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Purim is a holiday for children and the children at heart.
And why shouldn't it be? According to Jewish teachings, it was because of the Jewish children that the miraculous rescue of the entire Jewish people took place.
Let's back track a little in the Purim story, though, to get the whole picture. Haman had managed to get King Ahasuerus to agree to his evil plan of totally annihilating the Jewish people. He even had in his hand the decree with the royal stamp on it, rendering the ruling irrevocable. At this point, Haman once again encountered Mordechai, who was teaching Torah to a group of thousands of children.
As before, this time too, Mordechai did not bow or in any way humble himself to Haman. Feeling himself at the apex of his political power and prowess, Haman was more enraged than ever before. He vowed that the children would be the first to die.
The mothers of the children begged them to leave Mordechai, but they refused. They urged their children to break their fast - a fast which, at Esther's request, Mordechai had required of the entire Jewish people. The children, once more, refused. They would remain with Mordechai, studying Torah and praying to G-d with the firm belief that He would hear their sincere and pure prayers and redeem them from this catastrophe.
What was it that gave these children such faith, and more to the point, such hope, despite the seemingly helpless situation?
The children had been studying with Mordechai laws concerning the Holy Temple. Though the First Temple had already been destroyed and the Second Temple had not yet been built, Mordechai taught the children about the Holy Temple. These teachings instilled within the children a strong belief, longing and hope that at any moment the Holy Temple could and would be rebuilt.
The children's prayers, their tears and cries, persuaded G-d to revoke the Divine Decree (thereby nullifying the earthly decree of Haman and King Ahasuerus). And what made their prayers so powerful, was that they had been educated by Mordechai to believe in the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, the ingathering of the exiles back to Israel, and the Redemption.
Today, the entire Jewish people does not face an existential threat as they did in the days of Mordechai and Esther. Yet, there are personal, communal, national and global issues that we would like to see rectified. All of us, on various levels, dream of a perfect world.
When the long-awaited Redemption commences, all of humankind will experience this perfect world. And the way to properly direct our prayers and actions to hasten the Redemption, is through studying Torah, specifically Torah that inspires hope, faith and longing for the Redemption.
Happy Purim, and may we celebrate it together as one, united people, in Jerusalem with the revelation of Moshiach, NOW!
In last week's Torah portion G-d commanded the building of a copper altar upon which would be offered various sacrifices. At the end of this week's portion, Tetzaveh, the Torah commands us to build another altar, this one of gold.
These two altars differ from all the other vessels that were in the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple, in that they could never be rendered impure. Other vessels and implements could become contaminated and impure, but not these two altars.
The purity inherent in the altars can also be interpreted on a deeper, personal level. It refers to the soul of every Jew.
The mitzva to build the Sanctuary of G-d, in addition to being a general commandment for the Jewish nation, also contains within it the commandment to build a personal "sanctuary" in one's heart. A Jew can make himself a "holy place" in which the light of G-dliness dwells and is revealed.
In the spiritual Sanctuary within each one of us there are also vessels and implements with which to worship G-d. These "vessels" are the brain, the heart, the mouth, the hands, the feet, etc. A Jew is required to utilize his brain for learning Torah, his heart to be filled with love and fear of G-d, his mouth for speaking words of Torah and prayer, his hands for performing mitzvot, his feet for running to perform good deeds, and so on. This is how a Jew transforms himself into a Sanctuary for G-d.
Unfortunately, we find that these "vessels" sometimes become impure when used in a manner not in accordance with Judaism. There is one vessel, however, that can never be defiled-the altar. The altar is the basis and foundation of the entire Sanctuary. The altar expresses the absolute attachment to G-d, and the longing to annihilate the sense of self in the consuming love for G-d. In this place there is no room for impurity. The altar, thus, symbolizes the essence of the soul, the "pintele Yid" within every Jew, that can never lose its purity. This essence is above being affected by the person's thoughts or behavior. It is an inner point which always remains connected to G-d, which the Jew can never sever even if he should so desire.
The particular covering of the altar, be it gold or copper, is not important. These outer layers, the gold and the copper, symbolize the paths that temptation can take in an attempt to test our devotion to G-d: poverty (copper) and wealth (gold). A person can be tempted to veer off the true path by the enticement of riches or by the hardships of poverty. But this can only affect a person's exterior. The internal part of a Jew, the essence of his soul, always remains bound to G-d. The Torah promises that through true repentance, the inner purity of the Jew's soul will in the end, triumph over all the other variables and temptations. And that the "Sanctuary" and all its "vessels" will eventually become cleansed and purified.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
The Purim that Almost Wasn't
by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
It was Purim, 1985. The surroundings seemed so strange to me. From childhood, Purim always meant Megilla reading, noise from noisemakers, loud music, lively dancing, people dressed up in different costumes, lots of good food, exchange of Mishloach Manot gift baskets, and a little "l'chaim" to top things off. That was exactly the Purim I had in 1984, 1983, 1982...all the way back to 1964, the year I was born.
