Thursday, February 25, 2010

Parshat Zachor! Amolek

This Shabbat we read Parshat Zachor.

Parshat Zachor describes how Amalek attacked the Jews who were on their way from Egypt to Israel. Reading Parshat Zachor reminds us of what Amalek did to us, and it also reminds us of the Divine commandment to destroy Amalek.

What is the incident of Amalek compared to? It is compared to a boiling hot tub of water which no creature is able to enter. Along comes an evil-doer and jumps into it. Although he himself gets burnt, he cooled it for the others.
So too, when the Jews came out of Egypt and G-d split the sea before them and drowned the Egyptians within it, all the other nations were scared to start-up and fight with the Jews. Along came Amalek and challenged them, cooling off the awe of the other nations.

We read Parshat Zachor on the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim because Haman was a descendant of Amalek. Purim celebrates the downfall of Haman and the nullification of his evil decree to destroy the Jews. However, the commandment to destroy Amalek applies to every Jew in every generation, because Amalek doesn't just pose a physical threat to the Jewish nation, but a spiritual one as well.

The battle against Amalek is an internal battle. In order to fulfill a mitzvah properly, one must do so with warmth, joy, and enthusiasm. Amalek symbolizes coldness, performing deeds simply out of habit, which can lead to doubt, G-d forbid. Our task is to do the mitzvot wholeheartedly, with joy and gratitude to G-d for giving us the opportunity to serve Him. In this way, every one of us at every time can destroy Amalek.

May we all have a joyous and festive Purim, and may all of our good deeds increase so that we may, as a nation, be elevated to the highest spiritual level, when Amalek will be completely obliterated and we will proceed to the Third Holy Temple. Amen!


This parsha, T'tzava, talks about the High Priest, the Kohein Godol.

The High Priest was the spiritual representative of the entire Jewish people. On their behalf he entered the Temple, where the presence of G-d was revealed. He carried with him the names of the Tribes, the totality of the Jewish people, even those Jews who imagine themselves to be completely remote from Judaism.
When the High Priest entered the Holy Sanctuary he carried with him these Jews as well, together with all others, evoking G-d's blessing for them and arousing in all of them their sense of being joined with G-d.

Through the generations this has been the function of Jewish leadership: to ask G-d for blessing for the Jewish people, and to remind all of us that we have great spiritual power.

This was the role of Mordechai, during the stirring times commemorated by Purim. Many Jews in the vast Persian empire were deeply assimilated. However, Mordechai was able to arouse them to face the threat posed by Haman and to stand up for being Jewish.
They had the chance to escape by converting to Haman's religion, bowing to him and worshiping him.
But Mordechai, their leader, caring for every single Jew, was able to inspire them all. He made them recognize that however remote they sometimes may feel, the true inner reality of each person is the portion of G-d within.
This recognition triggered the Divine response described in the Scroll of Esther, the miraculous turnabout in which the Jewish people were saved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PURIM - Esther fast....

King Achashveirosh agreed to Haman's plan to annihilate all the Jews.

When the Jewish People became aware of the severity of this royal decree, they did not send diplomatic missions to Achashverosh. They didn't try to undo the decree by natural means. The decree was a threat. Its purpose was to make them repent.

And so Mordechai's attempt to annul the decree focused first on the spiritual service necessary to evoke G-d's mercy. He called upon the Jewish people to turn to G-d. To repent. Only thereafter did he ask Queen Esther to ap­proach the king.

Esther said "Gather all the Jews... and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, "I and my maidens will also fast." she promised.

At first glance, undertaking a fast would appear to endan­ger her life and the success of her mission. Esther had not been called to appear before the king for a month. By appearing without being sum­moned, she ran the risk of death. Since her only hope was that her beauty would arouse the king's favor, a three-day fast would surely lower the probability of success.

Esther realized, however, that the decree was a result of the Jewish people's evil deeds. Seeing the royal decree as only a physical manifestation of a G‑dly decree, and so Esther felt that before ap­pealing to Achashverosh, it would be necessary to remove the reason for the decree through repentance . Once the repentance of the Jewish people had utterly nullified the spiritual reasons for the king's decree, then Esther felt confident in approaching the king and asking him to annul it on the physical level.

The Purim story reveals the Jewish people's fundamental commitment to Jewish iden­tity and their deep awareness of G‑d as the Master of their fate.

PURIM - Mitzvos of......

