Why Zachor MUST Precede Purim

As I write this week’s column, I am assuming that by the time that you will be reading it, things will be clear in Our Town, and we can get on with the business of hating our real enemies, as per Megillas Esther. At times, modern man seems to have an issue with needing to have a real live enemy, whom one hates. (I like to think that all the ‘haters’ out there whom we may have lately were just kidding and practicing for Purim, since hating is not something that we do easily.) Yet hate we must at times, as the passuk (Tehillim 139:21) says, “Why, those who hate You, Hashem, I will hate, and against those who would rise up against You I will quarrel.” In fact, Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvos (Positive Mitzvah 189; the mitzvah of ‘Zachor’) writes, “Wherein He has commanded us to remember what Amaleik did to us in his eagerness to harm us; we are to reaffirm it at all times, arouse the people to make war upon him and to hate him, so that our hatred for him not be weakened or lessened with the passage of time. Thus you see that Shmuel Hanavi, in proceeding to exhort Shaul to fulfill the commandment to destroy Amaleik, recalled the story of what Amaleik did, in order to arouse the hatred we must harbor towards Amaleik and then go on  to destroy him.”

Rambam’s mention of Shmuel’s telling Shaul to do the devar Hashem and destroy Amaleik, as commanded (we are going to be reading this account on Shabbos as the haftarah of Parshas Zachor) addresses an apparent question. One might wonder why Shmuel needed to give this introduction at all. Eradicating Amaleik is a mitzvah which is incumbent upon a King, why the storytelling? The Rambam here is “casually” teaching us that the purpose of this account, and the purpose of the very mitzvah of zachor, is to arouse our attitude towards Amaleik, so that we indeed hate him as an embodiment of evil, as one who denies Hashem. Klal Yisrael’s raison d’être in this world is to proclaim the existence of Hashem, as the Ramban in Parshas Bo so eloquently states: “Therefore, because we see that there are constantly mitzvos that are reminders of the principles of our faith (e.g., tefillin, mezuzah, kerias shema, sukkah), the Sages state ‘be as scrupulous in observing a minor commandment as in performing a major one (Avos 2:1), because all of them are in truth major and beloved, since through them a person is constantly acknowledging Hashem, for the ultimate objective of all the commandments is that we should believe in Hashem and acknowledge to Him that he created us… and that in fact is the ultimate objective of the creation itself for we have no other explanation for creation ; and the most High has no desire for earthbound creatures except this, that man should know and acknowledge  to his G-D that G-D indeed created him.

Amaleik is clearly the antitheses of this. Thus, as harsh as is the word hate, it remains the very goal of zachor, as explained by the Rambam. Amaleik, as the Rambam further describes (Positive Mitzvah 188), is but the most acute and fanatical of the children of Esav: To destroy Amaleik from amongst all the descendants of Esav.” The never-ending battle against the Jews, called anti-Semitism, absolutely irrational so much of the time, has its roots in the battle over malchus Hashem. That is why we find the similar phrase describing B’nei Yisrael’s obligation to destroy Amaleik as Hashem’s promise that He would do so, “Timcheh ess zecher (zaicher) Amaleik mitachas hashamayim. Ki mochoh emcheh ess zaicher Amaleik mitachas hashamayim.” We are playing for high stakes indeed. Hashem states that His malchus is lacking, k’vayochol, as it were, until the total eradication of those who would deny Him. But it is apparently important to establish a desire to do so, stemming from a hatred, as part of our values system —to declare that we hate those who would deny Hashem.