This year, it just wasn't the same. There was no Megillah available to be read. There were some occasional loud noises, but they did not come from kids cranking noisemakers. There was no music to dance to, and nobody was really in the mood to dance. Not only were people not dressed up in costumes, but everyone was actually dressed exactly the same. The food was the same type of bland food we had eaten the day before, and the only exchanges were wishes of "Purim Sameach (Happy Purim)," with the sad and sarcastic response being "Yes, this is really Sameach (Happy), isn't it?" If we said l'chaim - to life - it wasn't over a drink; it was a sincere hope that we will come out of this alive.
Purim 1985. Southern Lebanon. A lonely platoon of IDF soldiers, stuck in a small fortress. Not a very friendly place to be. The noise of gunfire, not the rhythm you would want to dance to. Young boys dressed up in khaki uniforms. Neighbors who were not interested in receiving Mishloach Manot. Strange, surreal. "During the month of Adar, we increase in joy" says the Talmud. Not here. Not in this place. No joy, nothing to celebrate. Just long shifts of guard duty, and patrols that really warranted the wishes of "l'chaim."
That night of Purim is one big blur to me. Same with the morning - a total blank. All I could remember is the same exact things I could remember from any other day in Lebanon. But I will never, ever, ever forget the afternoon.
I was standing on guard duty with Moti, my sergeant who I had become very close to ever since basic training was over. We always did guard duty together, often talking about life, big dreams, and great hopes for the future. We would take turns looking through the binoculars, as there was this one long road we had to watch over. All sorts of traffic passed through this road. Lebanese delivery trucks, civilians driving from one town to the next, IDF convoys, ambulances. Due to the rise in suicide car bombs in Southern Lebanon, the IDF declared a rule that any vehicle that had only a driver and no passengers would immediately be suspected as a suicide bomber, and the IDF would open fire towards it. We had the dubious honor of watching over this road.
Moti was staring through the high - powered binoculars, and he told me that an IDF convoy was on its way. "I see some IDF vehicles approaching us," he said, "and there is some other non-IDF van with them, but I can't recognize what it is from here. Take a look." I looked through the binoculars, and the convoy of jeeps and armored personnel carriers, still quite a distance away, was indeed accompanying a white van, but I could not make out the writing on the van. I looked and looked and looked, until the writing on the van suddenly became clear to me.
"Oh my G-d, I can't believe my eyes," I said in English. "What, what is it?" asked Moti. My eyes stared in amazement through the binoculars at the writing on the van: Chabad. That's right, this IDF convoy was accompanying a Chabad van.
The convoy pulled up to our fortress, and my friends guarding the gate opened it up. In drove IDF jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and a van carrying Chabad rabbis and students. Like a mirage in the desert, the van stopped, and out came four Chabadniks. One of them held a Megillat (scroll of) Esther. Another had an accordion slung over his shoulders. Another had a bag filled with small megillot, Purim cards from kids, and blessing notes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Last but certainly not least, one of them brought out several bags of hamentashen, various other sweets, and, of course, a bottle and shot glasses for a true "l'chaim."
Just like that, out of nowhere, in the middle of a war zone, this little IDF fortress suddenly came alive with the spirit of Purim. Now it was really surreal. From the bleak picture I described above, I could suddenly see somebody reading the Megilla from a parchment scroll, with people following in small paperback megillot (I have mine to this day). I now heard joyous accordion music, and I could see people dancing with big smiles in small circles. People were eating hamentashen, and l'chaim was not about a patrol, but instead was a good shot of vodka. We were all taking turns guarding the various posts, as everybody wanted to share in this sudden outburst of Purim joy. Purim was here, alive and well, in an IDF fortress in Southern Lebanon! Here we were - religious soldiers, secular soldiers, simple soldiers, officers, mechanics and cooks - together with these four Chabad angels, who brought us the purest sense of joy and the most sincere expressions of solidarity, support and unity I have ever experienced.
There is not one single mention of G-d's name in Megillat Esther. Rabbinic tradition interprets this as the Purim story being an example of the "hidden hand of G-d," where miracles happen behind the scenes.
