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Purim is such a great holiday. Children and adults alike love to celebrate Purim with the exciting mitzvot (commandments) and unusual customs of the day. Dressing up, eating hamentashen for dessert at the Purim meal (do you like prune, poppy seed, raspberry or apricot?), twirling the grogger at Haman's name in the Megila, giving mishloach manot - food gifts to friends, and gifts of charity to the poor. These are the reasons why the young of age and the young at heart look forward to Purim each year.
Do the Purim mitzvot and customs have a common theme? Let's take off the masks, open up the mishloach manot, look inside the Megila - peel the layers off of everything - and see the common denominator in all of them.
When someone is dressed up in a costume, his identity is concealed. Rich or poor, smart or average, pretty or homely, we no longer perceive the physical, economic, or intellectual differences that often separate us. Yes, one costume is expensive, another more original, and there are hundreds of Queen Esthers. But it's obvious that these are just externals. They aren't the person inside the costume. On a very basic level, when we dress up on Purim our superficial differences are, for the moment, concealed.
The Megila, that exciting story recounting the triumph of right over might, good over evil, and the Jews' faith in G-d over the vile schemes of Haman, is also a lesson in Jewish equality and unity. For, it was only once the Jews united, that they were saved from Haman's plan of total annihilation. Men, women, and children, scholars and shoe cobblers, peasants and the queen, all fasted and prayed as one to avert the evil decree. And because they united, their prayers and penitence were accepted.
Now, on to those delicious hamentashen. Some say they are meant to remind us of Haman's hat or his ears. But they are also symbolic of that which is hidden within. G-d's hand, so to speak, was hidden during the whole Purim episode - the incidents which led up to Esther being crowned queen, Mordechai overhearing the palace guards' plot to kill Ahasuerus, etc., seemed quite natural. But they were - like everything in life - Divine Providence, G-d's way of putting together an intricate puzzle.
Just as the filling is concealed in the hamentashen and the Divine was hidden during the Purim epoch of Jewish history, the Divine within each one of us is hidden. The Divine within each of us is our soul - the actual part of G-d that gives us life. And though it is intangible, though its existence is often concealed, the soul is the great equalizer of all of us. For, though one Jew might do more mitzvot than another, or have a more comprehensive Jewish education, or be kinder or gentler, the essence of our souls and their source are the same - an actual part of G-d.
Then, we have the shalach manot, those delightful packages of goodies. They range from a sandwich bag with raisins, cookies and a drink to a huge wicker basket filled with aged-wine and elegant treats. And regardless of packaging, price and products, mishloach manot foster unity. Unity because of the connection when we give (and receive). And also because we customarily give the mishloach manot through a messenger - we involve another person in the mitzva.
And lastly, (monetary) gifts to the poor connect and unite. This mitzva reminds us that what we have is a gift from G-d which rightfully should be shared with others.
Purim is a special time to participate in the mitzvot of Purim or to enhance our observance of them. For, as the Rebbe explained, the Redemption is imminent and each act of kindness, every good deed, any additional mitzva, helps us better prepare ourselves for that era which is unfolding before our eyes.
This week we read the Torah portion of Tetzaveh. We also read an additional portion known as Zachor. It is always read on the Shabbat before Purim. In it, we hear about what Amalek did to the fledgling Jewish nation when they were wandering in the Sinai desert.
The Haftora is about the war against Amalek and its king, Agag, waged by King Saul. The obvious connection to Purim is that in the Purim story, Haman (a descendant of Agag) sought to annihilate the Jewish people. But we were miraculously saved through Mordechai and Esther, descendants of King Saul.
Are there other connections in the Haftora to Zachor and to Purim? And what lessons can be learned from this Haftora?
