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Devarim Deutronomy

L'Chaim
March 25, 2005 - 14 Adar II, 5765

863: Tzav

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  862: Vayikra864: Shmini  

Reading Backwards  |  Living with the Rebbe  |  A Slice of Life  |  What's New
The Rebbe Writes  |  Rambam this week  |  A Word from the Director  |  Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened  |  Moshiach Matters

Reading Backwards

When discussing the laws of Purim, the Talmud states that if one reads the Megila (Scroll of Esther) backward, the reading is invalid. In the simple sense this means one can't skip around. If you read the Megila out of order, whether the chapters, verses or words, it doesn't count.

To fulfill the mitzva of reading the Megila on Purim, we have to read it in the right order - the sequence has to be right.

But on a deeper level, the Talmud teaches us an important lesson about our approach to the holiday of Purim, and to its mitzvot.

In a larger sense, we cannot read Purim backwards. We cannot read the story of Purim as if it's backwards. "Backwardness" here has two meanings. First, we can't read Purim as if it's "backwards" - primitive, old-fashioned, antiquated, etc. Too often we treat Purim as "just a children's holiday," as if we are too sophisticated, too "mature," to put aside our judgments and judgmentalism and rejoice "until we don't know" - until our intellects fall silent and we admit our knowledge is ignorance.

The second sense in which reading Purim "backwards" invali-dates the reading - and, in a sense, our celebration of it, is to read the story of Esther and Mordechai as a story of "back then," a story that may be of historical interest but has no current relevance. Or worse, to read it as a "back then": "back then (in the times of Esther and Mordechai) they had to tell stories like this because they didn't know better, but really things like that just don't happen - not 'back then' and not now."

Such a "reading" has of course no historical support. And such a misreading of history has only one purpose - to make Purim into a story of "back then" and so dismiss its message from our lives.

And what do we miss, what message is lost by reading backwards? The power of the everyday miracle. For the miracle of Purim differs from the miracles that we will celebrate a month later, the miracles associated with Passover and the Exodus. Those miracles were open and obvious to all. But the miracle of Purim was hidden, invisible, so to speak, for quite some time, until the "role reversals" revealed the hand of G-d behind the events, proving that the Guardian of Israel never sleeps.

Which brings us to another lesson of Purim, one that, like all the events related in the Megila, is eternally true, a lesson that cannot be "read backwards." After the victory, the Megila relates that "the Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor." The Talmud tells us: "Light, this is Torah; Gladness, this is the holidays; Joy, this is the brit mila (circumcision); Honor, this is tefilin." That is, the miracle - the revelation of Divine Providence, of G-d's guidance leads to - mitzvot, and specifically, those mitzvot that distinguish the Jewish people, that draw attention to our uniqueness.

May we celebrate Purim by "reading forward" - forward from the Redemption of Purim to the Redemption of Passover to the ultimate Redemption with the revelation of Moshiach.


Living with the Rebbe

A little history lesson: Haman was the Persian viceroy, the most powerful man in the empire that ruled the world. Mordechai was the leader of the Jews; he "sat at the King's gate," serving as one of the royal counselors.

Haman had the king agree that all the people in the empire should worship him. Mordechai refused to comply.

Now why didn't Mordechai bow down to Haman? Mordechai was a realistic person. He could have foreseen the consequences of his refusal. Why was he willing to risk everything - not only his own life and position, but that of the entire Jewish people?

So Haman was asking to be worshiped like a god. Big deal. Bow down to him and go further. Why waste more time about it? It definitely doesn't make sense to give up one's life - and risk those of one's entire people - not to bow down.

But that's the point. There are some things that are above making sense. There are immutable rules which G-d wove into the very fabric of the universe. There is no way they can be broken. If a man tries, he will break himself against them.

Acknowledging G-d and refusing to acknowledge any other power are the two most fundamental of these laws. Mordechai saw bowing down to Haman as a challenge to the fundamental core of his existence. Of course, he was not going to believe in Haman's divinity. But no one was asking him a philosophical question. It was the deed that was most important.

Would he bow to Haman and thus show his acceptance of the Persian empire as the most powerful force in his life? Or would he defy Haman's decree and incur his wrath, but demonstrate his connection to G-d?

For Mordechai, it wasn't a question. Mordechai didn't separate his faith from his life, or his principles from his day-to-day modus operandi. He lived what he believed in; he believed in what he lived. There was no dichotomy.