The Gra explains in his commentary to Chanah’s prayer in Sefer Shmuel that Esav has four specific areas of attack against B’nei Yisrael, which he exercised at four specific points in history. According to this premise of the Gra, Haman was attacking the uniqueness of Klal Yisrael’s relationship with Hashem, namely, Klal Yisrael as described in the sixth chapter of Avoskinyan echad, one of the primary possessions of Hashem in this world. Not Klal Yisrael per se, rather, our singularity as Hashem’s representatives in this world. Thus, the Gra explains in his commentary to Megillas Esther (8:16), “Layehudim haysah orah vesimcha vesasson viyekar,” which Chazal tell us alludes to the following four mitzvos: Torah, Yom Tov, milah and tefillin. These four mitzvos are described as ‘osos’ —signs, symbols of our affiliation, a representation our bond with Hashem. And as Haman, the scion of Amaleik, tried to eradicate that association, the Jews upon his defeat, reaffirmed precisely those very signposts of our status.

Purim is indeed a day of joy, gaiety, merrymaking, even drinking. But before Purim, as the Gemara and halachah make abundantly clear, there must be zachor. Realizing and recognizing evil, remembering and acknowledging that evil does exist and that we are enjoined to eradicate it in whatever way is available to us.

Purim must be preceded with understanding its essence as a day celebrating a proclamation of the ultimate victory of Hashem and His people who acknowledge Him over those who would deny, or even hesitate and equivocate and “explain” matters in a “natural” way. For what could be more natural than the story of Purim? Thus the accompanying unbridled joy, which has its value only within the context of the Ramban that we learned —acknowledgement of Hashem’s existence and His enabling all that occurs. Seeing Him in nature, in the laws of physics, in history, in our amazing biological systems, in all the goodness with which we are blessed. And hating those who would “explain it all away” in their contorted efforts to deny Him. The ultimate praise of Hashem, the ultimate hallel, as Chazal say in Gemara Megillah, is simply reading the story, and seeing the events unfold as a master plan of Hashem and as a vindication of His representatives.

Musings about the Upcoming Mayoral Elections

I had actually given some thought to the question of writing vs. not writing about the elections in my column, since there were people who had professed surprise, even disappointment, when I did so the last time around. I tried to understand “where they were coming from.” And I do think that I realize the gap in how we respectively view this column. I do not see this column as a parshas hashavua corner, with vertelach and nice thoughts on the weekly Torah reading. I had never conceived it that way, and I have never treated it that way. Therein lies the misunderstanding. This column is a platform that I was given to in order to speak to a tzibbur —namely, the tzibbur that chooses to read it. It is a place where I speak sometimes of hashkafah and discuss matters of halachah at others. Sometimes I address core concepts of Judaism, and at others —mussar. And yes, sometimes I deliver a Devar Torah on the Parshah, but hopefully, it is one with a message, not what I call a vertel. Thus, it makes perfect sense to me that if I think that I have an important message to get out to my tzibbur, the readers, then I will use this column to express it. This is my platform! And if some feel that the message resonates so powerfully that they want to expand the readership of the message —why should that bother me? If I write to five people, I try to write something as meaningful and as intelligent as if I would was writing for five thousand —so why should I be perturbed if five thousand really do see it?

I would like to extend a yeyasher kochachem to the Dati-Leumi Rabbanim of our community, who signed a letter urging their followers to vote for the candidate they felt would be the better one. Hopefully, I will no longer need to expend energy, time, kochos and effort explaining why Rabbanim absolutely should tell people for whom they think the people should vote. Our Torah is a Toras Chaim, and if their da’as Torah, or however they refer to it, leads them to a certain conclusion, they have a responsibility to lead their flocks. May they be role models in this path for their national party, or parties, as well!

I would like to address past and would-be Eli Cohen voters.

