in Zevochim (88b) states that the ephod (28:6-12) atoned for the sin of idolatry, how could the Beis HaMikdash be destroyed for a sin for which the ephod effected atonement? (Shavuos 7b, Tosefos Sanhedrin 37b, Rav Chaim Kanievsky quoted in M’rafsin Igri)

4) As the Me’il was a four-cornered garment, why wasn’t the Kohen Gadol required to place tzitzis on its corners? (Minchas Chinuch 99:4, Shu”t Doveiv Meishorim 3:16, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

5) Why was there a need for two different altars in the Mishkan? (Kli Yakar, Taam V’Daas)

6) 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 Smag Aseh 59, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

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