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The young in age and the young in spirit love to celebrate Purim. There are so many exciting and unusual mitzvot and customs to fulfill throughout the holiday. Dressing up, eating hamentashen for dessert at the Purim meal (do you like prune, poppy, raspberry or apricot?), twirling the gragger at Haman's name in the Megila, and giving mishloach manot-food gifts to friends.
What is the underlying similarity between all of these mitzvot and customs? Let's take off the masks, open up the mishloach manot, look inside the Megila - peel the layers off everything - and see the common denominator intrinsic to them all.
When one is dressed up, his identity is concealed. Rich or poor, smart or average, pretty or homely, we no longer perceive the physical, economic or intellectual differences that can separate us. Yes, one costume is expensive, another more original, and there are hundreds of Queen Esthers. But it's obvious that these are just externals. They aren't the person inside the costume. When we dress up on Purim our superficial differences are, for the moment, concealed. We are equal.
The Megila, that exciting story recounting the triumph of right over might, good over evil, and the Jews' faith in G-d over the vile schemes of Haman, is also a lesson in Jewish equality and unity. For, it was only once the Jews united that they were saved from Haman's plan of annihilation. Men, women, and children, scholars and shoe cobblers, peasants and the Queen, all fasted and prayed for three days and nights to avert the evil decree. And because they united, because each one felt equally responsible and able to affect a change, their prayers and penitence were accepted.
Now, on to those hamentashen of varying fillings and recipes. Some say they are meant to remind us of Haman's hat or his ears. But they are also symbolic of that which is hidden. G-d's hand, so to speak, was hidden during the whole Purim episode: the incidents leading up to Esther being crowned Queen, Mordechai overhearing the guards' plot to kill Ahasuerus, etc., seemed natural. But they were - like everything in life - Divine Providence, G-d's way of putting together an intricate puzzle.
Just as the filling is concealed in the hamentashen and G-d was hidden during the Purim epoch, the Divine element within each of us is often hidden. The Divine within is our soul-the actual part of G-d that gives us life. And though it is intangible, though its existence is often concealed, the soul is the great equalizer of us all. For, though one Jew might do more mitzvot than another, or have a more comprehensive Jewish education, or be kinder or gentler, the essence of our souls and their source are the same-G-d.
Lastly, we have the mishloach manot, those delightful packages of goodies. They range from a sandwich bag with raisins, cookies and a drink to a three-foot-high wicker basket filled with aged-wine and elegant treats. There are numerous differences in packaging, price and products, but, once again, all have one thing in common: they foster unity. Customarily, we give the mishloach manot through a messenger, thereby involving another person in the mitzva. When giving these gifts we connect not only with the person to whom we are giving, but to a third person as well. And the messenger can be anyone-young or old, friend or stranger, male or female.
Purim is a special time to participate in the mitzvot of Purim or to enhance our observance of them. For, as the Rebbe stated unequivocally, the Redemption is imminent and each act of kindness, every good deed, any additional mitzva, helps us better prepare ourselves and the world for the Messianic era that is unfolding before our very eyes.
The Torah portion of Tetzaveh contains the commandment to make a special altar for burning incense: "And you shall make an altar to burn incense upon." Our Sages explain that the Sanctuary and Holy Temple are symbolic of the Jewish soul; all of its components have a parallel in the spiritual make-up of the Jew, and reveal important lessons to be applied in our daily lives.
There were two different altars in the Sanctuary: an outer altar made of bronze, for animal sacrifices and meal-offerings, and an inner altar made of gold for burning incense. It was forbidden to offer anything except incense on the inner altar, and the person burning the incense had to do so alone, without anyone else present in the chamber.
In general, the altar is symbolic of the heart and the Jew's innate, burning love for G-d. More specifically, however, the outer and inner altars of the Sanctuary symbolize two different levels of this love, i.e., its external and internal aspects, as well as two different ways of approaching our Divine service.
For example, there are many things a Jew must do which require only the "outer" aspect of the heart. Other pursuits, however, should be approached with the utmost enthusiasm and full inner powers of the soul.
To illustrate: A Jew is obligated to eat, drink and sleep, and attend to the physical health of the body. These activities, however, should not be done for personal pleasure, but in a manner of "All of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven," and even the higher level of "Know Him in all your ways."
In the same way the Sanctuary's outer altar was reserved for offering "limbs" and "fats," a Jew should approach the fulfillment of his physical needs with only the "external" aspects of his heart, i.e., without undue enthusiasm, as if fulfilling an obligation.