The virtually unanimous consensus among commentators, and I am limiting myself to secular and Dati-Leumi commentators, is that the court ruling calling for these new elections had nothing to do with fraud and everything to do with keeping the city out of the hands of Chareidim. Here are some choice paragraphs written about the court decision by famous Israeli commentator:

“The court’s decision to require new elections is out of the norm; the issue of fraud was hardly serious enough to require new elections… (The real issue is) the struggle for the soul of the city… for lately, extremists have moved into the city. Eli Cohen is Beit Shemesh’s last hope to prevent its falling into the clutches of anti-Zionists… It is unclear if he will be able to turn the clock back, even were he to win the next elections; the State has abandoned the city and its non-Chareidi residents… (Nachum Barnea, Yediot Acharonot)

“The real battle is the one between the secular, Zionist residents and the Chareidim. It is the battle of the rule of law and the forces of light against law-breakers and the forces of darkness.” (Dan Margalit, Yisrael Hayom)

“It is difficult to exaggerate the consequences of a victory for the Chareidi candidate. The City’s character will be irrevocably set, and the end will near for all of the city’s secular residents, as well as its image as a pluralistic city.” (Nir Chasoon, Ha’aretz)

“Some amounts of fraud are present in every election. It is relatively easy to pick on Chareidim. In Beit Shemesh especially, it is clear to all non-Chareidim that the Chareidim must lose the election, because Beit Shemesh as a Zionistic city must be preserved. And so it was almost pre-ordained that this would be the first-ever experiment in nullifying an election because of fraud.” (Kalman Liebskind, Mekor Rishon)

And here is a headline from Mekor Rishon, not of an Editorial, but of a news item:

“Beit Shemesh To Have New Elections! Eli Cohen, the Candidate of all the Non-Chareidim, Will Once Again Attempt To Win The Mayoralty. Can He Prevent The Votes Of the Dead And The Terror of the Chareidim? And Once And For All, Will He End the Darkness in Beit Shemesh?”

Rabbosai – the level of this stuff makes Chadash seem like the Wall Street Journal!

I turn to Eli Cohen voters, and I ask you: perhaps you think that Mr. Cohen would make a better Mayor. Frankly, I do not see why you would think so, as I explained before the last elections, but I assume that you do.

But sometimes, Rabbosai, there are larger issues concerning something, issues which dwarf more limited concerns, important as they may appear. Read the above commentators’ comments. These are the opinion- makers in Israel today. And please ask yourselves, “Do I want to give a hand to those who are battling Chareidim, so that my garbage will be collected in a timelier manner? Especially given what is going on at the national level!? Do I want to contribute to that, albeit unintentionally?

[Obviously, if you agree with the sentiments of these commentators, I am not addressing you. One day, though, I will try to show you that Chareidim are people too and, to paraphrase Shakespeare:

I am a Chareidi. Hath not a Chareidi eyes? Hath not a Chareidi hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter
and summer, as a non-Chareidi is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

To which I add: May not a Chareidi vote? May we not win elections? Does democracy end at the door of a Chareidi? Are Chareidim not allowed to have political opinions and to vote accordingly? May every community vote its interests, but not Chareidim?]

The above-mentioned Kalman Liebskind headlined his column in last Friday’s Maariv newspaper:

“The Chareidim Are Correct! There Was No Reason To Invalidate the Beit Shemesh Elections!”

Following an introduction, in which he identifies himself as someone who definitely hopes that Eli Cohen wins the upcoming elections, and after establishing his credentials as the first investigative reporter to report that there was fraud in the previous election, he goes on to write a lengthy analysis of the court decision. He sifted through hundreds of pages of all the testimonies, all of the police reports, and cross-examination of the witnesses and those suspected of fraud. And his conclusion?

“I have reached a painful, difficult, conclusion. It is important that I write it here, due to my earlier columns on this subject. The court verdict cancelling the elections is one of the strangest legal documents I have seen in years. The three judges have collected an unprecedented amount of speculations and unproven assumptions on the road to their verdict. We are talking about a verdict with no legal proof backing it. Although there undoubtedly were some fraudulent votes, the amount did not come close to justifying the extreme step of nullification of the election.”

(RCZM-I urge you to get this column and to read it in its entirety, even though it is long, analytical, and very, very detailed. And frightening.)

