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When you think of Purim, what comes to mind? Hamentashen? A noisemaker to drown out Haman's name? Dressing up in costumes?
Purim is a time for fun and laughter, for holy frivolity. It's a time when "Purim Torahs," or humorous explanations of verses in the Scroll of Esther (Megila), are shared, such as the following: A nasty person who did not like the town rabbi decided that Purim would be an opportune time to let the rabbi know just what he thought of him. To fulfill the commandment of Mishloach Manot (gifts of food), he bought a few pounds of chopped liver which he placed on a platter and molded into the form of a certain curly-tailed creature. The man then sent it to the rabbi. When the rabbi received it, he took a portrait of himself, put in on a platter, and sent it to the "friend" with the following note:
"I have often wondered about the seemingly extra word in the Megila concerning gifts of food to friends. The Megila states 'That they should make them days of feasting and joy, and of sending portions a man to his friend, and gifts to the poor." (9:22) I was always confused about why the word 'man' was necessary. It would have been sufficient to say, 'sending portions to friends.'
"After receiving your thoughtful gift, my question was answered. The Megila is teaching that the portions you send should be 'a man'- the type of person you are. Obviously, you fulfilled the mitzva accurately and sent me a description of yourself. To reciprocate, enclosed is my picture so you may have a description of me."
All joking aside, sending Mishloach Manot to friends is one of the special mitzvot of Purim. Another special Purim mitzva is that of giving charity. Although giving charity is always a great mitzva, giving gifts to the poor is emphasized on Purim.
In Moses Maimonides' teachings about Purim, he states that it is better to increase in gifts to the poor than in sending portions to one another. But, if charity is so important, why was Mishloach Manot mentioned first (in the above-mentioned anecdote) seemingly signifying its greater importance.
The answer to this question is not a "Purim Torah," nor is it a laughing matter. What Maimonides is trying to teach us is that when giving charity to the poor it is very important to be extremely careful not to embarrass the recipient. When Mordechai instituted Purim as a day of giving gifts to the poor he was concerned that it should not become renowned as a day when poor people receive hand-outs, possibly causing them embarrassment. Thus, he also instituted the exchanging of food presents among friends so that an observer would be unable to distinguish gifts to the poor from gifts to friends. To camouflage the gifts to the poor, the Megila preceded the commandment with the order to send portion to friends.
All of this technical talk coalesces into one theme: Jewish unity, which is fostered by actions that are caring, compassionate, respectful, and kind.
Haman was able to convince King Ahasuerus to implement his evil decree to annihilate the Jewish people by stating that we are "one nation, scattered and dispersed among the nations." Though we were still identified as "one nation" we were scattered and dispersed, we lacked harmony and unity amongst ourselves. We lacked love and compassion for our fellow Jews.
To counteract Haman's claim Esther told Mordechai, "Go gather together all the Jews," emphasizing the importance of unity. Thus, when Haman's evil plans were foiled, Mordechai instituted, for all generations, the mitzvot of sending food gifts to friends and giving charity to the poor.
- (Back to text) The other two are to eat a festive meal on Purim day and to hear the Megila read on the might and day of Purim
As related in this week's Torah portion of Tetzaveh, there were two steps involved in lighting the seven-branched candelabra (menora) in the Sanctuary. The first requirement was that the oil had to be brought to Moses: "They shall take to you pure olive oil...for the lamp to burn always." The second consisted of Aaron the High Priest actually kindling the menora: "Aaron and his sons shall set it in order [to burn] from evening till morning."
This raises two questions: Why did the oil have to be brought to Moses, if Aaron was to light the menora? Secondly, why does the Torah refer to a lamp that burns "always" regarding Moses, whereas regarding Aaron it states "from evening till morning"?
To explain: The menora in the Holy Temple symbolizes the Jewish people. In Zecharia's prophecy the Jews are likened to "a menora all of gold." Every individual Jew is a "candle," as it says, "The soul of man is the candle of G-d." The function of Aaron is to "kindle the lamps" - to ignite the Jewish soul by revealing its innate, fiery desire to cleave to G-d.