I wasn't in Shushan 2,500 years ago, so I can only rely on what the Megillah tells us. But there is one thing I am sure of: on Purim Day, 1985, for my friends and I in an IDF fortress in Southern Lebanon, there were no "hidden miracles." God's name was in the air, and the miracle of Purim was out in the open - in the most unlikely of places - for all to see and hear.
Rabbi Bouskila is the international director of the Sephardic Educational Center.
Rabbi Rafi and Chaya Brocha Goodwin recently moved to Barkingside, Essex, England where they are establishing a new Chabad-Lubavitch Center there.
Rabbis and Shochtim
For the eleventh year, the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva for rabbinic ordination in Moscow, Russia, ordained a number of young men as rabbis. What was unique about this year's ceremony was that they were all also designated as shochtim, having passed the rigorous testing that enables them to ritually slaughter animals for kosher meat. Mazel tov!
Kosher in Japan
Chana's Place, the first-ever-in-Japan kosher restaurant recently opened on the ground floor of the Chabad House in Tokyo. Dinner is served five nights a week and lunch by reservation only.
7 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 mitzvot, 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, manner 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 mitzvot, the Jewish way of life which has remained basically the same through out the ages and in all places. The conclusion is clear and beyond doubt: it is the Torah and mitzvot 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 Hitler; 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...
12 Adar II
The Torah portion dealing with altar offerings begins: "A man who offers (yakriv) of you an offering to G-d." The logical order of the words should be, "A man of (from among) you who offers, etc." Rabbi Shneur Zalman answers: "A man who offers" - in order that a man become closer to G-d - "of you an offering to G-d" - he must bring the offering of himself. He must sacrifice his personal "animal," the desire for evil that is called the animal soul.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
Every deliverance of the Jewish people is connected. The Exodus from Egypt, Purim, and the true and complete Redemption in the Messianic Era, are all interrelated.
Interestingly, we can see this connection in the small but powerful Hebrew word, "im" meaning "if."
If you believe... if you truly long for Moshiach... if you await his coming. The word "im" is made up of the letters alef and mem.
The Redemption of the Jews from Egypt was brought about through Aaron and Moses - whose names respectively begin with alef and mem.
The deliverance of the Jews from Haman's wicked plan of annihilation was brought about through Esther and Mordechai - again, alef and mem.
And the Final Redemption, which we await so eagerly, will be heralded by Elijah the Prophet and initiated by Moshiach - respectively alef and mem.
There is another interesting aspect in the relationship between the Exodus and Purim to the Messianic Era.
According to Moses Maimonides, the Messianic Era can be initiated in one of two ways. It can come about supernaturally, with miracles abounding, as did the Exodus from Egypt. Or it can come about in a seemingly natural manner, as did the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of Haman as celebrated on Purim.
For, on the surface, Esther's appointment as Queen and Mordechai overhearing the plot to kill Ahasuerus, thus saving the King's life and leaving him indebted to Mordechai, were "coincidences." But in truth, these were hidden miracles which occurred within the "laws of nature."
May we merit on this very Purim, to experience the true deliverance of the Jewish people and exodus from our final exile to the Holy Land with our righteous Moshiach, 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
You shall make the breastplate of judgment ("choshen mishpat") (Ex. 25:25)
The Hebrew letters of the word "choshen" (chet-shin-nun) are the reverse of the word "nachesh," from the root meaning sorcery or divination. Sorcery is the harnessing and utilization of spiritually impure forces to discern the future. By contrast, the breastplate of judgment, with its Urim and Tumim, clarified the unknown through the power of holiness.
And Aaron shall bear the judgment ("mishpat") of the people of Israel upon his heart before the L-rd continually (Ex. 28:30)
Aaron was the "heart" of the Jewish people; he profoundly felt their sorrows and their suffering. (An alternate interpretation of the word "mishpat" is "punishment.") Deeply empathetic and compassionate, he prayed "before the L-rd continually" that their anguish be relieved.
(Be'er Mayim Chayim)
Each year on Purim, 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 uneventfully, 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 you boys 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.
In the Messianic Era there will be an abundance of good produce, joy, peace and pleasure, to the extent that all days will be equally joyous. It will be as if the festivals have been annulled, for there will be no distinction between a weekday and a festival; but none of the commandments will be annulled, G-d forbid. Nevertheless, Purim will prevail, even though it is not a Torah command, because the Jewish people will still wish to recall the suffering of that period. This is in contrast to the suffereing in Egypt from which we were already appeased during the idyllic period of the First Temple. But the anguish of the Purim persecution was not appeased by the building of the Second Temple as it was not a complete redemption.
(Radvaz, responsa 2:828)