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With this week's Torah reading, Vayikra, we begin the Book of Leviticus, which contains a detailed account of the various offerings brought to the Sanctuary and the Holy Temples.
Though the physical Holy Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, the Torah's teachings are eternal, and apply always.
Furthermore, as we stand now on the threshold of the Messianic Era, the laws of these offerings will be in effect very soon in the Third Holy Temple.
One of the offerings discussed in our Torah portion is the Mincha, or meal-offering, about which the Torah says: "When any soul will bring a meal-offering to the L-rd; his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense upon it."
What are we to learn from the Torah's use of the word "soul," something it does not do in connection with any other voluntary offering?
Our answer lies in an examination of the Mincha itself.
As Rashi, the great Torah commentator explains, a meal-offering is usually brought by a poor person, who cannot afford to sacrifice an ox or even a lamb.
G-d's choice of the word "soul," therefore, recognizes the great loss the relatively inexpensive meal-offering represents to the impoverished person: to G-d, it is as if he offered up his very soul.
When a wealthy man parts with one of his flock, it makes little difference to his overall financial situation. The poor man, however, needs to invest much labor to be able to purchase the flour and oil that make up the Mincha. His offering represents true personal sacrifice, and more of a willingness to draw closer to G-d -- the purpose of all the sacrifices that were brought on the altar.
The poor man has many needs; most certainly the money could have been used to ease his plight. Consequently, the meal-offering represents the poor man's triumph against his evil inclination (which no doubt encouraged him to use the money for selfish means), and is therefore especially beloved by G-d.
Even now, during the exile, we can perform this same mitzva, albeit in the spiritual sense.
We find an allusion to this in the verse, "If any one of you brings an offering": If a Jew truly wants to draw nearer to G-d, it must come "of you" -- from deep within. The Jew must sacrifice his "animal soul" -- his evil inclination -- for the sake of attaining this closeness to G-d.
The Mincha offering therefore provides us with a positive example of how we are to serve G-d during the exile, as the "sacrificing" of our evil inclination serves to negate the reason we were sent into exile in the first place -- namely, our sins. Furthermore, this will lead to the building of the Third Holy Temple in the literal sense, speedily in our days.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot of the Rebbe, Vol. 27
The following personal story was submitted anonymously to the Kfar Chabad magazine. Though the magazine does not usually publish anonymous articles, they made an exception. L'Chaim will do so, as well. (Translated by Goldie Goldbloom)
I was 19 years old, and was like every other religious boy from Jerusalem in those years. Long coat, long peyos, a fuzz of a beard. My brothers and I went to Eitz Chaim Yeshiva. I was a good student, and it wasn't long before people began to suggest marriage proposals to my parents.
After a few months, I set out for New York to meet someone. Soon we got engaged and a summer wedding was planned. My parents wanted us to live in Jerusalem. Her parents wanted New York. They finally said, "Let the young couple decide."
But we couldn't decide. Arguments broke out and by Passover the engagement was broken. I was devastated. My family was devastated, too. My parents insisted that I return to Israel, but I couldn't face returning alone. And so I stayed in America.
A friend of mine, also from Jerusalem, told me that he had a job offer in Cleveland. It sounded good so I joined him.
It was a different life for me there. Little by little, I began to leave my upbringing behind. I changed my long coat for a short jacket, shaved my beard, and was encouraged by my new friends to try other new things in America. Everything.
I couldn't bring myself to tell my parents of my new lifestyle. They only knew that I was in Cleveland, studying and working.
At Purim time I visited relatives living in Crown Heights, long before it was a Lubavitcher neighborhood. They almost didn't recognize me. After eating the Purim meal I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air. Suddenly, I saw two Chasidim running like crazy.
"What happened? Where's the fire?" I asked.
The boy called out, "We're going to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's farbrengen."
"Where?" I asked, and he pointed out the place.
I followed him inside, and saw hundreds of Chasidim listening to a man who I assumed was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
It was hot and crowded, and I soon wanted to leave. This was no place for me. But as soon as this thought popped into my head, the talk ended, and hearty singing broke out and I was caught up.
Suddenly, all fell quiet. The Rebbe was speaking again. He spoke about the World to Come, Moshiach, and that of all the Jewish holidays, only Purim would remain in the future. I don't remember everything, but I was fascinated with his beautiful explanation. It struck me when he said that on Purim every Jew's neshama, his soul, is revealed much more than even on Yom Kippur.
With a creeping awareness, I felt that the Rebbe was talking about me. He said that the Evil Inclination is a talented artisan, an expert in his field. First, he comes to a young man and convinces him to leave the yeshiva and go to work, because after all, Torah and work go hand in hand. Then he convinces the boy that America is different from all other places; he has to fit in, in order to make it. Then he tells him that "time is money": don't worry so much about prayer and putting on tefilin. The Rebbe carefully described my descent, step by step, and concluded by saying that even Yom Kippur isn't enough to arouse this youth.
