Rebbetzin Rivka Nojowitz

Many mitzvos and tasks are packed into the twenty-four hour period known as Purim. We read the Megilla twice, partake in a seuda (feast), send and receive food parcels, dispense tzadaka (charity), create and admire numerous costumes, drink to fulfil the dictum 'ad dlo yoda', sing and dance at special Purim parties, and in general squeeze an amazing amount of activity into the one day.

There are innumerable insights and lessons that we can glean from the Purim story, many of which should accompany us throughout the year. Following are three of these.

The protagonists in the Purim story are Mordechai and Esther from the tribe of Binyamin, and Haman Harasha (the wicked), a descendant of Amalek, grandson of Esav. Esav, the progenitor of Amalek, was very careful about honouring his father, Yitzchak. Whenever Esav served his father, he wore special clothes that he kept in the care of his mother. He did this for two reasons: firstly so that they should be readily available to him whenever he needed them, and secondly because they were expensive garments and he didn't trust his wives with such items.

R' Shimon ben Gamliel had this to say about Esav's level of kibud av (honouring his father): "all my life I strove to honour my father, yet I did not achieve even one percent of Esav's level of kibud av. When I serve my father, I wear old clothes in order not to stain my good ones; when I go out in public, I put on my good clothing. Esav, however, served his father in his special, costly clothing, because he felt it was a lack of honour to serve him otherwise (Bereishis Rabba).

All the power and greatness that Esav achieved in this world was the result of honoring his father. The Midrash says that in this merit, Esav was granted great honor himself, and the great powers and kingdoms wanted to marry into his family. On the words 'upon your sword shall you live,' the Noam Elimelech writes: 'due to the mitzvos you did with your sword (bringing food to Yitzchak), you will enjoy material success in life.'

The way for Jews to weaken Esav's power is through strengthening their observance of the mitzva of kibud av v'eim (honouring one's father and mother). According to R' Yonason Eibeschutz, it was possible for Haman (who was Esav's descendant) to be destroyed by Esther because she was a true orphan, having lost her father before her birth and her mother at her birth. Since she never saw her parents, she was unable to honour them, and this was a constant source of pain for her. Therefore, Hashem considered it as if she had honoured them to the utmost of her ability. Esther was therefore the most eligible and fitting personality to bring about the downfall of Haman, Esav's heir.

The mitzva of honouring parents is so great that it is a key to the Final Redemption. When Yaakov Avinu ran away from home to escape Esav's anger, Esav sent his son after him to kill him. Yaakov was able to convince Eliphaz to take his money instead, and since a pauper is considered to be dead, Eliphaz technically fulfilled his father's request. Nevertheless, since Esav was willing to kill Yaakov despite the distress that he knew it would cause his father, Esav should have lost all the great reward that was given to him for honoring his father. Why, indeed, did this not happen?

The answer is that when Yaakov's sons sold their brother Yosef and told Yaakov that he had been killed, they caused Yaakov great pain. In this way, they neutralised Esav's sin, because they also showed a lack of concern for their father's great sorrow. Therefore, Chazal tell us that at the End of Days, the children of Esav will fall into the hands of the children of Rachel, the mother of Yosef and Binyamin. Only Yosef (the victim) and Binyamin did not participate in the sale of Yosef, and so it is most fitting that they are the ones who will conquer Esav, for against them Esav's merit of honouring his parents is cancelled ( R'Yonason Eibeschutz ).

The Rav of Somloi remarked, "If we Jews were to practice the mitzva of kibud av v'eim properly, even if it sometimes entails great sacrifice, Esav would fall and the great Redemption would occur. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) therefore expends great effort to sidetrack us from this mitzva, since it knows that kibud av v'eim is the key to the downfall of Esav and his descendants (The above thoughts are from "The Fifth Commandment" - Rabbi Moshe Lieber, Artscroll ).

Another powerful weapon in our arsenal against Amalek to hasten the redemption is brotherly love and unity. One of the reasons for the mitzvos of mishloach manos (sending food parcels to friends) and matanos l'evyonim (gifts to the poor) is to remind ourselves that we were saved from destruction in the days of Mordechai and Esther, who fostered love and brotherhood and achieved the unity of all Bnei Yisrael. When faced with the threat of destruction, Esther sent a message: gather together all the Jews. If there would be unity between them, Esther felt they could overcome Haman. Wherever and whenever Jews find themselves persecuted by Esav and his descendants, the only path to salvation lies in unity and friendship. Promoting and preserving fraternity so that our enemies will not prevail should be a priority. Since the days of Purim are especially propitious for achdus (unity) and goodwill, the chachamim ordained the mitzva of mishloach manos in order to increase love and friendship among us - and in so doing, to eradicate the power of Amalek. The relevance that this message has for us today is self-evident.

There is another element inherent in the mitzva of mishloach manos that portrays the characteristics of humbleness and gratitude, which have always been the hallmarks of the Jewish soul.

Usually, one sends a gift to a friend as a means of expressing gratitude and thanks for a favour done for him. And so it was in the days of Mordechai and Esther. When the Jews of that generation faced the threat of annihilation, they gathered together in prayers and fasting and repented with complete hearts. When the salvation was effected and they were saved, each person ascribed the miraculous liberation not to the merit of his own good deeds, but rather that it was in his friend's merit that the nation was saved.

This overflowing gratitude to one another resulted in the reciprocal sending of gifts, as if to say: I thank you and am grateful to you that in your merit were we all saved. Thinking along these lines provided a source of merit for all, and resulted in the precious mitzvos of mishloach manos and matanos l'evyonim.

The third and final point is prayer. We find an interesting halacha concerning tzadaka on Purim: "to whoever stretches out his hand, we must give". Whoever asks on Purim receives. This can be interpreted to allude to prayer. Just as on Purim we give tzadaka to any petitioner in need, so too on Purim does Hashem give to all who beseech Him in prayer. Although Hashem listens to tefillos (prayers) all year round, there are aspects of our tefillos that may prevent them from being answered. On Purim, however, we may be confident that our tefillos will be answered and we will not be sent away empty- handed. We should recognise the power that sincere prayer has on this day, and utilise it to its fullest. It would therefore be prudent for us to rise early on Purim morning and daven (pray) slowly, with proper concentration. We can then look forward to a most meaningful and joyous Purim, the effects of which will continue long after the last mishloach manos has been consumed.

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