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by Izzy Greenberg
What's so funny about Purim? The plot line is tragically familiar. The Jewish nation faces the first of many crises to its existence through the long years of exile following the destruction of the Temple and the Israelite Kingdom. Why do we celebrate by dressing up, getting drunk, pulling pranks and living the most laughable day possible?
The existence of the Jewish people for so long, under such extreme circumstances, is completely absurd. What are the odds of a people surviving a bitter exile as minorities in foreign lands? What are the odds of retaining an identity and culture through the seismic geographic, political and cultural shifts of two millennia of world history? What are the odds of these people being the greatest contributors to human progress in virtually every field? What are the odds of their culture surviving intact, and returning to rebuild their homeland after 2,000 years?
The only thing more absurd than our survival is the fact that, throughout history, people have hated us for surviving. It is a hatred without any rhyme or reason.
People throughout history - and today is no exception - perceive us as a threat. But a threat to what exactly is difficult to articulate. A threat to hegemony, a threat to the absolute power of reason, a threat to moral relativism... Perhaps they see our leadership in so many fields as a threat, or perhaps we have not done enough to capitalize on out collective talents and truly lead humanity to a new era; they accuse us of plotting to take over the world, which is partly true since we possess and uncanny drive and desire to contribute toward humanity's quest for utopia and make the world in our moral image.
But these are very abstract criticisms, and there are plenty of people who have perpetrated very tangible evils, yet no such extreme hatred is reserved for them.
The only answer to those who adopt the doctrine of Haman and desire to wipe us off the face of the earth (like the rulers of his Persian homeland today), is to laugh. You can't argue with such absurdity, since there is no logic to it. So you have to simply acknowledge the absurdity of it - its utter futility and self-destructiveness. Futile, because those who propagate it betray an absurd arrogance that they can defeat that which the tides of history have never been unable to - and will never. Self-destructive, because without the Jewish people humanity would never have evolved anywhere near where we are today.
So the only options are to freak out and get overwhelmed by all the hatred, or to put it in perspective and laugh at the mongrels who spew it. Freaking out about it never helped anyone. So we laugh, recognizing the absurdity of hate for what it is. And then, having delegitimized our enemies, we can fight back from a position strength, detached from their absurd reality, and proceed with our plans to conquer the world - because world domination is what the Jews are really after (didn't your grandmother tell you?).
Izzy Greenberg, a writer, scholar and teacher, is the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative and the editor of Exodus Magazine. To learn more and to read his writings, visit www.IzzyGreenberg.com
According to Torah sage Nachmanides, a person bringing a sacrifice to the Sanctuary in the desert or the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was obligated to contemplate what was being done to the animal, for in actuality, the animal was offered in his stead.
Every Jew is required to "sacrifice" his animal soul his evil inclination in the service of G-d. Contemplating this aspect of the sacrifices enabled the Jew to overcome his baser instincts and draw closer to G-d - the very function of the korbanot (sacrifices - from the root word meaning "close").
Thus, every detail pertaining to the order of the sacrifices and the way in which they were offered contains a spiritual counterpart that is relevant in every time and in every age, even when we cannot bring a physical offering to G-d.
An example of this may be found in a verse in this week's Torah portion, Tzav. "This is the law of the burnt-offering...which shall be burning upon the altar all night until the morning."
Rashi, the foremost Torah commentator, explains that this means that although the proper time for the burning of the fat and limbs of the sacrifice is during the day, if, for some reason, this was not done, one may also burn them at night. Moreover, the kohanim (priests) serving in the Temple may eat their portion of the offering only after the fat and limbs have been burned.
How does this apply to us nowadays? Fat is symbolic of a person's instinct to experience pleasure and self-gratification. The Torah therefore tells us that "All fat belongs to G-d" a Jew must direct this inner drive towards G-dly things, deriving true joy and happiness solely from the Torah and its mitzvot (commandments).
This principle applies to spiritual pleasures as well. Not only does the Jew eat, drink and conduct his physical life for the sake of heaven, but the pleasure he derives from holiness from learning Torah and performing mitzvot must also be for a higher purpose and not just for his own gratification.
From this verse we also learn that the proper time to burn this fat is during the day. Daytime - light - is symbolic of our involvement in Torah and mitzvot, as it states, "A mitzva is a candle, and the Torah, light." Nighttime, however, alludes to our involvement in our own personal needs.