There are 4 special Mitzvot that we observe on Purim:

# 1 - Listening to the Megillah.

To relive the miraculous events of Purim, we listen to the reading of the Megillah - the Scroll of Esther - twice. Once on Purim eve and the second time, on Purim day.
To properly fulfill this mitzvah, it is crucial to hear every single word of the Megillah reading. At certain points in the reading where Haman's name is mentioned, it is customary to twirl graggers (Purim noisemakers) to "eradicate" his evil name.

#2 - Giving to the Needy (Matanot La'evyonim).

Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility; but on Purim it is a special mitzvah to remember the poor.

We give charity to at least two, (but preferably more) needy individuals on Purim day.

The mitzvah is best fulfilled by giving directly to the needy. If, however, we cannot find poor people, then we can place at least two coins into a charity box. As with the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.

# 3 - Sending Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot)

On Purim we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends.

On Purim day, we send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend. Men should send to men and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts are delivered via a third party. (Children, in addition to sending their own gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.)

#4 - Eat, Drink and be Merry

Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine at this meal.

Tomorrow is the Fast of Esther, it commemorates the day that the Jews fasted and prayed to G-d for His help.
It is also the day that we give Machatzit Hashekel (half a shekel) to commemorate the silver, half shekel, Jews gave in the Beit Hamikdash.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PURIM - They "established and accepted" the Torah...

On the sixth day of Sivan, the entire nation of Israel assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, G-d chose us as His people and we committed ourselves to observe the laws of life as outlined in His Torah.

The Talmud points out, however, that nearly one thousand years were to pass before our covenant with G-d was sealed. It was with the events of Purim, that our acceptance of the Torah was established upon an unshakable foundation.

At Sinai, we had no choice. Faced with such an awesome revelation of the Divine truth, one could hardly doubt or disagree. In effect, we were forced to accept the Torah; overwhelmed and completely enveloped by the Divine reality, we could not think of choosing anything else but commiting ourselves to our Divinely ordained mission and role.

But, a thousand years later during the events of Purim, we, the Jewish nation, reaffirmed this commitment under entirely different conditions. The Divine Presence did not hover over us, compelling us to recognize its truth. On the contrary, the Divine Face was entirely hidden. Hence, the name of G-d is not even mentioned once in the entire Megilla, the book of Esther. We were able to accept the Divine Law without any hint of coercion for Above. As stated in the words of the Book of Esther, the Jews, "established and accepted" - meaning, says the Talmud, that they established as valid and incontestable that which they had accepted earlier at Sinai.

We were on our own, our commitment to G-d deriving wholly from within, from an inner choice to cleave to Him. And thus, our acceptance was complete.

Monday, February 22, 2010

PURIM - Mordechai didnot bow down

Haman had the king agree that all the people in the empire should worship him. However, Mordechai refused to comply.

Mordechai saw Haman approaching. Everyone else knelt to prostrate himself before Haman, but Mordechai stood upright. As Haman approached, his eyes met Mordechai's. He saw someone with the resolute gaze of one who knows what he stands for and chooses whom he stands with.

At that moment, Haman decided that he would try to rid the kingdom of Mordechai and his people.

Now, why didn't Mordechai bow down to Haman? Mordechai was a realistic person. He could have foreseen the consequences of his refusal. Why was he willing to risk everything - not only his own life and position, but that of the entire Jewish people?

So WHAT IF Haman was asking to be worshiped like a god. Big deal. Bow down to him and move on. It definitely doesn't make sense to give up one's life - and risk those of one's entire people - not to bow down.

But that's the point. There are some things that are above making sense. And some rules that may never be broken.

Acknowledging G-d and refusing to acknowledge any other power are the two most fundamental of these rules. Mordechai saw bowing down to Haman as a challenge to the fundamental core of his existence.

Would he bow down to Haman and thus show his acceptance of the Persian empire as the most powerful force in his life? Or would he defy Haman's decree and incur his wrath, but demonstrate his connection to G-d?

For Mordechai, it wasn't a question. Mordechai didn't separate his faith from his life. He lived what he believed in; he believed in what he lived.

And the entire Jewish people stood behind him. Even when a decree issued calling for every Jew to be executed, they did not try to hide their Jewishness. On the contrary, they intensified their adherence to the Torah and its commandments.

In the end, Haman was killed. And instead of the Jews being slain by their enemies, they defeated all those who rose against them.

It's G-d's world. And when Mordechai and the Jewish people affirmed that, they were successful.