Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What’s That Envelope For?

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Pesach is in the air. The stores are packed with shoppers buying everything from fish to shoes lekavod Yom Tov. Bochurim are home from yeshiva, giving the home, shul and street a different look.

Reminders confront us from all sides about the impending Zeman Cheiruseinu. Shloshim yom kodem hachag, thirty days before the holiday, we are told, we must begin reviewing the intricate laws of the Yom Tov. We have Parshas Parah to remind us to purify ourselves in preparation for the korban. This past Shabbos, Parshas Hachodesh reminded us that Chodesh Nissan is about to arrive.

Unlike the other major holidays of Sukkos and Shavuos, Pesach demands a heightened degree of preparation. The home is spotlessly cleaned, matzos must be baked, special foods have to be purchased, a whole different menu is prepared, and on and on. The hachanos are especially taxing. For weeks, the noshim tzidkaniyos work themselves to the point of exhaustion making sure that everything is perfectly in order in time for the seder.

When it comes to “bringing in Pesach,” family members have to be careful to share in what can be an overwhelming task if shouldered alone. At no other time of the year is cooperation so vital.

This spirit of cooperation that marks Pesach preparation has its parallel in one of the core elements of Yetzias Mitzrayim - our transformation into a cohesive nation, a family unit on a national scale.

We went from being slaves scattered around Mitzrayim to becoming an organized community of bnei Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. A community is defined as a group of people with common interests joining together to contribute towards the public good. When each person cares only about himself and what is good for him, the community suffers. In a community, everyone sacrifices a bit for the common welfare.

And so it is on Pesach. Perhaps this is the reason that the Rama begins Hilchos Pesach with the minhag of maos chittin, obligating all Jews to help those less fortunate who can not afford to make Yom Tov.

We demonstrate to what extent we are part of the greater Jewish community by the way we respond to appeals and come to the aid of those who have difficulty meeting Yom Tov expenses.

For the past several years, together with my dear friend Reb Yossel Czapnik, I have been inserting an envelope into the Yated before Pesach on behalf of Keren Hachesed. We depend upon our good readers to assist the Keren Hachesed volunteers and the people they help.

Boruch Hashem, the response has always been truly magnificent and is a tribute to the righteousness of our readers who are no doubt bombarded with so many pre-Pesach appeals. Those envelopes are mailed back throughout the course of the year and Keren Hachesed counts on these donations to help repay the loans it takes out to help people before Yom Tov.

Readers often wonder what exactly Keren Hachesed is and they deserve to know. It is an organization founded by bnei Torah to help kollel yungeleit, rabbeim and other hard-working people who make a living but can’t afford to make ends meet when it comes to Pesach and will not accept help from public organizations. The Keren carefully screens all potential recipients.

The Keren helps the people who live next door to you in the most bakavodike and respectful way possible. The Keren helps the very people you would be helping if you only knew how to approach them and offer assistance. Contributing to the Keren is a perfect way to help a family just like yours make Yom Tov. In doing so, you are contributing to one of the greatest tzedakos in our area.

If you live in a Torah community within 90 miles of New York City, chances are that you have a neighbor who is enjoying the benefits of Keren Hachesed this Yom Tov. They are good people, with nice, fine families, who dedicate their lives to doing good for the community and have everything but enough money to properly celebrate Yom Tov. Keren Hachesed helps them accomplish that in myriad ways I cannot describe, lest the recipients recognize that they are benefiting from Keren Hachesed. In fact, the recipients don’t even know that Keren Hachesed exists.

Keren Hachesed, working behind the scenes, comes to the rescue in hidden ways.

The volunteers are so dedicated to their cause that those who run the chesed group would rather work harder at raising the finances necessary to do their work than permit me to describe the nature of what they do. They place the dignity and self respect of the people they help above all else. Every year, I offer to write about their activities, and every year they turn me down. They aren’t looking for any attention.