The Torah teaches us that the most fitting time in which to derive pleasure from holy pursuits is during the day, when the greatest danger exists that one will become distracted.
Although the Jew's entire service of G-d learning Torah and doing mitzvot must be motivated by a sense a joy, this joy must come from the fact that we are thus commanded by G-d, and not because one finds it to be particularly enjoyable.
The Jew learns Torah because it is G-d's Torah; he performs a mitzva because this is the way he connects himself to G-d. Furthermore, "sacrificing" our pleasure to G-d will eliminate ulterior motives and ensure that our actions are always properly motivated by the pursuit of ultimate truth.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot Vol. 3
A Purim to Remember
by Yosef Yitzchok Hershkop
This story took place on Purim in 2004. That year, Purim began on Sunday night. My friend Menachem Ezagui and I, were both rabbinical students in the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Brooklyn. Our plan was to hear the Megila (Scroll of Esther) read in "770" - World Lubavitch Headquarters, and then travel to lower Manhattan to read the Megila so that other Jews could fulfill this Purim mitzva (commandment).
Our destination was a large night-club owned by an Israeli. We expected to get to the club before it opened for the night. We would read the Megila for the owner and be gone before the partying started. We had developed a relationship with the owner through visiting him each Friday, helping him put on tefilin and sharing a Torah thought or story.
The club is not in the best neighborhood and we had never travelled there after dark. After the Megila reading in 770 we went to the subway station. A train soon came and we got on. The doors closed, the train started moving, and then we heard an announcement. It wasn't the usual announcement about the next stop and we knew something was amiss. The problem was that our English wasn't very good and we didn't understand the announcement.
A few minutes later the train went right past the station where we usually got off to connect with a different train. We soon realized that we were on an express train that was passing station after station without stopping.
In my broken English, I asked a fellow passenger why the train wasn't stopping as usual. The man shrugged and pointed at a sign on the train. It took us quite some time to decipher the sign and in the meantime, the train was flying down the tracks, passing more and more stations.
The sign said that due to renovations, the train would not stop at certain stations, including the stop we had to get off at. We were still wondering what to do when the train finally stopped at Penn Station at 34th Street and we got off.
We tried asking some people how to get to the Lower East Side; most of the people in the station did not know the area and certainly did not know how to get there. We examined a large map in the station and tried to figure out which train would get us closer to our destination.
Picture the scene - two bearded yeshiva students in clown costumes with colorful wigs and hats standing helplessly in the middle of Penn Station. True, New Yorkers are used to all sorts of bizarre scenes, but still ... it was hard to ignore us.
Should we return to Brooklyn and come back to Manhattan the next day to read the Megila for the owners? As we stood there deliberating, I noticed a tall, tough looking American soldier. He was also an unusual sight.
It seemed as though he was keeping an eye on us. I realized that our costumed appearance and our confusion had aroused his suspicion.
We checked the time. If we didn't get to the club before it opened to customers, the owners wouldn't have time to hear the Megila and we would have come all the way for nothing. We approached the information booth but they could not understand our broken English. I saw that the soldier was still watching us. I decided to ask him for help.
Instead of answering me, he went over to some policemen, and conferred with them for a few minutes. I thought we had made a huge mistake and that we would soon be arrested. Remember, this was just a few years after the World Trade Center attack.
We were about to leave when the soldier returned and in fluent Hebrew with a heavy American accent, he began explaining how to get to where we wanted to go. We were stunned. I can't begin to tell you how astonished we were that the soldier was speaking to us in Hebrew.
Once we had the directions, we got into a conversation with him. He said that he had grown up in a religious home and had studied in yeshiva in Israel. When he had returned to the U.S. he drifted away from Judaism and enlisted in the army.
"Seeing you in Purim costumes brought back memories of my childhood and my days in yeshiva," the soldier told us excitedly. "I was supposed to get on the train and go back home but I just couldn't stop looking at you."
We told him where we were going, and he offered to join us. "It's not a nice place to walk around in at night, especially not for yeshiva students dressed up for the holiday. In any case, I need to go in that direction."
We finally got to the club and the soldier said goodbye with tears in his eyes. I invited him to come inside to hear the Megila but he shook his head "no." He did agree to take some hamentashen we had brought along. Menachem and I marvelled at how G-d runs the world; our missed connection, express train and delays were not in vain.
