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Megillas Esther - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Bayamim ha’heim u’Mordechai yosheiv b’shaar
Sir Moses Montefiore once attempted to convince the Chiddushei HaRim of the importance of introducing secular subjects, particularly the study of foreign languages, into the yeshiva curriculum. He brought a proof to his position from the Megillah.
One of the crucial events of the storyline was Mordechai overhearing the plan of Bigsan and Seresh to kill Achashverosh and relaying the information to Esther so that their designs could be thwarted. Rashi writes that they were conversing in their native tongue. Had Mordechai only known his own language, he wouldn’t have been able to comprehend their scheme and put a stop to it. From here we see the value of Jews learning and being familiar with foreign languages.
The Chiddushei HaRim responded that a closer examination yields precisely the opposite conclusion. The only reason that Bigsan and Seresh felt comfortable discussing their plot in front of Mordechai was because they assumed that as a Jew, he wouldn’t recognize their native tongue and they could freely speak in front of him without worry.
Although Mordechai was required to know 70 languages to serve on the Sanhedrin, it is obvious that Bigsan and Seresh recognized that the average Jew had no such familiarity. Would the Jews of the time have learned foreign tongues, they would have been on guard around Mordechai. We may therefore conclude that it was precisely because the Jews sufficed with knowledge of their own language that they were able to be saved – v’nahafoch hoo!
Vayivez b’einav lishloach yad b’Mordechai l’vado ki higidu lo es am Mordechai vay’vakesh Haman l’hashmid es kol haYehudim asher b’chol malchus Achashverosh am Mordechai (3:6)
Quoting the Alter of Kelm, Rav Eliyahu Dessler (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. 1, pg. 76-77) derives a fascinating insight into the importance of trusting our Sages from the Megillah. Historically, the events described in the Megillah span a period of nine years, beginning with the party held in the third year of the reign of King Achashverosh (1:3) and concluding with the triumph of Mordechai and Esther over Haman in the twelfth year of his reign (3:7).
The Medrash relates that Mordechai warned the Jews against intermingling and attending Achashverosh’s lavish and excessive party. They answered that not to go would endanger the lives of the entire Jewish nation, and they attended because they felt that saving lives overrode all other concerns. To the naked eye, there were no immediate negative consequences to their attendance, and they surely concluded that they had acted properly and Mordechai had erred in his zealotry.
Nine years later, the Jews had surely forgotten the entire affair when Haman was promoted to second-in-command and ordered that every passerby must bow down to him. In reality, it was permitted to do so, as the Gemora in Sanhedrin (61b) teaches that there was no actual idolatry involved but merely a question of improper appearance. As a result, the Jews en masse once again maintained that it was obligatory to bow down to Haman to protect themselves and their coreligionists.
Mordechai, on the other hand, felt that it was appropriate to be stringent even where not strictly required to do so, and he refused to bow down. The Medrash records that once again, the Jewish people begged Mordechai not to endanger their lives, but he refused to listen.
True to their worst fears, Haman learned of Mordechai’s intransigence and, filled with rage, declared war on Jews everywhere. From the perspective of the Jewish people, their reasoning was once again proven correct and “Rabbi” Mordechai’s misplaced piety was to blame for the evil decree. In reality, things work differently in Heaven.
The Gemora in Megillah (12a) teaches that the Jews of Shushan were deserving of annihilation because, nine years prior, they refused to listen to Mordechai’s advice and enjoyed themselves at the forbidden bash. While the yetzer hara (evil inclination) convinced them that Mordechai was to blame for their current dilemma, the truth was the exact opposite. It was their failure to respect and heed the Rabbi’s instructions which eventually brought about Haman’s diabolical decree.
When Mordechai approached them and ordered that everybody must fast for three consecutive days, they could have easily responded, “For too long you’ve been ignoring us. We kept telling you that your fanaticism was going to get us killed, and now you’ve finally learned the hard way. You made this mess, and it’s your job to go get us out of it!”
This was exactly the “logic” which the yetzer hara attempted to impress upon them. Fortunately, in this time of national danger, they were inspired to repent and correct their ways. They chose to listen to Mordechai’s instructions and joined him in the fast which allowed Esther’s risky gamble to succeed.
As happy as they were at the time, the Jews never came to appreciate what Mordechai knew through Divine Inspiration. They never connected the seemingly disparate events to form the big picture that he saw all along. So many times it seems “clear” to us the rightness of our thinking and the error of our leading Rabbis’ logic. At such times we would be wise to remember this lesson of Purim and to recognize that perhaps the Rabbis are privy to pieces of the puzzle that we never even knew existed.
La’asos osam y’mei mishteh v’simcha (9:22)
The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 695:2) that the majority of the festive Purim meal must be eaten before sundown, while it is still Purim. A priest once challenged Rav Yonason Eibeshutz to explain why the custom of so many Jewish families is to start the Purim meal just before sundown and to conduct the bulk of the meal during the night, after the holiday has already ended. Rav Yonason responded with a question of his own. The most popular holiday in the priest’s religion falls on December 25. If their day begins at midnight, why is it so prevalent among his coreligionists to begin celebrating the night before?
Having turned the tables and with the priest now on the defensive, Rav Yonason proceeded to brilliantly answer both questions. The holiday that the non-Jews are observing on December 25 is really the commemoration of the birth of a Jew. As such, it’s only proper to celebrate it using the Jewish day and to begin at sundown on the evening before. Purim, on the other hand, commemorates the death of the non-Jewish Haman, and it is therefore fitting for our festive meal to be based on the non-Jewish day and continue into the night!
