by Daneal Weiner
Rav Nachman Bulman, Shlita, on
There are 3 themes running through the Megilla.
The first is Hashem’s hiddeness. Esther asked the Sages of the time, “Write me for all generations.” What is she asking? That the Purim story not be written as a history book. Not as a story book. Not a book for the library shelf, maybe you’ll find it, maybe you won’t. Rather it should be for the Beis Hamidrash shelf where it will always be found. Generation after generation.
Esther asked the Sages, “Write me for all generations,” It should become part of Torah shebichtav- the Written Law. There should be a declaration of its sanctity. It should be part of the prophetic works which instruct and obligate a Jew in halacha- law and in hashkafa- outlook.
How could they write her for all times? What was missing from this work that is found in every other Jewish work? Hashem’s Name. But it’s more than that. What does that mean, to have Hashem’s Name present. To express it poorly, it means Hashem is the major player. The star. The story is under His direction. We wait for His communications. His instructions. And ultimately, what is His message to us that it was written for all generations? What halacha and hashkafa do we take away from it? If Hashem is not here, then what is there?
For a work to be part of the prophetic works without Hashem’s Name there, it has to be everywhere! When we come to the end we find out He was always there since the beginning. It’s all Hashem’s Name. One of the ways this point is emphasized is the Megilla being inscribed with every column beginning with the word Melech- King. It’s an allusion that the King of kings is everywhere.
The second theme is Mikrius – accidentalism. The Magilla seem to be accidental, without control, without connection. One day Achashveirosh cuts off the head of the queen because of the minister. One day he cuts of the head of the minister because of the queen. And he always has an alibi. He’s drunk, he’s angry, he was advised that way. The story spans 12 years with no sense of providence.
Our Rabbis in Talmud and Midrash dispute whether the seemingly haphazardness was a product of free choice or whether it came from impulse. But regarding Achashveirosh, on the first verse, “And it was in the days of Achashveirosh, he was Achashveirosh…” they ask what does that mean “he was Achashveirosh” They answer from his beginning till his end he was who he was, and he was a rasha- wicked man.
That Divine providence was there all through the mikrius is 100% provable. But the moral responsibility of the individuals is not so easily provable. Our Sages are saying, don’t think at times Achashveirosh was not morally responsible. He always was. The Talmud show instances that this rasha knew what was going on all along. But it’s a far more complex and subtle question than the overall question of Providence.
The third theme is Pur- lots. Casting of lots. How do people who do not believe there is any human moral responsibility for anything, no ultimate reckoning, how can they think that the drawing of a lot has any meaning? Because where ever there is a denial of Hashem and Providence there is to be fatalism and chance.
Where does this contradiction come from? Human nature has a constitution, an endowment from Above, that with out some kind of belief beyond the self a person can’t live. The question isn’t do you believe in G-d or not? It’s, do you believe in G-d or what else? Because something else has to be there.
The first time I saw this was when a Russian woman came to me, almost two decades ago, before the breakdown. She was accompanied by her daughter and daughter-in-law and she wanted me to make her daughter swear on a Torah Scroll that she’ll stop using witchcraft on the family. I asked this woman, do you light Shabbos candles? Do you believe there’s a G-d? “No! What does that have to do with anything?”
Secular Russian Jewry wanted to get out of Russia but the heresy was engrained in them. They hated being personally crushed by communism, and rightfully so. They hated the economics of communism. But the religion communism was in their bones. Torah is mindless, crazy, old fashioned… and same time they were deeply fatalist and superstitious. G-d, no. A black cat, yes!
Eliezer, when searching for a wife for Yitschak, he asks G-d to show him a sign. By us, however, these are requests for an expression of Providence, which we believe in, to manifest itself to us, to make a decision, to show us G-d’s hand, His direct involvement.
When do we believing Jews draw lots? On Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur two identical goats were taken, one, by the draw of the lot, was going to be offered in the Temple, to G-d, and one was sent l’azazel- to forces of impurity which G-d created. It teaches us the two sides of the human heart, the good and evil inclinations, are identical. Are equally balanced. What tips the scale? The will of the person. This is Rav Shimshon Hirsch’s explanation. The lots didn’t come out 50-50. There wasn’t an iota of randomness. Every time the lot for G-d was to came out in the high priest’s right hand. That was the expression of G-d’s satisfaction with us.
Concluding with a point relevant to the first theme, we said without Hashem’s Name, we need His message? The final result that would deem a work with the sanctity of the Written Law, there has to come out of it Torah. Something that is Moshe’s Torah or a strengthening of or a defense of Torah from Sinai.
Which words contain this message in Megilla? Kimu v’kiblu- [the Jews] confirmed and undertook [upon themselves and their posterity]. The Gemorah says Kimu ma shekiblu kvar- They confirmed what they had undertaken already at Sinai.