And this wasn't true only of Mordechai. The entire Jewish people stood behind him. Even when Haman passed a decree calling for every Jew in the empire to be executed, they did not try to hide their Jewishness. On the contrary, they intensified their adherence to the Torah and its commandments.

Abstract idealism? An impractical approach? Well, let's see what happened. Haman was killed, Mordechai was given his position, and instead of the Jews being slain by their enemies, they annihilated all those who rose against them. Not bad for idealism.

Because this was not just idealism, it was an awareness of the reality of our existence. It's G-d's world. And when Mordechai and the Jewish people affirmed that, they were successful.

One further point: When Mordechai and the Jewish people affirmed their Jewish identity and faith in G-d, they did not retreat into isolationism. Mordechai became the viceroy; he - and his people - took a far wider role in Persian affairs than before. And while doing so, he proudly emphasized his Jewish identity; everyone referred to him as "Mordechai, the Jew."

The two aren't contradictory. Since one Judaism and one's connection to G-d are inherent facts of one's existence, affirming them makes one more in sync with His order for the world, and more able to play a significant role within it.

From Keeping in Touch (S.I.E. Publishing) by Rabbi E. Touger, adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


A Slice of Life

Purim without Koby
by Sherri Mandell

I was asked to write an article entitled "Purim Without Koby." But I can't write about Purim without Koby because even though Koby is dead, I don't celebrate Purim, or anything else, without Koby.

In an article in The New York Times, Steven Flatow said that even though his daughter Aliza was killed by terrorists, he was still her parent. I am still Koby's mother. I will never not be his mother.

Trying to explain my relationship with Koby is like trying to translate blindness to a sighted person. I speak a different language now.

It is like being a haunted house, or a hallowed one. There are times when I feel horrible pain, and I feel that I will always be haunted. I see how people look at me sometimes and remember the haunted house I used to pass on my way into town when I was a kid. Unlike our modern, shingled house, it was old, dark brick with spires and round windows. Now perhaps, I would look at the house as curious, interesting, maybe even beautiful. For what is haunted can also be hallowed, sanctified by loss into something grander, more attached to G-d. It depends on how you translate your experience.

Purim tells us that this world is one where meaning is hidden. The name Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, is related to the Hebrew world for hiddenness. And in the Purim Megillah, G-d is never mentioned by name, though he is not absent from the story.

To encounter G-d, we have to move from our position of pride to a position of humility, enhancing our own hiddenness. Only then can we emulate Esther, who could have stayed in the palace, where she lived in luxury, massaged and oiled and groomed, but chose instead to feel the suffering of the people. Esther did not let her elevated status go to her head.

That may be our job in this world: to connect more with other people, to feel their pain and their problems, to act as one with them. Perhaps that is what we should celebrate: our ability to help each other move toward healing; to move from our limited sense of self to feeling one with the people around us. Such unity can lead to healing.

Less than a year after our son was killed, my husband and I marked our wedding anniversary by going out to dinner. I can't say we celebrated, because we were too sad. When we walked into the restaurant, the smiling waitress with her shiny, black hair had a spirit and effervescence I could only admire. I thought to myself, "She has no idea of the pain I am living with, the weight of what I carry."

As my husband and I ate our meal, we realized that the restaurant was a perfect place to commemorate what would be Koby's upcoming fifteenth birthday. We wanted to take fifteen poor or disadvantaged people out to dinner to mark Koby's birthday - to remember the dead by bringing joy to the living.

We spoke to the manager about our plans. He said that he volunteered at a nearby center that helped teens from poor, broken families, and he thought that the teenagers would appreciate going out with us. The idea was taking form almost on its own. We hadn't thought about taking teenagers out for a meal, but it made sense. Koby was a teen when he was killed. We thanked the manager for his suggestion. Before he walked away, my husband said: "Do you know the Goodman family? They live around here. They lost their 16-year-old son, Tani, this year in an accident - we went to the shiva - and I wanted to know how they are doing."

"You can ask them yourself. Your waitress is their daughter."

I looked at her, at her beauty and her spirit, and I thought, "You never know what's going on inside a person." I had misjudged her. When she came over to the table, we told her of our loss, and she shared her own.

As we spoke, I realized how much of life is hidden. We don't see what's inside of people.

As we shared our feelings, my husband and I felt less isolated. The pain lifted for a moment. Healing may occur when we reveal what's hidden inside of us. Then the pain doesn't haunt us but brings us closer to others.

