After our minds are cleared from the drinking on Purim and the atmosphere is more settled just before the frenzy of Pesach preparations begin, here is a riddle to ponder: What do King Achashveirosh and Bilam Harasha have in common? Hmmm. They were both wicked. They both plotted to destroy the Jewish nation. Bilam was married to his donkey and Achashveirosh was married to Vashti, who also had a tail. What else? There is something else that they had in common that can serve as an eye-opener for us.
“And it was when the King noticed Queen Esther standing in the court that she won his favor. The King extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand and Esther approached and touched the top of the scepter” (Esther 5:2). Chazal say that Esther was not close enough to touch the scepter, but a miracle occurred. Rav Yirmiyah said that the scepter was two amos long and it was stretched to twelve amos. Others say that it was extended to sixteen amos. Yet others say it was twenty-four. In the baraisa, it was taught sixty, and Rabbah bar Ofran says…two hundred amos! (Megillah 15b).
Of course, this was an amazing miracle. Now let’s give it some thought. Were I to be in this situation, where I’m holding something that suddenly grows in my hand and is elongated to such a degree, the first thing I would do is drop the scepter and scream. Then I would scamper out in fear or simply faint. Yet, from the narrative of the Megillah, we don’t see any reaction from the king at all. He merely begins to speak to Esther as if nothing had happened. How is the possible?
We find a similar phenomenon with Bilam Harasha. As he was riding to go to Balak, his donkey was not cooperating with him. Seeing a malach standing in the road with a sword in hand, it veered off the road. Bilam struck the donkey, trying to get it back on the road, but seeing the malach standing in the vineyards, it pressed against a wall and Bilam continued to strike it. As Bilam continued to strike the donkey, “Hashem opened the mouth of the she-donkey and it said to Bilam, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me three times?’“Bilam said to the she-donkey, ‘Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand, I would have killed you!’” (Bamidbar 22:27-28).
Pilei plo’im. What a neis! This is one of the greatest miracles of all time. That an animal should talk and rebuke its master? It is one of the supernatural things that was created Erev Shabbos during bein hashemashos (Avos 5:8). What would our reaction be if we were to witness such a miracle? Our hair would turn white from shock or we would faint, if not worse. Yet, Bilam is not moved in the slightest and proceeds to carry on a regular conversation with his donkey as one speaks to his spouse. How is this possible? How can it be that one witnesses such a miracle and remains unfazed?
We learn a great yesod here about the nature of man. The physical body is a tremendous force in the blinding of a person from seeing the truth. When one is occupied with fulfilling his desires, he is totally subjective to that pursuit and is incapable of seeing anything else. Bilam was on his way to fulfill the wishes of Balak for the purpose of attaining for himself riches and honor. These two taavos of mamon and kavod tugged at him with such a force and he was so preoccupied with these interests that the enormity of the moment totally escaped him, and he continued to carry on a conversation with his donkey. It was the same with Achashveirosh. The moment he saw Esther, he was so taken by her presence and his own interests in being with her that the miracle of the extended scepter went right over his head and he did not react at all.
This same idea is found at the end of the Megillah. “King Achashveirosh levied taxes on both the mainland and the islands” (Esther 10:1). Why is this mentioned in the story of Purim? At first, wanting to find out Esther’s origins, the king lowered the taxes in her honor. With this, he hoped that the populace would speak about her and he would find out more information about her. At the end of the entire story, while Klal Yisroel experienced a tremendous awakening with a new acceptance of the Torah and a new recognition of Hashem’s Hashgacha over us, what did Achashveirosh take out of it? Nothing more than a rising of taxes. He remained the same wicked Achashveirosh from the beginning until the very end (Dorash Mordechai, Rav Mordechai Druk).
How different is the nation of Klal Yisroel? How awake and aware they are of what Hashem wants from them. The story of Purim shows us how even amidst the darkness of hester ponim, Mordechai Hatzaddik was able to read the messages sent from Shomayim and lead Klal Yisroel to a great yeshuah.
Presently, we are laining the parshiyos of Toras Kohanim that deal with the laws of sacrifices. About the mitzvah of korbanos, the Medrash (Yalkut Shemoni, remez 439) quotes a posuk: “Haben yakir li Efraim… Is Efraim my favorite son or a delightful child?” (Yirmiyah 31:19). Our people have many different attributes. But from here it would seem that we merited the mitzvah of korbanos because we are like young children. What is the connection?
The Ramban in his introduction to Sefer Vayikra says that after concluding Sefer Shemos with the Mishkon and the holy Shechinah dwelling there, Sefer Vayikra deals with korbanos and preserving the Mishkon. For if we were to become tainted with sin, it would cause the Shechinah to depart. The korbanos are mechaper for our aveiros. They keep us clean, they keep us fresh, and they give us a constant renewal, allowing the Shechinah to dwell in our midst.
This special treasure, with all of its facets, was given to no other nation but Klal Yisroel. Because we are a nation that is in a constant state of renewal. We are thirsty and desire to always learn more about the fear of Hashem and how to fill His commandments. In the brocha of Kiddush Levanah, we say that our people are compared to the moon, for just as the moon undergoes a renewal each month, we will eventually experience a renewal with the coming of Moshiach. This isn’t merely a moshol for the future, but also for our present state. We are in a perpetual state of growth, always seeking to come closer to Hashem.
This is a special quality of a young child. They are growing and developing. Their present level is a far cry from their full potential and what they will become. They have a great future ahead of them, with great possibilities for future growth. This is Klal Yisroel. No matter how old our people are, they are like a young child, constantly reaching new levels, growing regularly. It is this particular attribute that Hashem saw in giving us the mitzvah of korbanos, an opportunity for renewal for a nation that is constantly renewing itself (Som Derech, Rav Simcha Zissel Broide).
It is with a heavy heart that these lines are written, as I am still reeling from the sad news of the sudden and untimely passing of Rav Moshe Goldberg zt”l of Toronto. Rav Moshe was one of the stars of the Telshe Yeshiva, a bais medrash with many budding talmidei chachomim. He hailed from the illustrious Goldberg mishpacha of Chicago. If his other older brother, the late Rav Chaim, was one of the great pillars of chesed in our generation, then it could also be said that Rav Moshe was one of the amudei haTorah. I was fortunate to be in his daled amos and he was a role model for me and other younger bochurim.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that every fiber of his being was permeated with Torah. He was so alive, so full of bren for learning. He was so full of simchas hachaim, for to him, life was only Torah. His happiness was infectious. It was such a pleasure and an honor to speak to him in learning.
He was a tremendous mechadeish in Torah, as his numerous seforim titled Bikkurei Moshe, attest. But he was also a mechadeish, always fresh, always vibrant, always new. He was the quintessential youngster, about whom the novi says, “When Yisroel was a lad, I loved him” (Hoshea 11:1). His petirah is a tremendous loss to all of us, and we are mishtateif in the pain of his choshuve rebbetzin, his wonderful family, and his many talmidim. May he be a meilitz yosher for all of us.
We are now approaching Chodesh Nisan, a special month of hischadshus. This month carries many segulos for spiritual growth. It is a period filled with mitzvos, and a season when we can acquire tremendous emunah in Hashem. Of course, there are many physical chores that must be taken care of in preparation for Yom Tov. But we mustn’t forget the ultimate goal of all our efforts: to experience a renewal in our relationship with Hashem. This takes special thought and learning about the Yom Tov. Investing time in this endeavor is well worth it, as it leads to growth and our own personal geulah.