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Purim/Parshas Tzav - Vol. 11, Issue 25
Compiled by Oizer Alport
When Esther was taken to Achashverosh's palace along with the other candidates to replace Vashti, she found favor in the eyes of Hegai, who was in charge of guarding the women, and he arranged for her to have seven young women who were fit for her. In what way were these seven young women specifically suitable for Esther? In his commentary on the Megillah called Megillas S'tarim, the Nesivos HaMishpat (Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lisa) explains that even though Esther refused to disclose her identity or nationality, she was miraculously provided with seven girls to assist her who were all Jewish. This made her feel more comfortable, and it was a sign from Hashem that He had not forgotten about her even while she seemed to be abandoned and forlorn in the king's palace.
What specifically did these young women do to take care of Esther? The Targum writes that they made sure to bring her kosher food. Additionally, the Medrash teaches that the reason Mordechai sat in front of the palace gates every day was to try to ensure that Esther would not eat any non-kosher food. Why were Esther's servants and Mordechai more concerned about her eating kosher food than about her observing other mitzvos?
The Vilna Gaon writes that the Jewish people in that generation committed two sins for which they were threatened with destruction. One was that they went to Achashverosh's party and ate non-kosher food there, and the other was that they bowed down to a statue in the times of Nevuchadnezzar. In order to rectify these two sins, they had to engage in both teshuvah (repentance) and fasting. The teshuvah was intended to rectify the sin of bowing to the idol, and refraining from eating during the fast corrected the sin of eating the food at Achashverosh's party. For this reason, there were two redeemers in the Megillah: Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai rectified the sin of bowing down to the statue through his refusal to bow down to Haman, while Esther corrected the sin of eating at Achashverosh's party.
In light of this explanation, Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin writes that we now appreciate why there was such a specific focus on Esther not eating non-kosher food while she was in the king's palace, as her role was specifically to rectify this sin, which she did through her dedication to ensuring that she only ate kosher food. He adds that perhaps this was one of Mordechai's deeper intentions in commanding Esther not to reveal her identity, because if Achashverosh would know that she was an observant Jew, he would gladly give her kosher food, and she would lose the challenge of fighting for it and the merit that she created through her struggles and sacrifice.
After Haman made his decree to wipe out and destroy the Jewish people, the Megillah stresses that he quickly sent out messengers to promulgate the royal decree. In light of the fact that this took place on 13 Nissan and the date of the planned genocide was 13 Adar, which wasn't for another 11 months, why did Haman feel such a tremendous sense of urgency?
On a simple level, Rav Elisha Galiko, who served on Rav Yosef Caro's Rabbinical court in Tzfas, explains that Haman was afraid that Achashverosh might reconsider and change his mind, so he sent out the letters immediately before he could have a chance to do so. The Medrash adds that this is why Haman's next step was to sit down to drink with Achashverosh (3:16), so that he would get drunk and not be able to interfere with the messengers until after they had already departed.
Alternatively, Rav Chaim Kanievsky suggests that Haman knew that Pesach was about to start, so he ordered the messengers to leave as quickly as possible in order to disseminate the message of the decree, so that the Jewish people wouldn't be able to enjoy their Yom Tov.
On a deeper level, in his commentary on the Megillah called Mechir Yayin, the Rema (Rav Moshe Isserles) writes that Haman waited until after the first twelve days of Nissan had passed, because those were the days when the nesi'im (tribal leaders) brought their offerings during the inauguration of the Mishkan. Haman issued his decree on the following day, as a way of saying that the zechus avos (merit of our forefathers) has now ended, and the Jewish people have no more protection.
Regardless of why Haman decided to send out the messengers so quickly, Rav Chaim Kanievsky points out that this was yet another hidden miracle in the Megillah. If Haman had waited until closer to the actual date to send out his message, when Mordechai and Esther succeeded in convincing Achashverosh to rescind the decree, they could have simply torn up the paper with the royal decree, and because it was never sent out, nobody would ever know anything about it.
However, now that Haman disseminated the decree immediately, when Achashverosh wanted to change his mind, he had a dilemma, because he told Esther that everybody knows that anything that is written and sealed with the king's royal seal cannot be rescinded. As a result, Esther and Mordechai had only one choice: to send out a new decree which was also signed by the king giving the Jewish people permission to take revenge against their enemies on that day. In other words, the Jews would have been saved whether or not Haman sent out his original decree, but now that he did, they were additionally able to kill Haman and their enemies, something they would not have been able to do if he had waited.
After Haman was killed, Achashverosh gave his estate to Mordechai and Esther and gave them permission to write a new royal decree, which permitted the Jewish people to gather together and kill their enemies. At that point, Mordechai went out wearing royal garments, which caused the Jewish people in Shushan to rejoice, and as a result, they had light, gladness, joy, and honor. On a literal level, the Megillah is informing us that after so much darkness, sadness, and public degradation, the Jews now felt redeemed and experienced light, happiness, and honor.
However, the Gemora (Megillah 16b) interprets each of these expressions as a reference to a mitzvah that the Jews were now able to keep: Orah (light) refers to Torah, simcha (happiness) represents Yom Tov, sasson (joy) corresponds to circumcision, and yekar (honor) refers to tefillin. If the Megillah wants to tell us that the Jewish people now had these four mitzvos, why does it do it using code words instead of explicitly writing La'Yehudim haysa Torah v'Yom Tov u'bris mila u'tefillim? Additionally, if the Megillah is informing us that at this point they performed these mitzvos, this implies that until now they were lacking these mitzvos, but why was that the case?