But this year is different. This year especially, with the world financial situation being what it is, the Keren is desperate for assistance to be able to help the nice, proud, happy families it assists every year. This year, the entire operation is in jeopardy due to the way the economic recession has hit many of the fine people who are usually able to subsidize the Keren’s expenses. The Keren still owes suppliers for provisions purchased last year, and if the volunteers are unsuccessful in their fundraising efforts, hundreds of families, of the type you would want to assist in making Yom Tov, will be crestfallen and not able to provide their families with the necessities others take for granted.

Several years ago, some Keren volunteers were involved in multiple mishaps for a few years in a row. They became disturbed by the thought that a Divine message was being sent.

They approached Rav Chaim Kreiswirth zt”l, the renowned rov of Antwerp and a towering talmid chochom, who was famous for his untiring efforts for tzedaka and chesed. He replied that the only one who would be able to interpret what had occurred was Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt”l, known to all as the Steipler Gaon.

One of the people involved in the Keren traveled to Eretz Yisroel and described to the Steipler the organization’s work and the misfortunes that had been happening to the volunteers. He asked for the Steipler’s insight into the significance of these episodes.

The Steipler answered him that not only was there nothing wrong in what they were doing, but the tzedaka they were performing was on such a high level that the Soton was trying to derail them from their noble work.

He suggested that from that year on, all those involved in Keren Hachesed should observe Yom Kippur Kotton on Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, including blowing shofar. Many years later, the ehrilche yungeleit who volunteer for Keren Hachesed maintain that custom.

Since that time, the only problem the Keren has had is raising sufficient funds to keep pace with the need. Every year, somehow, the volunteers are able to maintain their regular activities, but this year there is a very real danger that they will not be able to continue doing so.

So as we run around loading our shopping wagons with everything that we need for Yom Tov, let us keep in mind the people who cannot afford to fill their wagons. As we try on new suits and shoes, let’s keep in mind those who have to make do with old clothing. Let us show that we care about those not as financially blessed as we are. Let us show hakoras hatov to the Ribono Shel Olam for all we have.

Every dollar given to Keren Hachesed will bring a smile to Jewish faces of all ages. You will be contributing to their simchas Yom Tov as well as your own.

When contributing to your local maos chittin campaign, and other good causes, including those advertised in this newspaper, please remember that Keren Hachesed envelope.

This week, we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month of geulah and redemption. If we are worthy, these can be our last days in exile. Let us all pray that in the merit of the mitzvah of tzedaka and the areivus that our acts of kindness demonstrate, this Shabbos, or perhaps the coming Shabbos Hagadol, should be our last Shabbos in golus.

Shabbos Hagadol, literally The Great Shabbos, heralds the traditional rabbinic Pesach drasha, but its significance is broader than that. It is the day on which, 3321 years ago, our forefathers rounded up sheep for the Korban Pesach. It is the day which announces that the chag hageulah is about to descend upon us. Every Shabbos is “great,” every Shabbos is a gift from G-d, but since it comes around every week, we tend to take it for granted.

Shabbos reminds us that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbos is a day which raises us up to a higher spiritual plane than we are on during the rest of the week.

Yetzias Mitzrayim, when we were taken from bondage in Mitzrayim and separated as the Am Hashem, started on Shabbos with the preparations for the Korban Pesach. That seminal event is remembered every year on Shabbos Hagadol.

Shabbos Hagadol is greater than every other Shabbos of the year because it announces that the days which commemorate that aliyah of the Jewish people - and have the spiritual power to renew that aliyah - are once again with us. Shabbos Hagadol heralds the arrival of the sanctified period of time that took our nation to a new and higher level for eternity. May it herald the arrival of the geulah. Amein.

Lifting the Veil of Silence

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

There is an issue that has been on my mind for several years. It is an extremely sensitive topic and I tried writing about it many times but couldn’t find the right words with which to express what I wanted to say in a way that would be beneficial and adhere to standards of derech eretz and fairness.

I have discussed my predicament with many gedolim and they all encouraged me to write about it here in the Yated and said that Hashem would help me find the proper voice.