By contrast, the "internal" aspects of the heart should be reserved for the pure service of G-d, for learning Torah and prayer. A Jew's true enthusiasm and inner vitality should be channeled into holy pursuits, in the same way the incense on the inner altar rose completely upward to G-d, without leaving a residue or remain.
When offering the incense, the kohen (priest) had to be alone in the chamber. Symbolically, this means that when it comes to matters of holiness a Jew must act solely for the sake of G-d, humbly and without trying to attract attention: only the individual and G-d need to know about it. When a Jew serves G-d with pure intention, he merits that the Divine Presence will rest of the work of his hands.
Adapted from Volumes 1 and 6 of Likutei Sichot
Orthodox in an Unorthodox Place
By Stephen J. Dubner
Besides being a pair of Brooklyn Jews, Bugsy Siegel and Shea Harlig wouldn't seem to have much in common. Siegel's formative years were spent breaking skulls, running numbers, and bootlegging; the teenage Harlig studied in a yeshiva. Siegel became a world-class thug, his charm matched only by his ambition; Harlig became an Orthodox rabbi. And yet, when the two men first laid eyes upon Las Vegas, decades apart, they were seized by the same dream. They did not see, as others saw, a forbidding desert. They saw a shimmering expanse of bound-less opportunity, a veritable land of milk and honey.
Siegel's dream ended badly, with gunfire. Shea Harlig's dream, of establishing a foothold for Orthodox Jewry in a most unorthodox setting, has so far played out according to plan.
"When I moved here, in December 1990, I was the only yarmulke-wearing Jew in town," he says. That would seem like lousy odds-one of about 30,000-but it's just what he wanted.
He was 25 years old, freshly married and jobless. He had considered posts in Ohio, in California, even Copenhagen. None of them appealed to him. "You're looking for a place where you can make things happen," he explains, an excited smile flashing beneath his shaggy beard.
"I always wanted to go where there were no Or-thodox Jews. I was looking to start my own show."
His show has started and then some. As the overall population of Las Vegas has exploded, so has the Jewish population, to about 70,000, the fastest-growing Jewish community in North America. Which has led to a full-throttle boom: a rash of new synagogues (nearly 20 congregations, up from a handful a decade ago), outreach programs, kosher restaurants and grocery sections; two Jewish Community Centers are also in the works. Rabbi Harlig is hardly responsible for all of it, but more roads than not lead to him. "This is a midbar [desert], and I mean that spiritually, intellectually and in other ways," says Rabbi Louis Lederman, the retired spiritual leader of the Temple Beth Sholom, a Conservative synagogue that is the city's oldest. "He has taken a midbar and brought so much to this community. No offense to the Conservative or Reform rabbis, but he's the only one who has really lifted the Jewish level of this community."
Rabbi Harlig belongs to the Lubavitcher movement, a Hasidic group of legendary zeal also known as Chabad. Its aim: to bring every single Jew, no matter how secular, back into the fold. It is Chabad that sends motor homes into the streets of Manhattan, blaring Hasidic music and trolling for curious Jews. It is Chabad that holds Passover Seders in Siberia and Katmandu and Kazakhstan.
Rabbi Harlig's missionary zeal is matched only by his entrepreneurial zeal; there are few doors that he hasn't managed to stick at least one foot inside.
Today, for instance, Mayor Oscar Goodman is awaiting his visit. It is Purim, the holiday marking the defeat of Haman, a wicked Persian who tried to exterminate the Jews. On Purim, it is customary for Jews to wear costumes, bestow gifts, donate to charity and get drunk.
Rabbi Harlig, because he is driving a carload of children to the mayor's office, five of them his own, has presumably refrained from this last custom. Nevertheless, he is running late, and the mayor isn't pleased. When the rabbi finally arrives, the mayor tells a secretary to keep him waiting. "Let the kids drive him nuts for about five minutes," he says. "Get back at him."
Shortly, Rabbi Harlig strides inside, the flock of children in his wake. "No no no, who let you in?" asks the mayor.
"Be nice," says the rabbi.
"No, I'm not going to be nice. I'll be nice to the children but not to you."
Mayor Goodman has strong enough religious credentials to not be cowed into piety. He has belonged to Temple Beth Sholom since he moved to Las Vegas in 1964, later serving as its president. Still, on Election Day last year, with Goodman's name on the ballot, it was Rabbi Harlig's synagogue where he went to pray.
"That was the last time I saw you in shul," says the rabbi.
"Because I go to another shul, because of the wickedness of you, Haman."
Most mayors, it should be pointed out, would not call a rabbi "Haman." Most mayors did not make their living defending Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, either.
