MARCH 9-10, 2001 15 ADAR 5761
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Therefore because of all that was written in this letter...the Jews confirmed and undertook upon themselves." (Megillat Esther 9:26-27)
As we approach the joyous festival of Purim, we take out the Megillah to get ready to read it on the holiday. It's a beautiful and holy work of art - long parchment written meticulously with a scribe's quill. The Megillah scroll is described both as a "sefer - a holy book", and an "igeret - a letter." Since it is a sefer, it must be written on parchment with special ink just like a Sefer Torah. Its description as a letter changes the law regarding the stitches needed in between each parchment sheet. Rabbi Nisan Alpert asks why the Megillah is also described as a letter whereas all the other holy books are only called a sefer. He explains that any book, the book of Shemot (Exodus) for example, is part of the Five Books, but it also can be considered a work of its own. It can be learned separately from the other four books, and the student will benefit. As a matter of fact, every verse and every word can be studied alone. However the Megillah is like a letter. When you receive a letter from your friend, you read page one and then page two. It must be read in the correct order to get the true message of the letter. The Talmud says that the Megillah must be read in order. If one reads it in order, he sees the Hand of Hashem.
The Megillah begins the story and tells us that King Ahashverosh made a grand party to demonstrate his great power. If not for that party, he would not have commanded Queen Vashti to appear in an embarrassing way, to show his domain over her. Haman would not have given his advice to kill her, would not have risen in the ranks of the officers, would not have decreed that all bow down to him, would not have been angered by Mordechai's refusal to bow, and would not have convinced the king to decree that all Jews must die. We see the Hand of Hashem if we read the entire letter.
My friends, we must look at the world and read it like a letter. The world is so wondrous, so complex, with one detail following the other. The fingerprints of Hashem are everywhere. Read your own life like a letter. Hashem's fingerprints are everywhere. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Purim.
"Now you shall command" (Shemot 27:20)
Why does Hashem use the word "tesaveh" in preference to the more commonly used words "tomar" and "tedaber"" The word "tesaveh" is related to the word "sava'ah - will." It is common for a parent to leave a will and testament for his children, and Hashem is telling Moshe, "Since there will be a time when you will not be with B'nei Yisrael, leave them the following instruction for future generations."
"Veyikhu elecha shemen zayit zach - They shall take for you pure olive oil." Olive oil does not mix with any other liquid, but rather separates and rises to the top. This reminds the Jews that they are unique, and should not mix and assimilate with others.
"Katit lema'or - Pressed for illumination." The "ma'or" represents the light of Torah, as stated in Proverbs (6:23), "Torah is light (or)." In order to truly succeed in Torah study, one needs to "press oneself", as our sages tell us, "If someone says, 'I have toiled and I have succeeded, believe him" (Megillah 6b).
"Leha'alot ner tamid - To kindle the lamp continually." The "lamp" represents the soul of the Jew - "Ner Hashem nishmat adam - the 'lamp' of Hashem is the soul of the person" (Proverbs 20:27). The purpose of the Jew in this world is to elevate his soul continually. (Vedibarta Bam)
"And you shall make around its edges pomegranates of blue wool...and golden bells around them. And it shall be on Aharon to serve, and the sound will be heard when he enters the Holy and when he leaves, and thus he will not die" (Shemot 28:33-35)
The purpose of the priestly vestments was to distinguish the Kohen Gadol from the people, investing him with an aura of royalty. It is, therefore, noteworthy that one of the garments was a cloak designed with striking detail. The hem of the cloak was decorated with golden bells and pomegranates in order to herald the Kohen Gadol's approach. The Midrash states that the Kohen Gadol's entrance into the House of Hashem serves as a prototype for every individual as he enters the home of his friend - or even his own home. Courtesy demands that one give advance notice of his approach, not entering unexpectedly. The Brisker Rav expounds upon the importance of maintaining respect, obedience and proper manners. He states that not even a worthy cause can justify disregarding the imperative of derech eres.
The Kohen Gadol was clothed in vestments which comprised visual embodiment of the principle of derech eres. His entrance into the Mishkan occurred only with notice, since his entrance was indicated by the bells. Had he entered without the refined trappings which exemplify derech eres he would have been liable for the death penalty. The Brisker Rav adds that one is obligated to act with derech eres even when he is dealing with wicked people. Thus, Yosef fled Potifar's house when he was accosted by Potifar's wife. He left her clinging to his jacket, even though she later used this jacket as evidence to incriminate him. The Ramban states that to grab the jacket away from her would have been an affront to her honor and dignity. The obligation of derech eres knows no bounds. It must, therefore, be reflected in the total demeanor of a Jew.
(Peninim on the Torah)
This week's Haftarah: Yehezkel 43:1-27.
Our perashah describes the garments of the Kohanim and the seven days of inauguration for the Kohanim. The haftarah describes the construction of the Mizbeah (Altar) that would be used in the Bet Hamikdash, and describes its seven-day initiation process. From the eighth day on, Hashem says, they would be able to bring the daily sacrifices on the Mizbeah, and He will grant them favor.
Answer to Pop Quiz: Linen.