The sad fact is that children in our community are being abused by perpetrators who prey upon their innocence and our silence. We don’t have a count of how many people are hurt, but it is much larger than we realized, even a short time ago. There is no real debate about the catastrophic effects of abuse.

The innocence and purity of children is destroyed for life. The victims remain hurt, shamed and scarred. They suffer in silence, afraid to reveal their secret to anyone. They are hounded by feelings of guilt and embarrassment and live lives of tortured pain. The overwhelming majority of survivors suffer in silence, unless they are lucky enough to endure agonizing, arduous, expensive therapy. However, even a lifetime of therapy doesn’t ensure that the victim can ever be fully healthy again. Not every young victim’s psyche can be healed. Victims are much more likely to go off the derech, become addicted to drugs and lead a life of abusing themselves and others.

Let us be clear: For too long, we weren’t tuned in to these innocent victims’ stories and their pain. For too long, we weren’t sufficiently aware that this problem existed and thus were able to ignore the quiet pleas, the sad eyes, the pained lives, and the personalities withdrawn. We didn’t recognize the warning signs and thus largely ignored the phenomenon. Equally clear, this inattention was not a function of some high level conspiracy to harm people or cover up for criminals or abet nefarious activities. It was simply a function of a lack of education about a complex and highly sophisticated problem. It was a result of our leadership simply being unaware of the depths that such sordid people could sink to, and the extreme skill perpetrators exhibit in covering their tracks. And yes, it was undeniably a gezeirah, which, as so often is the case, claims innocent holy souls - bikroyvai Ekodeish.

I am all too aware that it is fashionable in certain circles to blame this all on our rabbinic leadership. These people have yet to explain why our rabbonim, who devote their lives to serving people, would want to hurt anyone. The days when being a rov or rosh yeshiva meant strictly paskening shailos or teaching Torah are long gone. Rabbonim routinely spend an overwhelming portion of their time dealing with every type of personal problem imaginable. I don’t have to elaborate on this now, but suffice it to say that it defies logic to accuse our most choshuve leaders, who exhibit much mesiras nefesh, of coldhearted indifference. As I said, the problem was a lack of understanding.

Those days are behind us. We understand our challenges now and we have to live up to them. There are many things we have to do to help prevent future cases. In fact, in recent years, much has been accomplished. It would probably surprise some of the critics to know that in the past five years, the Vaad Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Umesorah has devoted many meetings, encompassing scores of hours, to these issues. As one who regularly attends these meetings, I can tell you that no single subject has been discussed in greater length and depth, in excruciating detail, than preventing abuse. Many sophisticated guidelines and programs have been designed and disseminated in all our schools. Implementation has not been universal, but we have clearly begun to turn the tide in the school area. I will devote another article to detail some of these efforts. Today, I want to focus on the topic I began with - the innocent victims.

We almost never do anything for these victims. We look at them as small children. We don’t peer into their little hearts. We don’t follow up with them. We don’t do anything to assuage their piercing pain and harrowing hurt. Usually, we don’t know who the victims are, for their parents are petrified lest they be stigmatized for life.

They go through life distressed and tormented, and the fact that they think that we don’t care adds insult to injury and makes the wounds that much more difficult to heal. They think that if we would know what happened to them, we wouldn’t respond with compassion and love. They think that the world around them would turn a deaf ear to their cries and be uninterested in their stories.

So they go through life feeling isolated, betrayed and abandoned. It is about time that as a community we join together and shout out to them that we have been silent for too long. We have been oblivious for too long. And we are going to do something about it. This is what we say:

“We realize it wasn’t your fault. We realize you didn’t do anything wrong. We realize that you were singled out for punishment due to no fault of your own. We realize you were taken advantage of. We love you. We care about you. We are here for you. We will listen and we will hear. You are not alone.”

We have to get a message to the children who have been wronged that they don’t have to resort to drugs or worse to cleanse themselves and restore their self respect and self worth.

