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Parshas Tetzaveh/Purim - Vol. 12, Issue 20
Compiled by Oizer Alport
A controversy once broke out when the Rav of a small town in Europe passed away. The leaders of the community wanted to appoint an outsider to take his place, while one of the Rav's sons argued that he was suited for the position and deserved precedence as the inheritor of his deceased father. The two sides agreed to bring the dispute to the Chofetz Chaim for resolution.
The Chofetz Chaim began by agreeing that Jewish law recognizes that all religious positions, including Rabbinical appointments, are subject to be inherited by the offspring of the deceased. However, the Gemora in Yoma (72b) distinguishes between the son of the Kohen Gadol, who may inherit his father's purely religious position, and the son of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama (the Kohen who leads the Jews to battle), who may not. Because the latter position is uniquely intended for a man of war and is not purely a religious function, the fact that somebody was suited for the role is irrelevant to his son's capacity to inherit and fill the position.
The Chofetz Chaim explained that it was once true that the function of the Rav of a community was purely religious in nature - to render legal rulings and to teach the people - and his children were legally entitled to be offered the position before other candidates were considered. However, he continued, this has unfortunately changed due to the assault of the reform and communist movements on traditional religious standards and values. As a result, the role of the Rav has been transformed into that of a general leading his troops into a fierce battle, regarding which the Gemora rules that the children are not entitled to automatic precedence in inheriting and filling the position of the deceased.
When Esther was initially brought to the royal palace under the charge of Hegai, she found favor in his eyes, yet the Megillah records (2:10) that she refused to disclose her nationality or her lineage, as she had been commanded by Mordechai. A short while later, after Achashverosh selected her as Vashti's replacement, the Megillah again emphasizes that Esther would not reveal her people or her background. As this information was already conveyed a mere 10 verses earlier, why does the Megillah repeat this point, and why would we think that her conduct would change in such a short period of time? The Vilna Gaon explains that the reason Mordechai told Esther not to reveal her identity was because he was afraid that he and all of the Jews would be killed for attempting to hide her instead of willingly turning her over like loyal subjects of the king. At this point, Esther had now been selected as queen and there had not been any backlash. In fact, the king was so infatuated with her that he threw extra parties and gave tax cuts to show his love for her. Seeing this, Esther could have easily concluded that Mordechai's concern was misplaced, and if she told Achashverosh that she was a Jew, not only would he not hold it against her people, but he would shower them with favorable decrees. Nevertheless, Esther decided that if Mordechai instructed her not to divulge this information, she would follow his orders with complete faith.
The Gemora in Megillah (13b) teaches that due to Rochel's tznius (modesty), she merited having the modest King Shaul descended from her, and in the merit of Shaul's tznius, he was rewarded with the modest Queen Esther being descended from him. The Gemora explains that Rochel's tznius was that she gave over the simanim (signs) to her sister Leah and did not reveal Lavan's trickery, and Shaul's modesty was that he did not tell anybody that he had been chosen by Shmuel as the first Jewish king (Shmuel 1 10:16). As for Esther's tznius, the Gemora cites the fact that she did not reveal her nation or her lineage. In what way do these three episodes demonstrate the attribute of tznius?
Although today tznius has become associated with clothing, the Maharal explains (Nesivos Olam Nesiv HaTznius 1) that the quality of keeping something hidden within oneself instead of publicly sharing it with others is also considered a form of modesty. Since the Gemora teaches that the trait of tznius is passed on to one's descendants, he adds that somebody who can keep a secret and knows when to keep quiet is revealing himself to be meyuchas (of distinguished lineage).
Taking this one step further, the Maharal writes that you will not find in any character trait that a person gives birth to somebody similar to him with regards to that trait, as you find regarding the attribute of tznius. In biology class, we learned that certain genes are dominant, while other genes are recessive. The Maharal teaches us that the most dominant gene of all, and the gene which is most likely to be given over to our children is that of modesty, a lesson that we learn from Rochel, Shaul, and Esther.
