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One of the mitzvot of Purim is to hear the Megila read twice, once in the evening and once on the day of Purim.
On this mitzva, our Sages declare, "Anyone who reads the Megila 'backward,' does not fulfill his duty."
The Baal Shem Tov explained that this alludes to the idea that anyone who thinks that the miracle of Purim was valid "back" then -- but not now -- has not fulfilled his duty.
All of the events that took place back then are equally applicable today.
All one needs to do is look at names and headlines in the news to know that when it comes to Haman's anti-Jewish plan of annihilation it didn't just happen, "back then."
Zhirinovsky. Holocaust revisionists. Farakhan.
These are the Hamans of today.
But, it's Purim! Why emphasize the negative?
There's much more to being Jewish, than learning about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. And there's much more to Judaism that happened back then which is applicable today.
To mention just a few points from the ancient Purim story which can be incorporated into our "modern" lives:
Esther's only interest in all of the luxury, abundance and power of the palace was that she could use it to save her people and serve G-d.
Mordechai would not bow down.
He was proud of being a Jew and even the threats of the powerful and evil Haman could not induce him to compromise his beliefs.
The deliverance of the Jews from Haman's evil plot was hastened by the Jewish children, who continued to pray and study Torah without interruption.
Despite the fact that the Jews were scattered throughout Ahasuerus' 127 provinces, they were -- in Haman's words -- "one nation." They were united.
Our greatest strength comes from standing united as one people.
Though G-d's direction of the world is often hidden, as was the case throughout the Purim story -- where even Esther becoming the queen seemed to "happen" by itself -- yet we must always realize that it is G-d who controls the world and its every detail.
Backward, forward, up or down. Purim is the time to rejoice in the great miracle that G-d wrought for us and the miracles He continues to bestow upon each individual and our entire people, every moment of every day, until the ultimate miracle, the Messianic Era.
In this week's Torah portion, "Ki Tisa," Moses descends from Mount Sinai holding the Tablets containing the Ten Commandments he received from G-d.
"The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, inscribed on both their sides."
Written on two magnificent stones of sapphire were the Ten Commandments, miraculously visible from both sides.
Yet they were not to last for long.
"And Moses became angry...and he broke them at the foot of the mountain... And G-d said to Moses, 'Hew yourself tablets of stone like the first.'"
In connection to the Tablets, the Torah speaks of three distinct stages:
- The original Tablets: Moses descends from Mount Sinai, where he had spent the previous forty days and forty nights, with the Tablets in hand;
- The breaking of the Tablets: Moses witnesses the sin of the Children of Israel with the Golden Calf and breaks the Tablets in anger;
- The second Tablets: The Jews repent of their sin. Moses goes back up the mountain for an additional forty days and nights, to return with a second set of Tablets.
The first and second sets of Tablets were not identical. The first set was written by G-d; the second set was inscribed by Moses under G-d's direction.
Yet curiously, the second set of Tablets was superior to the first in one important respect, as explained in Chasidic philosophy.
The breaking of the Tablets and their subsequent replacement is an example of "a descent for the sake of an ascent."
Every descent, every failure, can lead the individual to an even higher spiritual level.
According to this principle, the second set of Tablets was clearly superior to the first, for it came after the Jews' descent into idolatry and their ensuing return to G-d.
Symbolically, the three stages of the Tablets parallel the annals of the Jewish people and their progression throughout history:
The first stage (the original Tablets) spans the years between the Revelation on Mount Sinai until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple.
The second stage (the breaking of the Tablets) refers to the forced exile of the Jews from their land and the spiritual degradation endured for almost 2,000 years.
The third and final stage, the era on whose threshold we now stand, is the Messianic Era, at which time the spirituality of the entire world will be elevated to unprecedented heights, an ascent made possible only by the bitter darkness of the exile.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
by Itty Chazan
The rain unleashed its fury as it came crashing down on the windows and rooftops.
