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Imagine a chess game in which the pieces on the board seem to move of their own accord. Pawns, rooks, queens and kings all move in the correctly prescribed manner, yet of their own volition. The chess pieces, we decide, must be puppets with invisible strings or they're magnetized or computerized. Somewhere, somehow, there is a hidden hand pushing the pieces around.
The events we commemorate on Purim are their own kind of chess game. In the Megilla, the record of the story of Purim, one does not see, nor hear any mention of G-d. In fact, G-d's Name is not mentioned in the entire Megilla; the Book of Esther is the only book in the entire Bible entire in which G-d's name never appears. And yet, somehow, someway, after learning about the "chess game" that took place in those days, one must conclude that G-d's hand was controlling the game.
Judaism teaches that G-d supplies the "recovery" before He brings the "illness." In the case of Purim, the beginning of the recovery took place before Haman convinced King Ahashuerus to let him annihilate all the Jews. The King became angry with his wife, got rid of her, and began a search for a new queen.
Enter Esther, a women who had no interest in becoming the new queen, who, in fact, hid herself from the royal messengers and, according to many sages, was even disqualified from participating in the "beauty contest." In addition, Esther did nothing whatsoever to beautify herself once she was placed among the "contestants" in the palace. Add to this the fact that, though Esther's relative, Mordechai, was well-known by all, no one in the palace knew or realized that Esther was Jewish, nor did it ever leak out and enter the King's ears until Esther told him herself.
Esther was already well-placed in the palace and a favorite of the King when Haman's evil plan was signed into action. The Divine recovery had begun its work before the illness had begun.
Throughout the entire course of events, everyone moved as he should have; the King one square at a time, Esther, as she pleased but in accordance with Torah, Mordechai in a straight line. To the untrained eye, it looked like a regular game. Except that chess pieces don't move by themselves.
The story of Purim, with its overt lack of G-d's Name even once in the entire Megilla, was a Divine chess game, par excellence. And the best thing about it was that our side won.
The Torah portion, Tetzaveh, relates in detail the instructions for making the golden altar. What relevance can we make of these instructions today, when we have no Temple and no altar?
When G-d told Moses to erect a Sanctuary, He said: "They shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I will dwell in them," meaning in the soul of every Jew. Thus, even though the physical Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, the inner Temple, which each Jew makes within himself, survives, indestructible. And the service which he conducts in the reaches of his soul mirrors in every respect the service of the Temple and Sanctuary. Thus these laws, which appear at first to have no contemporary application, are in fact instructions as to the inner life of a Jew.
Of the many vessels and implements in the Holy Temple, some could become ritually impure while others could not be defiled. (The golden altar was of this second category.) Each vessel had its own particular function.
There is an analogy to this in the Jewish soul, with its many capacities. It may be that in the course of serving G-d, some ulterior motive, some unholy desire, intrudes. This can be compared to the defilement of one of the Sanctuary vessels. When this occurs, our thoughts have become impure, and we must seek ways of removing the impurity so that our thoughts can become worthy of taking part in the "service of the inner Sanctuary." For within the Sanctuary, no impurities are allowed.
There are, amongst Jews, Jews of copper and Jews of gold. Those who are rich in spiritual worth are like gold: their every act is like this precious metal. The spiritually poor are the copper altars of religious life. But every Jew, however he behaves inwardly or outwardly, preserves intact at the heart of his being an essential desire to do G-d's will - a spark of faith, sometimes hidden, sometimes fanned into flame. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said: "A Jew does not want, nor is he able, to be torn away from G-dliness." This spark is where the altar of the Jew's inner Temple is to be found.
The Temple service included burnt offerings. These were animals, consumed by a fire sent from G-d. This sacrifice also occurs within the soul of the Jew; the sacrifice is of himself. The animal is his animal soul, his egocentric desires. And the fire which consumes them is the fire of the love of G-d, Whose undying source is the spark of holiness at the essential core of his soul.
Whether a Jew belongs to the "altars of gold" or is one of the "altars of copper," as long as he reminds himself that essentially he is an altar where the fire of G-dly love consumes the "animal soul" of his self-centered passions, he cannot become impure. When a Jew concentrates on this aspect of his soul he becomes like the earth. Just as the earth we tread on is a symbol of humility and can never become impure, so our soul becomes void of any will except the will of G-d and remains pure.
