Purim and a Goral – The Meaning

Post-Purim is not too late to talk about Purim! First of all, the posuk says, “And the month which was transformed for them from sorrow to joy and from mourning to a yom tov.” So we have the whole month! And indeed, the statement, “From when Adar arrives, marbin b’simchah” refers to the entire month of Adar. Then, again, Rashi (Ta’anis 29A) explains that very statement, “[Because] they are days of miracles, Purim and Pesach.” We see that Rashi connects Purim and Pesach, thus giving us quite a bit of time to talk about, and understand, what it is we have just celebrated.

The phrase “Es kol asher karahuthe events which happened to him” appears twice in Megillas Esther. Yet the events it describes stand at opposite poles in terms of the story. One event is Mordechai describing to Esther the events leading up to Haman’s decree. The other is Haman’s describing to Zeresh the events leading up to him parading Mordechai around Shushan with great honor, announcing and calling out that Mordechai is a man worthy of such prestige. Surely it is not a coincidence that the exact same phrase appears at such diametrically opposed points of the story. And what are we to make of the use of the word “karahu”? The root of this word is “mikreh,” which is usually taken to mean an event which occurred “on its own,” without direction or intention on anyone’s part.

“Al ken karu layamim ha’eilu Purim, al shem hapur—therefore we call these days Purim, in commemoration of the lots [which Haman drew].” As we all know, the name of something represents its true essence. Is the drawing of lots so significant that this name is given to the yom tov on which we celebrate the salvation of the entire Jewish Nation?!

And we say in the piyut following kri’as Megillah, “ki pur Haman nehepach l’pureinu—for the lot which Haman drew [and thus determined the propitious day for the carrying out of his evil plans] has changed and has become our lot,” meaning that Haman’s “good luck” has become our own good fortune. Luck? Good fortune? Yet that is what the name implies!

We kid ourselves every day. We think, act, and react to events as if we are the ones making things and events happen. We live our lives as if we are in control of what happens to us through our energies and efforts to bring it about. We get angry at people because we perceive them to be the source of the developments of our lives. We pay lip service to our belief in Hashem’s omnipotence, yet we go about our business bowing to the god of what we (piously) call hishtadlus, as if that is the magic wand which justifies the frantic pace of our involvement in every aspect of our connection to olom hazeh: our successes, our failures, our achievements, our failings, our ascents, our plunges.

Yet, in truth, it is all an illusion. Yes, Hashem wants us to go through the motions which would seem to be bringing things about. That, and nothing else, is what hishtadlus means—going through the illusory motions. They are illusory in the sense that they are not truly the cause of the events of our lives. Our Sages tell us, “Hakol b’y’dei Shamayim, chutz m’yiras shamayim—all is decreed and is happening at G-d’s behest only, except for our free-will choices.” We choose between doing good and doing evil. But the actual happenings, results, and materializations—why, they might as well be a mikreh, a random event, in terms of our actually bringing it about.

Purim—lots! A lottery, a goral, a coincidence, good luck! What could be more random, what can more obviously shed the delusion, the misconception, the fantasy of bringing about the mikrim (plural of mikreh) of our lives than a goral, a lottery? “Es kol asher karahu”—certainly! From the perspective of human endeavor, it’s all a mikreh! It’s all a goral! It’s not Haman, It’s not Achashveirosh, it’s not Esther! As the Chinuch states in explaining the rationale of the prohibition against taking revenge, “That a person shall know and internalize that all that occurs to him, whether good or evil, is a decree which Hashem has decreed upon him, and no person can affect you or your life one iota unless it is so decreed by Hashem. And thus if your fellow harms you or otherwise causes you pain, realize that it is a decree from Hashem unto you. Your sins have brought about this result. And so do not consider taking revenge, because the true cause is you yourself and your actions…”

It’s not your human endeavors which are the cause, rabbosai and ladies; it is all decreed from Heaven, based on your free-will choices of good and/or evil.

It’s all a pur… We see the political machinations of a Haman and a Mordechai. Look beyond and see what’s really happening.

And this introduces us to the chag which is the source of our belief system: Chag Hapesach.

