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MARCH 5-6, 2003 13 ADAR 5764
Shabbat Zachor - This Shabbat we will read an extra portion of Torah which commands us to remember what Amalek did to us, and our obligation to wipe him out. All men are required to hear this special reading and women should also try to fulfill this obligation.

Pop Quiz: What are the four garments that the kohanim wore?


"They were to observe them as days of feasting and gladness and for sending delicacies to one another and gifts to the poor" (Megillat Esther 9:22)

On Purim we read the Megillah and rejoice to celebrate and publicize the great miracles that occurred to our people. There are two other misvot on this great day, and they are mishloah manot, the sending of at least two pieces of food to a friend, and matanot la'ebyonim, gifts of charity. Acts of friendship are great all year long. What, however, is the connection between these acts and the holiday of Purim?

Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum says it is based on part of the Purim story that we read. Ahashverosh could not sleep one night and asked his advisors to read to him from his Book of Memories. They read that Mordechai saved the king's life and was never rewarded. At that moment Haman "happened" to enter the king's courtyard to speak about hanging Mordechai on the gallows.

Ahashverosh asked Haman how the king should show his appreciation to a man deserving of honor. Haman said to himself, "Who would the king want to honor more than me?" It is amazing that it never entered Haman's mind that the king might want to honor someone other than him! We can see from this story how a man can become so self-absorbed that he is totally oblivious to anything else in the world.

Now we can have a better understanding of the two misvot of mishloah manot and matanot la'ebyonim. On Purim day we have special misvot to celebrate Purim with joyous feasting and drinking of wine. A person might be so absorbed in his enjoyment that he forgets everything and everyone else. Therefore, our Sages gave us two more misvot to sensitize us to other people's needs, and not be like Haman on Purim day. Hopefully, this great idea of seeing beyond one's self could spill over to the rest of the year . Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim. Rabbi Reuven Semah

The Gemara tells us that the Jewish people accepted the Torah under duress in the wilderness, and at the time of Purim, they re-accepted it willingly. How do we reconcile this with the fact that the Jews said, "Na’aseh v’ ishma - We will do and we will listen," which symbolizes an acceptance of the Torah which is purely voluntary, without coercion?

The Midrash answers by saying that indeed the Jewish nation willingly accepted the Written Torah, but the Oral Torah was not accepted wholeheartedly until the story of Purim. The reason is fairly simple. If it says in the Torah that I have to do this, fine, that's the law. But if the Rabbis tell me this is good for me and this isn't, this I may do and this I cannot do, this is difficult to swallow. Who says the Sages know everything? Who says that I have to follow them? When the Jewish people saw that Mordechai was right for not bowing down to Haman, and he was also right when he said not to go to the party years back, they realized that Hashem was teaching a fundamental lesson. The salvation came through Mordechai and Esther because they are our spiritual leaders and listening to them is listening to Hashem. As we celebrate Purim, let us rededicate ourselves to the acceptance of the Oral Law and the guidance of our Sages so that we may merit salvation and redemption. Happy Holiday. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"And you shall command B'nei Yisrael that they take unto you pure olive oil pressed for the light" (Shemot 27:20)

Rashi explains that the requirement of "katit," pressed, only applies to the oil used for the Menorah. Oil used for menahot, meal offerings, does not have this stipulation. Rav S.Y. Zevin explains this halachah homiletically. The oil used for lighting the Menorah symbolizes the light of Torah, while the oil for the meal offerings represents man's material sustenance. The Torah seems to caution that "pressed" oil or "toiling" for the purpose of material sustenance is not a requirement. On the other hand, "amelut," toil, is an essential pre-requisite for Torah study and spiritual development.

Torah study and an occupation both require the individual to exert effort. There is one difference. The labor expended in the pursuit of Torah study is an end in itself, while occupational endeavor is merely a vehicle for reaching a goal. Indeed, the need to work by "the sweat of one's brow" is the curse given to Adam Harishon. Amelut baTorah, toil in Torah study, is an integral component of the misvah. Alternatively, struggle for material sustenance is not essential, although permissible.