The Gemora in Megillah (19a) quotes the opinion of Rav Shimon bar Yochai, who maintains that when we publicly read the Megillah on Purim, we should begin from the verse that records Achashverosh's inability to sleep on one fateful night, as this represents is the turning point of the Megillah, when Mordechai and Esther's fortunes begin to overtake Haman's.
The Megillah records that Achashverosh's sleepless night occurred ba'laylah ha'hu - on that night - which implies that it happened on some well-known night. Rashi writes (Megillah 16a) that this night was 16 Nissan, the second night of Pesach. Why did the turning point of the Megillah specifically take place at this time? Pesach is a time of redemption for the Jewish people. The night of 15 Nissan is well-known as a time when numerous miracles happened throughout Jewish history, as recorded in the piyut v'amartem zevach Pesach that we say at the end of the Seder. If so, why didn't the critical miracle of Purim also happen on 15 Nissan instead of on the following night?
Rav Dovid Feinstein explains that 16 Nissan is not Yom Tov in Eretz Yisroel. Only outside the land of Israel, where Jews in exile observe two days of Yom Tov, is this day also considered Yom Tov. In essence, the second day of Yom Tov perfectly symbolizes the concept of Hashem appearing to hide His face from us by reminding us that we are in exile. Because one of the central themes of the Megillah is hester panim (Hashem's concealed face), the most appropriate time for the pivotal miracle to occur is on the "hidden" night of Pesach: 16 Nissan, which is only a Yom Tov for a person who is in exile and unable to experience Hashem's revealed Hashgacha (Divine Providence).
After the public reading of the Megillah, we sing a festive song known as Shoshanas Yaakov, in which we proclaim that Haman and his wife Zeresh are cursed, while Mordechai and Esther are blessed. At that point, we have already finished reading the Megillah, and it is quite clear that Mordechai and Esther had much happier endings than Haman and Zeresh, so why is it necessary to reiterate this self-evident point, and what lesson is it coming to teach us?
The Vilna Gaon explains that the term boruch (blessed) refers to a person who may have endured terrible suffering, but eventually comes out happy. On the other hand, somebody who is arur (cursed) might enjoy lengthy periods of great success and joy, but ultimately his end will be bitter. The Lekach Tov explains that in the Megillah, Mordechai experienced tremendous anguish: He was exiled from Israel, Esther was forcibly taken away from him and given to Achashverosh, and he was challenged and threatened by Haman. However, in the end, Mordechai ultimately enjoyed success, as he wore royal clothing, received Haman's estate, and his name and reputation were respected throughout the land.
Haman, on the other hand, initially achieved unparalleled bounty and blessing. He had wealth, honor, children, and power. As a result of his anger at one individual, he had the ability to issue a decree to destroy an entire nation. However, although Haman seemingly had it all, his end was one of disgrace and humiliation, as everything he knew and had was reversed in a matter of hours.
This is the lesson of the Megillah. Many times in life, we see people around us who seem to have it all, yet no matter how hard we try to perform Hashem's will, nothing ever seems to go our way. Since Chazal would not have included Megillas Esther in Tanach unless it had a relevant message for every generation, it is insufficient for us to view it as a one-time historical event, for its message is eternal and relevant to each of us. We therefore reiterate in Shoshanas Yaakov the triumph of Mordechai and Esther over Haman and Zeresh to help us internalize the recognition that if we follow in the spiritual paths of Mordechai and Esther, the time will ultimately come when we will merit following in the footsteps of their success and happiness as well, and indeed, many have the custom to add Beruchim kol ha'tzaddikim arurim kol ha'reshaim - Blessed are all the righteous, and cursed are all the wicked.
As we learn from the Megillah, there is often much more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye. Although Hashem seems even more hidden today than in Mordechai and Esther's era of hester panim, that just means that our job is that much harder to look behind the veil and discover the hidden miracles that are still taking place for anybody who wants to find them.