For the last 9 years, since Achashveirosh’s party, it looked like Hashem had left us. 70 years passed since the destruction of the First temple, as predicted, and there is no redemption. No rebuilding. Abandoned to the whims of a wild Hitler dressed like drunken king. And in the end we realize G-d was always there. Every event was Divinely directed so that in a moment there is a total reversal of fortune. For the first time in history we accepted the Torah, not because of the miracles, not because of Moshe, not from the force of truth paralyzing us from doing otherwise, but of our own free will.
Rav Moshe Wolfson, Shlita, on Purim.
The Gemorah says a person is supposed to drink on Purim till he does not know the difference between the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman. Purm is about not knowing. Not understanding. Why not? The Maharal points out that once the miracle begins, things suddenly pick up speed, as if trying to push away time.
Esther asked Achashveirosh and Haman to a feast that day. Achashveirosh commanded Haman be hurried to fulfill Esther’s words. That night when Achashveirosh found out he did not reward Mordechai and Haman mistakenly suggested he be rewarded with royal dress and an escort, Achashveirosh tells Haman to hurry and take the garment and horse and lead Mordechai around.
When Hamen arrived home and was telling his wife what happened, men from the palace came and hurried Haman to the second feast. When the letters went out that the Jews could defend themselves, the riders went on swift animals in urgent haste.
The Maharal explains that this world functions in a setting of time. Time is part of the natural physical running of the world. But in Heaven there is no time. Whereas all other miracles would elevate us towards Heaven, the miracle of Purim brings Heaven down to earth and on its way down it pushes away time. On Purim heavenly things happen on earth. So Purim is for not understanding because if we can’t comprehend Heaven in heaven, we certainly can’t comprehend Heaven on earth.
As humans, we are curious. We like to investigate. We usually try to understand our earthly environment. Not on purim. We have to surrender our minds. And this is a preview of what will be in the 7th millennium when the world will be yom shekulo Shabbos- a time that’s entirely Shabbos. When Purim falls on a week day, all work is allowed but still we have to put on Shabbos clothing. It’s a Heavenly atmosphere on earth.
On Purim we accepted the Torah out of love. We were not compelled like on Shavuos. Accepting from love is greater than from fear or reverence. The Chasam Sofer says, I’m afraid to repeat it, that the Heavenly light from Megilla, is even greater than that for Moshe’s Torah because our accepting it from love brought us closer to Hashem then Moshe’s Torah did.
Paralleling Moshe’s Torah, it was also a time when Heaven came down to earth. And so we count 50 days from Pesach t Shavuos but the last day we don’t count. And Moshe pushed off the Revelation for a day. Then too we see when Heaven came down to earth it pushed away time.
The first Mishnah in Megilla says we could read the Megilla as early as the 11th of Adar. That’s three days before the holiday. A Rav Yitchak Vorka, a great Rav from about 100 years ago said the three days prior to Purim parallel the three days prior to the Revelation when Israel had to prepare themselves to receive the Torah. Purim is definitely not to be taken lightheartedly. We have to prepare ourselves, condition ourselves. And if we do it right we will merit many great gifts from Hashem.
On purim Hashem gave us two great mitsvos. Matanos la’evyonim- gifts to the poor and mishloach manos- food portions for friends. In Psalms we say Hashem tsilcha–Hashem is your shadow. Whatever you do your shadow does. On Purim when we give matanos la’evyonim, Hashem ‘reacts’ by giving us. We are paupers compared to Hashem. Destitute. We only have what He ever gives us, otherwise we’d have nothing. For those who deserve a little more, they’ll merit a mishloach manos from Hashem. Hashem does for us what we do for others. And the opposite is also true, G-d forbid.
Actually we have four mitsvos on Purim, correlating to the four letter name of Hashem. Two just mentioned and the Purim feast and hearing the Megilla. At the end of Beshalach we read, “For the hand is on the throne of G-d; Hashem maintains a war against Amaleik from generation to generation.” G-d’s name in this verse is not spelled fully. Only two off the four letters appear. Purim, which is about defeating Amaleik has 4 mitsvos to complete Hashem’s Name.
Giving tseddaka is the greatest of the four, as we just started to say. Charity is a mitsva every day of the year but on Purim it’s especially big. There are 248 positive commandments correlating to the 248 limbs/organs of the body and 365 prohibitions correlating to the 365 sinews of the body. Every mitsva which involves particular organs and sinews is like a switchboard for activating, for turning on the light of holiness in different spiritual worlds. On Purim, Hashem re-wires our connection with the Heavens. So giving a dollar to charity during the rest of the year may light up a 100 watts of light. But giving a dollar tseddaka on Purim lights up a 1000 watts. 10,000 watts of lights.