If we can't even see what's inside of other people, imagine how difficult it is to see G-d in the world. But Purim tells us that even when we can't see G-d, he is with us. Even when it seems otherwise, G-d does not abandon us in our pain.

Reprinted with permission from Kosher Spirit Magazine. Sherri Mandell is the author of "The Blessing of a Broken Heart." (Toby Press, 2003) and co-founder of the foundation for terror victims, The Koby Mandell Foundation, www.kobymandell.org


What's New

Celebrate Purim!

Jews from Amurzet, a remote village in the Jewish Autonomous Republic (250 km. from Birobidjan, Russia) have been rehearsing a Purim play based on the Book of Esther. The performance, for Jews of the local community, takes place this Purim, which begins on Thursday evening, March 24. The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS will be distributing nearly a quarter of a million "mishloach manot" food gifts in over 420 centers. To find out about events and celebrations in your area call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center.


The Rebbe Writes

Freely translated letter written in the years preceding the Rebbe's leadership

Shushan Purim, 5706 [1946]

Greetings and blessings,

...With regard to the mitzvos [com-mandments] of Purim, our Sages (Megillah 7a) seek to define the following two obligations: mishloach manos ish lerei'eihu - "sending presents of food, one man to another," and matanos laevyonim - "gifts to the poor." Noting the plural and singular forms of these terms, they rule that the mitzva is fulfilled by sending at least two presents of food to one person and two gifts usually of money to two poor people.

According to Chasidus, this can be explained as follows: As is well known, the miracle of Purim involved the salvation of the Jewish people both bodily and spiritually (in contrast to Chanuka, which involved only spiritual salvation)...

The Jews merited this twofold salvation because of their self-sacrifice in sanctifying G-d's Name. They devoted themselves to G-d with a simple will that transcends reason and understanding. For had they just been willing to sacrifice their faith, Haman would have done them no harm, for his decree was only against Jews, as explained in Chasidus, in the discourses on Purim.

The ultimate goal of mesirus nefesh [self-sacrifice] is that this self-sacrifice should influence a Jew's day-to-day life; i.e., that his G-dly soul alone should master his body and animal soul. The intermediary that allows for communication between the two is the intellective soul, as stated in the Chasidic discourse entitled Rava Chazia (delivered by my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Shlita, in 5690 [1930], when he first visited the U.S.), et al.

Now we know that "The only poor man is he who lacks understanding and the only rich man is he who possesses understanding." Therefore we cannot describe the intellective soul (and certainly not the G-dly soul) as truly "poor." The body and the animal soul, by contrast, can be described in this manner.

This is the meaning of the mitzvos of Purim. After their self-sacrifice in that era, the Jews were given mitzvos which indicate that the G-dly soul must draw down its self-sacrifice both to the animal soul and to the body. The gifts of money to the poor must therefore be given to two poor people.

With regard to sending presents to one's friends: The intellective soul is called a "friend" of the G-dly soul, and for that reason it can serve as its intermediary, as explained in the above Chasidic discourses. (This mitzva, too, involves two presents, for any genuine intellectual idea is twofold. One arrives at a conclusion after considering both that idea and the opposing concept; a perspective characterized by Kindness and one characterized by Severity; a question and a resolution. This is the nature of intellect, as is explained in many sources.)

Just as these distinctions exist within an individual, so, too, there are parallel distinctions between people. There are people who concern themselves only with bodily things; there are some who have a natural feeling for others, or at least for their own relatives; and others who devote attention to contemplating their deeds and consider logically how they should conduct themselves; - but all this is based on mortal reason. They are, for the moment, not interested in learning about the Torah and G-dly reason.

Into this setting comes the holy charge, given to every individual according to his potential - to see that all of the kinds of people mentioned above are brought to the truth of the Torah and its mitzvos. This constitutes the giving of a spiritual "presents of food" and "gifts of money to the poor" to many people, as mentioned above.

This is the great merit that you possess - that, while living in a spiritual wilderness where there are at present so few who observe the Torah and its mitzvos, as reflected by your letter, you should be the one who disseminates and endeavors to fortify the study of Torah and the practice of Judaism through your personal example and speech, and by bringing them the light of the Torah through various books, articles, publications, and essays. The merit of the many is dependent on you.

I am certain that you will continue to advance your above-described work with renewed energy and with the help of your family, and I conclude with blessings for a kosher and joyous Passover.

