Friday, February 27, 2015
We find in Megillas Esther (3:7), “... הִפִּיל פּוּר ... מִיּוֹם לְיוֹם וּמֵחֹדֶשׁ לְחֹדֶשׁ .../… he cast a lot … for every day and for every month …” If he cast a lot for every day, every month is included. Why did he cast both for every day and also for every month? The Midrash1 explains that first he cast a lot for the days of the week. This did not work because the archangel of each day complained to God. When Haman saw that the lot for days was not working, he switched to months. This Midrash is difficult, though, because even the lot for months must fall on a specific day of the week. What did Haman gain by switching to months?
The Sfas Emes explains that there is a fundamental difference between days of the week and days of the month. The Gemara2, noting this difference, says that Shabbos is established and set from the Creation – the days of the week never change – whereas the Jewish People establish the holidays – establishing when the month starts, was given to the nation of Israel.
On a deeper plane the Sfas Emes explains that God did not merely give us the power to establish new months. The new month is a metaphor for renewal in the natural world. With the ability to establish new months, God made us the vehicle through which new life is drawn into the world. Generally we don’t think of nature as needing renewal. Nature appears to be constant, following set and unchanging laws. Things seem the same today as they did yesterday and the day before. Actually, though, God is constantly renewing the Creation. The act of creation was not a one time event. Rather, it is constant and continuous. God’s will for the Creation to continue is fed to the physical world through a spiritual hierarchy of which the nation of Israel is an integral part. Therefore, the creative life force that is responsible for the continuing existence of everything we see, comes through us. The cycle of the lunar month symbolizes this constant renewal of Creation because it is so blatant. Every month the moon waxes, wanes, disappears and reappears. Significantly, the Hebrew word for month – חוֹדֶשׁ – has the same root as the Hebrew for new – חָדָשׁ.
For Haman the wicked, our connection with the source of life was anathema. Haman was at the exact opposite end of the life – death spectrum. We are part of the life giving structure of the Creation. Chazal tell us that the wicked, on the other hand, are considered dead even as they live.3 Haman, the wicked, had cut himself off from the source of life.
Haman understood this clearly. When he proposed our destruction to Achashveirosh, he said, “ ... יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם־אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד .../There is one nation, scattered and separated …” (Esther 3:8) Even though we were scattered and separated, we were one nation. The surface view of the Creation shows innumerable different and disparate things. However, at the most fundamental level, there is one creative life force that is responsible for the entire Creation’s continued existence. Haman understood that the nation of Israel represents this Oneness that underlies everything. Even in exile, when there is much less awareness of God, we remain one nation. Our very existence testifies to the fundamental unity, the Godly life force that underpins every disparate part of Creation. In fact, our primary mission in the exile is to become aware ourselves and to make others aware of this. This is what so greatly angered Haman. We were an intrusion on his turf, so to speak. Haman is part of the physical world. But he is wicked and wants nothing to do with the source of life. We are a threat to him because we represent the source of life.
And this is the reason he switched his lots to months after days of the week failed. As we indicated earlier, the days of the week culminating in Shabbos are God given from the time of Creation. They are above nature. Haman has no part of it. Because Haman was part of the physical world, he could have more “success” with months which represent renewal in the physical world.
Haman wanted to destroy us because we represented connection to the source of life in the natural world and he wanted to remain disconnected from God, the source of life. It is particularly significant, because of this, that the miracle of Purim occurred specifically within the bounds of nature. The miracle had to occur within nature in order to show that nature does not “belong to” Haman and Amalek. Rather, God is the source of life and existence in the natural world. This explains why the Megilla associates the miracle with the month in which it happened, “... וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה .../… and the month which turned for them from sorrow to joy …” (Esther 9:22) The Megilla is alluding to this concept by emphasizing that the miracle did not exceed the bounds of nature.
1Esther R. 7:11
Friday, February 20, 2015
1. The parsha begins, "דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו .../speak to the children of Israel and have them take for me a contribution from every man whose heart impels him …" (Shmos 25:2) The purpose of this command is for the people to give towards the building of the Mishkan. Why then does the Torah use the word "ויקחו/have them take", instead of "ויתנו/have them give"?
The first Midrash1 on the parsha addressing this issue associates this pasuk with a pasuk in Mishlei (4:2), "כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי על תעזובו/For I have given you a good teaching. Do not forsake my Torah." The word לקח/teaching has the same root as the word מקח/purchase. The pasuk is advising us to remain connected to the Torah for it is a good purchase. Unlike other purchases, the Torah contains everything as we find, "תורת ה' תמימה .../God's Torah is complete …" (Tehillim 19:8). Furthermore, the seller – God – comes with the purchase.