His last sentence It is hard to believe that there is another community other than a Chareidi one concerning which a court would find itself so free as to cancel an election victory on such a flimsy basis.”

What is my point? It is actually different than the previous one. It concerns the dangers we all face if we quietly aid, abet, and allow judicial tyranny, imperiousness, and high-handedness. Maybe today you are delighted that the court did this. However, are you thinking about the future, when the courts might overturn other election results that you are happy about, yet it flies in the face of the Judges’ own personal opinions? Perhaps you think, “It could not happen in such a case!” Well, once it has happened once, there is no reason to think it will not happen again. But next time, it might be your ox that is being gored. Maybe an internal Likud election; maybe a referendum about giving away Eretz Yisrael; maybe a law about dividing Yerushalayim; maybe a law about giving terrorists’ families Bitu’ach Leumi payments; maybe there will be a penalty imposed upon you for having an avirah in your home of wanting to build an illegal extension. According to Mr. Liebskind, the court fiat overturning the Beit Shemesh elections was no less fantastic than any of the above scenarios. Once you let a court rule arbitrarily, the very opposite of the rule of law, it is very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Unless this court decision is repudiated, it may very well come back to haunt those who are elated by it.

A troubling point. There were at least someziyufimthis seems clear. Shouldn’t that trouble us (the Chareidi community)? Does it trouble us? Moreover, if not, why not? Do we casually accept some dishonesty? Why are we sanguine about ‘some ziyufim?’ What does that say about us? This is troubling, and I will im yirtzeh Hashem deal with these questions in a future article.

One last point, if I may. It has occurred to me that Beit Shemesh might very well be a microcosm of the country, but in reverse! Meaning, while in most of the country Chareidim feel beset upon, discriminated against and deprived of rights accorded to other citizens, in Beit Shemesh it is actually the Dati-Leumi community which seems to feel that its city was ‘stolen’ from them, and that their community was not given the rights and benefits accorded to Chareidim under Mayor Abutbul’s administration. This has unfortunately exacerbated tensions that exist.

If we can set aside trying to prove or disprove this opinion, I wish to reiterate what I said in my last Open Letter: If Mayor Abutbul wins reelection, I stand ready to work with any responsible Rav who feels that his community was, or is being, disenfranchised, and to use whatever influence I have to attempt to redress any imbalance which may exist.

Let us all hope and pray that this month of Adar II bring about a change from anger to good will; from apprehension to confidence; and from machlokes to Shalom, Amen!

COUNTDOWN…to What? Part I

The special parshah that we will be reading this week iy”H, parshas Shekalim, discusses collecting one half-shekel from each member of B’nei Yisrael who is to be counted in a census. This is so that we can count the half-shekels, rather than count the B’nei Yisrael themselves. Various limudim teach how we derive from here the yearly obligation to give a half-shekel to the Mishkan, and later to the Beis Hamikdash, with which to purchase the public korbanos. This is actually the reason why we read this parshah this coming Shabbos, since the ‘year’ vis a vis korbanos starts in Nissan. Thus, thirty days earlier, we are to start collecting those half-shekels. However, we will be addressing the aspect of the half-shekel collection being a means that enabled the ‘indirect’ census of B’nei Yisrael.  The nature of how counting half-shekels instead of people averts counting the people themselves is not as clear as it might seem.

Rashi at the beginning of the parshah (Shemos 30:12) explains that in order to avoid ayin hara, which can affect things that are counted (we will explain this concept in detail later), B’nei Yisrael gave the half-shekels, and it was the half-shekels which were counted, rather than B’nei Yisrael. Thus, any ayin hara would be avoided.

