The Wings of Morning - A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Parshas Ki Sisa


Beyond the Tree of Knowledge--by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
Emptiness--by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
The Two Jesters--by Rabbi Israel of Rizhin
Camels Eat Thorns--by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Thoughts on Megillas Esther--by Yaacov Dovid Shulman

Beyond the Tree of Knowledge
by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook spoke one Purim, when his heart was rejoicing with wine, the wine of Torah:

"Rava said: A person is obligated to get intoxicated on Purim, until he does not know the difference between 'Cursed is Haman' and 'Blessed is Mordechai' (Megillah 7b)."

"Until he does not know"--until he rises beyond his knowledge, beyond the sin of the tree of knowledge, until he arrives at the radiance of Adam before the sin, before the sin of the tree of knowledge.

And the sages taught: "What is the Torah source for Haman? The answer is found in the verse: "Is it so that from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from, you have eaten? (Bereishis 3:11)" (Chulin 139b).

The word for "is it so" (hamin) has the same letters as does the word Haman.

The eating of the tree of knowledge introduced evil into the world: "this evil Haman." But transcending the tree, before the sin of the tree of knowledge, there is no place for Haman in the world--his name and memory are erased, as though he never existed.
Moadei Harayah, p. 258

by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

There are souls to whom clinging to the divine is the foundation of their life. When they maintain only a minimal involvement with the Torah and its commandments, they feel a depth of suffering that stems from an emptiness affecting the quality of their souls.

Such people are able to comprehend the great destruction wrought by evil-doers, those who forget God.

Such people can comprehend to what a degree these evil people's image is marred, and how truly pitiable they are--these people who, wise in their own eyes and believing that they lack nothing, follow the dictates of their evil heart.
Oros Hakodesh IV, p. 447

The Two Jesters
by Rabbi Israel of Rizhin

The Hasid, Yechiel, told this story to the spiritual master, Rabbi Elazar of Koznitz.

Rabbi Elazar had asked him if he had ever heard Rabbi Israel of Rizhin say anything that appeared to be empty words (God forbid). Rabbi Yechiel answered, "I will tell you what I heard with my own ears."

And this is what he told him:

One Friday evening, as Rabbi Israel of Rhizhin sat at his festive table ready to make kiddush, he lifted the cup in his hand and started to say the first words: "And it was evening, and it was morning." But then he put the cup back on the table, and began to tell a story.

Once (said Rabbi Israel), there was a wedding between the children of two very rich people. The wedding was set to take place very soon. It is typical that when such a wealthy wedding takes place that every jester wants to perform there, because he can earn a lot of money.

Two jesters came, each wanting to be chosen to perform at the wedding. When they began to argue, the two fathers interrupted them and made a compromise: Each jester should perform for them, and the one they liked better would perform at the wedding. They would now throw lots to choose who would perform first.

One of the jesters was called Reuben, and the other was called Simon. Reuben was chosen to go first.

Reuben climbed onto the table, and began to tell an incredible story about something that, he said, had actually happened to him. He invited everyone to listen and enjoy his story:

I, Reuben the Jester (Reuben began his story)--when I became a man and it was time for me to get married, I took a wife, as God has commanded us. Soon afterwards, I happily had a son.

I told my wife, "You should know that three partners are needed to make a person: God, the father, and the mother (Nidah 31a). Our son is God's son, so you have to be careful with him, and guard him in holiness and purity. He has to be holy from birth, a nazirite among his brothers. He should be fit to be called the son of the Holy One, blessed be He."

When my wife heard my words, they went into her heart so deeply that she really believed that the boy is the son of the Holy One, blessed be He, and none other. As a result, she put aside everything else she had to do, and just took care of our son to make sure that he should always be pure. Every day she brought him in his carriage to the study hall so that his ears should only hear holy prayers and words of Torah, and nothing of this empty world. She didn't let him look at anything unclean, and she did other such things. She went so far that the boy became a vessel filled with holiness, and you could say about him, "Happy is his father" (Rav MiBartenura on Avot 2:8).