"Come on, a little yarmulke-you've got to wear something," the rabbi is saying. He wants to recite a Purim blessing but the mayor's head is uncovered.
"Troublemaker," growls the mayor.
It should also be pointed out that Rabbi Harlig gives as good as he gets. "If not for me," he tells the mayor, "you never would have won. Remember the first one in the Jewish community who was there for your announcement? You were able to get three homeless people to show up, and me."
The rabbi hands the mayor some Purim literature and the mayor throws it in the garbage. The children help the mayor unwrap the gifts they've brought him: box upon box of chocolates and hamantashen, a Purim pastry. The mayor seems flustered at the bounty. He offers it around: "As Tony Spilotro said, children, you can only eat one steak at a time."
With the niceties, such as they are, concluded, the mayor scrounges for his checkbook. "It makes me sick," he says, with only half a grin. "I mean, he gives you two dollars' worth of hamantashen and wants a check for ..."-he looks up at the rabbi-"how much, $900?"
The rabbi nods. The mayor scribbles. The children eat hamantashen.
It is the day after Purim. Rabbi Harlig is looking back over his 10 years in Las Vegas. His accomplishments notwithstanding, it hasn't all been smooth.
He doesn't much care. He sees himself as doing G-d's work. Thus are dulled the slings of man. Just now, sitting in his office at the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Chabad Center, he grins with satisfaction as he talks about something that happened in his synagogue two nights ago.
On Purim, it is incumbent upon Jews to gather and hear every word of the Book of Esther, which tells the Purim story. It is the most freewheeling Jewish holiday: Haman's name is lustily booed at every mention; the Jewish victory is cheered; afterward, there is eating and dancing.
Rabbi Harlig drew a sizable, rambunctious, motley Purim crowd, typical of Chabad: devout Jews and first-timers, Hasids and hippies, young parents and widowers. Among them was the author Naomi Ragen, in town from Israel to speak at a Federation fund-raiser. Ragen had begun the night at Temple Beth Sholom. When she found, however, that the Purim reading there was being abbreviated to speed things along, she dashed to the Chabad synagogue.
This is the kind of story that fuels Rabbi Harlig, the Brooklyn exile who discovered in Las Vegas a chance to build from scratch something that neither politics nor fashion can tear down. When asked if he's had to compromise his Orthodoxy to fit this unorthodox city, he practically scowls. "There's nothing I would do to bend," he says. "We teach traditional, authentic Jewish values without any compromise. Because once you tear a few pages out, the whole book falls apart."
Excerpted from an article originally published in Las Vegas Life Magazine
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Purim 5712 
Sholom u'Brocho [Peace and Blessing]:
...When our people came into being, on receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, they declared naa'se v'nishma-"We will do (first), then we will (try to) understand." This proclamation has remained our guiding light for all times and in all places. The Jew must observe the Mitzvoth whether or not he understands their deeper significance; his experience of the Mitzvoth eventually will develop the faculties of his understanding, and in this he has Divine assistance.
Jews have, likewise, always realized that our history is not shaped by understandable natural laws or forces, but by Supreme Providence, which is above and beyond our understanding.
A case in point is the festival of Purim, which we celebrate today. Ahasuerus, an absolute ruler, had signed, sealed and delivered the decree to annihilate the entire Jewish population in all the 127 provinces of his vast empire. There seemed not a glimmer of escape. The Jews could not logically understand why such a terrible decree was hanging over their heads. Haman had accused them of adhering to their own laws and they should not have become exposed to such mortal danger, inasmuch as the Torah is a Torath-Chaim, a law of life and a way of life, not death.
Yet, during the entire year that the decree was pending, the Jews remained steadfast in their faith and loyalty to G-d, although there was but one avenue of escape from certain death, as our Sages tell us, and that was precisely the opposite: abandonment of their way of life and merging with the non-Jewish population. But not a single Jew or Jewess chose this apparently "logical" solution.
Their salvation also came through a miraculous chain of events which completely turned the wheel of fortune from destruction to renewed life, physical and spiritual, and from mourning to gladness.
Now the words of the Megillah [Scroll of Esther], "These day shall be remembered and practiced," can be better understood. Remembering our relationship with G-d must immediately lead precepts, despite any inclination to the contrary stemming of influences, the Jew remains rooted in G-d's Torah and His Mitzvoth which make our people indestructable.