From Torah Studies, adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Yisrael Haber
Purim in Alaska
After joining the U.S. Air Force as a chaplain and being assigned to Alaska, Rabbi Yisrael Haber informed the Pentagon that he could not go to Alaska as there was no mikva there. He was told, "Whatever you need, you'll get." Six months later, work began on the first mikva in Alaska, built at Elmendorf Air Force Base. The following is excerpted from Rabbi Haber's book "A Rabbi's Northern Adventure," Meor Menachem Pub.
When I received word that the base engineers had gathered all of the material needed for the mikva's construction, I phoned Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum [an emissary of the Rebbe in S. Paul, Minnesota, and an expert in the intricacies of building a mikva], and he assured me that he would be ready to come at a moment's notice.
I asked for permission to bring the Rabbi to Elmendorf. Explaining that the holiday of Purim was just two weeks away, I suggested that Rabbi Grossbaum could visit Fairbanks at that time to lead the holiday festivities there. The Colonel agreed.
A few days later my wife Miriam and I went to Anchorage International Airport to welcome Rabbi Grossbaum. I explained that he would be meeting with Colonel Brame the following morning. Though the Colonel had spoken many times on the telephone with the Rabbi, he had no idea what Rabbi Grossbaum looked like. To ease the shock, I thought it proper to educate the Rabbi about protocol on a military base. "This is the military," I said. "People aren't used to black fedora hats."
I told him that when he walks into a building, he should take off his hat; he would still have his kippa on underneath. "When you leave the building, you can put your hat back on," I explained.
"No problem, Captain Haber," Rabbi Grossbaum said with a joking salute.
The next day, when we walked into the building, Rabbi Grossbaum looked around at the soldiers, put his hand to his hat and secured it in place.
"Now what am I going to do?" I thought.
People were gazing at us curiously. Many of them probably had never seen a Chasidic rabbi before. Rabbi Grossbaum looked as much a part of the Anchorage military scene as a polar bear would have looked in a Miami Beach hotel.
When I opened the door to the Colonel's office, I was in for a shock. Colonel Brame came around his desk and gave Rabbi Grossbaum a happy embrace. For six months, the Methodist Midwestern Air Force colonel and the Lubavitcher Rabbi had spoken on the telephone about mikvas, and now they hugged one another as if they had known each other for years.
A major and a sergeant from the engineer corps sat at a table observing the unusual greeting. Behind them, tacked to a corkboard, were blueprints and sketches of the proposed mikva. The engineers got down to work, explaining in technical jargon their plan for the mikva. In the middle of their discussion, Rabbi Grossbaum stood up, still with his hat on, and said, "Excuse me, may I say a few words?
"I have a few suggestions, if you don't mind. I think you've made some mistakes." He took out a piece of graph paper and began to speak in technical terms, which I couldn't follow. I noticed that Colonel Brame was very impressed. As Rabbi Grossbaum continued to explain what sounded like a doctorate thesis in mikva construction, the Colonel flashed the major and sergeant disapproving looks for having made so many mistakes. When Rabbi Grossbaum finished, the engineers were speechless. They stared at their drawings and began asking questions.
Colonel Brame stood up and took me aside. "Chaplain," he said. "There's something about that Rabbi I have to talk to you about." Glancing at Rabbi Grossbaum, he whispered, "You see that Rabbi there? Now he really looks like a Rabbi."
In Colonel Brame's eyes, Rabbi Grossbaum could do no wrong. He dismissed the team of engineers and said, "Rabbi, you and I are going to build that mikva together."
