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Torah Attitude: Parashas Tetzaveh/Purim: The magic button for happiness
When the month of Adar comes, one increases in happiness." Is there some sort of a magical button we can press that will make us happy? When we celebrate Purim in appreciation of the salvation of the Jewish people, we focus on all the good that G'd did for us in those days and accept whatever G'd in His wisdom deemed fit to be the price for this salvation. No doubt, every Jew who left Egypt was mourning for close family and friends whom they had recently lost. Death is not a loss forever. We focus on the positive and all the goodness G'd has bestowed upon us. In the middle of his calamity, Jacob focused on the positive of G'd's kindness towards him. In Nishmas we praise and thank G'd and we express that we do not have the words and ability to thank sufficiently for even one of the thousands and myriads of favours G'd has performed for our ancestors and us. The secret is to be focused on seeing the good and at the same time put our full trust in G'd and His lovingkindness. Focusing on the good is the magic button that we press to bring about increased happiness.
The Talmud (Taanis 29a) says, "When the month of Adar comes, one increases in happiness." Rashi explains that the reason for this state of happiness throughout the months of Adar and Nissan is due to the miracles that the Jewish people experienced in these months. On Purim, the 14th and 15th of Adar, G'd miraculously saved the Jewish people by orchestrating a bizarre sequence of events that enabled Mordechai and Esther to defeat Haman. At the time of Pesach, the 15th of Nissan, G'd performed open miracles as He freed the Jewish people from slavery. This started with the ten plagues and continued throughout the exodus culminating with the splitting of the sea, where G'd saved the Jewish people from the Egyptian army.
Our sages here teach us that from the beginning of Adar, as we start preparing for Purim and Pesach, we should sense an increasing feeling of happiness and joy. However, it is not always easy to get into the mood. Many individuals have their personal challenges and difficulties to cope with. We all know of people who are suffering from sickness, financial problems, and family issues, not to mention people who mourn the loss of loved ones. Also on a national level, we have plenty of reasons for concern. We are surrounded by enemies who are just waiting to strike out against us at any opportunity. And from a spiritual point of view, assimilation is as rampant as ever, putting whole communities at risk of disintegration, G'd forbid. So how do our sages expect us to be happy just because the month of Adar has arrived? Is there some sort of a magical button we can press that will make us happy?
Focus on the good
If we analyze the Book of Esther, we find a very tragic development that seems to be overlooked in our celebration of Purim. The Talmud (Megillah 13a) teaches that Esther was actually married to Mordechai before she was forced to appear before King Ahashvarous. In the beginning, she was permitted halachically to continue to live with Mordechai as she was coerced against her will to be with Ahashvarous. However, at the time when Haman's decree to annihilate the Jewish people was issued, Mordechai felt that in order to save the entire Jewish people, Esther and he had to sacrifice their marriage. He therefore instructed Esther willingly to approach Ahashvarous although from that point on she would be prohibited from returning to Mordechai. Esther eventually had a child with Ahashvarous, by the name of Korosh, also known as Daryavesh. He was totally lost to the Jewish people and became Ahashvarous' successor on the throne. Although he was originally kind to the Jewish people, and permitted them to return to build the second Temple (see Talmud Rosh Hashana 3b-4a), we can only imagine the anguish and pain of the righteous Esther in her personal tragedy. No doubt she accepted G'd's guiding hand Who brought this about, but it must have been extremely difficult for her to see her son living as a Persian emperor, rather than continuing in the path of her pious ancestors. When we celebrate Purim in appreciation of the salvation of the Jewish people, we also focus on all the good that G'd did for us in those days and quietly accept whatever G'd in His wisdom deemed fit to be the price for this salvation.
Eighty percent not leave Egypt
At the time of the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people left in high spirits, as it says (Shemos 14:8) "with an upraised arm". The Ramban explains that this refers to their raised banners as they left with song and music, celebrating their freedom. However, when we look a little beyond the surface, we find that everything was not so joyous at the time. Rashi (Shemos 13:18) quotes from our sages that only twenty percent of the entire Jewish population in Egypt merited to be redeemed. Eighty percent of the Jewish people were not found worthy, and perished at the time of the Plague of Darkness. No doubt, every Jew who left Egypt was mourning for close family and friends whom they had recently lost.
Death is not a loss forever
One of the great Hasidic Rebbes who survived the Holocaust, the Belzer Rebbe, gave a speech soon after the war to a congregation of Jews broken in body and spirit. He quoted the first verse of the Song at the Sea where it says, (Shemos 15:1) "Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song to G'd." The Midrash questions why it is stated in the future tense "they will sing" when grammatically it should be stated in the past tense "they sang". The Midrash answers that this is a hint to the future when G'd will bring the dead back to life. At that time Moses will lead the entire Jewish people in song. The Rebbe asked, "Why of all places did the Torah hint to the time when G'd will bring the dead back to life at the Song at the Sea?" He answered, "Moses here wanted to share a message with the Jewish people, 'Don't despair.' We have all lost relatives and close friends, but death is not a loss forever. The time will yet come when we will all be united with those who have perished." With this amazing insight, the Rebbe managed to lift the spirits of his congregation of Holocaust survivors.