Torrents of water roared down from the Heavens.
Clouds burst on our precious city Recife, where we directed a Chabad House.
And yet our kitchen (a miniature bakery), unmoved by the tumult and thunderous rain, worked on.
There were sizzling knishes cooling in the wall-to-wall freezer, kugels of all sorts bouncing in and out of the oven, and little pudgy hands diving for the cakes, the cookies, and the hamantashen!
It was Purim eve, 5:00 p.m., and the phone rang ceaselessly. "Was Chabad's Purim party called off?" My voice boomed a confident "No" as I dismally peered through the rain-stained windows.
The rain at last stopped, and I heaved a sigh of relief!
Small wonder, 15 days, 150 hours of strenuous, taxing, backbreaking work -- for each party we made! The phones, the invitations, the decorations, the people -- and oh -- the food -- and food -- and the food!
No bakery, no grocery store, no yeshiva for manpower and help! For two weeks our oven burned 10 hours a day, with a scorching sun blazing through our kitchen windows!
At last, all was ready.
As my friend was on her way to pick us up by car -- the phone rang once again. This time I was jostled into reality by my husband's voice.
He told me our entire Chabad House was surrounded by a deep pool of water.
To get in meant taking off our shoes! Socks! The water was knee deep.
If my husband Yankel survived, so could I. But the guests.
Would they take off their shoes, and roll up their pants?
People north of Recife had to be evacuated from their homes.
The rivers were flooding into the city. All the garages were filled with the stormy rainwater. Who would venture out on such a night?
I looked at the food, and the food looked at me. It was perhaps my most calm moment in the past two weeks.
"We did our share," I thought, "the rest is in G-d's hands.
This is what it meant to be an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe -- living the teaching of Chasidut -- that the mind rules the heart."
Only 3 cars could fit into our Chabad House driveway.
My friend's car, with me in it, was the third car. Since the driveway was on a slight incline, those cars that did fit in were safe. A fourth car got stuck where the driveway joined the street, with at least a foot of water rushing under the car..
A little Venice! If only someone had a "boat" to row the people along to the safety of our shul! I thought.
The few people from the three cars who had managed to get into the Chabad House pointed in sheer amazement as the driver of the fourth car managed to pull out of the driveway and began ferrying passengers who had parked on the other side of the street (which to our luck was nice and dry) as far up in the driveway as he could get.
He ferried 50 guests in, people who had not only come out in this horrible weather, but who had literally waded through feet of water to get from the car to the Chabad House!
The night was a stunning success!
True, the other 150 people could not even attempt to venture out; they were locked indoors. But for the 50 who did come, it was an evening they will long be remembered.
Purim morning, the sun shone forth in its glorious radiance.
Five a.m., the usual hour when people get up in the morning in Recife, had us all up and about, preparing for the very first time, a historical, authentic Purim, replete with all of the traditional mitzvot of the day -- especially shalach manot -- gifts of food to friends.
Many cars, each equipped with adults and dressed up children with homemade shalach manot, went out to the elderly and sick of the city.
What was so unusual about this? Of course, those people who were visited and received the special shalach manot were touched and overjoyed. But what was especially unique was the reaction of those who gave -- the volunteers. "It was such a joy to give, I never dreamed it would be so rewarding." "Please remember me the next time you do something like this," another volunteer asked. "Our children will never forget that Purim lives on in Recife, too."
What continues to live on in my mind as well, is the preciousness and determination of single Jew.
"I'm not committed," my husband and I had heard so many times from some of the very same people who attended the Purim celebration. Not committed? Yet, coming out in such dastardly weather rather than remaining in the warmth, dryness and comfort of one's own home.
Not committed? Yet, wading through riverlets of water to get into the Chabad House and hear the Megila. These things are the providence of the pintele yid, the spark of G-dliness in every Jew.
From the N'Shei Chabad Newsletter.