But the surprises of that Purim night were not yet over. Since we were so late, the club had been open for a while already and was packed with people. We knew the owners would be very busy but decided to ask them anyway if they wanted to hear the Megila.
On our way to the office, we heard loud voices talking in Hebrew. Then we heard someone shout, "What? You Chabadnikim have come here too?! Kol ha'kavod!"
An Israeli was having a birthday party in the club. He asked us to read the Megila for all his guests. So that Purim night, it wasn't just one man who heard our Megila reading as we had originally planned, but dozens of people! We were utterly overcome by how things had worked out. If we had shown up earlier, who knows?
I'll never forget that Purim. My friend and I felt that we had experienced our own Purim miracles in the way that G-d had orchestrated everything.
Purim Parties Please
Looking for a place to celebrate Purim and fulfill the special commandments of the holiday - like hearing the Megila read? Contact your local Chabad-Lubavitch Center to find out where events are happening in your area. You can also visit ww.chabad.org/holidays/purim/events.htm
Purim Guess Who
Children love to guess the rhyming Purim riddles, then open the flap to reveal the answers in Purim Guess Who. Cleverly designed so the very young will learn as they go... about the Megila, the special holiday foods and customs, the heroic figures in the Purim story, and more! Bright colorful illustrations by Patti Argoff bring the holiday to life. This sturdy, hard bound book makes a great gift for children ages 3 and up. Written by Ariella Stern published by HaChai Publishing.
8th of Adar 2, 5727 
Blessing and Greeting:
Your cable reached me with some delay. I also received your recent correspondence.
Upon receipt of your cable, the following reply was cabled back to you, "Replying to your cable, wishing you successful treatment, good news, with blessing."
May G-d grant that you should have good news to report, especially as we are now in the auspicious month of Adar. The auspiciousness of this month is, of course, connected with the miraculous Purim festival, in which Jewish women have a particularly important part, for Esther, together with Mordecai, brought about the turn of events. And although Mordecai was as much the essential figure as Esther, and as we say in the Purim prayer, "In the days of Mordecai and Esther," yet the Megilah [scroll] containing the story of Purim, and which is one of the sacred books of the Tanach [Bible], is not called after Mordecai, nor after Mordecai and Esther jointly, but solely after Esther - Megilas Esther - the "Book of Esther."
With reference to your letter, I read with considerable interest your outline of your curriculum vitae. I am gratified to note that you are conducting your home in the way of our sacred Torah, called Toras Chaim [The Torah of life] because it is both the source of true life as well as the true guide in daily life, despite the difficulties which you had in the past, and are still experiencing to some extent.
To be sure, that period of time in the past when the daily life should have been different, requires rectification, especially by means of a determined effort to improve the present and future, so as to make up for the past. On the other hand, human nature is such that things that come easily are taken for granted, and are not so appreciated and cherished as things for which one had to fight and struggle. Thus, the level of Yiddishkeit [Torah-living] which you and your husband have attained through real efforts has permeated you more deeply and thoroughly, and may G-d grant that you should both continue in this direction together with your children, without allowing yourself to be hindered or influenced in any way by the difficulties which you describe in your letter.
On the contrary, the difficulties themselves can serve as a challenge and stimulus to greater spiritual advancement, as is also explained in Chassidic literature, namely that one could learn a lesson even from the yetzer hora [evil inclination]. For it is clear how persistent and relentless the yetzer hora is in doing its duty to distract a Jew from the way of Torah and mitzvoth, by presenting him constantly with various difficulties, temptations and all sorts of arguments to the contrary. So much so that the yetzer hora often appears in a guise of piety and "the voice of morality," such as the commandment of honoring one's father and mother, the need to preserve peace and harmony, and the like justify a deviation from the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law]. The determination and the dedication of the yetzer hora to its duty should therefore serve as an inspiration how much more should a person be devoted and dedicated to his real task, considering that the Jew has a Divine soul and a natural inner drive towards the good and holy, which should make one truly thrilled to be able to serve G-d with joy and gladness of heart.
