Wednesday, March 15, 2006

dressing up - amalekite sheep


King Saul had been commanded to kill out all the Amalekites. He did most of them but decided to spare the sheep. It was a moment of mistaken compassion, which he rationalized by saying he would use them as sacrifices in the mishkan. It turned out that the sheep were really Amalekites in disguise (whether by magic or not) and Shaul was punished because of his mistake.

Why do we dress up on Purim?

A common answer is that on Purim we recognize that hashem saved us in a hidden fashion and we dress up to show that we understand sometimes the ways of Hashem are hidden from us and we need to look further into things to see Hashem's presence.

I would like to suggest another answer, along a similar vein. That we dress up to show that not everything is as it appears to be. The amalekites "dressed up" like sheep and that fooled us originally, for which we paid a dear price. We need to recognize nto to take someone's appearance at face value. The external appearance is just that - external. We need to look behind the person's mask and see what is the makeup of the person. Who he really is and what he really is all about. We dress up on Purim to remember the first "costune" of amalek and internalize the lesson that we should not just look at the externals of a person.

Sometimes appropriate is better than righteousness

Megillat Esther

The Midrash relates a story regarding Zeresh telling Haman to build a gallows to hang Mordechai. At that time, Hashem called out to the trees and asked, "Which of you wants to be the one to be zocheh to supply the wood to hang Haman ha'Rasha upon?"
The Midrash goes on to say how each and every tree came forth with a very good reason why it should be selected as the supplier of the wood. The Grape vine, because Jews are compared to the grape, similarly the olive and pomegranate. The Etrog because a mitzva is dobe with it. the fig because bikkurim are brought from it, the cedar and fir because the Bet Hamikdash and mishkan were built from it, etc., etc. every type of tree came forth with a good reason.
The Kot (thorn bush) then came forth and said, there is nothing great and righteous about me. No reason to select me over anyone else. However, I am a Kotz. A thorn that causes pain. It is appropriate that this thorn (Haman) who causes pain and disturbance to the jews should be hung upon a kotz.".
Hashem accepted that argument and selected the kotz.
(this story is eerily similar to the storty of the selection of Har Sinai as the mount upon which the Torah was given - possibly similar lesons can be learned).

I think the idea is that nto always does one need to be the most righteous to do something, or the most worthy. There are some things which are appropriate and fitting to be done in certain manners. The Kotz hangs the Kotz, even if there are better and more worthy trees. The Jews are matim for eretz Yisrael (the midrash and gemara bring many times), as are other nations for their lands. We should nto always look for the most worthy to do things, rather for what is appropriate.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Half the Kingdom!!??

Megillat Esther

The Megilla tells us in 5:3 that esther approached the King (to invite him to the first of 2 meals with Haman, at which she woul devetually reveal her requests). Ahashverosh asked what she wanted and he said, "Until half the kingdon you can ask and it will be given to you".

Rashi tells us (in hist first explanation), that Ahashverosh was saying you can ask anything aside from permission for rebuilding the Bet haMikdash. The Bet HaMikdash sat in the middle of his kingdom and he said until the item which is in the middle of my kingdom, you can ask and it will be granted.

My question is: Why did he assume she was going to ask for permission to rebuild the Bet HaMikdash? He did not know she was Jewish!!
We know when Esther originally went to the King to be selected as Queen, she hid her background from him. She never told him until now, and only at the second meal which would later take place does she actually reveal her Jewishness!! So how did Ahashverosh assume she would ask for the rebuilding of the Temple??

I, up tunil this point, have not thought of nor found an answer to this question.
If you have an answer, please post it in the comments, or email it to me at

After speaking to a couple of Rabbonim over the past couple of days, I have come to an answer. Rabbi's Malinowitz and Leff shlit"a have both given me similar answers (and Tal benschar in the comments section also quoted the same idea from a shiur he heard). I will elaborate on their answers.

The answer is that the bet hamikdash was not really a jewish issue. True the Bet Hamikdahs was most dear to the jews, but really all the nations benefitted from the Bte hamikdahs and it was really an "international issue", so to speak. It seems it was common for all sorts of people to request the permission for continuing to build the Bet Hamikdash. In Rav malinowitz's words, " it is like if Bush would give someone an audience and the guy would ask for a request. Bush might likely say, sure, whatever you want, just do not ask me to take the troops out of iraq". Iraq is Bush's issue and brings it up at every occassion. The Bet Hamikdash was Achashverosh's issue.
In Rav leff's words, the stopping of construction of the Bet Hamikdash is what defined Achashverosh's reign. That was the whole point of the party - to celebrate his control over it and that is why he used the vessels of the Bet hamikdash at the party. To show that he had the control to stop it. It was his issue and whenever anybody spoke to him, he likely said anything but the Bet Hamikdash.

watch what you say against Israel!