The Haftora begins with Samuel the prophet repeating G-d's command to Saul to utterly wipe out Amalek. "So says G-d..., 'I remember what Amalek did to Israel..., when they were going up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and destroy all that they have...'" What is interesting about this verse is how it varies from the verse in Zachor, "Remember what Amalek did to you..., when you were going out of Egypt." In Zachor it says, "going out" from Egypt, and in the Haftora it says, "going up." Going out and going up express two different purposes in leaving Egypt.
Going out refers to getting away from the negative influence of Egypt. Going up refers to the positive purpose of going out of Egypt, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, and becoming G-d's nation.
The main idea of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, was that we were raised above nature, connecting with G-d, and that G-d would bring himself into the physical, allowing the world to be infused with G-dliness, through our study of Torah and observance of mitzvot (commandments).
The Haftora brings to the fore the nature of Amalek. When does Amalek attack? When we are on the way up, when we are reaching to be who we are meant to be, above the natural and one with G-d. This is what Amalek can't stand, this is where their hatred lies.
This is the war we wage against Amalek every day. When we are inspired to rise above, to be Jewish, above the natural, inevitably an Amalek comes to cool down our inspiration and fervor.
The war against Amalek coming out of Egypt was necessary. Overcoming Amalek was part of what set the stage for receiving the Torah. And the same is true today. We should not see our battle with our personal Amalek as a negative, but rather, as a necessary struggle, that prepares us to rise above.
Through taking our service to this higher level we will once again merit great miracles, like the miracles of Purim, with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.
Adapted by Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz from the teachings of the Rebbe, yitzihurwitz.blogspot.com. Rabbi Hurwitz, who is battling ALS, and his wife Dina, are emissaries of the Rebbe in Temecula, Ca.
A Purim Miracle
by Ester Katz Silvers
Dressing up for Purim is one of my favorite parts of the holiday but in 1991 costumes were not on my mind. What was on my mind was the question of whether we would be able to hear the Megila reading in its entirety. Or would a siren sound and set us all running to our sealed rooms to don gas masks?
Almost seven months before Purim, Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The world spent five months trying to oust the Iraqis by diplomatic means and then in the middle of the night on January 16th-17th America began bombing Iraq. The next morning schools in Israel were cancelled.
What was the connection between the US bombing Iraq and Israeli children going to school? It really seemed it belonged in the theatre of the absurd.
However there was some logic to it. America needed Saudi Arabian air fields for their Operation Desert Storm. Saudi Arabia told America they would stay allies as long as Israel would not get involved. There was no way they could join up with the "oppressive Zionist regime." Therefore, Iraq had threatened that if America attacked them they would in turn attack Israel with nerve gas. Their goal was to indeed involve Israel and break the American-Saudi Arabian alliance. On the eve of the war then-President Bush came to Jerusalem to plead with then-Prime Minister Shamir not to get involved.
Instead, Israel set up an excellent system of civil defense. All the citizens were issued gas masks or a mamat. The mamat was a plastic tent for babies. It looked like something out of a science fiction nightmare. One wall had a glove shaped opening in it that someone could use to pat a terrorized baby. We were praying with all our might that we would not need to use it.
Shilo, on January 17th, had a holiday atmosphere. The weather was warm and conducive for the children to play outside. The news seemed good. Most of the Iraqi air force had been destroyed. I was not the only one to think that we might be on the brink of the coming of the Moshiach. Perhaps the whole threat of war would blow over without anyone getting hurt.
It was about two in the morning when the siren woke us. Israel was being attacked. The instructions on the radio were for all of us to go into our sealed room and put on our gas masks. We behaved according to our training, woke up the children, and ushered everyone into our bedroom which served as our sealed room. The window was covered with clear plastic that was taped to the frame. We sealed the door shut with more tape and shoved a wet rag next to it on the floor. As instructed my husband and I put on our gas masks and then helped the children with theirs. Finally the baby was slipped into the mamat. Although I moved calmly and methodically I could not keep my bottom lip from trembling.
