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February 27, 1999 11 Adar 5759
Pop Quiz: What was the Mizbah Haketoret (incense altar) made of?

THE MESSAGE OF "PURIM" by Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

The holiday of Purim gets its name from the pur, the lottery which Haman used to determine the day on which to destroy the Jews. This seems to be a very minor detail in the whole scheme of the Purim story. Why choose this aspect to give us the name of the holiday?

The answer is that Haman comes from Amalek, who believes everything in this world is random happenings. Amalek was willing to buck the Creator Himself as the cause of everything that takes place and Haman followed in his grandfather's footsteps. There is nothing more symbolic of chance than a lottery. This was the method that Haman chose to decide the fate of the Jews. The entire story of Purim shows how all random events are linked up to bring about the great miracle of Purim. Therefore, the name Purim is meant to bring home to us that our destiny is carefully planned with precision and detail. Just as a lottery is really the will of Hashem, so too are our every day happenings, from the greatest events to the smallest detail.

When we read the story of Purim, we should strengthen our faith in Hashem, thereby meriting to have miracles and salvation speedily in our days. Amen.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom!

YOU'VE GOT MAIL! By Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Because all that was written in this letter" (Esther 9:26)

One of the most dramatic stories of all history is the story of Purim as depicted in the Megillah. We gather all of our families together in our shuls, and with great anticipation read the story of Purim. The Megillah is referred to as a letter. Rabbi Dovid Feinstein asks why we use this term. Shouldn't it be called a book?

The use of this term for the Megillah is to suggest to all future generations of Jews that they should regard it as a fresh letter just received in the mail. A letter is opened with excitement and expectation, unlike a book that has been read many times and does not excite the same interest as a newly received letter. The festival we are celebrating is not a stale commemoration of an old rescue, but rather a salvation that enables us to live today.

The Megillah ends with the words "vedoresh shalom lechol zar'o - and [Mordechai] was concerned for the welfare of all of his posterity." Mordechai left a legacy for all future generations by proclaiming Purim as an annual festival. He left a message to us. The message is that the Jews of his time were rescued only because he and Esther were able to arouse the people to repent and return to the service of Hashem. Only by remembering this message can we avoid having to repeat the story again with all its danger and anguish. This is the final joy of Purim - that we have learned this lesson and rejoice in the light of the Torah. Happy Purim.


"Now you shall command B'nei Yisrael" (Shemot 27:20)

Parashat Tesaveh is the only perashah since Moshe's birth that does not mention his name explicitly. Every misvah and command mentioned in the perashah, however, is initiated with the word "you," referring to Moshe. Apparently, Moshe is the prime focus of this perashah, although his name is not recorded. Why? The Sages tell us that the curse of a sadik, even if it is contingent upon specific conditions, takes effect despite the fact that those conditions are not met. When Moshe entreated Hashem on behalf of Klal Yisrael after they sinned with the Golden Calf, he said to Hashem, "If you do not forgive their sin, I beg You, erase my name from Your Book," a reference to the Torah. We may question why, of all the parashiot, Tesaveh is chosen to be the one from which Moshe's name is excluded?

The commentators offer various answers to this question. Some say that since Moshe's yahrzeit is on the seventh day of Adar, which always falls out during the week of Tesaveh, it is logical that this is the perashah from which Moshe's name is missing. This answer is enigmatic. One would think that specifically during the week in which Moshe passed away, his name would be remembered as much as possible. After all, what greater tribute is there to our great leader than remembering him on his yahrzeit?

Rav Elchanan Sorotzkin feels that the Torah's omission of Moshe's name specifically in Parashat Tesaveh, during his yahrzeit, speaks volumes about Moshe's greatness as a leader and as a Jew. Moshe was prepared to sacrifice more than just his physical life for the Jewish people; he was prepared to relinquish his spiritual life, his neshamah, for them. The Torah is called Torat Moshe, the Torah of Moshe. For what greater appreciation can one hope? Our Torah is immutable; it will always remain Torat Moshe. Yet, Moshe was ready to relinquish the ultimate spiritual pleasure, his name engraved for all eternity in the Torah. Moshe's love for his people was so overwhelming that he gave Hashem his incredible "ultimatum" despite the consequences. Is there any greater tribute to the father of all prophets, the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael, than to leave his name out of the perashah that falls on his yahrzeit? In this manner, everyone will acknowledge the greatness of his deed.