How do we get that message across? Neither by being quiet, nor by being shrill. First we strengthen those groups in our machane who are devoted to counseling and aiding victims. We tell the victims they are innocent; we feel their pain and are here to help them. We prove that by continuing to implement parent and community-wide education and prophylactic programs to prevent future horrors. Above all, we deliver the message by living lives of Torah - a Toras Chesed and Toras Emes - by being kind and compassionate to all. We do it by not embarrassing anyone and not jumping to conclusions about the reasons people act the way they do. We must conduct ourselves to all with true love and compassion. We should treat victims like brothers, without prejudice, never knowing what pain and hurt lies in their hearts, forcing them to act the way they do.

One thing is clear: silence is acquiescence. Silence permits the affliction to fester. We must be prepared to lift the veil off the more embarrassing goings-on in our communities so that we rid ourselves of evil and malice and the pain they cause. We will thus be preparing the world for the coming of Moshiach and the erasure of all tears.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keeping the Chain Strong

Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Observing a young child’s innocence and purity, the love for learning and trusting acceptance of authority, one is hard pressed to understand chazal’s statement that a person is born with a yeitzar hara, but only develops a yeitzar hatov when he becomes a bar mitzvah.

Isn’t this a complete reversal of the way things appear?

Anyone familiar with children is aware that it is usually after the bar mitzvah—and the emergence of the yeitzer hatov—that children tend to challenge and to get into trouble. Why is it that davka at this stage, with the positive influence of the yeitzer hatov, that children begin losing their innocence?

I was mulling this question at the bar mitzvah of my son Dovid’l a couple of weeks ago, and shared the following thought. I believe that the answer to our question lies in a deeper understanding of the elemental forces that vie for dominance in a person.

Contrary to popular belief, innocence is not a sign of a strong yeitzer tov, nor is naiveté a synonym for tzidkus.

The yeitzer tov is often translated as “an inclination for good.” But it actually encompasses far more. Its purpose is to fight rah, evil. It infuses us with the energy and wisdom we need for a lifetime battle against the forces of evil and darkness, in ourselves and in the world.

When a boy becomes a bar mitzvah, he has to begin looking at life differently. He has to start taking note of the presence of evil in the world, and to make a serious effort to avoid its many different manifestations.

Take a look at a bar mitzvah bochur. From the day he first puts on his tefillin, you can often see a noticeable difference. The young man trades in his proverbial Yankee cap for a black hat. In one sense, he seems to have matured overnight.

But maturity doesn’t mean that he can no longer have fun. Maturity doesn’t mean that a bar mitzvah bochur has to stop being a kid and morph into a strait-laced adult. It means that he has to keep his antennas attuned. He has to start drawing distinctions between the important and the trivial; between the issues that are worth fighting over and those that are not.

Maturity is about priorities. It’s about not letting people derail you from your aspirations to attain greatness. Maturity means to set goals for yourself, and to achieve them.

My son Dovid’l is named after his grandfather, Rav Dovid Svei zt”l, who was blessed with a keen mind and broad intelligence. He didn’t bow to the sheker of this world; he fought for the truth. At my son’s bris thirteen years ago, Rav Dovid’s brother, Rav Elya Svei shlit”a, traveled on Purim from Philadelphia to be the sandek. When he spoke that morning, he related that his brother was like Mordechai Hatzaddik. The posuk says in the megillah, “Umordechai lo yichrah velo yishtachaveh.” Mordechai didn’t bow to the Hamans of his time. He remained steadfast, proud and strong. Rav Elya told us that his brother was very much the same, possessing the force of character to resist the pull of the prevailing cultural and intellectual climate, or the evil forces lurking in every corner.

Our responsibility, as we bid goodbye to the Yom Tov of Purim for the year 5769 and look ahead to Pesach, the Yom Tov of cheirus, is to similarly train ourselves to recognize the evil that so often masquerades behind the mantle of piety, and to resist the temptation to go with the flow.

This is a time of year when we celebrate that we live lives of cheirus and not avdus. We take time to appreciate our Yeitzer Tov and the ruach of nitzchiyos that it instills in us.