However, if that is the case, why does the passuk refer to the giving of the half-shekel as a ‘kofer-nefesh’ —atonement for one’s soul? That would seem to imply that a reason for a potential punishment had existed, and that the donation of monies towards a special cause —in this case, the Mishkan— would be, as we would say, ‘ah kapparah.’ But why should that be the case, if the whole problem was preempted by the giving and counting of the half-shekels instead of the people. Yet Rashi explains the words (ibid. 15) “to atone for your souls”— ‘so that you not be punished because of the count.’ Didn’t Rashi say just three pesukim earlier that the half-shekels were to be counted and not the people in order to avoid the whole problem?

The Gemara (Yoma 22b) discusses a lottery system employed in the Beis Hamikdash to determine which kohanim would serve in that day’s avodah (sacrificial services) and what task each of these kohanim would perform. For each role in the avodah, the eligible kohanim would stand in a circle and stretch out one or two fingers, which were then counted until a pre-determined number was reached. The kohein by whose finger the count ended ‘won’ the lottery for that part of the service. The Gemara asks, why count the fingers? (This method had given rise to several concerns of subterfuge.) Why not just count the kohanim themselves? The Gemara answers that since it is prohibited to count B’nei Yisrael, those in charge of the avodah had to count the fingers, rather than the kohanim. The Gemara then cites a passuk in Hoshei’a (2:1) as the scriptural source of the prohibition. The Maharsha (ad loc.) wonders why the Gemara does not bring the pesukim of parshas Shekalim, where the Torah itself states that we must not count B’nei Yisrael directly!

The Chasam Sofer offers the following explanation. There is another aspect of the Gemara in Yoma that seems a bit strange. After all, they were not actually counting the number of the kohanim in the Beis Hamikdash! They were not interested in how many or how few there were. It was only a means to conduct the ‘lottery.’ What kind of prohibited ‘counting’ is that?

The Chasam Sofer suggests that there are two distinct, separate issues involved. One is to know and clarify the sum total of B’nei Yisrael. The second is the act of counting them, one by one. True, in the Beis Hamikdash there was no intent to ascertain the amount of kohanim present at any time. Nonetheless, the process of the lottery necessitated a counting of the Kohanim —one, two, three, four… That too is forbidden, and thus required that the outstretched fingers be counted instead. This is why the Gemara there needs to cite the passuk in Hoshei’a, because the pesukim of parshas Shekalim teach us only that we are not to clarify the number, the sum total, of B’nei Yisrael. Only the passuk in Hoshei’a, which states that B’nei Yisrael ‘cannot be counted’ teaches us that the act of directly ‘counting’ Jews is forbidden in and of itself, no matter what we are trying to determine.

This can resolve the difficulty in understanding the seemingly contradictory explanations of Rashi in Ki Sisa/Shekalim. Why was there a need for the half-shekels if there was a kofer nefesh? And why was there a need for kofer nefesh if all they were counting was the half-shekels? Now, the answer is clear. The act of counting B’nei Yisrael is prohibited; thus, the need to count by way of the half-shekel. However, one would still know the exact sum total of B’nei Yisrael by counting the half-shekels! This was the problem that the kofer nefesh was coming to avert; the ayin hara inherent in obtaining the total count of B’nei Yisrael.

We can now delve somewhat deeper to understand the rationale of these two issues —the act of counting, and knowing the total count of B’nei Yisrael.

Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher, in his commentary on Chumash, gives two explanations of the problem with counting B’nei Yisrael. In his introduction to parshas Ki Sisa, he explains that in our lives, we are constantly surrounded by hidden miracles —nissim nistarim. In general, Hashem conducts the world according to a set pattern, which we call teva (nature). When there is a greater need that necessitates His going beyond that set pattern, this is what is called ness (miracle). However, there are still two types of ness. One type does not proclaim itself loudly, for no ‘laws’ of nature are violated. Everything happens in a ‘normal’ manner. Yet fortuitously, coincidentally, ‘luckily,’ someone is in the right place at the right time —and the yeshuah (salvation) comes a la Purim. We can also point to the victory of the few over the many on Chanukah —where no natural laws were violated. Or, for instance, the way you landed that job or made that shidduch. Rabbeinu Bachya says the nissim nistarim are constantly happening —precisely because they remain nissim nistarim. Once an open miracle is “required”, a splitting of the sea, a burning of a small amount of oil for eight days —that will not happen in our period of history, for that is too open a manifestation of Hashem’s reality for us to merit.

