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!


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