La’asos osam y’mei mishteh v’simcha (9:22)
The Gemora in Megillah (5a-b) relates that one year on Purim, Rebbi Yehuda HaNassi planted a tree. After extensively discussing the legal ramifications and questioning the permissibility of doing so on Purim, one opinion in the Gemora suggests that he was allowed to do so because this particular tree represented a “planting of simcha” in the spirit of the joyful day. The Darkei Mussar questions why he felt the need to do so specifically on Purim. Why couldn’t he have waited for a more opportune and less hectic time to do so?
He writes in the name of his father-in-law, Rav Yosef Rozovsky, that every Yom Tov has a special lesson and power which may be acquired by one who properly taps into its latent potential. The lesson, such as freedom on Pesach and the ephemeral nature of earthly possessions on Sukkos, isn’t just for the duration of the holiday, but it is to be absorbed and taken with us for the entire year.
Similarly, Rebbi Yehuda HaNassi chose to plant a tree specifically on Purim to symbolically hint that the joy and gladness we are intended to experience on Purim isn’t of the transitory drunken and frivolous variety. It should be a “planting” of a true deeper joy, one which develops from contemplating the miracles in the Megillah and results in a genuine trust in Hashem’s Providence and the accompanying sense of happiness and tranquility we will feel in our hearts throughout the year to come.
L’kayem es y’mei ha’Purim ha’eileh bizmaneihem (9:31)
The Gemora in Megillah (2a) derives from the plural reference to “times” of celebration in our verse that the day on which walled cities observe their Purim festivities (15 Adar) must differ from the day on which unwalled cities do so (14 Adar).
Rav Zev Leff notes that Purim is known as the Yom Tov of achdus (unity), as we focus on coming together to hear the Megillah and eat the festive Purim meal, sending packages of food to friends and family, and remembering to help out our poor brethren so that they may also enjoy their meals. If so, wouldn’t it have made for more of a sense of community for the Sages to insist on the exact opposite, that everybody should specifically observe Purim together at the same time on the same day?
Rav Leff answers that if everybody is doing the exact same thing at precisely the same time in an identical fashion, this can hardly be called true togetherness. The reason why everybody would feel united wouldn’t be because of any genuine, deep-rooted sense of identification with other Jews, but merely because they all happen to be doing the same thing at the moment.
True unity is when one Jew is able to tolerate and accept that another Jew is conducting himself differently than he is, and to nevertheless recognize that each in his own unique way is equally fulfilling the will of Hashem. The Sages further commanded the sending of Mishloach Manos to our fellow Jews, which represents the concept that one Jew sends his own food from his personal kitchen, prepared according to his preferences, to his friend, who in a demonstration of genuine unity happily partakes of it!
Purim Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 687:2) that a person is obligated to neglect the mitzvah of Torah study to listen to the reading of the Megillah on Purim. Why is listening to the Megillah considered neglecting the learning of Torah when Megillas Esther is one of the books of Tanach? (Rashash and Maharatz Chayos Megillah 3a; Aruch HaShulchan, Chochmas Shlomo, Daas Torah and Yeshuos Yaakov Orach Chaim 687:2; Shu”t Avnei Nezer Orach Chaim 517)
2) The Gemora in Megillah (14a) teaches that the reading of the Megillah takes the place of saying Hallel on Purim to thank Hashem for the miracles that He performed for our ancestors. If the Megillah is read in lieu of Hallel, why is it permitted to sit during the reading of the Megillah (Orach Chaim 690:1) when Hallel must be said while standing? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 51, Gilyonei HaShas Megillah 21a, Shu”t Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 130)
3) If the moon becomes visible for the first time on the night of 14 Adar, which mitzvah should be performed first: reading the Megillah or Kiddush Levana? (Shu”t Shenos Chaim 131)
4) If a minyan of men can be arranged only once for the reading of the Megillah on Purim, is it better to do so at night or during the day? (V’Aleihu Lo Yibol pg. 242, Aruch HaShulchan 687:3)
5) If a person sent Mishloach Manos with an agent, who erred regarding the sender’s intention and gave them to a different Jew, did the sender fulfill his obligation? (Shu”t Machaneh Chaim 6:53)
6) Before the performance of a mitzvah, we are accustomed to making a blessing thanking Hashem for commanding us regarding that specific mitzvah. Why is no such blessing recited before fulfilling the Rabbinical obligation to send Mishloach Manos? (Magen Avrohom and Levushei S’rad Orach Chaim 692:1, Maharatz Chayos Megillah 7a, Torah Temimah Shemos 24:12, Mikraei Kodesh Purim 40, Moadim U’Zmanim 2:188, K’Motzei Shalal Rav Purim pg. 323-332)
7) The Rema rules (Orach Chaim 695:4) that although both men and women are obligated in the mitzvah of sending Mishloach Manos, neither should send to the opposite gender lest a man come to send food to a widow, which may be mistakenly viewed as being given for the purpose of betrothing her. The Rema adds that regarding Matanos L’Evyonim there is no cause for concern and the money may be given to the opposite gender. Why doesn’t the concern regarding Mishloach Manos also apply to Matanos L’Evyonim? (Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 1:41)
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