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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh/Purim: The spirit of Purim
"You shall bring near to you Aaron your brother and his sons." Moses' face radiated because all his life he longed to maintain peace between the Jewish people and their father in Heaven. Moses saw the burden of his fellow beings and devoted his entire self to assisting them. The conduct of lovingkindness is the criteria of a true Jewish leader who selflessly will tend to the needs of every individual and extend himself to help whoever has a problem. The minds of the Kohanim should always be occupied with that whatever they do in the Sanctuary should be to please G'd for the benefit of the Jewish nation. The breastplate and other dress of the Kohen Gadol was a constant reminder to carry the burden of the Jewish people on his heart and on shoulders. The character of lovingkindness was a trait of the Kohanim throughout the generations. Mordechai and Esther rose to the challenge and in total self-neglect stepped in to save the Jewish people. The character trait of lovingkindness is not exclusive to our leaders, but rather something every Jew is obligated to practice. The Torah educates us to be sensitive to the feelings of the recipients. There is no greater and praiseworthy joy than to make the heart of the poor and other needy people rejoice.
In the beginning of this week's Torah portion it says (Shemos 28:1) "And you shall bring near to you Aaron your brother and his sons with him from among the Children of Israel to be Kohanim to me." It needs explanation why G'd told Moses to bring Aaron and his sons near to him. What is the significance of these words? It could just as well have said, "And you shall appoint Aaron and his children to be Kohanim to Me."
In order to explain the meaning of "bring near" the great Chasidic Rebbe of Radomsk, Rabbi Shlomo Rabinowitz, points out that we first have to understand the special character of Moses. Later in the Torah (ibid 34:29) we are told that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face was radiating. Asks the Tana Devai Eliyahu (Chapter 4): "Why did Moses merit that his face radiated?" He answers: "This was because Moses fulfilled whatever G'd wanted. He was pained for the (lack of) honour of G'd and the Jewish people, and all his life he was longing to maintain peace between the Jewish people and their Father in Heaven."
Saw their burdens
Already as a young man in Egypt, Moses went out of his way to take an interest in the welfare of his brethren. He would go out into the field and assist them in their hard labour. As it says (ibid 2:11) "And Moses grew up and he went out to his brethren and saw their burdens." The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:27-28) tells us how he would physically assist them carrying their heavy loads and try to lighten their burden in every way possible. He also convinced Pharaoh to give the Jewish people the day off on Shabbos to allow them to observe their day of rest. He devoted his entire self to assisting his fellow being. Even when he came as a stranger to Midian and saw the injustice done to the daughters to Yisro, he took charge of the situation. As it says (ibid 17) "Moses got up and saved them. And he watered their livestock."
My dear sheep
The Midrash (ibid 2:2) further relates how Moses was very compassionate when he shepherded Yisro's sheep and tended to the need of every individual animal. When G'd saw this He said: "If this is how you look after livestock, you are worthy of looking after My dear sheep ['my sheifelachs]' the Jews." This conduct of lovingkindness is the criteria of a true Jewish leader who selflessly will tend to the needs of every individual and extend himself to help whoever has a problem.
Benefit the Jewish nation
This, says the Radomsker Rebbe, is what the Torah is hinting as G'd commands Moses: "Bring your brother Aaron and his children near to you". "Teach them your ways of lovingkindness as they are being appointed to be Kohanim to be ministers in the Temple service." G'd wanted that they should be made aware that this is not just a matter of doing the actual service in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, but rather to minister to the needs of the Jewish people. Their mind should always be occupied with an awareness that whatever they do in the Sanctuary should be to please G'd for the benefit of the Jewish nation. As the Prophet Hoshea says in the name of G'd (Hoshea 6:6): "For I wanted lovingkindness rather than sacrifices, and an awareness of G'd [through the fulfillment of the commandments of the Torah] rather than burnt offerings."