With the blessing "Immediately to teshuva (repentance); immediately to Redemption,"


Rambam this week

16 Adar II, 5765 - March 27, 2005

Positive Mitzva 57: Slaughtering the Second Passover Offering

This mitzva is based on the verse (Num. 9:11) "On the fourteenth day of the second month, at evening, they shall do it" The Torah declares that a Jew always has a second chance. If someone was unable to bring the Passover sacrifice because of impurity or because he was too far away to get to the Holy Temple, he is given another opportunity. This person is commanded to fulfill this obligation, a month later, on the fourteenth day of the month of Iyar.


A Word from the Director

Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman

This Friday we celebrate Purim, commemorating the Jewish people's deliverance from Haman's decree of annihilation. As soon as Haman's plot to destroy the Jews became known, Mordechai sent a messenger to Queen Esther, asking her to go to the king on behalf of her people.

Esther hesitated; anyone who approached the king without being summoned and did not meet with his favor forfeited his life. When Esther relayed this message to Mordechai, the Megila tells us he responded:

"Think not of yourself.... For if you hold your peace now, the deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere.... And who knows whether you came to the kingdom for just such a time as this."

Esther understood Mordechai's message. As the leader of the Jewish people of that generation, Mordechai knew, through Divine inspiration, that the Jewish people would be delivered. Their deliverance was certain; it would come from somewhere. The only question was who would help actualize this Divinely inspired promise?

Esther accepted the mission and asked Mordechai to tell the Jews to fast and pray for three days so she would be successful. That is what happened and ultimately the Jews were delivered.

The Mordechai of our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, stated the Divinely inspired words, "The time of your Redemption has arrived." The Rebbe said that to prepare ourselves for the Redemption we should learn about Moshiach and the Redemption. Now, as then, the Rebbe's message was that the deliverance is coming, the Redemption will take place, it's happening.

The only question is, "Who will help actualize this Divinely inspired promise?"

The responsibility lies with each of us. We must do everything possible to spread the Rebbe's message of the imminence of the Redemption and the importance of learning about it. Then we will surely merit the total fulfillment of one of the last verses of the Megila that, "there was light and joy, gladness and honor," so may it be with us.


Thoughts that Count

He shall lift up the ashes remaining from the burnt offering. (Lev. 6:3)

The Kohein (priest) was commanded to remove the ashes left over from the previous day's sacrifices. This act was symbolic of the fact that after the sinner had brought his offering and truly repented of his sin, one was not allowed to remind him of his transgressions. They are forgotten and erased forever.

(Otzreinu Hayashan)


A perpetual fire shall burn on the altar; it shall not go out. (Lev. 6:6)

Within every Jew there is a sanctuary dedicated to G-d - the eternal Jewish soul which can never be destroyed. And within that "sanctuary" stands an altar upon which a continual fire must burn. Chasidic philosophy explains that the continual fire is the warmth, enthusiasm and vitality with which a person infuses his Jewish observance. If this fieriness is missing, even though the person might perform many mitzvot and study much Torah, his G-dly service is lacking an essential ingredient. A glowing passion toward Judaism must encompass every aspect of our lives as Jews, thus transforming everyday acts into holy deeds. And, of course, "spiritual deeds" too - Torah, prayer and deeds of kindness (gemilut chasadim) - must also suffused with a burning enthusiasm.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


It Once Happened

She was Esther, the lovely orphan; she was Esther, the lonely queen. During their silence, her heart screamed for her people, and when she spoke for them, it was with a quiet calm. In the palace, she had everything, but she had nothing she desired - yet that was enough for her, for she thought not of herself. Esther: her life-a paradox, her story-a poem. And she asked only that she be remembered...

Her father died before she was born, and her mother, in childbirth. She was totally orphaned, in every sense of the word. One would think this would have relegated her to a position of powerlessness, and yet somehow, from this utter aloneness, she drew strength. One day, she would teach the Jewish people that though exiled and oppressed, like her, they would never be abandoned.

Esther was raised by her cousin, Mordechai, a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court. He was a wise, kind, and courageous man. When she grew up, they married. It was the fairy tale ending for the orphan girl.

And then, disaster struck. Achashverosh, the Persian king, having done away with his wife, Vashti for disobeying him, sought a new queen. He demanded every attractive female in the empire be brought before him so he could select a suitably beautiful woman to be his wife.