We were in the room for several hours. After a while the radio informed us that we could take off our masks. The children began coloring with the special markers we had bought for the occasion. For me, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the tornado warnings we had when I was a child. It was almost morning when the all clear sounded and the children left our bedroom and stumbled back to their beds.
Later we learned that there was damage in Tel Aviv. Two women had suffocated because they had not taken the lid off their gas masks. No nerve gas had been deployed. Over the next weeks there were many raids but little damage. In the six weeks of the war only one person died directly from the missiles.
My father used to have a saying: You get used to anything, even hanging, if you hang long enough. It did not take us long to get used to the new reality of the Gulf War. We stayed as close to home as possible after dark. We never went anywhere without our gas masks. We prayed for a full night's sleep. We made sure to have plenty of food in the house. And we ate.
Despite the background of fear we had our light moments. Being that Saddam Hussein did not want to waste his depleted bomb supply on sparsely populated areas, we knew it was very unlikely that our little village would be bombed. Therefore many relatives, who a week earlier were afraid to visit Shilo, now came in hordes for an extended vacation.
As safe as we felt from the Iraqi rockets there was concern about the possibility of Arabs rioting. The local head of the civil defense asked my husband to drive him to Beit El so that our large van could be filled with weapons. It was normally a twenty minute drive. That night everyone, Arab and Israeli, was under curfew. It was eerily dark on the road and the drive was short. The van was quickly loaded and the two men were on their way back to Shilo in no time. Halfway home they encountered an army roadblock. My husband's accent was quite thick and his Hebrew rather poor at that point in time. "Avraham," the civil defense head instructed. "Let me do the talking."
The schools continued to be closed and the younger ones enjoyed themselves thoroughly. One morning I got a call from the village office. I was told that my children were bothering the soldiers. I set off to investigate and, sure enough, two of my sons were sitting with a half dozen of their friends and three reserve soldiers. All were cracking sunflower seeds and seemed to be having a grand time. When I told the boys they needed to leave I faced three very indignant soldiers. I was told that the boys were not bothering anyone. The soldiers enjoyed their company. I went home.
The attacks slowed down, the country settled into a routine, and the schools reopened. Purim was on the horizon. Would there be a miracle? Would Saddam Hussein be defeated as Haman once was? The rabbis began discussing what to do if we had to stop Megila reading in the middle.
Thankfully, we made it through the Megila readings, both at night and in the morning, without any sirens or missiles. The weather was lovely Purim morning and it was a pleasure to see everyone out in their costumes delivering Purim food packages to each other. I do not remember how my children dressed that year. In fact, the only costume I remember is that of one of the rabbis. A rather stout man he had dressed up as a sealed room. He was wrapped in plastic and sealed with tape.
Suddenly a shout was heard. A radio was turned up high. The war was over. Saddam Hussein had surrendered. We could unseal our rooms. The rabbi tore off his plastic. We had our own Purim miracle!
Ester Silvers is the author of two books, the second of which Growing With My Cousin, has just been released and can be purchased on-line at www.feldheim.com/growing-with-my-cousin.html. This is from her blog, itsallfromhashem.blogspot.com
Authorities in Tomsk, Russia, returned its historical shul (synagogue) tto the Jewish community. The shul was built by Herz Tsam in 1876. Tsam, like 75,000 other Jewish soldiers, was kidnapped as a young child and forced to serve in the Czar's army for decades. However, unlike most of these soldiers, known as "Cantonists," Tsam managed to retain his Jewish identity despite the plan to convert the children to Christianity. When Tsam retired from army service he established a small Jewish community in the Siberian city of Tomsk and built the shul. The Communists seized it and turned it into a residential home for low-income families. Shortly before the synagogue was turned over to the Tomsk rabbi, emissary of the Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Kaminetzky , a local Jew whose grandfather had been the gabbai of the shul, surprised the community with a Torah scroll that had belonged to the shul. The Torah was written by the famous Cantonist, Tzvi Hirsh Yankelovitch.