(Peninim on the Torah)


"You shall offer on lamb in the morning and the second lamb at dusk" (Shemot 29:39)

According to Yalkut Shimoni, when Abraham bound Yitzhak for a sacrifice, Hashem instituted the offering of two lambs daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. What is the connection between these daily sacrifices and the Akedah?

When man is young he is full of zest, and pursues his aspirations of wealth and success. Parallel to the day, this stage of life is the Shaharit - the morning period. Many times, unfortunately, he claims that this preoccupation does not allow time for Torah study and service of Hashem.

When man passes the mid-years of his life, which is parallel to "ben ha'arbayim" - dusk - he claims that he lacks the strength to study Torah due to physical weakening.

At the Akedah, Abraham was an old man of 137 years and Yitzhak was a young man of 37. Regardless of their ages, the two of them dedicated themselves entirely to the service of Hashem. At that time Hashem instituted the two daily sacrifices to teach man that regardless of his age he must serve Hashem every day. (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop Quiz: It was made of wood and plated with gold.


1. There is a cage at the Shushan city zoo that contains both peacocks and goats. If there is a total of 30 eyes and 44 feet, how many of each are in the cage?

2. Ahashverosh's royal horse is tied to a five-meter rope in front of the palace. Six meters behind the horse is a bale of hay. Without breaking his rope, the horse is able to eat the hay whenever he chooses. How is this possible?

3. Bigtan and Littletan met at an inn to discuss the overthrow of King Ahashverosh. They each ordered a vodka on the rocks. Bigtan downed his and ordered another. He then drank his second in a gulp, and decided to wait before he ordered a third. Meanwhile, Littletan, who was sipping his drink, suddenly fell forward, dead. Both men had been set up for an assassination. Why did Littletan die and Bigtan live?

4. Esther has 6-3/4 piles of sand and Mordechai has 4-2/3 piles of sand. If they put them all together, how many piles of sand do they have?

"And it became known to Mordechai and he told it to Queen Esther"

(Megillat Esther 2:22)

The Megillah tells how Mordechai discovered the plot of Bigtan and Teresh to kill the king, and how he relayed the information to Esther, who warned the king. One might ask, why did Mordechai get involved in the matter? It would seem that everybody would be better off if he just sat back and let them follow through with the assassination. What did he have to gain by getting involved?

There are two opinions among the Sages as to how Mordechai received this information. One opinion says that he was given a prophecy, while the other opinion says that he overheard them speaking in a foreign language, which they thought he wouldn't understand.

According to the first opinion, Mordechai understood that the prophecy was given to him for a purpose, which must be that he is obligated to warn the king that he is in danger. According to the second opinion, one can answer that Mordechai saw Hashem's hand in this. It wouldn't make sense that people planning to murder the king would speak about their plot in front of another person, even if they were speaking in a foreign language. Mordechai realized this and understood that Hashem had arranged for him to overhear the conversation. He therefore saw it as his duty to reveal the information to the king. (Tallelei Orot)

"Haman, the son of Hamdata, the Jews' enemy" (Megillat Esther 3:10)

Haman is described with many adjectives. How did he acquire the title "sorer hayehudim"?

When Haman maligned the Jewish people, he told the king, "There is one nation scattered and separate." Commentators explain this to mean that they were in total disharmony. To counteract this, Esther felt that unity was the call of the hour, and therefore instructed Mordechai, "Go gather together all the Jews."

In Hebrew, the word "sorer" means to bind and tie together. Haman, through vicious plots against the Jewish people, united and bound them together. (Vedibarta Bam)


1. There are seven goats and eight peacocks.

2. The other end of the rope is not tied to anything else.

3. Both Bigtan and Littletan were given drinks with poisoned ice cubes. Bigtan drank his drinks so quickly that the ice didn't have a chance to melt and release the poison.

4. They would have one big pile.


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