This "fire" is lit by the Torah and its commandments. In general, there are two aspects to our service of G-d: the study of Torah, and prayer. (The performance of commandments is included in the latter.) A fire can burn steadily - "always" - or it can vary in intensity, growing brighter or dimmer - "from evening till morning." In the service of G-d, the Torah is the flame that burns "always," whereas prayer and the performance of mitzvot (commandments) are dependent on time, place and circumstances.
The Torah is completely above time and place. It is G-d's word and wisdom. The obligation to learn Torah is a perpetual mitzva, and applies day and night. The Torah is therefore called "a lamp that burns always."
By contrast, prayer has a set time: morning, afternoon, and evening. The performance of mitzvot also varies, as some mitzvot can only be done at set times and only if specific criteria are met. For this reason, prayer and mitzvot are likened to a lamp that burns "from evening till morning."
This also helps explain the difference between Moses and Aaron. The essence of Moses is the Torah, which is why it is called "the Torah of Moses." Moses is thus associated with a perpetual light that "burns always." Aaron, however, symbolizes the service of the sacrifices in the Holy Temple, for which nowadays, prayer is substituted. Aaron is thus associated with a lamp that burns "from evening till morning."
The requirement to first bring the oil to Moses imbued Aaron with the eternal power of the Torah. Its transcendent aspect could then be brought down into the limitations of time and place, to be carried out by means of Torah and mitzvot. The individual "fire" within every Jew could thus also illuminate with a steady and perpetual flame.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5749, Vol. 1
Purim In Rikers Island
Last year on Purim morning at 8:30 a.m. in front of Kosher Town, a supermarket in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a group of yeshiva students packed into two mini-vans and a car, along with food in abundance, and the Yossi Cohen band. They headed out to one of the largest jails in New York.
Rikers Island holds 14,000 inmates. In 1975, when Lubavitcher Chasidim first began going to jails to visit inmates, there were seven Jews in Rikers Island. Unfortunately, last year on Purim there were over 150 inmates.
With the help of the Chabad volunteers, the inmates - and some of their family members who were visiting - were able to perform all four mitzvot (commandments) of Purim: hearing the Megila, eating a Purim meal, giving charity and sharing Mishloach Manot (gifts of food to friends).
The climax of the visit was the printing of an edition of Tanya (the basic book of Chabad Chasidic philosophy) on Rikers Island in loving memory of Rabbi Yossel Tevel, who started the project of visiting prisons in 1975.
A Jewish inmate at Rikers Island describes his Purim in jail:
Dear Chabad Volunteers,
I never imagined I'd spend a Purim in jail. Purim was always a family time for me. A time to take my kids around to give out Mishloach Manot, hear the Megila and enjoy the festivities of the holiday. Not a time to spend in a prison cell in Rikers Island!
As Purim was approaching, I was preparing for the worst Purim of my life. Boy was I in for a surprise! I had no idea that Chabad was coming to Rikers.
On Purim morning, I sat in the gymnasium at OBCC with my fellow inmates, waiting for the Jewish service to begin.
Suddenly, a chorus of voices, joyous laughter, singing and clapping could be heard in the hallway. In you guys stormed, all dressed in Purim costume, bursting with spirit, filled with energy and ready to brighten our day.
I watched in awe as the band set up, the food was unpacked and each of us was greeted with a smile and a huge hug. I couldn't believe this was all taking place before my eyes in Rikers Island.
It felt really great to put on Tefilin and pray and of course to join the dancing circle with my fellow inmates and newfound friends. For just a few short minutes I was able to forget the harsh reality of my life. We danced and clapped, watched the rabbi balance a chair on his nose and got lifted into the air on the rabbi's shoulders. Yossi Cohen, I must tell you, your music was incredible. Such heart!
When the music stopped, we gathered round to hear the Megila. I boo-ed every time Haman's name was mentioned; the same way I booed back at home. It was a Megila reading to remember. We also exchanged Mishloach Manot and even gave Matanot L'evyonim (gifts of charity to the poor). To be able to do all four mitzvot of Purim - in Rikers - sure was a treat.