There is a well-known tzaddik in Yerushalayim named Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch, to whom people turn for blessings and advice with all types of problems. He told a friend of mine that he once took a trip to the kevarim (burial sites of the righteous) in the North of Eretz Yisroel. Along the way, he noticed a tall office building that had just been built and was advertising for tenants. There was a large banner near the top of the building that said mile'mala ha'kol nirah acheret - from up high, everything looks different. He pulled over and took a picture of the sign, and when he returned home, he had it blown up and taped to the inside of one of his closet doors. He explained that often, when people open up and share their pain, they express it in a way that seems to question Hashem's treatment of them. When that happens, he opens the door and shows them the sign with the message mile'mala ha'kol nirah acheret - from up High with a capital H, there is another perspective, and the situation may appear quite different.
Even in the Megillah itself, where Hashem's name is not mentioned a single time and He appears to have abandoned us, He is still there protecting us through Mordechai and Esther. The Rokeach points out that Haman's name appears 54 times in the Megillah, and the Vilna Gaon notes that there are 54 letters in the names of Haman's 10 sons who were hanged on the gallows. Correspondingly, Esther's name also appears 54 times. Memuchan, which is Haman's other name, appears once, as does Esther's alias, Hadassah. While Haman's name appears 54 times, the name of his wife Zeresh is mentioned only four times. To allude to Mordechai's ability to thwart them, his name appears 58 times.
Another beautiful mathematical "coincidence" is that even the name of the Yom Tov has a significant numerical value. The gematria of Purim is 336, which is precisely the number of days from 13 Nissan, when Haman issued his decree against the Jewish people, until 13 Adar, when the Jews successfully defended themselves and killed their enemies, as the Yerushalmi (Megillah 7a) teaches that that year was a leap year.
Continuing with the theme of numbers in the Megillah, there is a mitzvah to drink on Purim until we get to the point that we can no longer distinguish between Boruch Mordechai (blessed is Mordechai) and Arur Haman (cursed is Haman). One of the interpretations of this unusual obligation is based on the fact that these two expressions have the same gematria, meaning that the mitzvah is to drink until one can no longer do the math to calculate that their numerical values are equal.
However, if one calculates their gematrias, he will find that the numerical value of each phrase is 502. In the Haggadah, there is a mnemonic device to remember the 10 plagues using the first letter of each plague, which is called Datzach Adash B'achav. Adding up the numerical value of these letters, we find that the 10 plagues have a gematria of 501, one less than Boruch Mordechai and Arur Haman. This hints to us that while everybody can recognize the clear miracles that Hashem did in Egypt, the higher level is to see and acknowledge the hidden miracles that He orchestrated in the times of Mordechai and Esther.
Similarly, Rav Dovid Feinstein explains that we begin each new cycle of Yomim Tovim with Pesach in Nissan, when we celebrate the open miracles that Hashem performed to redeem us from Egypt. It takes us 11 months of going through the calendar and celebrating the full gamut of festivals before we reach the even higher level on which we can appreciate the equally miraculous story of the Megillah, when Hashem's miracles were concealed and cloaked in the guise of nature.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Hashem told Moshe (Shemos 28:3) to instruct the wise-hearted people to make garments for Aharon to sanctify him in order to serve Hashem. Does this mean that the garments of the Kohen had to be made ìùîä - specifically for this purpose - or could they be used even if they weren't made with this specific intention? (Ramban, Minchas Chinuch 99:15)
2) The Gemora in Taanis (2a) teaches that there are three "keys" which are uniquely Hashem's and which aren't given over to intermediaries to execute: conception, resurrection of the dead, and rain. Where is this idea hinted to in the Torah? (Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)
3) Were the Kohen Gadol and ordinary Kohanim required to put on their garments (29:5-9) in a specific order, and if so, if they accidentally put them on in the wrong order, were they required to remove them and begin again? (Minchas Chinuch 100:13)
4) If Purim falls on Motzei Shabbos, may one practice reading the Megillah on Shabbos, or is this forbidden as an act of preparation for after Shabbos? (Shemiras Shabbos K'Hilchaso 28:fn169)
5) Achashverosh showed off his wealth by making elaborate feasts full of delicious food and drink (1:3-8). Why wasn't there any musical entertainment at these parties? (Derashos Maharam Schiff)
Shema Yisrael Torah Network