Purim and Bitachon

Rav Yonoson Eibeshitz asks the following question: In the story of Purim, there is an entire mini-story within the story, involving Mordechai; Bigsan and Seresh; the king not sleeping, having the royal diaries read to him, and rewarding Mordechai with him behing led through the city streets on the royal horse; with someone (Haman, as it turned out) leading him and calling out before him. Rav Yonoson asks, what is the point of this part of the story? The essence of the Purim story could very well have occurred without this angle: the queen invites the king and Haman to her party, and when the King asks her for her request, she says, ”Nafshi b’she’ilasi ve’ami b’vakashasi” and proceeds to accuse Haman of all that he was plotting to do. Then the King goes out to his garden. Why did that first part even happen? What was its purpose, its point?

Chazal say in Medrash Shochar Tov (a Medrash on Tehillim), quoting and explaining a posuk in chapter 22, the chapter that Esther is said to have recited upon entering Achashveirosh’s chambers, “Our forefathers have trusted in you” – this is a reference to Esther and Mordechai. “They have trusted and relied on you” – this is a reference to Esther approaching the King. In other words, Esther had to exhibit supreme bitachon in HaShem, relying on Him, as she made her way towards the King unbidden, risking her life. “They trusted and were not embarrased,” as it states, “laYehudim haysah orah v’simchah.”

Thus we see the middah of bitachon, faith and reliance on HaShem, as the catalyst of the yeshu’ah.

The Nefesh Hachaim (sha’ar 1, perek 9) writes the same about the salvation at the Yam Suf. When HaShem says to Moshe Rabbeinu, “Why are you screaming out to me? Speak to B’nei Yisroel and let them travel [into the sea],” what HaShem was saying, in effect, was that what was to happen at that point was totally dependent on their own actions. If they would travel faithfully forward, with emunah and bitachon, that in itself would cause the Yam Suf to split!

This is in consonance with what Chovos Halevavos writes at the beginning of Sha’ar Habitachon. Bitachon, besides being the obligation of a Jew, besides being an outgrowth of emunah – works! We say to HaShem, “And let us not be embarrassed, for we have relied upon you…” The degree to which a Jew truly relies upon the Ribbono shel Olam is the degree to which HaShem perfoms salvations.

Rav Avrohom, the son of the Gra, delves into the brachah of mish’an u’mivtach l’tzadikim in shemonah esrei. What is a mish’an, and what is a mivtach? These are synonyms for trust, or reliance.

He says that the modus operandi of HaShem’s salvation is to first bring a small taste of the impending yeshu’ah to the person. This is mechazek the person in his bitachon in HaShem – mish’an – and in that z’chus, the fuller yeshu’ah then comes about. This is what occurred in Mitzrayim. The miracles in Egypt allowed Bnei Yisroel to exhibit their bitachon and follow Moshe Rabbeinu into the desert, with precious few provisions, and then to actually travel towards the Egyptians when directed to by Moshe Rabbeinu. This z’chus led to the ultimate yeshu’ah at Yam Suf. So too, at the time of the Purim miracle, before Haman was hung and the Jews battled and defeated their enemies, HaShem showed them a glimmer of the yeshu’ah through Haman parading Mordechai through the streets of Shushan. This strengthened them in midas habitachon, and thus they were zocheh to the complete yeshu’ah.

And so we have our answer to the original question. The yeshu’ah on Purim coming in the merit of bitachon (as per perek 22 in Tehillim and the Medrash there) and the mahalach of that yeshu’ah being HaShem’s granting a glimpse of salvation, provide the opening for mish’an, and the ultimate salvation coming in the wake of a full-blown mivtach.

This gives new meaning to the phrases that we say and sing on Purim, as we celebrate the yeshu’as HaShem. “Lehodi’a – this (the Purim story) – shekol kovecha – all who trust in You – lo yeivhoshu – shall not be ashamed – v’lo yikalmu lanetzach – and forever shall not feel embarrassed – kol hachosim bach – all those who rely on and have bitachon in You.

Let us listen carefully to the message we are conveying as we revel in the simchah of Purim – the story, the yeshu’ah, this miracle we are celebrating, and drinking to invite complete simchah. The story of Purim teaches this lesson to all generations – lehodi’a! – that we shall extrapolate to our personal lives, to our personal needs and issues, and develop faith and reliance in HaShem, and through that be zocheh to a complete yeshu’ah!