DON'T BE A STRANGER AMONG US!
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TELL ME WHAT THE REBBE SAID
Finally, the treasures of Chasidic philosophy in language a child can understand.
Tell Me What the Rebbe Said, by Malka Touger, is based on talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the weekly Torah portion. Culled from the 30 volumes of these talks, there is one essay for each Torah portion, as well as an essay about the Redemption.
Black and white illustrations are interspersed throughout the book.
Available at your local Jewish bookstore or from the publisher, Sichos In English, by sending $12.95 to SIE, 788 Eastern Pkwy, Bklyn, NY 11213.
From a Letter by the Rebbe Shlita
Rosh Chodesh Adar II, 5738 (1978)
As you surely know, the special additional Torah portion, Parshat Zachor, which is read on the Shabbat before Purim, contains the commandments to remember what Amalek, the arch enemy of our Jewish people, did to our people when they were on their way to receive the Torah at Sinai.
Amalek's unprovoked and stealthy attack was calculated to shake their belief in G-d and dampen their enthusiasm for His Torah and mitzvot.
Haman, a direct descendant of Amalek, was driven by hatred of the Jews, because "their laws were different from those of any other people," as the Megilla states. Likewise did all subsequent Amalekites and Hamans of all ages hate the Jews.
But "Amalek" -- in a wider sense -- represents all obstacles and hindrances which a Jew encounters on his, or her, way to receive and observe the Torah and mitzvot with enthusiasm and joy in the everyday life.
And so Parshat Zachor comes to remind us, and never forget, that "Amalekites" exist in every generation and in every day and age, and that we must not allow ourselves to be deterred or discouraged by any Amalekite in any shape or form.
If the question be asked, "Why has G-d done thus?"
Why should a Jew be confronted with such trials and difficulties?
The answer is, that every Jew has been given the necessary powers to overcome all such "Amalekites," and he is expected to use them, in order to demonstrate to himself and others that nothing will deter him, nor dampen his fervor, in the observance of the Torah and mitzvot in accordance with G-d's Will.
And once he recognizes that whatever difficulty he encounters is really a test of his faith in G-d, and resolves firmly to meet the challenge, he will soon see that no "Amalek" of any kind is a match for the Divine powers of the Jewish soul.
Indeed, far from being insurmountable obstructions, they turn out to be helpers and catalysts for ever greater achievements, having been instrumental in mobilizing those inner powers which would have otherwise remained dormant.
This is also forcefully brought out in the Megilla, in the example of Mordechai the Jew, who "would not bend his knee nor bow down" before Haman.
As a result of this indomitable stance, not only was Haman's power totally broken, but many enemies be came friends, as the Megilla tells us that "many of the peoples of the land were becoming 'Jewish,' for the fear of Mordechai fell upon them!"
May G-d grant that each and all of you should go from strength to strength in emulating Mordechai the Jew, advancing in all matters of Judaism, Torah and mitzvot, with joy and gladness of heart, and may you all be blessed with a full measure of "light, joy, gladness, and honor," both in the plain sense as well as in the inner meaning of these terms in accordance with the interpretation of our Sages -- "Light -- this is the Torah... Honor -- this is tefillin" -- since the Torah and mitzvot, though a "must" for their own sake, are the channels and vessels to receive and enjoy G-d's blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
Wishing each and all of you a happy Purim, and may its inspiration be with you every day throughout the year.
Serach was the daughter of Asher -- one of the twelve sons of Jacob.
She gently disclosed to Jacob the news that Joseph was still alive by playing a song with the words "Joseph is alive" on her harp, so that he would not suffer a shock.
Jacob blessed her with immortality.
She was still alive when Moshe redeemed the Jews from Egypt.
It was Serach who showed Moshe where the casket with Joseph's bones lay sunken in the Nile and told him how to raise it.
She was one of the few to ascend to the Garden of Eden alive.