Rabbeinu Bachya continues: The Gemara in Bava Metzia (42a) speaks of Hashem’s blessing increasing one’s possessions  and states that once something  is counted, it is no longer subject to that special berachah, because “Berachah  is only to be found in something that is hidden from the  eye (i.e., uncounted).” Rabbeinu Bachya takes this to mean that counting produce creates a situation where now it would require  a ness niglah  to increase it —and that’s not happening, or at least not to us. Berachah happens to something ‘hidden from the eye’ —when we can still experience it as a ness nistar. So too, says Rabbeinu Bachya, we  want to avoid counting B’nei Yisrael, since we want to experience Hashem’s berachah, which will only manifest itself as a ness nistar.

To be continued…

Seeing Double —Still Two Adars After all these Weeks!

How does one determine one’s bar (or bas) mitzvah date if one is born in Adar of a ‘regular’ year, when the year where he (or she) will reach the age of being obligated in mitzvos is a year with two Adars?

The Gemara that deals with the question of whether Purim is to be celebrated in Adar I or Adar II states that even according to the opinion that Purim is celebrated in Adar II, the fourteenth and fifteenth of the first Adar are both forbidden to be days of fasting, and no eulogies are to be said on them. Tosafos understand that this opinion maintains that there is no obligation to feast and make merry on those days in Adar I according to this opinion; rather, one must only avoid overt signs of sadness. Yet this raises the obvious question of how one can differentiate between the two types of “celebrating” these days in Adar I! The Vilna Gaon (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 568:7) suggests the following differentiation: The prohibition against fasting and eulogies on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar I is not based on the Megillah’s mandate that these days are to be days of partying and feasting. Rather, the prohibitions’ origins lie in that these days are included in what is known as ‘Megillas Taanis,’ —a chronicle of Rabbinic Holidays on which fasting and eulogies are forbidden because of the miracles that occurred on those days. These dates, the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar are indeed listed in Megillas Taanis. The Gra then explains that any laws that are involved in celebrating Purim are observed, according to this opinion, during the second Adar. However, with regards to laws that are engendered by a calendar date, we indeed follow the date. Thus, any day that has the date of the fourteenth or fifteenth of ‘Adar,’ —whether it is Adar I or Adar II— is subject to the prohibitions on fasting and eulogies as per Megillas TaanisMegillas Taanis deals with dates —not with Purim. If the date is in Adar, well then, Adar is Adar, and there are two of them! (The Gra points out that the Gemara in Megillah makes it clear that were it not for a special derashah from a passuk, Purim itself would be celebrated in both Adars!)

The Gra’s explanation was actually written to explain the law regarding yahrtzeits. The issue of setting the date of yahrzeit in a year with two Adars for someone who passed away in a year when there is only one month of Adar is the subject of a three-way dispute amongst the Poskim. The Shulchan Aruch rules that, in such a case, one commemorates the yahrzeit in Adar II (as is the case with deciding when to celebrate Purim). Rema maintains that one observes the yahrzeit in Adar I. The basis of this ruling is a Gemara in Nedarim, which states that when dating legal documents, one simply writes ‘Adar’ (with no additives) in Adar I, and ‘Adar II’ in the second Adar. The Gra, in addressing the Rema’s opinion, states that the terminology used when dating a document is not conclusive proof in these matters. There, the decisive factor is merely how people generally refer to the month, which has no inherent legal status. (Apparently, in Rema’s experience, people referred to Adar I as Adar, and to Adar II as Adar II.) The Gra thus goes on to say that, in his opinion, since the question of a yahrzeit deals with a date —the commemoration of the yahrzeit should be in both Adars. Since we dealing with a calendared date, and the date is Adar —Adar is Adar, even if there are two of them! Thus, the Gra holds that the fourteenth and fifteenth of both Adars are days when fasting and eulogizing are prohibited, as per Megillas Taanis. In contrast, feasting and partying are dependent on Purim —of which there is only one! (We then have the argument in the Gemara as to in which Adar we should celebrate Purim, and the conclusion is that it is the second one).