But then comes Purim, self-sacrifice. A Jew says, "I will not bow down." His neshama reveals itself, and he is able to climb out of the pit.
As the Rebbe spoke, my face was burning. I knew the Rebbe described me well. I hastened to reassure myself... Even though all the details fit, there was just no way the Rebbe could even see me. It was a coincidence. I was momentarily soothed. But the Rebbe continued, "Particularly when the young man comes from Israel, from Jerusalem. It's possible that he is to be found here, even though he thinks that we don't see him. Close but not seen. Seen, but...not close."
The only thing that calmed me now was that no one understood except for me. No one was searching for a young man from Jerusalem in the crowd.
At that moment, the Rebbe stopped speaking and the lively singing recommenced. Men called out "L'chaim" to the Rebbe, and I too, felt in need of a little external fortification. I looked up.
Everyone was looking at me. The Rebbe was looking straight at me. He indicated that I should say "L'chaim." A man gave me some vodka in a shot glass, but the Rebbe insisted -- a large cup.
There was no way I could drink it, and I said so. The man said, "Just make the 'L'chaim.'" I did and took a sip, but the Rebbe motioned for me to finish the whole cup. When I had finished, head reeling, he said, "Again." I drank the second cup to the end.
I don't remember anything else, just waking up on a bench, surrounded by sleeping Chasidim. It was early morning.
I never told anyone what happened that day. It stayed a secret between the Rebbe and me.
Today, I live in Jerusalem, with my religious wife and beautiful children. I have come back to America. Each time I wanted to go to the Rebbe, to thank him. But each time I was afraid. How could I approach someone who looked through me as if I were made of glass?
This year I came to the Rebbe. Somehow, I got up the chutzpa. I stood there at the Ohel, and whispered to the wind, and the walls, and the one who knows me so well. And I finally told the Rebbe, "Thank you."
The Rebbe has called on every Jew to observe the mitzvot of Purim: hearing the Megila read, giving charity, eating a festive meal, sending gifts of food to friends and reciting the Al HaNissim prayer.
In addition, the Rebbe asked that everyone take part in spreading the awareness of the mitzvot of Purim. "There should not be a single Jew in a far-off corner of the world who does not have the opportunity to fulfill all the mitzvot of Purim."
From letters of the Rebbe
7 Adar, 5712
...Our Sages say that the miracle of Purim, which rescinded the Heavenly decree for the Jews from death to life, physically and spiritually, was brought about by the fact that Mordechai gathered 22,000 Jewish children whom he taught the Torah and with whom he prayed for G-d's mercy.
Mordechai imbued them with the spirit of self-sacrifice, so that they declared unanimously, "In life or in death we will not part from Mordechai."
Mordechai was one of the heads of the Sanhedrin, the greatest Jew of his time, in scholarship, piety and all possible attributes of greatness. Nevertheless, he set everything aside in order to strengthen the foundations of education, actually going in person to teach the holy Torah, with piety and mesirat nefesh, to small children.
The profound message for us is this:
No matter what one's station in life is, or how important one's activities seem to be, one must, first and foremost, dedicate at least some part of his time and efforts to the most important of all causes -- saving our younger generation by implanting in them devotion to all that has been holy to us ever since our ancestors received the Torah at Mount Sinai, devotion to the point of self- sacrifice.
Only in this way can we make sure that the younger generation will remain with us, and, as a matter of course, ensure the existence of our people. Moreover, herein lies our strength against all Hamans and our security under G-d's protection.
7 Adar II, 5741
..One of the most inspiring lessons of Purim is the extraordinary courage of Mordechai the Jew, who "would not kneel or bow down," despite the physical vulnerability of our people being "spread and scattered among the nations" -- a tiny minority against an overwhelming majority.
Yet, it is this uncompromising stance that brought triumph over all adversaries, so that "for the Jews there was light, joy, gladness and honor," and the awesome respect of their detractors.
The teachings of our Torah, like the Torah itself, are of course eternal, including the lessons of Purim; particularly since we are still "spread and scattered among the nations," including our brethren in the Holy Land, for they, too, are surrounded and besieged by numerically overwhelming hostile nations.
But Purim teaches us that the strength of our Jewish people, as of every Jew individually, is in our G-d-given capacity of "not kneeling or bowing down" to any force that is contrary to our Jewish essence, which is rooted in the Torah and mitzvot.
Indeed, yielding to any influence that is alien to our Jewish spirit and way of life, far from winning good will and respect, must necessarily bring forth contempt, be it overtly or covertly. For what is one to think of a cringing Jew who is willing to compromise his true Jewish identity and noble traditions going back to the time when the world was steeped in barbarism?