Focus on the positive
When we celebrate Pesach, we do not elaborate at any time on this tragic part of our history. We focus and concentrate on G'd's great mercy in saving that part of the Jewish people Who He found worthy to be the forbearers for future generations. These people were chosen to experience the Revelation at Mount Sinai where they received the Torah with the mandate to pass it on in purity and holiness to heir children. Again, we focus on the positive and all the goodness G'd bestowed upon us and quietly accept the price.
Inherited from Jacob
This is a tremendous strength which we have inherited from our Patriarch Jacob. When Jacob was on the way to return from the house of Lavan to the Land of Israel, he was concerned what would happen when he would meet his brother Eisav. Jacob decided to send messengers in an effort to appease his brother. The messengers came back and informed Jacob that Eisav was heading towards him with an army of four hundred men. When Jacob heard that his brother was preparing to attack him, he divided his family into two camps, so that if Eisav attacked one camp, the remaining camp would be able to escape and survive. He next poured out his heart and prayed to G'd for his salvation. In his prayer, Jacob said, (Bereishis 32:11-12) "I have been diminished by all the kindness and all the truths that You have done with Your servant. For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps. Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav …"
The context of Jacob's prayers seems unbelievable. As he refers to his two experiences at the Jordan River, he mentions that the first time he crossed the Jordan he had only his staff in hand. Our sages explain why Jacob had nothing but his staff. Jacob was forced to run away from his parental home because Eisav wanted to kill him. Eisav actually sent his son Eliphaz after Jacob to kill him. When Eliphaz confronted him, Jacob only managed to save himself by giving up all his possessions. That is why Jacob crossed the Jordan with only his staff in hand. He further mentions how he has now developed into two camps. However, this was only a necessity due to his fear of Eisav attacking him and his family. One would expect Jacob to cry out to G'd and say, "Please G'd save me. Last time I came to Jordan I was almost killed by Eisav's son. And now that I am returning here, again Eisav is preparing to attack me and kill my whole family." However, even in this most difficult moment, Jacob is focused on G'd's kindness and all the good G'd has bestowed upon him. He expresses himself as not being worthy of all the kindness He has done for him. Who would have imagined that the same Jacob, who twenty years earlier was left penniless, now was big enough to split up his family into two camps. In the middle of his misery and calamity, Jacob was able to focus on the positive of G'd's kindness towards him.
Every Shabbat morning we conclude the Pesukei D'zimrah with a special prayer, known as "Nishmas". In this prayer, we praise and thank G'd for all the goodness He has bestowed upon us. In the middle of this prayer we express how we do not have the words and ability to thank sufficiently for even one of the thousands and myriads of favours G'd has performed for our ancestors and us. We continue and say, "You redeemed us from Egypt … You provided for us in famine … You saved us from sword … You let us escape from plague … And You spared us from difficult diseases … Till now Your mercy has sustained us and Your kindness has not forsaken us." Anyone who reads this prayer may well imagine that the history of the Jewish people has been one continuous flow of positive experiences, and that whenever there was a problem or danger, G'd saved the entire Jewish people. We all know that our history has been full of difficulties and calamities. We have suffered time and again through exiles and wars, and have been exposed to countless pogroms and expulsions. However, through it all, G'd in His great lovingkindness has kept the Jewish people and has made sure that we continue to exist and rebound in full force. Just sixty years ago, after the Jewish people survived the nightmare of the Holocaust, no one could have imagined in their wildest dreams that we would ever re-establish ourselves, and build institutions and communities as we have seen in the last decades. This is nothing but a miracle, as we again have experienced G'd's promise to the Jewish people that He will never forsake us.
See the good
This is our strength: Through all the difficulties the Jewish people have endured we still have the ability to focus and see the good. As my late father used to say, "We always have more to thank for than to complain about." We may not see it in the instant moment, but with a little patience we will always see it on a national level, and even on a personal level we often see it as well. The secret is to be focused on seeing the good and at the same time put our full trust in G'd and His lovingkindness.
As we enter the months of Adar and Nissan, our sages instructed us to increase our happiness and joy. Yes, there were difficulties; there were tragic events. But we always have the ability to focus on the many good experiences. This is the magic button that we press to bring about our increased happiness. It is true that we may have personal and communal difficulties today, as in the past. But the stories of Purim and Pesach teach us to concentrate on all the goodness. And with that in mind we will be able to rejoice and celebrate these festivals appreciating the miraculous salvation G'd provided for the Jewish people then, and right up to our days.
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