Friday, March 18, 2011

Purim 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

Chazal established four mitzvos that we are required to perform on Purim – reading Megillas Esther, eating a festive meal, giving presents to the poor and mishlo'ach manos – sending portions of food to friends.  The first three are understandable within the context of the holiday.  Even giving presents to the poor which is not directly associated with the holiday can be understood in that Chazal wanted the poor to be able to participate in the festive meal as well.  However, what is the point of sending portions of food to people who already have food?  Furthermore, this mitzvah is unique to Purim.  There is no comparable mitzvah in any other context.  What is the point of it?

The Sfas Emes explains that Chazal established this mitzvah to foster love amongst the nation.  Giving fosters love because it is a mechanism for creating unity.  Only in unity is love for others possible.  The Sfas Emes explains why this is so.

The Torah enjoins us to love our friend as we love ourselves, "ואהבת לרעך כמוך/Love your friend as yourself." (VaYikra 19:18)  How is it possible to love another as we love ourselves?  It seems an impossible task.  Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi in his seminal work Likutei Amarim (32) explains that this mitzvah is indeed impossible if we only relate to our physical bodies.  In that case, we are all separate from one another.  However, although we are separated physically, our souls come together as one at their source.  Our job is to identify with and cultivate a firm belief in this fact.  When our primary view of reality is the spiritual in which we are all connected as one, the lines that separate us tend to blur and loving the other as we love ourselves becomes straightforward.

With this concept we can understand an enigmatic Rashi.  Rashi explains that "friend" in the pasuk "רעך ורע אביך על תעזב .../Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father …" (Mishlei 27:10) refers to God.  In fact, Rashi[1] cites this pasuk in his commentary on the famous adage of Hillel the elder, "What you hate, do not do to your friend."  He writes that since we do not want our friends to cross us, we should make sure not to cross God.  

Apparently Rashi explains that Hillel's adage refers to God because Hillel is declaring that this is the basis and the primary teaching of the entire Torah.  Everything else is simply commentary to this main teaching.  Still, it seems somewhat awkward to say that "friend" refers to God.  This is certainly not the simple meaning.  However, according to our concept it is clear.  The kabbalists[2] teach that the spiritual place where all our souls are one is called K'nesses Yisrael/the Congregation of Israel.  This place is also called the Shechina/the Divine Presence.  The source of all our souls, the place where we are one is the Divine Presence itself.  It's clear then that not forsaking our friend and not forsaking God is one and the same.  

Mordechai felt this connection with the nation very strongly and was able to be one with and love the entire nation because of it.  In the Megilla we find, "איש יהודי היה בשושן הבירה ושמו מרדכי .../A Yehudi man was in Shushan, the capital and his name was Mordechai …" (Esther 2:5)  Nowadays the word Yehudi is used generally to refer to anyone who is Jewish.  Literally (and originally) though, Yehudi refers to members of the tribe of Yehuda.  

Why was Mordechai referred to as being from Yehuda when he was actually from the tribe of Binyamin?  The Midrash[3] addresses this question and answers with a play on words.  The Midrash reads Yehudi as yehidi/alone because Mordechai recognized only God and sanctified only Him. 

Because Mordechai was clearly connected to the source of all souls, the Divine Presence, his merit influenced all of Israel.  We find this influence in the Megilla itself, "... ועמוד על נפשם .../… they defended themselves … (lit. he stood on their soul)" (Esther 9:16)  Significantly both the entire clause is in the singular – he stood – and – their soul.

We also find the singular used when Ya'akov descended to Egypt with his family, "כל הנפש הבאה ליעקב מצרימה .../All the souls (lit. soul) who came with Ya'akov to Egypt …" (Shmos 46:26)  Rashi cites the Midrash that the pasuk uses the singular because they worshipped one God.  What is the connection between worshipping one God and the use of the singular נפש/soul?  According to our concept this is understood.  Their souls came together as one in the Divine Presence.

We can also infer the strong unity of the Jews of Shushan from the Chiddushei HaRim on the pasuk preceding our acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, "ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר/Israel camped there opposite the mountain." (Shmos 19:2)  Here too, the singular "ויחן/He camped" is used.  Rashi cites the Midrash which explains that there was no strife among the nation.  They camped as one person.  Unity, the Chiddushei HaRim explains, is a necessary prerequisite for accepting the Torah.  Chazal teach us that the Jews at the time of Mordechai accepted the Torah as well.  It's clear from the Chiddushei HaRim that they could only have accepted the Torah if they were united.

Let's contemplate unity and love amongst our entire nation this year as we give mishlo'ach manos.  After all, this is its purpose!

[1] Rashi in Shabbos 31a
[2] Pri Eitz Chayim 1 Sha'ar HaTefilla, Nefesh HaChayim 2:18
[3] Esther R. 6:2

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