19 Adar-sheni, 5711 
Greetings and Blessings:
This letter is intended for the entire study group which you lead, and I will appreciate your conveying same to all:
I wish to acknowledge with thanks receipt of the Shallach Monos [gifts of food to friends given on Purim] with the accompanying note. I also want you to know that I was gratified to meet several members of your group at our Purim celebration.
There are a number of topics which I should have liked to take up with you. but I must confine this letter the acknowledgement, adding but a few lines on the subject of Shallach Monos.
You are surely aware that one of the explanations of this Mitzvah (commandment) is that by observing it we rectify a corresponding transgression committed by some of our people in the days of Ahasuerus. As you are familiar from the Megillah [scroll of Esther] Ahasuerus arranged a sumptuous banquet. The food and drinks served at this feast were not kosher. At the same time degrading use was made of the holy vessels of the Beth Hamikdosh [Holy Temple] which were in the custody of the Persian conquerors. Nevertheless, some Jews participated in the banquet and partook of the trefah [non-kosher] food. Therefore, when we commemorate the downfall of Haman and the frustration of his murderous plans after the Jews had completely returned to G-d, we celebrate the festival also by sending each other Shallach Monos of ready-to-eat food and drinks, thus demonstrating our loyalty to G-d in general, and to His laws of Kashruth (kosher) in particular.
There is a more profound explanation also.
Persia, in the days of Ahasuerus, was the mightiest empire in the world. It also boasted the most advanced civilization of those days. On the other hand, the Jewish people at that time was in despair.
The Holy Land and the Beth Hamikdosh lay in ruins. The opinion was widely circulated that G-d had abandoned His people. This was supported by miscalculations purporting to show that the period of seventy years' exile prophesied by our prophets was at an end, yet the promised liberation had not come. This, in fact, was one of the reasons why Ahasuerus made the pompous feast and dared to profane the holy vessels.
Under the circumstances, when the head of the mightiest world empire and civilization arranged the royal feast, inviting to it representatives of all nations, the Jews among them, many Jews could not resist the temptation. They were not deterred by the fact that this banquet was to mark the beginning of a new "era" of complete assimilation and were deluded by the friendly slogan of "no compulsion." Thus they became a party to the profanation of the holy vessels.
Symbolically, the profanation of the holy vessels of the Beth Hamikdosh marked also the desecration of the Divine soul which forms the sanctuary of every Jew and Jewess. The purpose and mission of this Divine spark is to light up one's immediate environment and one's share in the world at large with the light of the highest Divine ideals. Far from fulfilling their soul's mission upon this earth, those weak Jews lent aid and comfort to the forces of assimilation and darkness. By partaking from the "food" of Ahasuerus they contaminated both their bodies and souls.
Purim, therefore, reminds us not to be carried away by the outer sparkle of foreign civilizations or cultures, and not to be misled into assimilation by the notion that it appears to be in no conflict with our spiritual heritage.
We are a unique people, as stated in the Megilla: "There is one people (although) scattered and spread among the people of the world, (yet) their laws are different from those of other peoples." We have preserved our unity and uniqueness despite our being dispersed in the world, because we have preserved our laws. It is by preserving our Torah and Mitzvoth that we Jews in general, and our youth in particular, can best contribute towards the enlightenment of the world at large and bring real happiness to ourselves, our people, and humanity as a whole.
To sum up. The Torah is the Truth. Therefore, there can be no other truth which is in conflict with it. It follows that anything which is in conflict with the Torah is not Truth. The purpose of science is to discover Truth. Therefore, any study which contradicts the Torah is not science but the opposite of it, and instead of leading the student to the truth, leads him away from it. Moreover, even where the science which one studies corresponds with the truth, there is no assurance that it will be applied to constructive purposes and not for the destruction of self and others, unless it is guided by the Divine truth of the Torah. Only then will the world become - as G-d intended it to be - a Sanctuary for the Divine Presence, that G-d may be manifested in it and in ourselves.