Next the food was served; pita, chumous, chips, soda, wafers, hamentashen - a real Purim party. It was followed by Rabbi Yitzchok Hurwitz playing Chabad melodies on the violin. I was touched to tears. With that inspiration, we all stood up, placed our hands on each other's shoulders to sing Ani Maamin (I Believe). It penetrated not just deep within each of us, but literally transformed Rikers. We continued dancing for half an hour. Yossi, it literally felt like a wedding.
I sang. I laughed. I danced. I ate. I spent time with friends. For a few short hours I forgot where I was. For those few short hours, it was Purim - and that was all that mattered.
The words from the Megila regarding Haman's evil decree, "V'nahafoch Hu" (And it was overturned), took on a whole new meaning for me. I now know that even in such dark, dreary places like Rikers, things can be turned upside down, and the joy of the holiday can still be felt.
What you did next really shocked me!
I don't know how you managed to pull it off, with all the rules and regulations of the jail, but you did it! You guys brought a printing machine along to the prison facility and for the first time ever printed a batch of 100 Tanyas - in loving memory of Rabbi Yossi Tevel - who started the work at this facility, along with many others, over 30 years ago. I can't believe these are the only Tanyas ever to be printed in Rikers Island. If you can, I'd love if you save me a copy.
I can go on and on, but I think I'll finish here. I just want to thank the Lubavitcher Rebbe for sending his emissaries to uplift us in our darkest time and to the anonymous sponsors who made this event possible. A special thank you to the Tevel brothers, the Lubavitch Youth Organization, and all of the volunteers who took of their time to come spend Purim with me. You have no idea what an impact you have made on my life. I speak for myself, but I am sure all the other inmates agree. Thanks for being here for me during this most trying time. I am forever grateful to you.
The fun and festive holiday for young and old alike, Purim, starts this coming Wednesday evening March 7 and continues on Thursday March 8. Call your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out about how and where you can celebrate and fulfill all of the special mitzvot (commandments) of the day, including hearing the Scroll of Esther on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday during the day. Also on Thursday eating a festive meal, giving charity to the poor and gifts of food (Mishloach Manot) to friends and family.
New Torah Scrolls
Chabad Lubavitch of Montana in Bozeman, Montana, welcomed two new Torah scrolls, one dedicated to the memory of Chanchy Bruk, mother of Montana's emissary Rabbi Chaim Bruk. Chabad of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, recently completed and welcomed a new Torah scroll. It was dedicated by Jonathan Guberek of Bogota, Colombia in memory of his grandparents. Two new Torah scrolls were completed and welcomed in Kfar Chabad, Israel. One was brought to the main synagogue and the other to the new Yossi Raichik Synagogue serving the young adults in the village.
7th of Adar, 5713 
The story of Purim, as related in the Book of Esther, gives us a clear analysis of the 'Jewish problem.'
Being dispersed over 127 provinces and lands, their own still in ruins, the Jews undoubtedly differed from one another in custom, garment and tongue according to the place of their dispersal, very much in the same way as Jews in different lands differ nowadays. Yet, though there were Jews who would conceal their Jewishness, Haman, the enemy of the Jews, recognized the essential qualities and characteristics of the Jews which made all of them, with or without their consent, into "one people," namely, "their laws are different from those of any other people." (Book of Esther 3:8).
Hence, in his wicked desire to annihilate the Jews, Haman seeks to destroy "all the Jews, young and old, children and women." Although there were in those days, too, Jews who strictly adhered to the Torah and Mitzvoth [commandments], and Jews whose religious ties with their people were weak, or who sought to assimilate themselves, yet none could escape the classification of belonging to that "one people," and every one was included in Haman's cruel decree.
In all ages there were Hamans, yet we have outlived them, thank G-d. Wherein lies the secret of our survival?
The answer will be evident from the following illustration. When a scientist seeks to ascertain the laws governing a certain phenomenon, or to discover the essential properties of a certain element in nature, he must undertake a series of experiments under the most varied conditions in order to discover those properties or laws which are obtained under all conditions alike. No true scientific law can be deduced from a minimum number of experiments, or from experiments under similar or only slightly varied conditions, for the results as to what is essential and what is secondary or quite unimportant would then not be conclusive.