The Sfas Emes explains. On our own, we are incapable of understanding the depths of the Torah. However, by constantly "taking" the Torah – by constantly trying to understand, God gives us the gift of understanding. This is the meaning of "על תעזובו/Do not leave it."
This Midrash relates to learning Torah. The Sfas Emes expands this concept to include all of our activities. Whenever we "take" anything for ourselves, anytime we want to commence an activity, make a purchase, start a program, our intent should be to give to God. We should have in mind that our action give nachas ru'ach/satisfaction to God. When this is our intent, we will find that events conspire in our favor so that we succeed as Koheles said, "טוב אחרית דבר מראשיתו .../The end of a matter is better than its beginning …" (Koheles 7:8)
We can also understand this from the pasuk, "ויקחו לי תרומה מאת כל .../Take for me a contribution from everything …" By taking for ourselves in order to give to God, we elevate everything to God.
We find another allusion to the concept of doing everything for God in the Zohar2 on the words, "כל איש/every man." The Zohar interprets this as, "the entire man." The Torah is telling us that whatever we do, our intent should be to do it for God with our entire being.
Another allusion to this idea can be found in the drasha from which Chazal3 learn that a man can marry a woman by giving her money or something of value, as in fact, we do today. The groom gives the bride a ring. The pasuk states, "כי יקח איש אשה/When a man takes a wife …" (Devarim 22:13) The pasuk that relates Avraham Avinu purchasing Efron's field states, "נתתי כסף השדה קח ממני/I have given the price of the field, take it from me …" (Breishis 23:13) Since both pesukim use the word קיחה/taking, Chazal learn from one to the other. Just like Efron's field was purchased with money, so too, a wife can be acquired with money.
Money in Hebrew – כסף – has the same root as the word for pining – כיסופין. The woman in the pasuk is a metaphor for the Torah4. When we pine for God we are able to feel His presence in our lives. We "acquire" Him, as it were. Purchasing a field is a metaphor for physical activity. We learn from the desire we have regarding worldly activities how to fulfill God's will as well with all our heart.
The same concept is alluded to in the first Midrash5 of our parsha. The Midrash tells of a king who gives his daughter in marriage to a prince who will take her to a far away place. The king cannot bear to leave his daughter but also does not want to prevent the marriage. The king resolves the problem by asking the prince to build a room for him so that he can visit.
As before, the daughter is a metaphor for the Torah. The king represents God and the prince represents each member of the nation of Israel. To the extent that a person is connected to the Torah he can merit living with the Divine presence just like the king in the allegory could not bear separating from his daughter. The Sfas Emes broadens this concept to include all activities for the sake of God. And this is the meaning of the pasuk from Mishlei mentioned earlier, "תורתי על תעזובו/Do not leave my Torah." If the pasuk tells us not to leave the Torah, we can infer that being connected to the Torah is a continuous lifetime job that affects and influences everything we do.
2. From the pasuk, "... מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו .../… from every man whose heart impels him …", we also learn that there are two components to success. The first component is that each person should do what his heart compels him to do, "... אשר ידבנו לבו .../as his heart impels him …" But this is not enough. Certainly each one of us is unique and was created for a unique purpose. Still, fulfilling that purpose alone is not enough. We also need to identify with the nation of Israel. Our unique purpose is not only for us alone. It is also for the nation. This is alluded to by the words, "מאת כל איש/from every man," as we find in parshas Nitzavim, "אתם נצבים היום כולכם ... כל איש ישראל/You are standing today, all of you … every man of Israel." (Devarim 29:9)
To succeed the nation needs each person to fulfill his unique mission, his raison d'être. Each person also needs to identify with the nation. This is the meaning of, "... כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו/… every man who's heart impels him." The Chiddushei Harim notes that this is also the meaning of a Mishna in Avos (1:14), "אם אין אני לי מי לי וכשאני לעצמי מה אני/If I am not for myself, who will be for me and if I am only for myself what am I." Each of us needs to "be for himself" – to accomplish that unique thing the reason for which he was created. But we must do it as a part of the nation of Israel.
1 Shmos R. 33:1
2 Zohar 2:134b
3 Kedushin 2a
4 As in the first Midrash of the parsha mentioned later.
5 Shmos R. 33:1