With Purim greetings and blessings,
6th of Adar, 5721 
Greeting and Blessing:
...As we are now approaching the happy days of Purim, it is well to remember, as the Old Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman), the founder of Chabad, explains in his book Torah Or and his dissertation on Purim, that what brought about the miracle of Purim was the fact that the Jews were inspired with the spirit of Mesirus Nefesh [self-sacrifice] under the threat of Haman, which hung over their heads for a whole year. Thus the Jews were put to the test to prove their Mesirus Nefesh at various periods throughout the year, and all the possible states of mind in which a Jew finds himself throughout the twelve months of the year. For Jewish loyalty to the Torah and Mitzvoth should be manifest not only on special occasions of the year, such as on Shabbos or Yom Tov [holidays], or at special conventions, but throughout each day of the year, and in each aspect of their daily life. The only obstacle is actually the inner adversary, as explained in the Talmud on the verse "There shall be no strange G-d within you," to the effect that it refers to the Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] within the individual (Shabbos 105b). Thus the internal difficulties rather than the external obstacles are those which have to be overcome, and then one finds that the extent of Mesirus Nefesh required is not as formidable as one imagines.
10 Adar 5762
Positive mitzva 59: blowing the trumpets in the Sanctuary
By this injunction we are commanded to sound trumpets in the Sanctuary when offering festival sacrifices. It is contained in the words (Num. 10:10): "Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, you shall blow with the trumpets." We are also commanded to blow trumpets in times of trouble, as it states (Num. 10:9): "When you go to war in your land."
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the mitzvot of Purim, which we will celebrate this coming Monday night and Tuesday, is the reading of "Megilat Esther," the Scroll of Esther. It is the only one of the 24 books of the Bible in which G-d's Name does not appear.
The name Esther also alludes to the concealment of G-d's presence in the world, from the root word meaning "to hide." The miracle of Purim came about in a seemingly "natural" manner, as opposed to an open and obvious miracle. The miraculous salvation brought about by Mordechai and Esther was "hidden" within a series of plausible events.
Even the name of the holiday, Purim, denotes concealment, from the fact that it is a Persian word rather than a word in the Holy Tongue. (Chasidic philosophy explains that the Hebrew name of an entity is the direct channel of its G-dly's vitality.)
By contrast, the word "Megila" comes from the Hebrew root meaning revelation.
The holiday of Purim thus represents a contradiction: on the one hand concealment, on the other, G-dly revelation.
The contradiction is resolved, however, when we approach the Megila with the proper mindset, with the realization that even G-d's "concealments" are "revelations," originating in the same Source. G-d's Essence is found in even the lowest levels of creation, and transcends the natural order. This concept will find its culmi-nation in the Messianic era, when "the night will illuminate as day," and the G-dliness that underlies all of creation will be openly revealed.
The Rebbe has prophesized that Moshiach is about to come, and that "the time for your Redemption has arrived." The Hebrew word for "arrived" is related to the word "touch." Not only have we reached the era of Redemption, but we can also "touch" it as well. In the same way that Esther's "touch" of the royal scepter eventually brought about the salvation of the Jewish people, so too are we assured that our initial "touch" will likewise draw us nearer, speedily in our days, to the full and Final Redemption with Moshiach.
And you shall command the people of Israel, that they bring you pure beaten oil olive (Ex. 27:20)
The Jewish people are likened to oil: In the same way the olive yields its oil only after it is crushed and squeezed, so too are the positive qualities of the Jewish people revealed through suffering. Also, just as oil doesn't mix with other liquids and always rises to the top, so too do the Jewish people stand above their oppressors and never lose their identity.
And you shall make holy garments...for glory and for beauty (Ex. 28:2)
It is significant that the commandment to make holy garments immediately follows the commandment to make oil for the menora. Oil is symbolic of the intellectual faculties; the holy garments are symbolic of the physical body, the "garment of the soul." Both the mind and body need to kept pure and unadulterated, as it states, "Let your garments be always white, and let your head lack no oil."
You shall make the breastplate of judgment ("choshen mishpat") (Ex. 25:25)
The Hebrew letters of the word "choshen" (chet-shin-nun) are the reverse of the word "nachesh," from the root meaning sorcery or divination. Sorcery is the harnessing and utilization of spiritually impure forces to discern the future. By contrast, the breastplate of judgment, with its Urim and Tumim, clarified the unknown through the power of holiness.
And Aaron shall bear the judgment ("mishpat") of the people of Israel upon his heart before the L-rd continually (Ex. 28:30)
Aaron was the "heart" of the Jewish people; he profoundly felt their sorrows and their suffering. (An alternate interpretation of the word "mishpat" is "punishment.") Deeply empathetic and compassionate, he prayed "before the L-rd continually" that their anguish be relieved.