Here is another approach. The Yerushalmi in Masechess Megillah states that the primary Adar is indeed the second one. The first Adar is the ‘extra’ month, inserted, as we have learned, so that the lunar ‘year’ can catch up with the solar one. Therefore, writes the Yerushalmi, a lamb born in Adar of a regular year is not to be considered a year old yet (and thus disqualified from certain korbanos), if the following year has two Adars, until the second Adar —which is the only true Adar. Many point to this Yerushalmi to explain the ruling of the Rema that a child born in a regular year in Adar becomes bar mitzvah in Adar II.

Thus we can say that, if it is a question of age —based on the Yerushalmi the age is only reached on the date of birth,  which regarding Adar is only the second Adar, for in the first Adar we are merely ‘catching up’ to the solar year.

Regarding the calendar date (e.g., a yahrzeit) —Shulchan Aruch rules that the commemoration should be  in the second Adar, Rema rules that it is held in the first, and the Gra rules—both! When it comes to dating a document, which apparently is determined by the way people refer to the month, Adar would be the first Adar.

It is interesting, is it not, that one’s age is so directly determined by one’s birthday. Meaning that a boy who was born, say, 16 Adar I celebrates his birthday on 16 Adar (if his bar mitzvah year has only one Adar. That’s fine —but isn’t he at least  as old  as the child born, say, three weeks later, seven Adar Two, who becomes bar mitzvah nine days earlier, 13 years later on 7 Adar? How can it be that we make the first child wait another nine days —isn’t it a question of age? He is at least as old —and older— than the second child is! We see that age is, legally at least, a function of how many birthdays one has passed. That is a chiddush —think about it!

Happy Shushan Purim Kattan! Just What Are We Supposed to Be Doing Today (or yesterday…or tomorrow)?

Depending on when you are reading this, you either have a chance to prepare properly for Purim Kattan (Friday) or to find out if there is anything that you should be doing on Shabbos, having missed Friday’s celebrations.

Celebrations? Were there celebrations on the 14th of Adar Rishon? What is Purim Kattan, anyway? Just a day (or two) on which we do not say Tachanun, Av Harachamim, Tzidkascha Tzedek? (Not that I’m complaining…)

Shushan Purim Kattan? What is that all about? What is its meaning?

As usual, we will start with a Gemara. The Gemara in Megillah (6b) discusses what to do when two Adars intrude upon Purim. I remember singing a Yiddish song as a young child that featured a line that said something to the effect of, “I wish that Purim would come more than once a year.” Well, the Gemara learns from a passuk that Purim can indeed occur only once a year. (Although, as we will see, this is said only regarding reading the Megillah and matanos laevyonim, and probably applies to mishloach manos as well.)

Accordingly, there is a difference of opinion there as to which Adar is the month that gets to ‘host’ Purim. One tanna maintains that Purim should be observed in the first Adar, following the rule that ‘Ein ma’avirin al hamitzvos’ (‘One does not allow a mitzvah [in this case, Purim] to pass by, because one never knows what the morrow may bring). The other tanna holds that we should celebrate Purim in the second Adar, reasoning that it is a more perfect way to celebrate — one geulah (Purim) coming in tandem  with another one (Pesach).

Of these two opinions, the second requires a bit more of an explanation. Why, asks the Chasam Sofer, does the second tanna maintain such an opinion, despite its apparent incongruence with the established rule of ma’avirin?’ This view seemingly trumps doing a mitzvah in its optimal fashion. Why does the second tanna hold what he holds?