Certainly it was no coincidence that the work on the mivka began in the Jewish month of Adar, a time of great happiness for the Jewish people. The following article appeared in the Anchorage Times on the eve of Purim:
"Today, Jews observe the Fast of Esther, followed tonight by the festive feast of Purim, with services scheduled in Chapel Number One at Elmendorf Air Force Base. During the one-day holiday, Rabbi Israel Haber will conduct services tonight and tomorrow morning, when Jews give charity, gifts to friends, and enjoy a boisterous Purim feast. Purim celebrates the victory of the Jews over King Ahasuerus who ordered that all of the Jews of his kingdom be put to death. Rabbi Haber said that this was a time of great joy, Jewish fellowship, and charity. Purim is especially beloved by children who are allowed to interrupt the reading of the Megilla, the Scroll of Esther, with special nosemakers called gragers whenever the name of Haman, the archenemy of the Jews, is mentioned.
"In Alaska, to conduct Purim and Shabbat services at Forth Wainwright in Fairbanks, is Rabbi Shalom Gershon Grossbaum, a member of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect. He will return to Anchorage next week to direct the building of a ritual chamber called a mikva, to be located at Chapel Number Two. Rabbi Haber said that this will be the first ritualarium in Alaska."
The day after Purim, Rabbi Grossbaum was back on the job in Anchorage, working at a furious pace to finish the mikva. What a joy it was to see him standing with his black hat directing the plumbers, electricians, carpenters, cement layers and painters who arrived at each step of the project. And what fun it was to see the looks on their faces when they discovered that the construction site boss was a bearded Chasidic rabbi from Minnesota!
Throughout their three years in the U.S. Air Force and the following years, the Habers become closer to the Rebbe's Chasidim and the Rebbe. Eventually they became Lubavitcher Chasidim and are now emissaries of the Rebbe in the Golan Heights, Israel.
Celebrating Purim this year is even easier for some people than other years, as Purim is Saturday night, March 6, through Sunday evening, March 7. Your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center has loads of events planned for children ages 1 to 120! Call your local center to make sure that you will be able to fulfill the special mitzvot (commandments) of Purim which include hearing the Megilla (Scroll of Esther) read on Saturday night and Sunday, giving extra charity, eating a festive meal and presenting "shalach manot" gifts to friends. And of course, have fun dressing up and enjoy a few hamentashen as well! To find out more about Purim visit www.LchaimWeekly.org
Rosh Chodesh Adar II, 5738 
To All Participants in the Melava Malka
Sponsored by "R.S.B.S.T.N.L.G."
Oceanside, Long Island, N.Y.
Greeting and Blessing:
I was pleased to be informed of the forthcoming annual Melava Malka on Motzoei Shabbos-Kodesh [Saturday night] Parshas Zachor.
And though pressure of duties makes it difficult to send individual messages to all similar events, I do wish to associate myself - by means of this message, with all of you gathered on this occasion - in tribute to the good work of your group in strengthening Yiddishkeit among yourselves and in your region.
As you surely know, Parshas Zachor, which is read on the Shabbos before Purim, contains the commandment to remember what Amalek, the archenemy of our Jewish people, did to our people when they were on their way to receive the Torah at Sinai. Amalek's unprovoked and sneaky attack was calculated to shake their belief in G-d and dampen their enthusiasm for His Torah and Mitzvos [commandments].
Haman, a direct descendant of Amalek, was driven by similar hatred of the Jews, because "their laws were different from those of any other people," as the Megillah [Scroll of Esther] states. Likewise all subsequent Amalakites and Hamans of all ages.
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 Mitzvos with enthusiasm, and joy in the everyday life. And so Parshas Zachor comes to remind us, and never forget, that "Amale-kites" 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 Mitzvos 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 Megillah, 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 became friends, as the Megillah tells us that "many of the peoples of the land were turning '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 Yiddishkeit [Judaism], Torah and Mitzvos, 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 Mitzvos, 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 the inspiration of it be with you every day throughout the year,
With esteem and blessing,
- (Back to text) The meal Saturday night at which time one "escorts" the Sabbath Queen
Thursday, 18 Adar, 5764 - March 11, 2004
Positive Mitzva 119: Fruits of the Fourth Year
This mitzva is based on the verse (Lev 19:24) "But in the fourth year, all its (the tree's) fruit shall be holy for praise-giving to the L-rd." A tree's fruit cannot be eaten for the first three years of its growth. The farmer must take the fruits of the fourth year to Jerusalem and eat them in the holy city. This helps him realize that, despite all his toil and labor, it is G-d Who actually causes the trees to flower and the fruit to grow.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
"...That they should keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar...and make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions [of food] one to another and gifts [charity] to the poor." These words appear near the end of the Megilla - the Scroll of Esther. We read the Megilla each year on Purim, which will be celebrated this year on Sunday, March 7.