I told my son that this is what we celebrate upon the occasion of a bar mitzvah. This is why we sing so joyously and are so festive. Another boy joins Hashem’s army. Another young man decides that he will be another link in the great chain stretching back to Har Sinai.

There is no simcha greater than that. There is no simcha greater than commemorating that despite all the suffering inflicted upon us by Amaleikim throughout the generations, despite their efforts to weaken our connection to the Torah, we are steadfast and strong. When young men join the battle of emes versus sheker, it is indeed a cause for celebration.

We come from a long line of people who had their priorities straight, who used their wisdom and life experience to separate rah from tov. Many of them paid dearly to stay true to these ideals. It is because of their dedication and zeal that we are all here today, raising beautiful Yiddishe families. It is because of their efforts that we are able to celebrate the joyous day of Purim.

The Shabbos prior, a group, led by my rebbi, Rav Moshe Schapiro, traveled to Lithuania. I so badly wanted to go and be mispallel at the yeshivos in which my grandparents learned; in Kelm, Slabodka and Kamenitz. I wanted to walk the streets that my zaida walked in Slabodka. I wanted to stand under the porch from where Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l would address the holy Yiddilach of Vilna every Friday. But I wasn’t able to. I asked my friend Reb Zev Dunner to daven for us at the kever of our rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt”l, and ask that the bracha he gave my zaide, Rav Yaakov Halevi Lipschutz zt”l, who was lochem milchamos Hashem, should continue to shower blessing upon our generation and future doros.

I had the occasion to speak to Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and formerly chief rabbi of the State of Israel. Rav Lau related to me that he met Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba, during one of his speeches at the United Nations. Castro told Rav Lau that he had read his story and knew about his fascinating history. Rav Lau’s brother had sneaked him into the Buchenwald concentration camp as a young child and kept him alive there by hiding him under a bed and feeding him scraps. Castro told Rav Lau that he had heard the story of his miraculous deliverance from the gehennom of the concentration camps.

“But I have one question,” said Castro. “How was it that after all you went through, you didn’t give it up? How did you not relinquish your Judaism? Not only that, but you became a rabbi! What was the force that kept you going?”

Rav Lau replied, “I descend from a line of 32 generations of rabbis. I wasn’t going to be the one to break that chain.”

It takes tremendous fortitude to hold on to one’s legacy in the face of severe hardship and adversity. We should never go through what Rav Lau went through, and we should never know of such evil and pain. But we must ensure that no matter what challenges life hurls at us, we will remain determined enough and strong enough to keep that chain going.

Every single Jew forges his own link in the chain of generations that stretches back to Har Sinai. It is our duty to keep our link strong and durable, capable of weathering the storms, the pressures and the pitfalls of life. Let us take the inspiration we gleaned from the joyous Yom Tov of Purim and utilize it to continue rising in our avodas Hashem, and perpetuating our cherished mesorah.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Post Purim

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Purim this year was unlike any in recent memory. Every year, I spend my night raising money for one particular cause or another. This year was the worst ever. I felt so futile. I felt as if I was wasting my time. I felt cheapened, abused and plain old embarrassed. I felt like a shnorrer. I felt the pain that people who are forced to raise money for themselves or for their institutions feel. I felt hurt.

No one who Hakadosh Boruch Hu has decided must raise money should be forced to have that feeling. It was a very good lesson to feel what others do when they solicit money for any good cause.

There was one special individual I went to see. He stands on his feet for hours every Purim night and dispenses generous donations to hundreds of people. He stands so that he can feel a certain degree of the pain of those who stand in line waiting to see him.

Purim is a remarkable day of celebration. Jews of all stripes join together and exchange greetings, gifts, snacks, drinks and much more. Purim is a bubble in our fast-paced lives. Everything serious stops as we devote the day to celebrating our very existence.

Purim has also become a day of massive fundraising. It seems as if every male age ten and above is out collecting for something. Some of the bochurim are quite entertaining and there is a special geshmak in meeting and speaking to intelligent, insightful and learned bochurim and hear what they have to say and how they think. Spending time with them brings me back to my youth in a certain way that doesn’t happen throughout the year. The problem is that, invariably, a loud immature group comes crashing through the door and harasses you until you satisfy their financial demands.