Let us internalize this message as we make merry and revel in yeshu’as HaShem.

Ah freilichen Purim!

Mishkan – Meaning of a Bayis LaShem

In parshas Terumah, we are introduced for the first time to the idea of a bayis for Hashem
– an actual “dwelling place” (mishkan) for the Shechina down in this world. Eventually, this evolves from a temporary dwelling place, the mishkan, into a more permanent one, a house
– the Beis Hamikdash. The very concept of a “house for Hashem” is, of course, a strange, almost sacrilegious, one. Can Hashem be “found” in a particular place?

The pasuk says, “Hinei hashamayim u’shmei hashamayim lo y’chalkelucha af habayis hazeh…”
– “The heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, and surely not this temple…” (Melochim I, 8:27). And “I zeh bayis asher tivnu li…”
– Where is this house that you will build for Me?” (Yeshaya 66:1)

Of course, to fully understand this is to plumb esoteric secrets of G-dliness, the universe and Hashem’s creation, far beyond human comprehension (and certainly beyond the scope of this column). On the other hand, there must be something that we can relate to, even on our level. The Torah, being infinite and eternal, always has something to say to each generation, and to each and every Jew, on whatever level he or she may be.

If we study the famous Tefillas Shlomo, the prayer that Shlomo Hamelech recited at the inauguration of the Bais Hamikdash, we can surmise that the main function of the Beis Hamikdash was to serve not so much as a place of korbanos, but as a place of tefillah. Shlomo Hamelech pleads, “Pray in this place,” “Spread your hands to this house,” and “Pray and supplicate to You in this house.” (Melochim I, ch. 8) These are just three of the many pesukim there which clarify that the Beis Hamikdash is the quintessential makom tefillah. (Incidentally, if you have never studied
– or heard of – this tefillah, you are welcome to join us at Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham every Shabbos morning at 7:25 a.m. for our Nach shiur!) This means that our tefillos are more effective there and are more likely to be responded to by Hakadosh Baruch Hu. That is why Tefillas Shlomo is centered around Shlomo Hamelech’s plea that the tefillos of Klal Yisroel
– indeed, the tefillah of every individual in the Beis Hamikdash (including a sincere non-Jew)
– be accepted. In fact, this is actually codified in hilchos tefilloh in the Shulchan Aruch (siman 94), with the din that everyone in the world, no matter from where he or she is davening, has to be facing, concentrating on, and focusing on the Beis Hamikdash.

Shlomo Hamelech expresses this in an interesting way: “May Your eyes be open to Your servant’s supplication, and to the supplication of Klal Yisroel, to listen to them whenever they call You… And let my words be… close to Hashem Elokeinu, at all times.”

Hashem is close to us; near to us; and he thus responds to our pleas.

Even more fascinating is that the Torah expresses this very idea in this same way when it says, “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim k’rovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu b’chol kareinu eilav.” (Devorim 4:7) Who is like Klal Yisrael in the universe, who has a G-d Who is close to them, as Hashem is when His Nation davens to Him. Hashem’s closeness to Klal Yisroel, then, is primarily manifested by Hashem listening to our tefillos! This is stated in Ashrei, as it says, “Karov Hashem l’chol korav”
– Hashem is close to us when we call Him. And it is inherent in the posuk quoted in Tefillas Shlomo, and in hilchos tefillah.

Thus, one can understand the “house for Hashem” concept as a manifestation of Hashem’s closeness to us: He is here, amongst us; He listens to and responds to our tefillos.

At the end of his introduction to the Yad Hachazaka, Rambam gives a short version of his counting of the mitzvos. Upon their conclusion he writes, “There are the 613 mitzvos…. There are also the mitzvos that the Rabbonon have instituted, that one has to obey… but he must realize that they are derabbonon, that they were not commanded by Hashem Himself at Har Sinai.”

Rambam continues, “For example, when reading the Megillah, we recognize that it is the Rabbis who told us to do so
– so that we remember the miracles that Hashem performed for us [on Purim], and how He was close then to our pleas and prayers [and saved us through them] … and we can say, Yes! It is true, that which it says in the Torah! “Ki mi goy gadol asher lo Elokim k’rovim eilav kaHashem Elokeinu b’chol kareinu eilav!”