Our Sages have given us an interesting detail to observe concerning the Purim mitzva of mishloach manot - "sending portions one to another." Because of the unusual wording of this mitzva in the Megilla, we are encouraged to actually send, through a messenger, the gift.
Generally, we are taught that if we have the opportunity to perform a mitzva, it is far better for us to do it ourselves than to dispense with it through another person. The mitzva of mishloach manot, however, is unique in this matter.
Mishloach manot and gifts to the poor are both mitzvot that foster unity among the Jewish people. They recall the brotherly love that Esther and Mordechai awoke in the Jewish people which, in turn, was instrumental in nullifying Haman's evil decree. But m'shloach manot has an added advantage even over charity; it gets someone else involved in a mitzva.
The greatest kindness that one Jew can do for another and the strongest unity that we can promote are epitomized by mishloach manot. Through one Jew getting another Jew involved in a mitzva or encouraging him to grow and enhance his Judaism, true unity can be achieved among the Jewish people.
There are many lessons that we can learn from the holiday of Purim. But the lesson of Jewish unity, perhaps, is one of the most appropriate for our days. It is a lesson that we can carry with us at every time and every place. And by adopting this attitude of all-pervasive "brotherly love" we will surely merit the coming of Moshiach and celebrate Purim together with all of our people in the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, NOW.
You must command the Israelites to bring to you (Ex. 27:20)
The menora was kindled by Aaron, the high priest, whereas the collecting of the oil was the responsibility of Moses. The menora is a metaphor for the Jewish people and its seven branches allude to the seven distinct categories within the Jewish nation. The lighting of the menora is the apportioning of energies to each of the categories to assist in their G-dly service. The gathering together of these different factions into one entity, however, is far more difficult. That had to be accomplished by the leader of the generation.
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
You must command... (Ex. 27:20)
The preface is you - you must observe and do. Only after you do this is it appropriate for you to command others.
...To keep the lamp constantly burning... in the communion tent, outside the curtain (Ex. 27:20-21)
The G-dly light within every Jew has to be present and noticeable not just when one is in the "communion tent" - the synagogue or study hall, and not just at the time that one is involved in prayer, Torah study or other mitzvot. But also "outside of the curtain" - outside, on the street, in one's daily activities and in one's actions between oneself and others.
Purim with the Baal Shem Tov in Mezibuz was unlike the happy holiday anywhere else. It wasn't merely the festive meal, nor the comaraderie of the thousands of Chasidim who gathered each year to be with their Rebbe. Nor was it simply the sincerity and joyfulness with which each special mitzva of the day was performed. It was a combination of all of these, or perhaps it was soley being able to bask in the Torah teachings of the founder of Chasidism.
Each year, the Baal Shem Tov would make a point to discuss Haman, the archenemy of the Jewish people, and his ancestor, Amalek. "Amalek has the same numerical value as 'safek' - doubt. He represents the confusion and concerns about G-d and His omnipotence in our lives, today," the Baal Shem Tov would say. "We must totally wipe out and eradicate Amalek from our G-dly service, trusting in G-d sincerely and joyfully."
On one particular Purim, the Baal Shem Tov called up a small child, Shaul, the son of Rabbi Meir Margolis of Lemburg. Shaul, though only five years old, was known to have a sweet, soulful voice. The Baal Shem Tov asked the child, "Shaul, sing for us. Show us how to serve G-d with sincerity and joy."
Shaul sang the song "Shoshanat Yaakov," customarily sung after the reading of the Scroll of Esther on Purim. As each sweet note flowed, every Chasid was transported into the recesses of his heart to find and eliminate any doubt or confusion that lay hidden there and replaced it with joy and trust. When Shaul finished singing, the Baal Shem Tov approached Shaul's father and asked him to allow the boy to remain with him for Shabbat. "Don't worry, Father. I want to stay with the Baal Shem Tov. I will not cry," Shaul reassured his father.