The same principle should be applied to our people. It is one of the oldest in the world, beginning its national history from the Revelation at Mount Sinai, some 3300 years ago. In the course of these long centuries our people has lived under extremely varied conditions, [in] most different times and different places all over the world. If we wish to discover the essential elements making up the cause and very basis of the existence of our people and its unique strength, we must conclude that it is not its peculiar physical or intrinsic mental characteristics, not its tongue, manners and customs (in a wider sense), nor even its racial purity (for there were times in the early history of our people, as well as during the Middle Ages and even recent times, when whole ethnic groups and tribes have become proselytes and part of our people).
The essential element which unites our "dispersed and scattered people" and makes it "one people" throughout its dispersion and regardless of time, is the Torah and Mitzvoth, the Jewish way of life which has remained basically the same throughout the ages and in all places.
The conclusion is clear and beyond doubt: it is the Torah and Mitzvoth which made our people indestructible on the world scene in the face of massacres and pogroms aiming at our physical destruction, and in the face of ideological onslaughts of foreign cultures aiming at our spiritual destruction.
Purim teaches us the age-old lesson, which has been verified even most recently, to our sorrow, that no manner of assimilationism, not even such which is extended over several generations, provides an escape from the Hamans and Hitlers; nor can any Jew sever his ties with his people by attempting such an escape.
On the contrary: Our salvation and our existence depend precisely upon the fact that "their laws are different from those of any other people."
Purim reminds us that the strength of our people as a whole, and of each individual Jew and Jewess, lies in a closer adherence to our ancient spiritual heritage which contains the secret of harmonious life, hence of a healthy and happy life. All other things in our spiritual and temporal life must be free from any contradiction to the basis and essence of our existence, and must be attuned accordingly in order to make for the utmost harmony, and add to our physical and spiritual strength, both of which go hand in hand in Jewish life.
With best wishes for a joyous Purim, and may we live to see a world free of Hamans and all types of Amalekites, the enemies of the Jews, of their body, soul and faith,
Mordechai was a descendant of the tribe of Benjamin and a member of the Sanhedrin. In the year 434 b.c.e. he was exiled to Babylonia together with the leadership of the Jewish people by King Nebuchadnezzer. Mordechai was instrumental in saving the Jews from annihilation through his influence with Queen Esther who had been his ward. After Haman's downfall Mordechai was elevated to a position of high status in the Persian court, serving as the chief advisor to the king.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
One of the mitzvot of Purim, which we will celebrate this coming Wednesday night and Thursday, 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 Children of Israel that they bring to you pure olive oil, pounded for the lighting (Ex. 27:20)
Why was it necessary for the oil to be brought to Moses if Aaron was the one who would be kindling the menora? Oil alludes to the inner goodness hidden within every Jew, even the most simple. To arouse this inner quality, the Jew must connect himself to "Moses" - to the leader of the Jewish people in every generation - who, in turn, elevates it to the higher level of "pounded, for the lighting...a light to burn always."
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
Chasidic thought interprets this verse to mean, "You shall connect yourself to..." Moses was commanded to establish a connection between his essence and the Jewish people. In an extended sense, this command can be understood as having been directed to every Jew, for each Jew has a spark of Moses in him. "You" refers to the essence of the soul, the fundamental core of every Jew's being. This is revealed by the establishment of a bond with G-d's essence.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The Egyptian exile, with its backbreaking labor, was the crucible of fire that refined the Jewish people, transforming them into a proper vessel to contain the illumination of the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai. So it is with our present exile as well, when we find ourselves "pounded" by the harshness of the exile. But it is precisely this "pounding" that will bring us to the "light" - the light of Moshiach and the Messianic Era, as our Sages commented, "It is only when the olive is crushed that the oil can emerge." At Mount Sinai, it was primarily the revealed part of Torah that was revealed by G-d. Our present exile, however, prepares us for the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah that will be taught by Moshiach in the Era of Redemption.
Rabbi Elazar Rokeach of Amsterdam sat at the head of the long table crowded with relatives and prominent members of the community. It was Purim, and the great Rabbi was about to begin the festive Purim meal.