MORDECHAI is Persian, and means, "warrior." Mordechai was a member of the Men of the Great Assembly and leader of Persian Jewry during the time of the Purim story. With Haman's death, Mordechai became advisor and confidant of the King, his second in command.
ESTHER in Persian means "star." In Hebrew, it is related to the word meaning "hidden." Queen Esther was the heroine of the Purim story. She and Mordechai recorded the events in the Megila (scroll) . Esther's Hebrew name was HADASA which means myrtle.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Megila, which we will read in a few days on Purim, describes how Mordechai refused to bow down to the wicked Haman. Our Sages tell us that it is because Mordechai refused to bow down that he was called "Mordechai HaYehudi" He was given this title even though he was not from the tribe of Yehuda (Judah), but from the tribe of Benjamin.
"Yehuda" is from the word "hoda'ah" meaning "to acknowledge." The Talmud states that when a person rejects idol worship, it is as if he has acknowledged the entire Torah. By refusing to bow to Haman, Mordechai was acknowledging the truth of the entire Torah. For this reason, he is called "Mordechai HaYehudi." And it is for this same reason that all Jews, regardless of their tribe, are called "Yehudim"- "Jews," for they acknowledge the truth of G-d's Torah.
The days of Purim teach us a lesson for all times: The Jewish people may be a minority in the world. They may be scattered among all the nations. But when it comes to Torah and mitzvot everyone must see that the Jewish people bow before no one. They do not bow before other nations or their beliefs, but stand tall with all their might for the Torah, the inheritance of the Jewish people.
This Shabbat is the ninth of Adar. On this date in 1940, the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, arrived in America. Like Mordechai, the Previous Rebbe refused to bow to the "idols" of communism, assimilation, and modernism. In fact, when he came to the US and began implementing numerous projects to revitalize Judaism, he was told by many people that he would not be successful with such traditional programs. The Previous Rebbe resolutely responded, "America is not different." The hundreds of Chabad-Lubavitch Centers throughout North America verify the Previous Rebbe's words.
There is far more that unites the Jewish people than divides us. Even before Purim, may we acknowledge and recognize that which makes us "Yehudim," until we experience the ultimate unification of all the Jewish people with G-d, in the Final Redemption.
And you shall make a basin of copper... and they shall wash their hands and their feet (Exodus 30:18, 21)
Nowadays, when prayer must take the place of the priests' service in the Holy Temple, we wash our hands before we begin to pray. Yet in distinction to the priests of old, Maimonides concludes that also the face (in addition to the feet, if they warrant it) must be washed prior to praying. The hands and feet enable a person to perform practical actions, but the face and head contain the person's higher faculties -- the intellect, the faculties of sight and hearing, and the ability to speak. When the Holy Temple was in existence and Jews enjoyed a more direct relationship with G-d, only the outer extremities needed purification. Unfortunately, however, during the exile, a Jew's most sublime gifts are often abused, applied towards matters unworthy of their attention, making their purification before prayer also necessary.
Everyone who sought G-d went out to the Tabernacle of Meeting, which was outside the camp (Exodus 30:7)
In actuality they were looking for Moses, yet the Torah states that they were seeking G-d. We thus learn that receiving the leader of the generation is the same as receiving G-d Himself.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin)
This shall they give...half a shekel (Exodus 30:13)
The commandment to give a half-shekel was in order "to make an atonement for your souls," to atone for the sins of the Jewish people. The amount was therefore set at precisely half a coin, to show that G-d Himself is responsible for the other half. Had He not created the Evil Impulse to tempt us in the first place, we would never transgress.
(Reb Simcha Bunim)
The charges against Mendel arrived in an official-looking envelope from the Rumanian government. A former friend who had a grudge against him had falsely accused him of absconding from Rumania with government funds, and although he now lived in Russia, they were pursuing their claim against him in a local court. Mendel was in serious trouble and not at all sure of how to exonerate himself.
