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Thursday, March 20

The Weekly Shtikle - Purim

    Purim is a festival of joy and celebration, a time to bask in the light of HaShem's great miracles. But it is also a time to reflect on teshuvah and the crucial role it played in bringing about the salvation for Esther and the entire nation. The following gemara is often quoted or referenced in regards to that theme:
Rabi Abba bar Kahana taught: The removal of the ring (which Achashveirosh gave to Haman upon agreeing to his plan to exterminate the Jews) was greater than all the rebukes of the 48 prophets and seven prophetesses. None of them were successful in inspiring B'nei Yisroel to do teshuvah. But the removal of the ring was. (Megillah 14a)
    At first glance, this passage seems to be delivering a very simple message. Actions speak louder than words. B'nei Yisroel were never able to internalize the messages of the prophets and act upon them accordingly. But when they saw their imminent extermination before their very eyes, they knew there was only one answer.
 
    But there is a grave difficulty with this approach. The rebukes of the prophets were indeed ignored, on the whole. But the Bais HaMikdash wasn't destroyed overnight. There were many events that led to its destruction, many steps along the way where B'nei Yisroel ought to have taken heed more so than they did to the mere words of the prophets. So one can understand why Achashveirosh's actions sent a stronger message than the rebukes of the prophets. But what about the siege on Yerushalayim? What about the breeching of the walls? In what way were they less inspiring than the removal of the ring.
 
    To establish a direction on this, we must consider the Maharsha's commentary on the above passage. He asks why the removal of the ring is singled out by the gemara. After all, it could simply have stated that the Haman's evil decree was greater than the prophets. What is the true significance of the removal of the ring? He answers that when a purchase is made between two parties, it is common for the buyer to make a deposit to ensure the seller of his commitment to the transaction. In this case, the buyer would have been Haman. He was "acquiring" the king's consent and approval for his evil plan. And yet, it was Achashveirosh who gave his ring to Haman. This gesture showed Achashveirosh's true feelings towards the Jews and Haman's plan. It was more content than consent, as if he was now asking Haman to carry it out, not allowing it. With the supreme ruler of the inhabited world against them, the Jews realized they were doomed.
 
    With this important point, we can suggest an approach to answer our question above. The prophets' warnings and calls for repentance leading up to the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash were all during a time when B'nei Yisroel were an autonomous nation in their homeland. They were facing invasion and incursion from forces from the outside. Even when Nevuchadnezzar was banging down the doors and Yerushalayim was ready to fall, this position gave them the false hope to believe that somehow they could simply beat back the invading forces. They were therefore unable to appreciate the true urgency and necessity for teshuvah.
 
    The circumstances were vastly different during the era of Esther. They were strangers in a strange land.They didn't have their own leaders, their own army or their own land. They were fully aware that they were at the whim of their rulers.  When they saw that that ruler was bent on their destruction, they knew there was simply nothing they could possibly do - except teshuvah!
 
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On the lighter side:
 
    Of the many mitzvos of the day, the one that tends to stand out in its own way is the mitzvah of drinking. The Beiur Halachah (OC 695), however, offers an understanding of this mitzvah which would severely dampen the festive atmosphere that is normally produced by the extreme dedication of the masses to fulfill this mitzvah to the greatest degree. He says one should drink more than usual and go to sleep. Now where would he get that from? How would you extract that from the words of the gemara? Well, the gemara (Megillah 7b) says "michayev inish l'besumei b'puraia..." It is assumed that puraia refers to Purim. However, in Aramaic, that word is also used to mean bed!!! There you go.
 
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    Some years ago, WV Sen. Robert Byrd delivered a rather boring speech to the senate - one of many throughout his career. I believe it had something to do with judge selection. Sen. Byrd is an anti-semite, a former member of the KKK. But in this speech, he actually goes through the entire story of Purim and tries valiantly to tie it in with whatever he was trying to say. It's actually quite humourous and worth a listen. I've posted it here: http://ezbulka.googlepages.com/byrdesther.mp3 . Enjoy!
 
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Something for Tzav:
 
    Almost every single parsha in the chumash has a tally of the total number of pesukim at the end. (Pekudei does not, for some reason.) There is a striking irony in the tally of parshas Tzav. The total number of pesukim is 96, the gematria of Tzav!!! I do not know the exact origin of these numbers and who is responsible for their inclusion in the chumashim. But perhaps it was done on a year such as this where Purim falls out on parshas Tzav - because there are 97 pesukim, not 96!
 
Have a happy and healthy Purim and a good Shabbos.
Mishenichnas Adar Marbim beSimchah!
 

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