After a while, I had another son, and then a third son, and she took very good care of them as well, in holiness and purity, but not like the first son, to whom she devoted all her strength and thoughts in order that he should be fit to be a son of the Holy One, blessed be He.

Then, when I already had three sons and the first-born was three years old, it was time to start teaching him, so I sent him to school ("When a minor knows how to speak, his father teaches him Torah [and the reading of the Sh'ma], etc.--Succah 42a). I told my wife, "The Holy One, blessed be He, gave us three sons, and each person is made by three partners: the Holy One, blessed be He, the father, and the mother. Let us divide our sons in that fashion: Our first-born son, who is so holy, is fit to be entirely given over to the Holy One, blessed be He. Therefore, I am going to set aside all my other business and only work with him, to teach this son of the Holy One, blessed be He. As the verse says, 'Educate a child according to his nature; even when he grows old, he won't turn aside from it'(Proverbs 22:6). I'll see to it that he is brought up on Torah and serving God with holiness and purity until he will really be fit to be called a son of the Holy One, blessed be He."

And I did this. I set aside all my other business. First of all, I put him in school in holiness and purity. I wrapped him in a prayer shawl and brought him to school. I made a feast for poor people on that day, and I gave a lot of charity. I gave his teacher a large sum of money in order to watch the boy well and learn Torah with him in holiness and purity. And the Holy One, blessed be He, helped me, and the boy did well in Torah and in awe of God, constantly doing more and more until the time of his bar mitzvah came.

Then I made a feast to celebrate the bar mitzvah. I gave charity to poor people, and my son gave a long talk on both the revealed and the mystical parts of the Torah, so that the entire city wondered at his greatness in Torah and in awe of God, to the extent that people said that he has no equal in the entire world. They said that this isn't a human understanding, but Godly. So you can understand that my work wasn't for nothing. He was really fit to be called a son of the Holy One, blessed be He.

Then more time passed, and the time came to find a wife for him. Matchmakers began to propose all sorts of matches to me, with the daughters of the richest and finest people, for who wouldn't want to have such a holy son-in-law?

But I couldn't decide which match to accept, because I realized that none of them were fit to marry my son--for who is fit to give his daughter as a wife to the son of the Holy One, blessed be He? As a result, I wasn't able to agree to a match.

Meanwhile, a few more years passed by, and my son still wasn't married. I started to worry and grew frightened that he would remain single, God forbid. And what would he come to? Man was created to take a wife and to have children. I became terribly depressed, and I had no idea what to do.

Finally, I made up my mind. I, Reuben the Jester, went into the fields. I went to a very clean spot, and I poured out my bitter heart before the Holy One, blessed be He. I said to Him, "Master of the world, You know very well my work for my holy son's sake, until he has become a holy and pure genius with no equal in the entire world. You Yourself know that there is no one in the world fit to give his daughter in marriage to him. So let him become Your son-in-law, because the in-laws have to have something in common. The verse says, 'There is none beside Him'- -There is no equal to the Holy One, blessed be He. But the Talmud says (Yevamos), 'Let a man descend a step and marry a wife.' That is to say, when a man takes a wife, he should take a wife from a lower level than his.

So I should marry my son to the daughter of the greatest man of the generation, a man like Moses himself, about whom the verse says, "And You have made him just a little less than God" (Psalms 8:6). Moses was just a level lower than God. And the Talmud says (Sabbath 101b) that one rabbi called another rabbi Moses, and the holy Rashi comments, 'This refers to the great man of the generation.' So I should make a match with the greatest man of the generation. But the greatest man of the generation wouldn't agree to such a match, because my son is called after me, 'Reuben the Jester's son,' and I'm a poor jester. Therefore, I ask the Master of the world to give me wealth."

The Holy One, blessed be He, Who is full of truth and lovingkindess, listened to my prayer, and accepted it.

