Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kimu V’Kiblu, Then and Now

In discussing the famous climax to the Purim story, kimu v’kiblu, “[The Jews] fulfilled and accepted,” the Gemorah in Megillah states that we know that Megillas Esther was Divinely inspired from the deeper implication of these words. “Kimu v’kiblu,” implies that they accepted in Heaven what the Jews accepted on earth.

The Gemorah then adds the fascinating insight that the Divine nature of the Megillah cannot be derived from Kimu v’kiblu, because that posuk alludes to the fact that following the miracle of Purim, the Jews re-affirmed [the Torah] they had accepted at Har Sinai.

The impact of the miracle of Purim was that it inspired the Jewish people to re-embrace their religious obligations. It rejuvenated their Torah study, observance and their devotion to Hashem, culminating with the re-consecration of the second Bais Hamikdosh.

That insight sheds light on why the month of Adar is one of the happiest in the Jewish calendar. Obviously, our happiness flows from something more fundamental than that the Jews were saved from wicked Haman so many centuries ago. What does that historical brush with disaster and the nation’s salvation have to do with me today? So much has happened to our people since that day in Shushan over 2,000 years ago. What is so important about the miracle of Purim that it continues to excite us until this very day?

Yes, the story of Purim is fascinating and its twists and turns offer us encouragement as we reel from life’s curveballs.

Many times we think that the game is up; we’re cornered in a hopeless position. Purim reminds us that a Jew never gives up. New developments are always possible, often taking place behind the scenes, hidden from view. G-d looks out for His people in a variety of ways and even when it looks as if our downfall is inevitable, a Divine plan is being played out which leads to our resurrection as a nation, as a people and as individuals.

Jewish history is replete with stories of salvation from the hands of bitter enemies. It seems that in every generation, someone arises against us, promising to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth, only to leave the world stage in defeat. A cursory examination of the past 100 years of Jewish history bears that out. The Haskalah, Bolshevikism, Communism, Hitler, Himmler, Eichmann and the rest of the Third Reich, Mussolini, The Mufti, Idi Amin, Muamar Kadafi, Yasser Arafat, Gamel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, Ayatollah Komeini, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and many others have proclaimed their intent to free the world of its Jewish problem.

Yet here we are and despite what they have done to us, we continue to grow and flourish. What was singular about Purim that its observance continues until this very day and, as the posuk says, will never be forgotten by the Jewish people?

One answer may be that Purim represents a beacon of hope to Jews for all time, symbolizing that G-d is orchestrating world events behind a tapestry of natural-seeming events. Nothing happens by chance. Achashveirosh didn’t just happen to win the throne at a certain time; he didn’t just happen to choose a Jewish queen. The evil Haman’s star didn’t rise because of his prowess. He didn’t just happen to have an ax to grind against Jews; they were deserving of the threat of annihilation he set in motion.

We don’t always appreciate that. Often times, we think that the superficial acts we perform have the ability to extricate us from our troubles. Purim reminds us all that the forces of cause-and-effect that seem to guide history under the influence of politicians and world leaders is but a façade. When Jews opened their newspapers in the 127 countries of Achashveirosh’s empire, few of them connected the dire events of the day to the seudah at which they drank from the keilim of the Bais Hamikdosh.

They may have tried all sorts of various shtadlanus to lobby on behalf of the Jewish people, but it was of no avail. No amount of lobbying was able to change the minds of the king and his advisors until the Jewish people did teshuva on a sweeping level, repenting for their actions.

We think that we are powerful, that we have an ‘in’ with the president; we forget that we are in golus for our sins, and we delude ourselves into believing that we can influence the forces of history through our efforts.

Purim reminds us of the truth.

When we hear of the incitement fomented against us, when we read of nations building nuclear weapons with which to destroy us, Purim proclaims to us that we must do teshuva and repent. We don’t have neviim as did the Jews of Shushan. We don’t have a Mordechai Hatzaddik who can point with certainty to our course of action. But we all know that there is room for improvement in our personal and communal lives. We are all aware of issues which are swept under the rug and ignored. The times we live in demand that we rise above factionalism and divisiveness, superficiality and indecisiveness, and rectify our failings.

Many of us remain silent as we see changes being introduced to our traditions. We sit by as we see hypocritical actions being performed. We shrug our shoulders and say that there is nothing we can do to stop them. Purim says that is not true. Purim tells us that we must rally around the truth and not permit charlatans to dictate our behavior and attitude. There are many things which we know are being done improperly, but we are scared to voice our opinions lest people mock us or think less of us. Mordechai Hatzaddik, dressed in his sackcloth in the palace of the king, tells us to ignore those who mock us and to do what the halacha dictates.

Purim tells us that we must follow the Kimu v’kiblu of the Jews of Achashveirosh’s empire. It tells us that when our survival is threatened, we must rededicate ourselves to the study and observance of Torah. In order to properly follow the Torah and adhere to halacha, we have to be more serious about learning and reviewing Shulchan Aruch.

This point is driven home in Gemorah Bava Basra 8a where the Gemorah discusses the posuk in Hoshea 8 which states, “Gam ki yitnu bagoyim atah akabtzeim...” The Gemorah derives from those words that when all the Jews will study Mishnah - Torah Shebaal Peh - Hashem will redeem us.

The Yalkut in Hoshea, kapittel 8, on the aforementioned posuk, states that “Ein hagolyios miskabtzim eloh bezchus haMishnah - the exiles will be gathered in the merit of [the study of] the Mishnah.

Some of us say that halacha is too difficult and complicated for us to study and review until we master it, but that is not true.

Several weeks ago, an Israeli gentleman by the name of Rav Yosef Halperin insisted on coming to see me on a hectic winter Friday to discuss a project. He sounded like another fellow with an ingenious way to save the world and somewhat skeptically, I agreed to meet him.

I wasn’t sorry, for what he shared with me was quite enlightening. He had noticed that the study of halacha was being somewhat neglected in yeshivos. He devised a creative program to strengthen the learning of halacha by teaching it in a way that young boys could master it and become proper shomrei Shabbos and shomrei mitzvos.

He showed me his books and material. Although it looked like the program had potential, I wasn’t convinced. But then quite thankfully it was adopted in Yeshiva Beis Mikroh in Monsey where my sons go to yeshiva. My eighth grader, Eliezer, neiro yair, was lucky enough to benefit from this program, called Irgun Halacha Lemaaseh. Complex material is broken down and presented in a manner that captivates the boys’ attention, as they begin grasping the complicated concepts of muktzah until they become conversant in the intricate details and laws.

I was very proud when Rabbi Halperin called to tell me that Eliezer had done so well that he printed up a small choveres of his work on muktzah, in which he defines 400 commonly used keilim and their muktzeh status.

Why am I telling you this? Not to brag about my son, but to press the point that it is possible for us to master even intricate halachos, like those of muktzah, if only we would apply ourselves to it and realize their importance. Younger people can be encouraged through competition, prizes and other inducements that spark an intense love of learning.

As mature, thinking adults, we need to find our own inducements to learn. We ought to take inspiration from the events of our day and the recurrence of an ancient pattern of agitation against the Jewish people coming from Iran, Gaza and other places of unrest. Instead of prompting despair, those events should drive us to recommit ourselves to Torah and trust in the One Above, so that it will be said of us, too, “Kimu v’kiblu, velachein nigalu.”

May it come to pass speedily in our day.


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