That is the message of Purim. Yes! Hashem is close to us and listens to our tefillos!

Halevai, the Beis Hamikdosh should be rebuilt soon.

Bein Odom Lachaveiro Mitzvohs

Parshas Mishpatim is a compendium of laws and rules, mostly consisting of mitzvos that are bein odom lachaveiro. We know that the mitzvos of the Torah are generally categorized under various groupings:

  • עשה ,לא תעשה
  • זמן גרמא, לא הזמן גרמא
  • מצוות התלויות בארץ, מצוות שאינן תלויות בארץ

But besides assei and lo sa’aseh, the classification of bein odom lachaveiro and bein odom laMakom is the most all-encompassing and basic. And indeed, a counting and studying of the mitzvos (a most worthwhile pursuit, by the way- – my father, alav hashalom, insisted I learn them and memorize them for my bar mitzvah; this was a logical thing to do, he said, and thus I inflicted this logic upon my children as well) would probably surprise us with its emphasis on bein odom lachaveiro. Certainly Parshas Mishpatim does, or at least should.

Do we ever stop to wonder, though, about the very category? What does it mean to say bein odom lachaveiro? Aren’t all mitzvos ultimately bein odom laMakom? Surely we should not follow these mitzvos because they are ethical and logical! (If you are surprised by that last sentence, please don’t be. An axiomatic truth of Yiddishkeit and Torah is that we do things because it is the ratzon HaShem, and only because it is the ratzon HaShem (this is discussed at length and elaborated on in Sha’ar Yichud Hama’aseh of the Chovos Halevavohs.)

And so why are they categorized as being bein odom lachaveiro? On Sukkos,do we perform a mitzvah bein odom lelulav,or bein odom lasukkah? Every day,do men perform bein odom latefillin, latzitzis? Do women perform bein odom lechallah? Apparently, calling something bein odom lachaveiro is no mere pointing out with whom the mitzvah is performed. It seems to be in counterpoint to bein odom laMakom….can that be so? And what does that teach us?

The Rambam in Shemonah Perakim (the RamBam’s hakdamah to Pirkei Avos) asks about an apparent philosophical contradiction. Sometimes Chazal express the idea that aveiros should not be naturally repugnant to us. They should be desirable, yes, but we should feel that we are servants of HaShem,and we bow to His will in refusing to succumb to our desires. Yet sometimes we are told that a person’s heart and soul should be in consonance with the values of the Torah.

The Rambam goes on to explain that when there are so-called “logical” mitzvos (and here the Rambam enumerates bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos), HaShem wants us to mold our mind to reflect Torah values. We should feel sorry for the poor person, we should detest lying, cheating, stealing, we should feel it impossible to murder. For the more ritualistic mitzvos, it is a higher form of avodas HaShem to bend and submit our will to HaShem’s will.

This means that bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos should become our inherent values! We should, the mitzvah teaches us, be sympathetic to a poor person; we should care about our fellow-man’s issues; we should empathize with someone going through rough times; we should be eager to lend a helping hand; we should be repelled by the thought of cheating someone; it should be distateful to harm someone’s property, loathsome to fool someone, and revolting to talk loshon hora. That is the Torah’s goal, indeed, the raison d’être of these mitzvos – to transform our naturally selfish natures into selfless ones.

And that is the true meaning of something being bein odom lachaveiro –  HaShem wants us to actually care about our fellow man! To feel for him, to be a concerned and caring individual. A fellow-Jew is not your lulav! A person in trouble, who needs help, is not your mezuzah! The mitzvos are actually, really, bein odom lachaveiro – literally, to worry, to care, to accomodate, and to look after, your fellow-Jew. To take his losses to heart, to want to spare him embarrassment, and to enjoy and “fargin” his successes.

Indeed, they are, in the most basic and fundamental sense, bein odom lachaveiro. As surely as bein odom laMakom is bein odom laMakom.

Think about that, the next time you are tempted to take advantage of someone. The next time you consider lending someone money. The next time someone needs a favor.

Gut Shabbos.