The Arizal says that when you hold out money for charity, the money is the yud, the first letter of Hashem’s Name. Your 5 fingers are the hey, the second letter. Your outstretched arm is the vav, the third letter. And the 5 fingers receiving the charity is the final hey, the last letter. Giving tseddaka repairs the damage Amaleik does in the world. It makes a yichud, a union of the letters of Hashem’s Name. [Since no aspect of Judaism stands alone from any other, there is a problem of yichud between an unmarried man and woman. So when one gives charity to the other the donor should first transfer the money from their right hand to their left and then give it over.]
The majority of your money should go into tseddaka rather than into mishlo’ach manos. Tseddakah is to be given to anyone who asks. No discrimination. Even to Gentiles who ask. And this awakens in Hashem, so to speak, the desire to give to all of us what we need, also indiscriminately. Without examining, do we deserve it or not. On Purim we should put a lot of money aside for tseddaka. And then put aside some more. Don’t miss the opportunity. Give till it hurts and then remember Torah says it shouldn’t hurt. Hopefully, this year, our kindness will merit the yichud of Hashem’s Name and that will bring Mashiach.
The Slonomer Rebbe, zt’l, on Purim.
The Gemorah says a person is supposed to drink on Purim till he does not know the difference between the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman. It’s a remarkable obligation. Purim is like Yom Kippur, when we were forgiven. Purim is like Mt. Sinai, even greater. It’s a time of defeating our enemies. It’s a time for giving to anyone who puts out his/her hand. There are so many great and sanctified connections to Purim and yet we are told to drink to such a degree?
A hint to understanding is in the words of our Rabbis. “One is obligated to become intoxicated [with wine] on Purim.” The exclusion of the words ‘with wine’ allows one to read it, “One is obligated to become intoxicated in Purim.” The realization of the magnitude and sanctity of this one single day of the year should have an intoxicating affect on a Jew.
This intoxication till we don’t know the difference between the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman should be seen in Purim itself. On Purm we read the Megillah, give gifts, and remember our war on Amaleik. These represent the three categories of all mitsvos, those between man and G-d, between man and man, and between man and himself. As the Maharal writes, one’s complete service of Hashem has to be complete in all areas. In these three areas we find the blessing of Mordechai and the curse of Haman.
The Megilla reading is between man and G-d. There are times when Hashem is showering kindness on the world. Not just because everyone is healthy and all things are going well. Even in a spiritual sense, we feel connected. We feel Hashem is with us. This is the blessing of Mordechai.
Other time it’s very different, G-d forbid. Their health problems, financial problems, not getting along, and worst of all, one feels disconnected with Hashem. One feels alone and abandoned from Hashem. This is feeling the curse of Haman.
Purim is when we blur the two. The story of Purim is to teach us that there is no such thing as this blessing and curse. Hashem is always with us. We are always connected. When Israel was in the 49th level of spiritual impurity, without a single merit for redemption, Hashem sent Moshe to Pharaoh with the message, “So says Hashem, ‘My first born son is Israel. Send out My son that he may serve Me.’”
For 9 years Israel thought Hashem had abandoned them until they realized He was there the whole time. To think that there are times when Hashem is with us and times when He is not is a mistake of the illusion of our senses. We become intoxicated with the message of Purim to dull those senses. To not know the difference between the ‘blessing’ and the ‘curse’ of our relationship with Hashem.
The mitsva of tseddaka is indiscriminate. The mishloach manot we pick and choose who we give to. We all have friends, good friends. People that are always there for us. We want to be there for them. We can ask them for anything. These friends are the blessing of Mordechai. But then there are people not so high on our list. People with problems. Their a little to this or that or the other. We can do without them. They are the curse of Haman.
Our Sages say, as brought down by Maimonedes, that the mitsva of loving a fellow Jew applies to every other Jew and they are to be loved as one loves him/herself! This is the idea behind the gift giving on Purim. The indiscriminate giving of charity should influence a desire for indiscriminate giving of mishloach manos.
Haman won over the right from the King to destroy the Jewish people saying they are a people who are scattered and dispersed. Our merit to defeat our enemies was in showing that we are all together, we are all one, we all love each other as much as we love ourselves. We become intoxicated with the message of Purim to dull the egos and other pettinesses which case separation. To not know the difference between the ‘blessing’ and the ‘curse’ of our relationship with our fellow Jews.
Finally, regarding Amaleik, that is the representation of man and himself. Amaleik is our evil inclination. We are put in this world for a purpose. That purpose is building our relationship with G-d. And G-d created the world so that everything in it can be used towards that purpose. There are moments when we spend our time and energies developing our Tselem elokim- G-dly image. There are times when are resources go towards our more base, animalistic inclinations. Pursuing the divine is the blessing of Mordechai. Pursuing lusts and desires of the evil inclination is the curse of Haman.
On Purim we feast for the honor of Hashem. We drink and dine in recognition of our relationship with Hashem. We load up the table with all the worldly delicacies and we dive in head first. We become intoxicated with the message of Purim that all our physical desires can be used in our service of Hashem. To not know the difference between the ‘blessing’ and the ‘curse’ of our relationship with ourselves.