The point of this article is not to decry the behavior of individuals, but rather to look at the larger picture and to gain an appreciation for what is transpiring around us. Young people are learning what it means to be noseh b’ol to help others. Yidden are responding in kind and aiding institutions and those who are struggling to survive and hold their heads above water.

It is crushing to see how many people are struggling and how deeply our community has been affected by the economic downturn. Many people simply fled their homes for Purim or closed their lights and didn’t open the door for anyone. Most of those who were more courageous greatly cut their donations.

We have to feel the pain of people who are struggling to make ends meet during these times. We have to support those who have lost their jobs, fortunes, businesses and/or life savings. It is not a cliché to say that too many people are hurting. Families that were formerly blessed with handsome salaries and upper-class lifestyles don’t know how they will be able to make their next utility bill payment.

It’s easy to say that we have to feel their pain and do what we can to help them. It’s a lot easier said than done. Perhaps we should put ourselves in their shoes and knock on the doors of people who we know can afford to help out the less fortunate. We can raise money for people who have lost everything but their pride and help them restore their lives. Every little bit helps and it shows our friends that we care enough about them to do something.

Raising money is something that no one enjoys doing. It can be demeaning and grueling, but there is no other way to keep our mosdos alive and our friends in their homes.

I remember going to see people with Rav Elya Svei shlit”a on behalf of the Philadelphia Yeshiva. He was my rebbi and I revered him. At one home, we were treated so poorly that I walked out of there in tears and thought I couldn’t go on. I couldn’t bear seeing my rebbi abused. The shame and embarrassment were just too much for me.

Rav Elya turned to me and said, “Es iz gornisht. You can’t let it bother you. This is the way Torah is built. This is the way the Ponovezher Rov did it. This is how the rosh yeshiva [Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l] did it. Let’s go on to the next name on the list.”

His words echoed in my ears as I said to my dear friend, with whom I go out every Purim night, that I couldn’t take it anymore and couldn’t go on. He convinced me that bizyonos is a good thing, and we persevered, though we raised considerably less than we have in any of the years that we have been going around together.

A few weeks ago, I studied a shiur on teshuvah with Rav Elazar Kenig from Tzefas. He discussed the idea that a main part of repentance is accepting humiliation with acquiescence. Our obligation in this world is to be marbeh kevod Shomayim. In order to accomplish that, we have to recognize our proper place in this world. The less honor we seek for ourselves, the more honor we transfer to the One Who created and sustains us. When we sin, we cause dishonor to Hashem, for when we disobey his commandments, it is as if we are saying that we don’t recognize His beneficence.

It is not easy, but we have to be prepared to accept discomfort in order to succeed in our mission on Earth. Humility is a good virtue, and if we attain it while trying to help out other people, it is an even greater virtue.

We have to be thankful that we can help others, that we can somehow make ends meet, and that we have friends and family who care about us. Noseh b’ol im chaveiro means to put yourself in their shoes and to let them know that you share their pain. It’s not enough to sit in your comfortable corner and say that you feel bad for them. We have to do whatever we can to help out, even if that means suffering humiliation.

If we do what we can to be marbeh kevod Shomayim, if we are dan struggling people lekaf zechus and are noseh b’ol, Hakadosh Boruch Hu will take notice and have mercy on us as he did during the times of Shushan. He will right the wrongs, set straight the ship of state and send us the geulah, bimeheirah beyomeinu.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ah Freilichen Purim

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Everyone looks forward to the 14th of Adar—children, parents, yeshiva bochurim, teenagers, young couples and older folks. That’s because the message of Purim resonates with Jews of all ages, investing our celebration of this special day with unparalleled joy and inspiration.

Let’s take a closer look at the deeper significance of that celebration, by analyzing the beloved and joyous verses of the Shoshanas Yaakov liturgy.