The Holy One, blessed be He, told the heavenly court to consider my case, and it decided that I'm right. I immediately heard a heavenly voice: "Reuben, move back and spread out your garment." I did so, and great riches fell from heaven directly into the garment.

I immediately started running home with great joy, because God, blessed be He, had helped me.

On the way, I came across this very Simon the Jester, who always wants to know what's going on with me. When he saw that I was carrying so much gold and precious jewels, he asked me, "You're just a jester like me. Where did you get all those riches?" And you should know that he is by nature a stingy person who can't tolerate another person's good fortune.

But because my nature is the exact opposite, because I'm a generous person who feels good about someone else's good fortune, I told him the entire story, and I showed him the spot where I had stood in the field.

He began to shout, "I also have a son of the Holy One, blessed be He, and I also brought him up to learn Torah and serve God." And he stood in the same place, and called out to the Holy One, blessed be He, saying that God should give him wealth because his son has to get engaged, the same as my son.

The Holy One, blessed be He, Who is a righteous judge, listened to Simon just as he had listened to me, and told the heavenly court to examine his case. Their verdict was that Simon the Jester is a dishonest liar who wants to imitate what Reuben did, just as a monkey imitates a human being.

So they decided that Reuben should slap Simon twice in the face and chase him away.

As soon as Reuben finished saying this, he jumped down from the table, went over to Simon, slapped him twice in the face, and flung him out of the house.

And when Rabbi Israel of Rhizhin finished telling this story, he stood up, picked up the cup and made kiddush.
Niflaos Yisroel, p. 11

Camels Eat Thorns
by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Camels eat thorns.

In this regard, unpretentious holy people can be compared to camels. They consume those "thorns" that surround the level of spirituality known as the supernal rose (shoshanah).

This rose represents holy speech. As the verse states: "His lips are roses...." (Shir Hashirim 5:13).

These tzaddikim learn Torah and pray, day and night. In this way, they consume the thorns. Now the negative forces represented by the thorns are not able to draw sustenance from holy speech.

Simple, whole-hearted service of God is not subject to imitation and misuse.
Likutei Moharan II: 15

The following are some scattered observations on Megillas Esther.

The character of Mordechai may be summed up in his stance before Haman: "he did not rise and he not move." Mordechai is firm, with a strong sense of dignity and justice.

Gentiles do not like him. When Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, the other nobles inform Haman, because they want to see what will happen. Later on, as Mordechai gains influence, we are told that the gentiles fear him. Even in the megillah's last verse, we learn that Mordechai is acceptable only to the majority of his fellow-Jews. He is not a convivial person.

Esther, on the other hand, is a person who pleases everyone. And she uses that character to influence the king for the sake of the Jewish people.

As for Achashveirosh, he plays the part of a weak and passive man--first swayed by Haman, and then by Esther. The theme of passivity is stressed in the Megillah by the great quantity of verbs in the passive form. (Perhaps this also indicates human passivity before God.)

All we know of Achashveirosh's initiative is that at one point he gives a tax holiday; and, later on, raises taxes.

Achashveirosh has a propensity toward anger. But although his rage cannot be controlled, it can eventually be assuaged. Achashveirosh is passionate, pleasure-seeking and emotional.

His passions are very much related to women. He attempts to subject his wife, Vashti, to a humiliating display.

Then he agrees to a beauty contest in which each girl must prepare herself for an entire year before he will see her. In this decision to hold a beauty contest, Achashveirosh shows himself to be at the mercy of his desires. We are told that Achashveirosh's wrath at Vashti was assuaged, and as a result, his servant boys advised him to hold a beauty contest. The megillah intimates that the lack of his beautiful queen was leading Achashveirosh to act in such an egregious fashion (whatever that was) that even his servant boys were driven to offer him advice. Achashveirosh's essential weakness and passivity are demonstrated when we see the monarch of a vast empire being advised by his servant boys.

And Achashveirosh's decision to execute Haman results from his fantasy that Haman is attempting to attack Queen Esther.