He decided to present his whole story to the famous tzadik, Aryeh Leib, the Shpoler Zeide, and see what advice the Rebbe could give him. After having listened to Mendel describe the problem at length, the tzadik said: "Don't worry about the trial. Just be sure to have the proceedings postponed until the day of Purim. And as for a lawyer, don't worry about that either, because I'll send a very good one to plead your defense."
Mendel felt the burden being lifted from his shoulders. "Rebbe, how much will I have to pay for this lawyer," he asked with some trepidation. "And, how will I recognize him?"
"There is an orphaned girl whom I'm trying to marry off, and I need three hundred rubles for the dowry. If you give me money for this great mitzva, I'll send the lawyer at my own expense. You will recognize him because he will be wearing a white hat and red gloves."
Of course, Mendel was more than happy to comply. He handed the money to the tzadik and returned home to arrange for his case to be heard on Purim. He was successful in his endeavors.
As for his part, the Shpoler Zeide had a very unique method of influencing the official government sphere. On Purim, he had been known to gather a group of his intimates for a special kind of Purim-spiel or play. This "jest," however, was not meant in humor, but was a serious cabalistic means of affecting the outcome of dangerous legal dilemmas. In the course of the Purim-spiel the case at hand would be enacted by the tzadik and his company, and a positive verdict would be handed down.
On the day of Mendel's court appearance the Shpoler Zeide had his associates dress up as judges and various court officials. One man was instructed to blacken his face in order to act the part of the Rumanian prosecutor, two others were appointed judges, and the local rav was the chief justice. The Shpoler Zeide himself acted the part of the defense attorney, covering up his shtreimel with a white cloth and donning red gloves. The cast was completed with one man taking the part of the informer and another the part of Mendel, the accused.
The Purim-trial began with the reading of the accusation by the Rumanian prosecutor, but whenever he tried to speak the other members of the court laughed at his attempts. Next, the accuser gave testimony. Finally, the Shpoler Zeide rose to deliver his case for the defendant. His case was stated in a manner which left no doubt as to the innocence of the accused. In his argument he proved that the entire charge was false, and that even if it had been valid, the Rumanian government would have had no legal claim to the money in question. When he finished speaking the judges handed down their verdict: Mendel was acquitted.
Then the Shpoler Zeide and all the other Purim-spielers adjoined to the dining room where they enjoyed the festive Purim meal. Later that night the tzadik received a telegram from Mendel relating the good news and saying that he was on his way to Shpola.
Upon his arrival he went immediately to the Rebbe and related all the details of the trial. What a spectacular delivery the defense attorney made! What erudite arguments, why, the courtroom was spellbound! The chasidim listened with increasing wonder lighting their eyes. The details of the case were amazingly familiar to them. The events of the courtroom mirrored the "script" of the tzadik's Purim play!
"Well, Mendel," inquired the tzadik, "so you liked the lawyer I sent?"
"Rebbe, that's what I'm saying. He was wonderful, everyone agreed!"
"Know, then, that he was no human being, but an angel sent down from heaven, created as a result of the tzedaka money you gave for the poor orphan. If you have the merit, you may see him again when you are tried at the Great Tribunal on High, for he will be your attorney when you are called to give an account of your life on this earth."
The essential attribute of Moses is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the essential attribute of a true leader of the generation, of Moshiach himself. Although Moses is willing to give up everything for Torah, he is willing to give up even Torah itself for any Jew. The true, inner essence of Moses - and of Moshiach - is revealed by an uncompromising self-sacrifice for a single Jewish soul, even the most distant one. Further, because the essence and being of Moses -and Moshiach - is one with the essence and being of every Jewish soul, the self-sacrifice of Moses-and therefore Moshiach - reveals the quintessential unity and oneness of the Jewish people with G-d.
(From Reflections of Redemption, based on Likutei Sichos, by Dovid Yisroel Ber Kaufmann o.b.m.)