1. When asked how old she was, Shushana replied, "In two years I will be twice as old as I was five years ago." How old is she?
2. Chester Gourt, the court jester, claimed to be able to throw a ping-pong ball so that it would go a short distance, come to a dead stop, and then reverse itself. He also added that he would not bounce the ball against any object or tie anything to it. How could he perform this feat?
3. Six glasses are in a row. The first three are filled with wine, and the last three are empty. By moving only one glass, can you arrange them so that the full and the empty glasses alternate?
4. Mr. and Mrs. Grogger have five children. Half of them are boys. How is this possible?
!tI diaS uoY
"Let there go forth a royal edict from him...that every man dominate in his own home" (Megillat Esther 1:19-22)
The King asked Haman only what to do with Vashti; why did Haman offer this additional advice?
It was the custom in Persia that the King would not decide any issue of law on his own; instead he would gather his advisors and seek their opinion. Haman desired that this should be changed. Therefore, in addition to advising the King that Vashti should be killed, he suggested that from then on Ahashverosh should make all decisions on his own, without leaving room for appeal. Additionally, from then on every man should be the ruler of his home.
Everything recorded in the Megillah is connected to the miracle of Purim. Were it not for these two recommendations made by Haman, Esther would not have become queen, and Haman himself would not have been hanged.
After Vashti was killed, a search began for a new queen. Had it not been the rule of the land that each man rule in his home, when agents arrived at Mordechai's home searching for Esther, he would have told them, I don't know where Esther is. She left without my permission and did not say when she would return." Thanks to Haman's advice, Mordechai was unable to hide Esther, and thus she was forced to come to Ahashverosh and eventually become the queen.
When Ahashverosh heard from Harbonah that Haman had prepared the gallows to hang Mordechai, the King angrily said, "Hang him [Haman] on it!" (7:9) Haman began to demand, "Before you hang me, there must be a trial with a jury deciding if I am guilty." Ahashverosh told Haman, "Sorry! It was you who advised me some time ago that 'yesse debar malchut milefanav - the King should make decisions on his own' - and no one can appeal them." Thus, Haman was hanged immediately. (Vedibarta Bam)
"Letters were sent...to destroy, kill and exterminate all the Jews" (Esther 3:13)
The Gemara (Megillah 12a) says that the decree was issued against the Jews because 1) in the days of Nebuchadnessar they prostrated themselves to an idol, and 2) they partook in Ahashverosh's festivity. A long time transpired between these two episodes. Why were the Jews now being punished for these two things together?
According to the Midrash, when Nebuchadnessar set up the idol he put the tzeetz on it, a golden plate which the Kohen Gadol wore on his forehead on which was engraved Hashem's holy four lettered Name. If so, the Jews could justify their actions by claiming that in reality they were not bowing to the idol, but to the holy tzeetz; and despite the fact that it was in the hands of the gentiles, it retained its holiness. They could rationalize that they did not accept the way the Gemara interprets the pasuk, "And lawless people will enter it and profane it" (Yehezkel 7:22) - that once the lawless people took it, it became profaned. When the Jews partook of Ahashverosh's meal, although death is not the punishment for eating non-Kosher, death was decreed because the food was served in the vessels of the Bet Hamikdash, and according to Rebbe, "If one intentionally uses the property of the Bet Hamikdash for personal benefit, he is put to death" (Sanhedrin 83a). In truth, however, they could have justified themselves by arguing that since the vessels were no longer in the Bet Hamikdash but in the hands of gentiles, they were no longer consecrated, and hence there was no me'ilah (inappropriate use of holy objects).
However, in light of both episodes together, either way the punishment would be death: The claim that they did nothing wrong in the days of Ahashverosh since the vessels were not holy would mean that the tzeetz was also not holy, and thus they had bowed to an idol in the days of Nebuchadnessar. The claim that they did nothing wrong in the days of Nebuchadnessar since they were actually bowing to the tzeetz, which was holy, would mean that the vessels too were holy and that by blatantly using them for personal needs at the feast of Ahashverosh they incurred the death penalty. (Vedibarta Bam)
"When King Ahashverosh was sitting on his throne which was in Shushan, the capital." (Megillat Esther 1:2)
The Vilna Gaon points out that prior to the rule of Ahashverosh, Shushan was not the capital of the Babylonian or Persian empires. Why then did Ahashverosh choose Shushan as his capital? Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Levenson, the son-in-law of the Hafess Hayim, explains that Ahashverosh wanted very much to sit in the royal throne of King Shelomo. He gave the command to have it transported to him, but on the way, as it was passing through Shushan, the throne broke. It could not be transported any further. So Ahashverosh moved the capital to Shushan so that he could use the throne that he desired so much. Why did Hashem arrange for all this to happen? Because "there was a Jewish man in the capital of Shushan, and his name was Mordechai." Mordechai had been there even before Shushan was made the capital. In order not to trouble Mordechai, the sadik, to travel to Ahashverosh to try to annul the decree, Hashem arranged that it would all take place in Mordechai's home town. (Tal'lei Orot)
ANSWERS TO PURIM PUZZLERS:
1. Shushana is twelve.
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