First, why is Klal Yisroel compared here to a rose, a shoshana? And why was the Shoshanas Yaakov so overcome with joy at the sight of Mordechai wearing techeiles? Is there a special significance in the phrase bir’osom yachad, “when the Jews beheld, as one man, the sight of Mordechai in the techeiles?”

T’shua’som hayisoh lanetzach... What is meant by the statement that “their victory was everlasting and the hope of the Jews in very generation?” Lastly, why do the verses end with the statement that the Purim miracle shows that those who believe in Hashem will never be ashamed?

Klal Yisroel is compared to a rose during the period of Purim because the Jewish people maintained its beautiful character despite being surrounded by enemies - “thorns” - that attempted to destroy it. Achashveirosh and Haman sought to strip the rose of its bloom and cause it to wilt and die. But with the help of Hashem, their evil schemes were defeated and their plans boomeranged.

Techeiles, the Ramban explains in this week’s parsha of Tetzaveh, is a royal color, worn only by royalty in ancient times. Thus, Mordechai, by wearing the techeiles, was attesting to the supreme authority of the Torah. He was proclaiming that Amaleik’s most recent attempt to destroy the Jewish people had failed.

The seforim characterize the kavod customarily shown a melech as a reverence that is largely for show. People conduct themselves respectfully in the king’s presence but behind his back, they mock him and deride his edicts and policies. They only pretend to hold him in high esteem and pay obeisance to his whims as a form of self-preservation.

The piyut therefore adds that those who trust Hashem’s ability to protect them from an evil dictator and his minions - as did the Jews of Mordechai’s time - will never have cause to feel betrayed. When Mordechai appeared in public clothed in techeiles, royalty, the people truly revered him as Hashem’s emissary. Because of that unified, wholehearted trust and veneration, they merited Hashem’s rescue.

As the verse in Shoshanas Yaakov attests, “Those who place their faith in the Creator will never be ashamed.”

The Jews of Shushan were full of tzahalah and simcha when they put their differences aside and unified under Mordechai and Esther. Only thus were they able to overcome the deadly “thorns” that menaced them. United, they were able to coalesce under Mordechai and appreciate his greatness and leadership.

So, too, for all time, when the forces of evil torment us and seek our destruction, we must gather together as one, shedding our differences, and recognizing the dominion of Torah. If we do so, we will never be embarrassed.

We read the megillah, sing Shoshanas Yaakov and usher in 24 hours of undiluted happiness.

Purim is the day when we have all won the lottery. “Purim, al sheim hapur.” Purim gets its name from the lots which Haman drew. Hakadosh Boruch Hu turned the lotto numbers right back on him, causing Haman’s downfall and the Jewish people’s triumph.

We all yearn desperately to achieve a state of contentment and bliss. People go to great lengths and engage in all types of activities in order to bring happiness into their lives. The attainment of simcha is the most cherished of human ambitions.

Sometimes it is difficult to be happy. Life is strange and, at times, very trying. There are always circumstances which can make us despondent and dispirited. We are not always able to rise to the occasion and there are times, of course, when happiness is out of place.

But Purim is a day that offers the hope that everything will ultimately work out. On Purim, we transcend pettiness and self-doubt; we proclaim that we know all will end well.

Exchanging mishloach manos with friends and giving generously to the less fortunate enable us to tap into the kedushah of the day and experience its unique joy.

The Gemara in Chullin (139b) refers to the well-known question, “Esther min haTorah minayin?” This Gemara is commonly understood to be asking where in the Torah is there a hint to the existence of Esther, the queen and heroine of the megillah. The Gemara responds that the source is the posuk of “Ve’anochi haster astir es ponai.”

Perhaps another explanation is that the Gemara is also asking from where Esther got the strength to keep herself going while she was trapped with Achashveirosh. Where did Esther find in the Torah a hint that salvation would come for the Jewish people in her day?

The Gemara answers that it is from the posuk of “Ve’anochi haster astir.” She studied the parsha in Devorim in which that posuk is found and discovered the exit strategy from the predicament threatening her and the Jewish people.