Haman too is a man of rage. Whereas he can control his hatred (when he sees Mordechai, he "holds himself back"), it is unending, and grows to a genocidal fury. Haman is driven by his burning hatred to a goal of power and destruction. To him, not even money is important in relation to his drive to attain his goals.

As for Esther's development, at first she merely follows Mordechai's direction. But gradually, she becomes an active leader. The first instance of this is when she tries to get Mordechai to remove his sackcloth (which he is wearing as a result of Haman's decree). However, Mordechai over-rules this first attempt of hers at decision-making.

Against Esther's misgivings, Mordechai persuades her to intervene with Achashveirosh. Here appears the most eloquent speech of the megillah, the only one making reference (even if only obliquely) to God. (I don't recall that Mordechai is quoted anywhere else in the megillah--and even here, his speech appears only as it is relayed by Hatach.) This speech must be eloquent, because Esther's objections had to have been very strong. It would have made sense for Mordechai to intervene with Achashveirosh as state leader. If Mordechai failed, then Esther could have stepped forward to intercede for the Jews. Nevertheless, Mordechai ordered her to execute an "all or nothing" gambit. If she failed, she would die, and then the Jews would have no secret ally in the palace. It is no wonder, then, that she asked that all the Jews fast on her behalf. And this time, after having twice been told how Esther did all that Mordechai commanded her, we are informed that Mordechai did as Esther told him.

Even as Esther obeys Mordechai and pleads before the king, she uses her initiative in how she will present her case. She employs psychological cunning, inviting the king to his favorite activities: drinking at a feast with his belonged wife and his favorite minister. And she employs emotional strength, in choosing to confront her arch-enemy alone.

After Haman is hanged, Esther again goes to the king and pleads that he rescind the decree against the Jews. Achashveirosh again stretches his scepter out to her--indicating that he accepts her presence. Although not stated explicitly, the implication is that Esther again risked her life to speak to Achashveirosh in his inner throne room.

Esther's first petition before the king and the subsequent private parties and death of Haman were very dramatic. But at the end of it all, the Jews were in no less danger than they had been before.

That is why Esther again had to appear to the king in his inner throne room. To try to save the Jews, Esther again had to risk her life.

It is a given that one of the main themes of the megillah is hiddenness--in particular, God's hiddenness. Part of that theme is indicated by the fact that events are constantly taking place in a rush, even when there would have been time for them to be carried out slowly. People are forced to act without deliberation, without knowledge.

Related to that, although the megillah doesn't speak much of it, the Jews' dread must have been great. First, they received the decree in Nissan that in eleven months, they would all be murdered. After Haman was executed, they received a second decree in Sivan that they would have the right to defend themselves. But they still had no guarantee that they would succeed. And so, this holiday of Purim does not commemorate the Jews' actual victory, because it was so filled with terror. The day of the victory is instead commemorated by a Taanis Esther: the fast of Esther. Indeed, at one point the megillah refers to those times as "the occurrences of the fasting and the [Jews'] outcry." And so the celebration of Purim commemorates not the victory, but the Jews' relief on the day following the victory.

Related to the rushed atmosphere of the megillah, there is also a theme of things falling. Haman makes the lots "fall," Achashveirosh tells Haman to honor Mordechai and "do not let one thing fail--literally, fall," Haman's wife tells him, "You will surely fall" before Mordechai, Haman falls on Esther's couch, Esther falls before the king.

So hidden can people be that at the end of the megillah, Esther herself (her name meaning "hidden") is referred only to by the pronoun "she"--"and when she came before the king." (This sentence is out of context, and one must reflect a moment to note who "she" refers to.)

The theme of things being hidden is also marked by the stress on clothing found throughout the megillah. We constantly hear about people putting on royal clothing, sackcloth, and crowns. Even the horse that Mordechai rides wears a crown. Perhaps this is what forms the basis for the custom of wearing costumes of Purim.

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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