Rav Gedaliah Schorr and Rav Dovid Feinstein explain that these were not new mitzvos that the Jewish people suddenly received at this time. They received these mitzvos and performed them long before the episode of the Megillah. The problem was that they were performing them half-heartedly, by rote. They were going through the motions, but their hearts weren't in it.
The Medrash records that when Haman approached Achashverosh with his plan to destroy the Jews, Achashverosh responded that he was scared that he would be punished like everybody else who had tried to start up with them in the past. Haman responded that this time was different, because the Jewish G-d had grown old and no longer had the strength to save them. If Achashverosh recognized Hashem's power and believed in the miracles He had performed for us previously, how could he be so na?ve as to think that Hashem suddenly grew old and no longer had the ability to save us?
Rav Eliezer Ginsburg explains that Hashem kavayachol (so-to-speak) receives His strength from us, and to the extent that we are strong and committed to doing mitzvos with joy and alacrity, Hashem conducts Himself with strength and might to protect us, but when we perform mitzvos weakly and without vigor, Hashem's manifested power diminishes. Therefore, when Haman saw that the Jews were doing mitzvos without energy, as if they had grown old and weak, he argued that now Hashem would conduct Himself as if He was also old and weak, and He wouldn't be able to come to their defense.
One of the merits through which the Jewish people were saved was that Mordechai was learning Torah with the children. Why was he specifically teaching Torah to the children? Even though the adults were also studying Torah, they had lost their excitement and zeal. Mordechai recognized that everything children do, they do with enthusiasm, and the merit of their learning Torah with passion and fervor would kavayachol make Hashem young again and give Him the energy to save the Jews.
With this introduction, we can now appreciate that at this point in the Megillah, the hidden miracles that the adults had witnessed while living through these events inspired them to reaccept the Torah that they had originally accepted at Mount Sinai under duress, but this time they accepted it willingly and lovingly (Shabbos 88a).
As a result, they no longer felt that they were doing mitzvos because they had to. They now learned Torah because they wanted to, as they realized that Torah is the true and only light. They now kept Yom Tov not because of a fear of punishment for desecrating it, but because they recognized that Yom Tov is the true source of simcha. They circumcised their sons not only because the Torah requires them to do so, but because they understood that circumcision is synonymous with sasson, and they wore tefillin not just to fulfill the daily obligation to do so, but because they internalized that tefillin are the true source of Jewish honor.
Rav Dovid Feinstein suggests that for this reason, the Megillah refers to itself (9:26) not as a sefer (book), but as an Iggeres (letter), which is unusual. The Megillah is one of the books of Tanach; why do we call it a letter? The difference between a book and a letter is that a book is something that after a person has read it once, he knows the plot and isn't interested in reading it again. If somebody compels him to reread it, he will, but his heart won't be in it. A letter, on the other hand, is something that we look forward to receiving in the mail, and as soon as it arrives, we tear it open and read it with excitement. The Megillah refers to itself as a letter to teach us that even though we read it year after year and generation after generation, we should do so each time as if we're opening a newly-delivered letter that we've been anxiously awaiting.
Parshas Tzav begins with the mitzvah of removing the ashes of the consumed sacrifices from the Altar. Although it was necessary in a practical sense to take away the accumulated ashes, why did Hashem make it a mitzvah to do so?
The Shelah HaKadosh explains that the mitzvah of removing the ashes symbolically hints that after a person has repented and offered a sacrifice in the Temple to complete his atonement, his previous mistakes are forgotten and no longer mentioned. By requiring the Kohen to remove all physical reminders of his offering, the Torah alludes that from now on he is to be respected as any other upstanding Jew. In fact, the Gemora teaches (Berachos 34b) that repented former sinners are able to stand on a higher level than even the completely righteous.
For the same reason, the Kli Yakar writes (6:9) that the Korban Asham and Chatas (Guilt and Sin-Offerings), which are brought to atone for transgressions, are referred to by the Torah as Kodesh Kodashim - the Holiest of Holies. The Gemora in Yoma (86b) teaches that a person who repents out of love for Hashem will have his misdeeds not just erased but turned into merits. Although the totally righteous are considered "holy," the extra merits accrued through proper repentance transform a sacrifice ostensibly associated with sin into something even greater, "the Holiest of Holies."
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Esther told Mordechai (Esther 4:11) that there is a well-known law that anybody who attempts to enter and approach the king without being called in to see him will be put to death, yet we find later (6:4) that Haman was on his way to speak to Achashverosh about his plan to hang Mordechai on the gallows that he had built when Achashverosh called him in to discuss a different subject. How was Haman planning to approach the king if he hadn't been requested to do so? (Shiras Dovid)
2) How many cities can you name which read the Megillah on both 14 and 15 Adar because they are in doubt whether they had walls from the times of Yehoshua bin Nun? (Piskei Teshuvos 688:7)
3) Many of the sacrifices described in Parshas Tzav are completely voluntary in nature. If these mitzvos are so important, why isn't their performance obligatory, and if it they aren't, for what purpose did Hashem give them? (Birkas Peretz Parshas Vayikra)
4) A Korban Chatas, which atones for a sin one actually committed, is partially consumed by the Kohen (Vayikra 6:19), whereas a Korban Olah, which atones for sinful thoughts, is completely burned on the Altar (1:12-13). As doing a sin is worse than only thinking about it, why is the Korban Chatas more lenient in this regard than the Korban Olah? (Mishmeres Ariel)
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