continued in next issue
13 Adar II
..."Amalek fought with Israel." The word "Israel" is an acronym in Hebrew for "there are 600,000 letters in the Torah"; (Every Jew has a letter in the Torah, and this is the reason for the universal Jewish custom of each person writing a letter in a Torah scroll.) Amalek cools this sanctity of Torah. The antidote for this is (Moses' command to Joshua) "Choose men for us" - Moses' men, and "In every generation there is an extension of Moses,"for in every generation there are the "heads of the thousands of Israel." "And go forth and fight Amalek." Note the verbs in singular form (addressing each individual), for Torah is eternal, equally relevant in every generation in every time and place.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The holiday of Purim (which we will celebrate this Saturday night and Sunday) is connected to three ideas: shleimut ha'am (the complete Jewish people); shleimut haTorah (the complete Torah); and shleimut ha'aretz (the complete Land of Israel).
The "complete Jewish people" means the recognition that we are one nation. Haman's decree was directed against all Jews, "from young to old, men, women and children." By coming together in true unity, Haman's evil decree was nullified.
The "complete Torah" means the whole Torah -every single part of it. In the Megila, Mordechai is referred to as "Mordechai Hayehudi," "Mordechai the Jew." The term "Yehudi" implies the rejection of idol worship. When a Jew rejects idolatry, he is declaring that the entire Torah is true. In the days of Mordechai the Jewish people were called "Yehudim" because they clung to the totality of Torah, every single detail, without compromise.
The "complete Land of Israel" means that all of the Holy Land belongs to the Jewish people. The events of Purim occurred during the 70 years between the First and the Second Holy Temples. Although by that time work had already begun on the new Temple, it was interrupted by order of the Persian King. Mordechai knew that learning the laws connected to the Temple would nullify the decree to stop building. He gathered the Jewish children together and studied these laws, and his efforts were successful. The Temple was completed, and the Land of Israel was in Jewish hands.
As we celebrate the holiday of Purim, let us ponder the fact that all of the Holy Land was given to every single Jew by G-d Himself. We must therefore behave in a way that makes us worthy of the name "Yehudim," declaring the truth of our whole Torah, and remain strong in our faith in G-d. Doing so will win the respect of the nations and bring true peace, culminating in the Final Redemption with Moshiach, speedily in our day.
Command Aaron and his sons, saying, "This is the law of the burnt offering..." (Lev. 6:2)
The great commentator Rashi noted that the word "command" also implies "encourage." The Torah gives encouragement when there is a monetary loss involved. People in general need strengthening and encouragement during lean times. When it is hard to make a living people are apt to fall into a depression, and their faith in G-d can be weakened.
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.
When the Torah commands us to "Remember what Amalek did to you," you is in the singular form. From this we learn that Amalek, symbolic of the Evil Inclination, attacks a person who holds himself apart from the Jewish community. By contrast, a person who is active in communal affairs and identifies with his brethren will be impervious to Amalek's assault.
The numerical equivalent of Amalek is 240, the same as the Hebrew word "safeik," meaning doubt. Amalek dampens a Jew's enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot (commandments) by injecting doubt about matters of holiness. There is no "cure" for Amalek's "coldness"; the only way to deal with him is by crushing him completely. This is why it is a mitzva to "erase" Amalek, rather than engaging him in arguments.
(Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
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 celebrate with the Lubavitcher 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 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 attachment to G-d. Indeed, a few minutes later the Rebbe delivered his discourse.
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 Chasidic discourse. The Chasidim could barely believe what was happening. The Rebbe had never delivered two discourses 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 Megila, "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 discourse about the Rebbe Rashab's directive to the Chasidim during the Russian Revolution, after the Czar was toppled."]
In 1953, March 4 coincided with 17 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, 18 Adar, the whole truth was finally revealed: Stalin was dead. The brutal dictator had collapsed the night the Chasidim were shouting "Hurrah" 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.
Purim celebrates man's involvement with the physical reality of G-d's creation. The use of materiality in context of man's service of-and relationship with-G-d, imbues these substances with spirituality. It sublimates them to their Divinely intended purpose. Purim manifests the intrinsic oneness of the universe which is rooted in the Oneness of its Creator. This, indeed, is the ultimate purpose of creation: to manifest its Divine origin by converting the world into a fitting abode for G-d. This is the mission for which man was created. The achievement of this goal is the ultimate bliss of the Messianic era.
(From Living With Moshiach by Rabbi J.I Schochet)