The Talmud in Megillah 6b states, "If a man tells you I toiled (in Torah study) but I did not find (success), do not believe him." What is the meaning of "do not believe him"? Let us open a sefer and test him for proficiency! The Kotzker Rebbe implied that "do not believe him" refers to his lack of success, since one who toils in Torah study will indisputable be successful. Torah study, because it is an end in itself, benefits an individual even if his level of erudition is basic. (Peninim on the Torah)


"And you shall make sacred garments for Aharon, your brother, for glory and majesty" (Shemot 28:2)

The Torah devotes an entire perashah to the preparation of the priestly vestments. Indeed, the Torah apportions more space to the "Bigdei Kehunah" than to the sacred vessels which were used in the Mishkan. Although the priestly vestments were not an inherent part of the actual service, the service could be performed only when the Kohen was wearing them. It is apparent that the Bigdei Kehunah performed a sublime role.

Rav Gifter suggests the following insight from the Bigdei Kehunah. Every virtue which man possesses is valued according to his ability to "clothe" himself in this characteristic. Man's essence must mirror these qualities. The moral attributes, "yir'at shamayim," and character refinement manifested by the Kohen should be inherent throughout his entire essence. It should be reflected externally as well. If these traits are not externally apparent, the Kohen is not suitable to entreat Hashem on behalf of Am Yisrael. The service of atonement demands one who personifies perfection.

Rav Gifter extends this idea to include all Jewa. Every Jew is obligated to affirm himself as a member of a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." This "appellation" is to be Am Yisrael's distinctive feature. To fulfill this noble goal we must invest ourselves with the "clothing" of a holy nation: midot tobot (pure moral characteristics), Torah and misvot. Analogous to the Kehunah, our worthiness of the mantle "holy nation" is symbolized by our being "clothed" in our holy merit. (Peninim on the Torah)


Question: Why do we say "Mizmor leDavid haboo..." when returning the Torah to the hechal (ark)?

Answer: This psalm contains mention of Mattan Torah (receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai): "Hashem oz le'amo yiten - G-d will give strength (the Torah) to His people." (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"And you shall make a head-plate of pure gold." (Shemot 28:36)

One of the eight vestments of the kohen gadol was the tzitz (head-plate). Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler teaches that the tzitz used to have an unusual effect on a person who gazed upon it - the person would be aroused to do teshubah for his past sins. The Zohar also teaches that the smoke from the ketoret also used to have the same effect on people. If a person was tuned in and had an open mind, there were many opportunities for a person to be aroused to amend his ways.

It is no different today. Although we don't currently have the Bet Hamikdash, Hashem still continuously gives us reminders and puts us in situations that will stimulate thoughts of repentance - if we are receptive to them. For some people, a gentle hint will do the trick, but for others, a stronger message may sometimes become necessary. It all depends on how well he responds to the call for repentance that Hashem is sending him.

Question: Are you always on the lookout for ways to improve yourself or do you feel comfortable just the way you are? Did you ever experience a "close call" that made you count your blessings? What long-term effects did it have on you?


This week's Haftarah: Shemuel I 15:1-34.

Since this week is Shabbat Zachor, and we read a special maftir discussing the command to wipe out Amalek, we read a haftarah on the same topic. The haftarah tells of the war that King Shaul waged against Amalek. He was victorious, but he had mercy on their king, Agag, and brought him back as a prisoner instead of killing him. The next morning, the prophet Shemuel rebuked Shaul for not fulfilling Hashem's command to completely wipe out Amalek. Shemuel then killed Agag, king of Amalek.

The Gemara teaches that on the previous night, Agag's wife had conceived and later gave birth to a child. Since Agag was alive that night only because Shaul neglected to kill him on the battlefield, Shaul was held accountable for enabling Amalek to continue. Therefore, it was up to Mordechai, a descendant of Shaul, to correct Shaul's mistake and battle Haman, the descendant of Agag. This maftir and haftarah are always read on the Shabbat before Purim in order to link the story of Amalek to the story of Haman.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Ketonet (tunic), michnasayim (pants), migba'at (headdress) and abnet (belt).

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