Every deliverance of the Jewish people is connected.
The Exodus from Egypt, Purim, and the true and complete Redemption in the Messianic Era, are all interrelated.
Interestingly, we can see this connection in the small but powerful Hebrew word, "im" meaning "if."
If you believe... if you truly long for Moshiach... if you await his coming. The word "im" is made up of the letters alef and mem.
The Redemption of the Jews from Egypt was brought about through Aaron and Moshe--whose names respectively begin with alef and mem.
The deliverance of the Jews from Haman's wicked plan of annihilation was brought about through Esther and Mordechai--again, alef and mem.
And the Final Redemption, which we await so eagerly, will be heralded by Elijah the Prophet and initiated by Moshiach--respectively alef and mem.
There is another interesting aspect in the relationship between the Exodus and Purim to the Messianic Era.
According to Moses Maimonides, the Messianic Era can be initiated in one of two ways. It can come about supernaturally, with miracles abounding, as did the Exodus from Egypt. Or it can come about in a seemingly natural manner, as did the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of Haman as celebrated on Purim.
For, on the surface, Esther's appointment as Queen and Mordechai overhearing the plot to kill Ahasuerus, thus saving the King's life and leaving him indebted to Mordechai, were "coincidences." But in truth, these were hidden miracles which occurred within the "laws of nature."
May we merit on this very Purim, to experience the true deliverance of the Jewish people and exodus from our final exile to the Holy Land with our righteous Moshiach, NOW!
And you shall make a basin of copper... and they shall wash their hands and their feet (Exodus 30:18, 21)
Nowadays, when prayer must take the place of the priests' service in the Holy Temple, we wash our hands before we begin to pray.
Yet in distinction to the priests of old, Maimonides concludes that also the face (in addition to the feet, if they warrant it) must be washed prior to praying.
The hands and feet enable a person to perform practical actions, but the face and head contain the person's higher faculties -- the intellect, the faculties of sight and hearing, and the ability to speak.
When the Holy Temple was in existence and Jews enjoyed a more direct relationship with G-d, only the outer extremities needed purification. Unfortunately, however, during the exile, a Jew's most sublime gifts are often abused, applied towards matters unworthy of their attention, making their purification before prayer also necessary.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe, shlita)
Everyone who sought G-d went out to the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was outside the camp (Exodus 30:7)
In actuality they were looking for Moses, yet the Torah states that they were seeking G-d. We thus learn that receiving the leader of the generation is the same as receiving G-d Himself.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin)
This shall they give...half a shekel (Exodus 30:13)
The commandment to give a half-shekel was in order "to make an atonement for your souls," to atone for the sins of the Jewish people.
The amount was therefore set at precisely half a coin, to show that G-d Himself is responsible for the other half.
Had He not created the Evil Impulse to tempt us in the first place, we would never transgress.
(Reb Simcha Bunim)
The Purim festivities in the court of Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin were truly something to behold.
Every year, hundreds of I would travel from near and far to attend the festive meal and to bask in the presence of their beloved Rebbe.
In the center of it all sat the Rebbe, delivering words of Torah, gladdening the hearts of all present.
From time to time the chasidim would burst into impassioned song, piercing the heavens with their voices.
One could feel the excitement in the air for a full month before Purim.
The talk in the marketplace, the street and even in the synagogue was only of the festivities to come and the preparations being made.
Young and old were involved in getting ready for Purim; the bolder among the chasidim would attend the festive meal in disguise.
This year, however, the mood in Ruzhin was more somber than usual.
The joy of the approaching holiday was intermingled with fear and dread, for dark clouds had begun to gather on the horizon of Russian Jewry.
The enemies of the Jews had been successful in persuading the czar to issue several anti-Semitic decrees, threatening their very lives.
The atmosphere in the Rebbe's court, however, was entirely different.
No anxious whispering was heard; the Rebbe had instructed his chasidim to prepare for Purim with even more enthusiasm than usual.