Esther had the misfortune of being among them. For her, it was a fate worse than death. She spent a year in the harem, waiting for her turn to go before the king. Esther refused all the cosmetics offered her, for she did not want to be queen - her dreams lay elsewhere.

Unobtrusively, she managed to preserve the traditions of her faith. Finally, it was Esther's turn to stand before the king. It could not have been only her physical beauty that caught his eye. There was an inner glow, a deeper beauty that illuminated her face, and the king was enchanted by the aura that enveloped her. And so, Esther was crowned queen.

And Esther was silent. She told no one of her background. Everyone who looked at her imagined her as one of their own kinspeople - for silence speaks in all languages. And perhaps, that is why she was so beloved.

The years passed. Esther was a dove locked in a golden cage, and no matter how the bars glistened and shimmered, all she longed for was to be free. Mordechai still stood outside the palace gates each day to inquire about her. And she waited for the day when they would be together again.

Seven years. Haman rises to power. Everyone bows when the evil prime minister passes. Everyone except for Mordechai. He alone refuses to bend before him, and Haman, enraged, plots to kill Mordechai and the entire Jewish people...

Mordechai dons sackcloth and is not permitted near the palace gates in such garb. Esther sends him fresh clothing and demands to know why he is in mourning. Mordechai tells her of the wealth Haman has promised to deliver to the king's coffers if Achashverosh agrees to kill the Jews. And then Mordechai makes his request: "Go to the king and beg him to save your people!"

For a moment she balks. "Anyone who enters the king's chambers uninvited can be beheaded. Perhaps it is better that I wait. Surely he will call me himself soon, and then I can make my request without risking his anger."

But Mordechai's answer is unequivocal. "This is why you were taken to be queen. Do not think that you can escape the fate of all the Jews by hiding in the king's palace. If you are silent now, help will come to the Jews from some other source, but you will be destroyed and utterly forgotten from among your people."

And so, Esther agrees to go, and in that moment, accepts her destiny - and throws away her personal future. Now that she would be going to the king of her own volition, she would be forbidden by Jewish law ever to return to her husband. Aware of the loss she bears, she issues a directive:

"Gather the Jews in Shushan. For three days, have them fast and pray to G-d for the success of my mission, and I will fast with them. Then, I will attempt to intercede with the king. And if I am meant to die, then let me die."

On the third day, Esther cloaked herself in royal garb and donned the crown jewels. Her face shone, and she buried her fears in her heart. She entered the king's inner chambers and stood before him as he sat on his throne. He lifted his eyes, and saw Esther before him, and he was very angry at her for having come to him unsolicited. Esther saw the rage burning in his face, and she fainted into the arms of the maiden at her side. And G-d saw and had mercy on the orphan girl who had placed her trust in Him. And He multiplied her beauty and made her find favor in the king's eyes.

Then Achashverosh arose and said: "Tell me your wish, it shall be done."

And Esther invited the king - and Haman - to a feast.

She knew that her fellow Jews would revile and despise her for inviting their arch-enemy to a party, and would despair of her help. But she did not want the Jews to rely on her, to feel that her influence would save them. Better they look upon her as a traitor, and return to G-d with all their hearts...

The end of the story we all know. And Esther? Perhaps the only thing harder than those first years in the palace were the years that followed. Initially, she may have been comforted by the thought that perhaps she had been crowned so she could one day save the Jews. But having saved them, knowing she could never leave, knowing that she was forever relegated to an alien existence - that was a sacrifice far greater. Despite that, she was unflinching in her dedication to the Jewish people.

In return, she asked only that Purim be celebrated by us each year, and that her story be recorded and heard. She asked only that she be remembered - in our minds and in our hearts - for who she really was - not the Persian queen, but the Jewish orphan girl who gave her life for her people.

A free adaptation based on Megilat Esther and Midrash Esther Rabba by Chana Silverstein. Reprinted from Aleph, a publication of the Chabad House of Ithica, NY.

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud states that in the era of Redemption, all festivals will be nullified except Purim. What does this mean? In the present era, the festivals represent G-dly revelations that transcend ordinary (G-dly) revelation, hence they stand out. In the Redemption, by contrast, G-dly revelation will be ongoing and the festivals will not be considered unique. They will be celebrated but the spiritual nature of the days will not stand out. This is not true regarding Purim. For Purim came about through the self-sacrifice of the Jews. Despite the challenges of exile, they 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.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)


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