Rabbi Elazar was not only famous as an outstanding Torah scholar and authority on Jewish law, but was also a noted Kabbalist. Even the non-Jews of Holland recognized and respected him for his piety and holiness. Before coming to Amsterdam in 1735, Rabbi Elazar had served as Rav in several important cities in Poland, among them Brody and Cracow. The Dutch royal palace had even minted a special coin in honor of his arrival, with a likeness of the esteemed Jewish sage.
The huge table was laden with enormous platters of meat, stuffed fish and other delicacies that had been sent to Rabbi Elazar as Mishloach Manot (the special gifts of food that are one of the mitzvot of Purim). Fine wines and other beverages were also available in abundance. In between the many courses, Rabbi Elazar held forth on the meaning and significance of the Purim holiday.
The celebration was well underway when a knock was heard at the door. Standing on the threshold were three emissaries of the Queen on an urgent mission. After apologizing profusely for interrupting, they asked to speak to the elderly Rabbi. Rabbi Elazar motioned for them to approach the table and deliver their message. They told him that in a certain district of Holland a dam had burst, and that thousands of innocent people were in danger of drowning.
As is obvious from its modern name, much of the Netherlands ("lowlands") lies below sea level. Over the centuries, a series of dams - high, fortified walls - were built to protect the Dutch people from being inundated by the ocean. One of these dams had now given way, and a sizeable portion of the country was in the direct path of the water.
The Queen's emissaries had heard much about the piety of the saintly Rabbi. Thus, after delivering their message, they fully expected him go off into a corner and pray. Surprisingly, however, they were invited to sit down and join in the festivities.
It was even more curious when Rabbi Elazar ordered every bottle of wine and whiskey remaining in the house to be placed on the table. Within minutes it was covered with an assortment of bottles and decanters. "Now, gentlemen," he continued, "let us fulfill the mitzva of the day to the best of our abilities. We will drink until we cannot distinguish between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordechai.' "
The dozens of guests, including the venerable Rabbi, quickly drained all of the assorted bottles of liquor. Before the astonished eyes of the Queen's emissaries the elderly Rabbi jumped up to conduct the revelry, whereupon everyone began dancing around the table.
The emissaries could not believe what they were seeing. The scene in the Rabbi's house was starting to resemble an unruly tavern. Without anyone noticing, the three men crept outside and returned to the royal palace.
The Queen was overjoyed to see them. She told them that their mission had been successful, and that the breach in the dam had been repaired. Instead of death and destruction, the damage had actually been quite minimal.
The emissaries were shocked, especially when they learned that the dam had been fixed at the exact time Rabbi Elazar and his guests were at the height of their carousing...
They proceeded to describe to the Queen everything they had witnessed in the Rabbi's house. Now it was the Queen's turn to be surprised, and on two accounts: How could such an esteemed Rabbi have behaved in such a manner? And more importantly, why was it that the workers had suddenly been able to fix the dam at that exact moment?
A few days later Rabbi Elazar was summoned before the Queen. Officially, it was to be thanked on behalf of the nation. Privately, however, the Queen hoped to clarify exactly what had happened that day.
When the right moment presented itself the Queen asked him directly. Rabbi Elazar smiled, his countenance exuding an ancient wisdom. "We Jews act in a unique manner," he replied. "Whenever it seems as if G-d is angry, we try to appease Him by fulfilling His will.
"The day the dam broke was Purim," he continued, "when we are commanded to be happy to the point of intoxication. Had I responded by praying and imploring G-d amidst tears, not only would I have failed to fulfill His wishes, but actually transgressed one of His commandments. It was precisely because I recognized the magnitude of the danger that I encouraged everyone to be even more joyful, in the hope it would arouse G-d's mercy."
The Queen was very pleased by Rabbi Elazar's explanation, and sent him home accompanied by a royal entourage.
The Megila (Scroll of Esther) ends with an expression of Jewish unity, describing how Mordechai "sought the welfare of all his people." On the highest level of the soul, there is no difference between one Jew and another. Hence, there can be complete unity among our people. Since the exile came about because of "unwonted hatred," separation and conflict, through unity the reason for the exile will be nullified and this will cause the nullification of the exile itself. We will go from the redemption of Purim to the Messianic redemption, when unity will be expressed in the most complete manner.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe, 13 Adar, 1991)