Megillat Esther

In 9:10 the Passuk tells us the Jews killed the 10 sons of Haman. Rashi says it is brought down in Seder Olam that these 10 sons of Haman had disparaged Israel, when Koresh had allowed the jews to return and begin rebuilding the Temple, then Ahashverosh took over and Haman came to power and he wrote accusations against the jews to stop them from returning and rebuilding.

The Megilla is indicating that they are singled out here as having been slain by the jews, despite many other people having been killed as well, specifically to tell us that they were slain as retribution for their false accusations against the jews and Israel.

Gods got our back, You want to mess with us, you are also messing with God. he particularly takes offense at those who disparage His nation and country. Do so at your own risk.

rebounding when down

Megillat Esther

After Haman leads Mordechai on horseback through the streets of Shushan, Haman goes home shamed. He tells over what happened to his wife Zeresh and family. They all tell him that being that Mordechai is a Jew you will surely fall before him.

Rashi explains their words to Haman. She said to him “This nation has been compared to the stars and to the dust. When they descend, they descend to the dust, and when they ascend, they ascend to the sky and the stars.”

In other words, previously you had a chance. The Jews looked like they were down for the count. But that's the thing with the jews - they are never down for the count. They can have momentary lapses where they can be overcome by their enemies, but they always rebound and when they do, nobody can overcome them.
It is a lesson repeated throughout history. The Jews get oppressed, but eventually God picks us up and we recover. Once that happens we overcome and emerge victorious over our enemies.

That is the story and lesson of Purim, in brief. if we take this lesson from Purim, we have gotten the point.

Going like sheep to the slaughter? all in the attitude!

Megillat Esther

When Haman convinced King Ahashverosh to issue a decree allowing the people to attack and plunder the Jews, it says nothing about not allowing the Jews to defend themselves. Yet near the end of the megilla, after Esther and Mordechai issue a new decree that Jews should defend themselves (because they could not repeal the previous decree), the Megilla relates the joy among the Jews that they could defend themselves, and how they gathered together to fight against the attackers and how nations feared the Jews because of their right to defend.

Pretty amazing the metamorphasis the jews went through. They were about to be slaughtered and obviously felt they could not defend themselves. they would have gone like sheep to the slaughter, excuse the terminology. Yet suddenly they have a boost of confidence. Suddenly they are defending themselves and valiantly at that! The goyim are afraid of the Jews!! Amazing! The goyim were about to walk over the Jews with no problem, and suddenly the tables have turned.

All it takes is some confidence and a change of attitude.

For the love of Israel!

Megillat Esther

The Megilla tells us in 2:6, "Asher hagla m'yerushalayim im hagola asher haglsa im y'chonya melech yehuda, asher hagla nebuchadnezzar melech Bavel." (my translation) That [Mordechai] was exiled from jerusalem with the exile that was exiled with ychonya the king of judah, who was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar king of Bavel.

The Gr"a points out that the passuk repeats the term "was exiled" three times in that same verse to indicate to us how beloved Israel and Jerusalem were to Mordechai. He was exiled 3 times (!) from Israel. He was exiled and went back and exiled again and went back and exiled again! He did not want to be outside of Israel so badly that he kept going back and trying to live there.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Becoming a partner in the Mikdash

Parshat T'rumah

The Torah relates Hashem telling Moshe to take donations from the people Mikol Asher Yidvenu Libo (from all whose hearts donate) you should take the donation.

The purpose of this donation is for the building of the Mishkan.

The use of the term "Whose heart donates" is very unusual. Just say that from whoever gives a donation you should take it? Why Asher Yidvenu libo?

I think the idea is that this is not the same as the regular mitzva of tzedaka. Normally you have a mitzva of tzedakka and you give sometimes reluctantly and sometimes happily. A guy shows up at your door and asks for tzedaka and you either give him or don't, but if you do he takes it and you have fullfilled your mitzva of tzedaka, even if you gave it reluctantly.

Here we are dealing with the building of a sanctuary for Hashem. A mikdash. This applies to the Mikdash, as well as to the mikdash me'ats we are obligated to build, in the form of shuls, yeshivos, day schools, and our own homes dedicated to the ideals of the Torah. This is not like the average mitzva of tzedakka. This is special. this is the foundation of the Jewish nation. Everything comes from the Mikdash in all its forms.
Donations cannot just be accepted from anybody who was pressured into donation and coerced into giving. This has to come from the heart. People have to want to participate in the building of the foundation of the jewish nation. Not be coerced into it. When the building of our mikdashei me'at are done from goodwill and desire of participation, they have the greatest chance of success and continuation, as that makes everybody a partner in the mikdash.