Needless to say, the true Jewish spirit, as exemplified by Mordechai and Esther, must not remain in the abstract, but must be translated into concrete behavior in everyday life, in keeping with the basic principle of our Torah that "action is the essential thing."
Certainly this is to be expected of young people, who are generally blessed with a greater sense of urgency and doing. Especially young couples who start out on their own, establish a home on the foundations of Torah and mitzvot, raise a family in the true Torah tradition, and build "an everlasting edifice" in the fullest sense.
And here, of course, a great deal depends on the akeret habayit [the pillar of the home], in whose hands G-d has entrusted major responsibilities for the character and actual conduct of the home, such as kashrut, Shabbat observance, Family Purity, raising the children, and so forth.
This in no way diminishes the husband's full share of responsibility in this Divinely-blessed partnership, and they must consistently encourage each other to upgrade all things of goodness and holiness, Torah and mitzvot; but there is no getting away from the fact that it is the young wife and mother who bears the noble calling of akeret habayit.
..It should be noted, in conclusion, that there is no greater emphasis on the historic role of the Jewish woman in Jewish life than in the events that brought about the miracle of Purim, as related in the Megila, which is named not after Mordechai, nor Mordechai and Esther jointly, but solely after Esther!...
Jewish and Soul music, a buffet dinner, Megila Reading, and a children's masquerade and program are part of Chabad Lubavitch of the Upper East Side's Purim Extravaganza and Masquerade.
The Purim Extravaganza will be held on March 15 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, in Manhattan.
For more information and reservations (212) 717-4613.
If you're not in the New York Metro Area for Purim (isn't everyone?), call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out about Megila reading, Purim parties and other related Purim programs in your area.
If you're somewhere far-out where you can't purchase hand-made Passover matza from your local Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, call 1-800-SHMURAH to order by the pound or by the piece.
POST PURIM PERFORMANCE
If you're in Manchester, New Hampshire this Purim you'll want to go to the post-Purim event sponsored by Lubavitch of New Hampshire.
Featuring a singer, live animal show and ventriloquist, the Purim Performance takes place on Sunday, March 5, 3:00 p.m. at the Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences. Call them at (603) 647-0204.
When you look at the Jewish calendar, you will notice two holidays that seem to be opposites: Purim and Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur climaxes the High Holidays and is the holiest day of the Jewish year. We spend the day in the synagogue immersed in serious prayer and reflection. It is a time for fasting and restraining from earthly pleasures, and concentrating on spiritual matters. The mood is solemn.
Purim, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. We feast and celebrate, eat, drink and make merry. Everything is topsy turvy and we can hardly distinguish between Haman and Mordechai. Young and old sing, party and masquerade, in an outpouring of happiness and joy.
Purim and Yom Kippur are so far apart that it would seem almost sacrilegious to equate the two, or even say them in the same breath.
Yet, the very names of these two holidays closely resemble each other.
The original Biblical spelling of Yom Kippur is actually Yom KIPURIM which make them almost identical. In fact, the Hebrew prefix "Ki" means "as," denoting a similarity and comparison between the two.
How could such opposites as Purim and Yom Kippur be alike? Our loftiest and silliest moments, our highest and lowest levels of the whole year are being linked together!
The equation of Purim and Yom Kippur shows us that Judaism feels that joy and gladness are equally important as serious meditation and penitence. Just as G-d is served in the ways of the spirit, so can He be served with our flesh and body. We do not necessarily become closer to G-d by the rejection of the physical. "Serve G-d with joy!" exclaims the Psalmist. Joy and good humor are as much a part of the Jewish character and tradition as are solemnity and earnestness.
Judaism teaches both feasting and fasting. Each serves a Divine purpose in the right time and place.
This year, this Purim, may we experience the ultimate joy with the coming of Moshiach, NOW!
And the L-rd called ("Vayikra") to Moses (Leviticus 1:1)
The word "vayikra" is written in this verse with an alef much smaller than the other letters of that word.
This alludes to Moses' great humility, for "vayikra" with an alef indicates that G-d called Moses with an extra measure of love.
The Torah tells us that "the skin of Moses's face shone" with a special radiance. According to the Midrash, when Moses was writing the Torah, he took some extra ink and rubbed it on his forehead, causing his skin to glow.
This extra ink was left over from the alef of "Vayikra": G-d had wanted Moses to write it with a regular-sized alef, whereas Moses didn't want to write it at all. As a compromise, Moses made the alef tiny, and thus had a small amount of ink left over from the exact amount G-d gave him.
If his offering be a burnt-sacrifice ("olah")...of his own voluntary will, before G-d (Leviticus 1:3)
The root of the Hebrew word "olah" means "height" or "elevation," teaching us that if a person truly desires to lift himself up and draw near to G-d, he must sacrifice "his own voluntary will," as our Sages said, "Nullify your will before His ."
