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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? 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 kindness that G'd has performed for our ancestors and us. The secret is to be focused on seeing the good, and at the same time to put our full trust in G'd's kindness. 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 this happiness should continue throughout the months of Adar and Nissan, 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, on the 15th of Nissan, G'd performed open miracles and redeemed the Jewish people from slavery. These miracles started with the ten plagues, continued throughout the exodus, and culminated when G'd saved the Jewish people from the Egyptian army at the splitting of the sea.
From the beginning of Adar, as we start preparing for Purim and Pesach, we are taught to increase happiness and joy. How can we be expected to do so? 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 those who mourn the loss of loved ones. On a national level, we also 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 tell 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 married to Mordechai before she was forced to appear before King Ahashverus. In the beginning, she was permitted halachically to continue to live with Mordechai, as she was coerced against her will to be with Ahashverus. 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 to approach Ahashverus, on her own account, although from that point on she would be prohibited from returning to Mordechai. Esther eventually had a child with Ahashverus, by the name of Korosh, also known as Daryavesh. He was totally lost to the Jewish people and became Ahashverus' 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 Hashanah 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 the salvation of the Jewish people on Purim, we 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 exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people left "with an upraised arm" (Shemos 14:8) in high spirits. 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 Jewish people merited to be redeemed. Eighty percent were not found worthy, and perished at the time of the Plague of Darkness. At the same time that they celebrated their freedom, every Jew, no doubt, also mourned the loss of close family and friends.
Death is not a loss forever
The great Hasidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, of Belz, who himself survived the Holocaust, spoke, soon after the war, to a group 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 asks why it is stated in the future tense "they will sing" when grammatically it should be in the past tense "they sang". The Midrash answers that this is a hint to the time of resurrection, 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 resurrection at the Song at the Sea?" He answered, "Moses wanted to share a message of hope and encouragement with the Jewish people. He said, 'Don't despair.' We may have 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 perished." With this amazing insight, the Rebbe managed to lift the spirits of his audience.
Focus on the positive
When we celebrate Pesach, we do not mention the loss of 80% of the Jewish people. We only describe G'd's great mercy when He saved those who were found worthy to be the forbearers for future generations. These people were suited to experience the Revelation at Mount Sinai with the mandate to pass the Torah on in purity and holiness to their 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 left Lavan and was on his way back 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 is incredible. 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 caught up with 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 had now developed into two camps. However, this was only a necessity due to his fear that Eisav would attack 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, again Eisav is preparing to attack me and kill my whole family." However, even in this most difficult moment, Jacob focused on G'd's kindness and all the good G'd had bestowed upon him. He expressed himself as not being worthy of all the kindness He had 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 enough words to thank for even one of the thousands and myriads of acts of kindness that 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 our history 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 this is not the case. 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 kindness, has kept the Jewish people, and has made sure that we continue to exist and rebound in full force. Seventy years ago, after we survived the nightmare of the Holocaust, no one 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 we have endured, we still have the ability to focus and see the good. As my late father used to say, "In every situation, we have more to thank for than to complain about, we just have to focus." We may not see it straight away, 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 kindness.
As we have entered the months of Adar and Nissan, our sages instruct us to increase our happiness and joy. Yes, there have been difficulties and 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 and appreciate the miraculous salvations G'd provided for the Jewish people then, and throughout the generations, right up to our days.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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