Their joy would annul the evil decree, he said.
Amidst this bustle of preparation it was rumored that Reb Chaikel, a husky butcher known for his strength, planned to attend the festive meal disguised as Czar Nicholas himself, the object of their dread.
Purim day arrived.
The enormous study hall was filled to the brim.
The Rebbe's face shone with a holy light, as he and his chasidim left the mundane world with all its worries behind, thoroughly immersed as they were in the joy of Purim.
All of a sudden, however, a hush fell over the massive assemblage.
The door to the great hall opened, and in walked "Czar Nicholas."
Attired in regal finery and bedecked with scores of military medals, the "Czar" was obviously in his cups, having reached that stage in which "he could not distinguish between 'blessed is Mordechai' and 'accursed is Haman.'" Everyone began to laugh, with the exception of the Rebbe.
The Rebbe's face was serious as he fixed his eyes upon the "Czar."
The "Czar" proceeded to make his way through the rows of tables directly to the Rebbe, haughtily pushing aside anyone who blocked his path.
Everyone was amazed when the Rebbe stood up and invited him to sit at the head of his table.
The "Czar" accepted the invitation and sat down, arrogantly glaring at the crowd as befits a Russian Czar.
The Rebbe motioned for the singing to cease.
All conversation stopped as the Rebbe and the "Czar" became the focus of attention.
"O merciful leader," began the Rebbe as he addressed the strange guest.
"Do you not know that the Jewish people already suffered greatly? Now we hear that even greater evil is being plotted against us, and that even harsher decrees are being planned. I implore you," the Rebbe continued, "please search the depths of your heart and annul these terrible decrees!"
A murmur swept through the crowd.
This was the first time that the Rebbe was participating in the Purim levity! Yet the Rebbe's face remained oddly serious. Not even the hint of a smile broke his lips. He watched the "Czar" closely, waiting for his reaction with bated breath.
The "Czar" was silent for a moment, as if considering his words.
"Two of the decrees I will invalidate, but the third I refuse to annul."
A look of pure sorrow passed over the Rebbe's face.
"I beg you," he insisted, "please reconsider. The decree will cause untold difficulties for your Jewish citizens. I implore you!" the Rebbe cried.
It appeared, however, that Reb Chaikel was playing his role for all its worth, obviously pleased that the Rebbe was going along with the game.
"Absolutely not!" he declared. "The decree will not be revoked!"
The Rebbe continued to implore the "Czar," but all his words and tears were for naught. The "Czar" would not be budged.
Suddenly, the Rebbe arose from his seat, his face pale and his eyes aflame.
"Get out of here, you wicked villain!" he cried, pointing his finger at the "Czar." "Be gone, and let me never see your face again!"
It took only a few seconds to realize that the Rebbe was not jesting.
The "Czar," confused and disoriented, stood up and left the hall as possible.
Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin remained quiet, absorbed in his thoughts.
Everyone waited for him to speak. At long last, the Rebbe uttered a sigh. "If only the fool would have agreed to annul the third decree, it would have really been annulled. But the forces of evil were victorious..." he lamented.
Reb Chaikel was led to his house, where he immediately fell into a drunken stupor. The next morning he had no recollection of the entire exchange. When told of what had transpired, he could not believe that he refused the Rebbe's request.
A few days after Purim it was learned that the first two decrees planned against the Jews had been retracted, but the third had indeed been signed into law. The chasidim then understood that far more than Purim entertainment had been at stake that year.
Our Sages said, "All festivals will one day cease, but Purim will never cease."
They also said, "All the prophetic writings will 'cease' in the days of Moshiach, except the Book of Esther which will endure eternally like the Five Books of Moses, and like the Oral Torah.
And although the memory of the troubles Israel has known will 'cease'..., Purim will not.
As it says: 'Purim will not pass from among the Jews, and their memory will not cease from their seed.'"