The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) literally carried the names of the Tribes on his breastplate near his heart. As it says (ibid 28:29) "And Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate upon his heart when he enters the Sanctuary, as a constant remembrance before G'd." The Torah further instructs (ibid 28:11-12) "You shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel and you shall place the two stones on the shoulder straps of the ephod, stones of remembrance for the Children of Israel. And Aaron shall carry their names before G'd on his two shoulders as a remembrance." This is not just a ceremonial dress code, but rather a constant reminder to Aaron and subsequent Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests) to carry the burden of the Jewish people in their hearts and on their shoulders. Aaron fully lived up to this expectation as we see in the blessing Moses bestowed upon the Tribe of Levy at the end of his days: (Devarim 33:8) "And to Levy he said, 'Your Tumim and your Urim [this is a reference to the breastplate]. befit your person of lovingkindness [referring to Aaron]."
The Kabbalists explain that this character of lovingkindness was a trait of the Kohanim throughout the generations. Their service and devotion would therefore bring about the abundant flow of G'd's lovingkindness. Moses himself acted as a Kohen at the inauguration of the Tabernacle, and at the appointment of Aaron and his sons they too accepted lovingly this office. It was this devotion to the needs of the Jewish people that elevated and enabled the High Priest to be Divinely inspired and allowed him to decipher the Heavenly messages on the Urim VeTumim whenever necessary.
Mordechai and Esther
Throughout the generations other great leaders have arisen to minister to the needs of Jewish communities worldwide. Through their selfless devotion they merited Divine inspiration on the highest level. Two such leaders are mentioned in the Story of Esther. Mordechai and Esther rose to the challenge and in total self-neglect stepped in to save the Jewish people.
However, the character trait of lovingkindness is not exclusive to our leaders, but rather something every Jew is obligated to practice. This obligation takes a very prominent role in the mitzvoth of Purim and runs like a red thread through all the festivities. Before we sit down to celebrate the Purim feast with family and friends, we are obligated to ensure that everybody else around us has with what to celebrate as well. We are instructed to give donations to the poor and to send food to each other as an expression of our mutual care and interest in each other's welfare.
Sensitive to recipients
There are many Torah laws in connection with the caring for the poor and needy year round. The Torah educates us to be sensitive to the feelings of the recipients. Whenever we deal with people of need we must try to preserve their dignity and not make them feel as the object of our charity. A tale is told about some very conscientious Jews who excitedly came to their Rabbi a few weeks before Purim telling him that they had found a pauper with whom they planned to fulfill their obligation of donating to the poor on Purim. In their eagerness to fulfill this great obligation in the best possible way, they told the Rabbi that they had locked up the pauper to make sure that he remained without means until Purim. Another tale is told of a teacher who wanted to impress upon his students the importance of performing lovingkindness on a daily basis. The teacher told the students that the next day he would ask each one what acts of lovingkindness they had performed on the previous day. The next day the first student asked by the teacher related how he had helped an elderly lady cross the street at a crossing. The next one replied that he had also helped this lady cross the street at the same crossing. One can well imagine the surprise of the teacher when he found out that no less than six of his students had assisted the elderly lady to cross the street at that particular crossing. "Why on earth did you require six boys to assist this lady?" asked the teacher. "But teacher", answered the students, "it took all six of us because she did not want to cross the street."
Bring joy to downtrodden
The lesson is quite clear. Donations to the poor and acts of lovingkindness must be done with a sense of dignity and compassion for the needy rather than giving those performing the act a sense of self-worth for performing good deeds. Our sages teach that when someone knocks on our door or approaches us in the synagogue for a donation, it is not sufficient that we write them a cheque or hand them some money. We are expected to give them our donation with a smile and a kind word (see Talmud Ketuboth 111a and Bava Bathra 9b). In every community there are people who need invitations for Shabbos and Yom Tov meals and other acts of kindness. We must be aware of their sensitivity not to make them feel that they are being invited because they are a tool to allow us to do a mitzvah. If we thank them for coming, and tell them how much we appreciate their company, or ask them please to come again another time, then we will have accomplished that they will go home feeling great about themselves. This is the spirit of Purim. On this day we are educated through the mitzvot of the day to express care and compassion for each other, whether it is the needy or members of our family and social circles. This is most beautifully expressed in the words of the Rambam as he concludes The Laws of Megillah: "It is better for a person to spend on donations to the poor rather than on his own meal and the gifts of food to his friends. For there is no greater and more praiseworthy joy than to make the heart of the poor and other needy people rejoice. For the one who brings joy to the downtrodden is comparable to G'd Himself. As it says, 'He lifts the spirit of the low ones and brings life to the heart of the downtrodden.'"
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network