(Be'er Mayim Chayim)
The early 1950s was an especially terrible time for Jews in the Soviet Union, a period filled with terror and dread. Joseph Stalin's infamous "Doctors' Plot" was at its peak, and Russia's Jewish physicians were disappearing rapidly. People were being purged left and right, never to be heard from again. Around the world, Jews wept and pleaded with G-d, but there was no salvation in sight.
It was the night after the holiday of Purim, 1953. In Brooklyn, New York, a large crowd of Jews had gathered to farbreng with the Rebbe. Many of the participants had themselves just recently escaped from the behind the Iron Curtain. A good number had personally suffered the wrath of Stalin's tyranny, wasting away for years in Russian prisons. Still, many such Chasidim could not forget their oppressed brethren across the sea.
That year at the Purim gathering the Rebbe delivered a Chasidic maamar (discourse) on the verse, "And he brought up Hadassah, who is Esther." As always, the Rebbe's holy countenance underwent a visible transformation before beginning the discourse, his elevated state of deveikut (attachment to G-d) signaling that he was about to utter the "words of the living G-d." Indeed, a few minutes later the Rebbe delivered his maamar.
The gathering continued for the next few hours, during which the Rebbe gave several informal talks, Chasidic melodies were sung, and numerous glasses were hoisted in "l'chaim."
It was late at night - almost dawn, in fact - when an unusual thing occurred. For the second time that evening the Rebbe's holy face began to radiate with that special solemnity and earnestness that meant that he was preparing to deliver a maamar. The Chasidim could barely believe what was happening. The Rebbe had never delivered two maamarim at the same gathering!
The room was still. No one uttered a sound. The Rebbe began to speak:
"After the Czar fell in Russia, it was announced that the government would be holding elections. The Rebbe Rashab [the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe] went word to the Chasidim that they were to participate in the voting process. There was one particular Chasid who was completely removed from worldly affairs; to him the political arena was foreign territory.
"Nonetheless, having received an explicit instruction from the Rebbe, he set out to fulfill his command. With a sense of awe and reverence he immersed himself in a mikva, donned his gartel (sash) and set out for the polling booth.
"Of course, when he got there he had no idea what he was expected to do, but some of the more worldly Chasidim helped him cast his vote. Adjusting his gartel, the Chasid did what everyone else was doing. When the votes were cast, everyone cried out 'Hurrah!' Taking his cue from those around him he likewise cried out, 'Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!' "
As he uttered these words, the Rebbe's face burned with a holy fire. The Chasidim were astounded; they realized that more was going on than met the eye, but they did not understand the significance of what had just occurred. Swept up by the powerful emotion that filled the air, the crowd spontaneously rose to its feet and shouted, "Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!" three times.
After this strange preamble the Rebbe delivered his second maamar, based on the verse in the Megilah, "Therefore they called these days Purim, after the name of Pur."
[In the introduction to a different Chasidic discourse published almost 50 years later, reference is made to that second maamar: "...It was obviously connected to the events that were then taking place in 'that country,' the fall of its dictator, an enemy of the Jews. This was understood from the story the Rebbe told right before the maamar about the Rebbe Rashab's directive to the Chasidim during the Russian Revolution, after the Czar was toppled."]
In 1953, March 4th coincided with the 17th of Adar. On that fateful day the Russian state radio in Moscow made the startling announcement that two days previously, the night after Purim, Joseph Stalin had fallen gravely ill and had lost consciousness. The next morning, the 18th of Adar, the whole truth was finally revealed: Stalin was dead. He died at the exact moment the Chasidim were shouting "Hurrah!" back in Brooklyn at the Rebbe's gathering. [The Hebrew words "hu rah" mean "he is evil"]
Jews throughout the Soviet Union breathed a collective sigh of relief, tempered, of course, by a realistic apprehension of the future. No one, however, could have imagined in his wildest dreams a more miraculous end to Stalin's reign of terror. At long last the "Doctors' Plot" was over, and countless prisoners were set free. In the wake of Stalin's death the oppressive atmosphere in the Soviet Union was greatly lightened, and so ended one of the grimmest chapters in the annals of Russian Jewish history.
The 22nd Psalm is said to pertain to Esther. It is called a "Psalm for the early dawn (Ayelet HaShachar)." The Talmud states that just as the dawn is the end of the night, so too was the Book of Esther the end of the miracles that were given to be put in writing. It was the beginning of the dawn that would blaze to light with the coming of the Messiah, as it is written (Isaiah 60:1), "Arise, shine, for your light has come; G-d's glory shines upon you."
(Me'am Lo'ez on the Scroll of Esther)