(The Magid of Mezeritch)
Every one of your meal-offerings shall you season with salt (Leviticus 2:13)
The world is divided into three parts: one-third desert, one- third inhabited land, and one-third sea.
According to the Midrash, the sea rose up in protest. "Master of the Universe!" it cried, "the Torah was given in the desert, and the Holy Temple was built on land. What are You going to give to me?"
"Do not worry," G-d replied. "All the sacrifices that will ever be brought by the Jewish people upon the altar will be 'seasoned with salt' [which comes from the sea]."
If any person sin, because he hears the voice of adjuration (Leviticus 5:1)
If a Jew sees someone committing a certain transgression, it is a sure sign that the same sin exists within him. The reason G-d caused him to witness this is so that he will be able to correct his own flaw.
(The Baal Shem Tov)
Just as Purim is celebrated for the great redemption through which the Jews in all of the 127 countries Ahasuerus ruled were saved from annihilation, many other communities throughout the world have their own "Purims" marking their salvations.
Many communities even wrote their own megilot describing the miraculous events of their salvation. There are at least a score or more of these local Purims, in addition to celebrations established by individual families marking their own personal redemptions.
The Purim of Saragossa
The Purim of Saragossa was established in the year 1440, fifty- two years before the Jews were exiled from Spain. In the city of Saragossa, Spain, the Jews were ordered to appear at a public reception honoring the king with all of the Torah sc rolls of the community.
The rabbis of the community decided that it would be safer to remove the Torahs from their cases, and were sure that the king would never know the difference.
Unfortunately, there was a Jew in the community named Marcos who was a rebel and a troublemaker. He went to the authorities and betrayed the rabbis' plan, citing the Jews' disrespect for the king as the reason for not bringing the actual scrolls.
The king was furious at this slight and ordered the Jews to open the cases at once. A terror fell upon all the Jews, for the punishment for disobeying the king was the most severe, but they had no choice but to open the cases. They were completely amazed and dumbfounded when they saw that all of the cases contained Torah scrolls.
What they could not have known was that the previous night, the caretaker of the synagogue had a dream in which the prophet Elijah appeared to him and ordered him to replace the scrolls in their cases. The dream was so vivid that the caretaker did as he was instructed, but he had no time to inform the rabbis of his action.
The king saw that the Jews were innocent; the accusation was baseless. He ordered the informer put to death for his false accusation. To commemorate their redemption, the rabbis established a special Purim to be celebrated throughout the generations on the 17th and 18th of Shevat.
The Purim of Cairo
This Purim, celebrated by the Jews of the Egyptian capital, was established in 1524 when the Turkish governor of Egypt, Ahmed Pasha, was involved in a revolt against the Turkish sultan.
He seized 12 of the most prominent members of the Jewish community as hostages, threatening to kill them and banish the entire Jewish community unless a large ransom was paid to him.
On the day on which the tremendous sum of money was due, Ahmed was assassinated by chief members of his staff as he left the bathhouse.
The hostages were immediately released (amongst them was the great rabbi David ben Zimra, the teacher of the Ari HaKadosh), and the threat against the Jewish community was annulled.
The Purim of Rhodes
In 1840 the Jewish community on the island of Rhodes faced the terrible accusation of having killed a gentile child to use his blood in baking matza.
The governor of the island arrested the leaders of the community and tortured them as they awaited execution. But the child was found alive and well. The accusation proved baseless and the hapless captives released.
On the 14th of Adar, the Turkish sultan, Abed Almagid, issued a royal decree to be kept in the possession of the Jewish community, stating that the charge was false. From that day forth, the Jews of Rhodes celebrated a double Purim in commemoration of that event.
The Purim of Chios
This Purim, known as "Purim de la Senora" (the "Purim of the woman of honor"), commemorates an event in which a local Jewish woman foiled the plans of the Spanish navy and saved her community.
In the year 1595, the Greek island of Chios was blockaded by the Spanish flotilla led by King Ferdinand of Spain.
A Jewish woman who lived in a house adjoining the local fortress went out early in the morning to the great outdoor oven to bake bread for her family.
Sparks from her coal fire accidentally ignited the store of ammunition which lay in the nearby fortress, causing a frightening explosion.
The Spanish flotilla which was anchored nearby quickly sailed away in terror, thus saving the Jewish community from the threat of the Inquisition which the Spaniards always established in their wake.
May we have unbounded rejoicing, reaching the level where we "do not know the difference between 'Cursed be Haman' and 'Blessed be Mordechai.'"
This will occur to the fullest in the Messianic age, when all the undesirable elements associated with "Cursed be Haman" will be transformed through our service into "Blessed be Mordechai."