Shabbat passed uneventually, and at the close of the holy day, the Baal Shem Tov called upon two of his closest Chasidim to accompany him in returning Shaul to Lemburg.
Along the way, the small group stopped at an inn. Inside, the local peasants were partying, singing bawdy songs and carrying on. The Baal Shem Tov went into the middle of the room, clapped his hands and called out, "Silence!" Surprised, everyone complied.
"Would you like to hear real singing?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the peasants. And with that, he called Shaul to the center of the room and told Shaul to sing "Shoshanat Yaakov." Despite the strange and unusual surroundings, Shaul sang even more beautifully than he had just a few days earlier in Mezibuz. When he completed the song, there was a look of admiration and awe in the eyes of even the most drunken peasants.
The Baal Shem Tov called over three young children who had been playing in a corner of the inn. "What are your names?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the three waifs. They responded in order, "Ivan," "Stephan," and "Anton."
"Do you boys like the way my little friend Shaul sang?" the Baal Shem Tov asked the boys.
Sheepishly, the boys nodded their heads. "Do you like Shaul?" he asked them. Once again, they nodded their heads. "I want your boy to always remember the song Shaul sang and to always like Shaul and be his friend," the Baal Shem Tov said softly. A third time the boys nodded their heads.
With that, the Baal Shem Tov took Shaul's hand, motioned for his two Chasidim to follow him, and returned to his carriage.
Many decades passed. Shaul was now a successful businessman and renowned Torah scholar. One year, in early spring, Shaul was traveling back from a business trip. The journey had taken longer than he had expected and he wanted to be home by nightfall in time for Purim. But it was getting late and he still had to traverse a dangerous forest. Shaul pushed his horses harder and filled his mind and heart with joyous thoughts.
Suddenly, his carriage was forced to stop. A bandit had jumped out of some brush and grabbed the horses' reins. Then two more thieves appeared and pulled Shaul out of the carriage. Quickly the thieves found Shaul's money. It was well-known that such bandits never left their victims alive. Shaul pleaded with them to give him a few moments to say his final prayers. They sneered at him and said, "Your prayers won't help you, but go ahead and do as you like."
With that Shaul began to recite the final confession. As he recited the prayer, his thoughts wandered through highlights of his life, and rested on a day over 40 years earlier when he had spent Purim with the Baal Shem Tov.
"Amalek has the same numerical value as 'safek' - doubt. He represents the confusion and concerns about G-d and His omnipotence in our lives, today," he remembered the Baal Shem Tov saying. "We must totally wipe out and eradicate Amalek from our G-dly service, trusting in G-d sincerely and joyfully." With that, Shaul decided to spend his last moments in this world sincerely and joyfully trusting in G-d. He began to sing the tune that he had sung so many years earlier in the presence of the Baal Shem Tov and all of his Chasidim, "Shoshanat Yaakov." The melody burst forth from him as sweetly and soulfully as ever. His heart filled with joy and his spirit soared as he sang.
When Shaul was finished he saw that the three bandits were staring at him in surprise and wonder. He looked at them closely and then said softly, "You must be Ivan, aren't you. And you are Stephan and surely you are Anton," Shaul said, pointing at each one in turn.
The three men looked at Shaul and whispered, "And you are Shaul, whom we promised to always befriend." The three gave Shaul back his money and accompanied him out of the forest. All the while Shaul told the bandits about the Baal Shem Tov, his wondrous teachings and miraculous ways. There and then, the bandits decided to reform and become decent human beings.
A Purim miracle, indeed.
Our Sages relate that during the era of Redemption, all the festivals will be nullified with the exception of Purim. What is the reason for this difference? All of the other holidays came about because of a revelation of G-dliness from His initiative. Purim, by contrast, came about in response to the self-sacrifice of the Jewish people. It was they who took the first step. Despite the challenges of exile, they powerfully reaffirmed their commitment to their Jewish heritage. Therefore, they were rewarded with a festival whose light will continue to shine even in the era of Redemption.
(From Keeping in Touch, by Rabbi E. Touger)