The Chasam Sofer answers this with a fascinating chiddush. The celebration of Purim is really a Torah obligation! As he points out, the Gemara elsewhere in Masechess Megillah states, “If we celebrate the Exodus by Torah Law, where we ‘merely’ escaped from slavery to freedom, certainly we should celebrate an ‘exodus’ from certain death to life itself!” Thus, says Chasam Sofer, the obligation to celebrate the salvation of Purim is a Torah obligation.

That Gemara discussing the question of in which Adar we should celebrate Purim makes an enigmatic remark. It says that everyone agrees that the days of “Purim” — the 14th and 15th of Adar, on Adar I or Adar II — are both prohibited from being fast days and are days on which eulogies are not said. The Chasam Sofer says that this fits perfectly with the idea that he developed. Ein ma’avirin indeed calls upon us to celebrate Purim at the first opportunity, namely, the 14th of the first Adar. For that, however, a minor commemoration of the miracle suffices; there is no need for a full-blown celebration, with Megillah reading and matanos laevyonim. Thus, the rule of ein ma’avirin is fulfilled in the first Adar, in observance of the Torah imperative as derived from a kal vachomer by refraining from fasting and eulogies. The sheleimus hamitzvah (ideal observance of the mitzvah) will be achieved in the manner suggested by the second opinion cited above, putting geulah next to geulah by waiting for Adar II.

The Gemara states that eulogies and fasting are forbidden in both Adars. Megillah reading and gifts to the poor are the subject of machlokes there. We have now seen the Chasam Sofer’s explanation of the variant opinions.

What is left to debate is the mitzvah of feasting and partying on Purim. The prohibitions against fasting and eulogies are derived from the fact that the Megillah speaks of an imperative of joy and feasting. The Gemara derives from the passuk that simchah teaches that it is forbidden to eulogize, and feasting teaches that it is forbidden to fast. Therefore, it follows that if fasting and eulogies are forbidden, partying and a seudah are imperatives! This is actually the subject of a dispute amongst the Rishonim. In fact, it is a three-way machlokes! Moreover, it is a machlokes-within -a-machlokes.

Tosafos maintain that there is no need to party in the first Adar. Tosafos hold that these days have the status of certain days listed in Megillas Ta’anis on which manifestations of sadness are prohibited (fasting, eulogies). But that is all that we must do (or rather, refrain from doing). Any display of simchah beyond that is unnecessary.

Ran maintains that since these principles are derived from the words ‘simchah and mishteh,’ it is only logical that we should actively party. (Tosafos do not want to spoil the party, but they hold that Purim Kattan cannot be more intense than other “minor” Yamim Tovim.) But why are there no mishloach manos? The Tzitz Eliezer is not sure!

Some say that Ran implies that partying on Purim Kattan is limited to the day of the 14th of Adar Rishon, while others learn that we get to party on the 15th as well. The Ran’s implication that we do “not [celebrate on the] 15th” requires some understanding. Some explain that this refers only to people who usually celebrate the 14th of Adar as Purim (i.e., residents of cities without walls), while residents of walled cities, who normally celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar, should celebrate Shushan Purim Kattan. Others maintain that the Ran meant that there is no overt celebration of the 15th anywhere.

Rema concludes that we should actively celebrate Purim Kattan, out of a sense of doing something to increase our general sense of simchah. Levush maintains that we should celebrate on the 15th as well. Some say that Rema agrees that locales who normally celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar should celebrate on the 15th of Adar I.

Let us hope that there will be many more shanos me’ubaros (leap years) with the accompanying such problems. The next one, according to our fixed calendar (may it swiftly be rendered irrelevant by Mashiach’s arrival) is slated to occur two years hence.

(The only question that remains is if that is enough time to allow me to do a rerun of this column once again!)