In Parshas Vayeilech, the pesukim state that Hashem foretold that the Jews would go astray. They will follow foreign gods, the Torah tells us, and will forsake the Torah. Hashem warns that when that happens, He will hide his face from His people and they will become prey for their enemies.

Esther saw those pesukim as a reference to her and her period in history, and she understood that the path to salvation was to return the Jews back to Hashem and the Torah. She and Mordechai commanded them to purify and elevate themselves by engaging in fasting and atonement, thereby meriting Hashem’s deliverance.

She understood that although Hashem did not appear to her or to Mordechai to reveal His plan, and that her people were apparently doomed to annihilation by evil forces, there was yet a way out. She grasped that the hanhaga of hester that left the Jews feeling alone and unprotected by Hashem, did not mean that Hashem had forsaken them.

She perceived that if she could arouse the Jewish people to teshuvah, even in the period of hester which followed the churban haBayis, Hashem would save them. And because she found a direct correlation, not only to the conduct and predicament of her people, but also to her own name - she understood she had a vital role to play at this critical hour.

The Jews of Shushan were despairing. They felt doomed. The lot was drawn; their fate was sealed. With death hanging over their heads, what could they possibly do to save themselves?

Mordechai and Esther taught them the power of prayer and fasting, and a wave of repentance swept through the nation. Hashem heard the tefillos and accepted their teshuvah, and the day that was marked for sadness, death and mourning was transformed into a day of celebration and deliverance. These events ultimately led to the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.

Though we have our problems, they are not as great as those which confronted the Jews during the period of Achashveirosh. Just as our ancestors were lifted from the depths of despair and granted salvation so many years ago, so too, we will be rescued from the dire perils of our own day. Good will triumph over evil just as soon as we learn the lesson of haster astir.

Some people look for the dark cloud in every silver lining. They aren’t happy unless they find people to mock and condemn. They are morose and bitter, spending their days complaining and castigating. On Purim they are told to put off their denunciations for another day. They are told to find the silver lining that inhabits every dark cloud.

On Purim, we dress differently than we do all year. We cover our faces with masks that hide our identities. That’s our way of saying, “Don’t look at me the way you do all year ‘round. Don’t judge me the way you habitually do. Don’t think you understand what goes on in my heart and neshamah. Instead, look at me as a child of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Join me as I proclaim, “Kol haposhet yad nosnin” —- Stretch out your hands in brotherhood and fill them with kindness and good deeds.

Purim is a day of achdus. It is the day that reminds us that achdus is what helps us win our battles. Achdus is what helps us survive the bitter golus and merit redemption.

Prior to Haman, the Jews were mefuzar umeforad, they were dispersed and separated from one another, each person by himself and for himself. Haman changed that. Facing calamity, Klal Yisroel banded together, realizing that they need each other and would only survive if they could achieve true achdus.

They prayed and fasted together, they accepted upon themselves the mussar of Mordechai Hatzaddik, and they rededicated themselves to the Torah - as one man, a single entity.

With their new found spirit of achdus, they understood that the success of the yochid was tied to the success of the rabim. Every person had to reach out to his fellow Jew, helping him to reach his potential, without succumbing to jealousy and one-upmanship.

Their teshuvah brought them together and helped them open their eyes to the realization that Yiddishkeit is a religion of joy, happiness and satisfaction. They realized that true joy and happiness could only be found in the fulfillment of mitzvos; from following the guidelines of our Creator as expressed in the Torah. They understood that simcha is a vital component of being a Jew.

Derocheha darchei noam, a Torah life is replete with happiness and contentment; no one needs to run to the seudos of Achashveirosh in search of fulfillment.

They learned that if they wanted sasson and simcha, they could find it not by partying with the likes of Achashveirosh and Haman, but by observing the Torah with love and devotion. Layehudim hoysah orah vesimcha vesasson v’yikar, kein tihiyeh lonu.

May Hashem plant those lessons in our hearts this Purim and let them sprout all year ‘round.

L’chaim! To a happy life!