Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Then And Now

It's the time of year when something marvelous happens, when we merit to see clearly, with our own eyes, that the nishmas Yisroel is something real and something sublime, plugged in to a higher source. No matter what challengers or trials surround us, when Purim approaches, our hearts beat a bit faster, our smiles stretch a bit wider, and we look at things differently. Despite the fact that not all is going well, as we are deeply mired in the mud of golus and sometimes we feel as if our senses have become dulled, the simcha of the day is felt universally. “Eidus hee leba'ei ha'olam.” The increase in simcha experienced by all sorts of Yidden, from wherever they might come, is an enduring testimony to the reality of the greatness of the day.

It was just before Purim in 1941 in the Warsaw ghetto. There were few reasons to smile. Everyone locked in there was worried about what the next day would bring, hunger and disease seemed destined to be the two species of mishloach manos.


The Piacezna Rebbe, who was in the ghetto, gathered a few broken souls around him. He quoted to them the Tikkunei Zohar which states that Purim is as holy as Yom Kippur, as evidenced by the name of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippurim, which can be read as Yom K’Purim, meaning that the holiest of days is likePurim. Many interpretations are offered in explanation of the comparison.


The Rebbe opened his heart and addressed the suffering souls. When the sun sets on Erev Yom Kippur, he told them, no Jew would say that they won’t fast this year because they aren’t in the mood. As Yom Kippur begins, no one says that it is too hard to do teshuvah, so they will wait until they are more tuned in to the feelings of the day. Yom Kippur arrives and you get yourself into it, ready or not. You follow the tzivuy Hashem. Purim is no different, said the Rebbe. Purim arrives with the obligation to be joyous. Even when surrounded by evil murderers, illness and suffering, Jews are obligated to be joyous on this day.


“You,” the Rebbe told the poor souls in the Warsaw ghetto, “must also be happy today.”


That was then, in the darkest hour our people have known since the churban Bais Hamikdosh. Today, boruch Hashem, we are surrounded by so many reasons to be happy, not the least of which are our relative comfort and freedom, and the right to live as ehrliche Yidden. We have no excuse to hold back and sit in our homes depressed, forlorn, worried about the future, cynically complaining about all the noise outside and growing agitated at the joyous nature of everyone else in the Jewish world.


The simcha that Hakadosh Boruch Hu shined into His world in Shushan can still be sensed, almost touched, in the streets of Brooklyn, Lakewood , Chicago, Detroit, and Monsey, as well as in Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, Golders Green, and wherever Yidden live.


It’s as if the neshoma knows that when Purim arrives, the light of revach vehatzolah ya’amod laYehudim shines again.


The Mishnah at the beginning of the second perek of Maseches Megillah states, “Hakorei es hamegillah lemafreia lo yotzah – One who reads the pesukim of the megillah in reverse [order] has not fulfilled his obligation.” Many seforim explain that the Mishnah is hinting that someone who reads and considers the story of the megillah – the danger and subsequent salvation – to be “lemafreia,” ancient history, has missed the point of the megillah and has to read it again.


Purim is a holiday of redemption. Mekubolim say that every year on Purim, the Divine powers which saved the Jews from annihilation at the hands of Haman are strengthened and empowered. Others say that this occurs when we lain the Megillah. Therefore, if it was read incorrectly, it must be read again to enable the ability to redeem us to present itself in our day as it occurred back then.


In the prayer of Al Hanissim, we thank Hashem for the miracles “bayomim haheim bazeman hazeh.


This may hint at the fact that the nissim of Purim are “bayomim haheim bazman hazeh,” as relevant bazeman hazeh in 2012 as they were back then, bayomim haheim. The knowledge that Hashem is guiding every detail that takes place with us, coupled with the awareness that He is controlling the destinies of the nations of the world, reminds us that the end of the saga will be comforting for us in our day as it was to the Jews back then.


This, perhaps, is the meaning of the words we declare, “Teshuosom hoyisa lonetzach – You were their savior for eternity.” Each year, on Purim, the Divine intervention which saved them back then is present and has the ability to rescue us.


“Vesikvosom bechol dor vador.” This is our hope in each generation. Each period has its distinct challenges, obstacles and problems, but the hope remains one and the same.


A month after Purim, we will be reciting those same words: “bechol dor vador.At the Seder, when we recite Vehi She’omdah, we say, “Elah shebechol dor vador.” In every generation, they arise to destroy us and Hashem saves us from them.


My zaide, Rav Leizer Levin zt”l, bezivug sheini, married a remarkable woman. When we were young children, every year, our family would join them for the Seder. Of course there are many memories etched in a child’s heartfrom being at the Seder of his grandparents. But there is one thing in particular that stands out.


Savta had a unique custom. She had escaped in the late ‘50s from the Soviet Union. When everyone would say the words “shelo echod bilvod – it wasn’t only one person” [who sought to eradicate us], she would say to herself the names of the communist leaders she lived under who had sought to destroy Yiddishkeit. I had never heard of them, and they had strange sounding names. She would say, “Shelo Krushchev bilvod, shelo Stalin bilvod…” It was her little way of commemorating her own Yetzias Mitzrayim. She didn’t know that anyone heard or paid attention, but to us kids, the names were funny and strange-sounding, so we waited for it every year.


I have a small admission to make. In her memory, I do the same thing. Every year, when everyone sings so joyfully “shelo echod bilvod,” I say to myself, “Shelo Krushchev bilvod, shelo Stalin bilvod,” and the rasha who happens to be the most prominent of those seeking our destruction that year.


And you know what? After a few years, I noticed something fascinating. Each year, it feels as if there is a new name at the old game. There is a new, fierce, fearsome warrior promising to drive Israel into the sea. The old guy is gone and replaced by a new one singing the same hateful tune.


Shelo Arafat bilvod, then shelo Saddam bilvod, and then shelo Bin Laden bilvod. This year, the blank is filled with the name of Ahmadinejad. Every few years, one rasha goes and a new rasha arises, causing the Jewish world to tremble. Every year we sing with assurance that“Hakadosh Boruch matzileinu miyodom.”


Vesikvosom bechol dor vador.


Every year, when we unroll our megillos, we are granted anew the ability to rid ourselves of our enemies. Just as Mordechai Hatzaddik assembled the Jews of his day and commanded them to daven and do teshuvah so that they would be saved, in our day as well we have the ability to redeem ourselves if we follow the instructions of the tzaddik. Just as in their day the salvation caused by their teshuvah led to the construction of the second Bais Hamikdosh, so too in our day, the geulah which we can bring about on Purim can lead to the construction of the Bais Hamikdosh, if only we are worthy.


It is not far-fetched to think so.


One year, during the course of the Purim seudah, the Chiddushei Harim began addressing the chassidim who had gathered around him. He said that when reading the megillah, one encounters all sorts of seemingly insignificant and random incidents, tales of political conspiracy and palace backroom betrayal.


When you begin to read the megillah, you wonder why we are being told all sorts of tales of palace intrigue regarding a Persian king and about a feast he held to commemorate his third year on the throne. Why is the megillah writing about a queen who didn’t want to appear at the feast, and why does it spend so much time discussing the search for a new queen after the first one was killed?


Why do we care, asked the Chiddushei Harim, and why do we have to know all that?


The Rebbe was quiet, lost in thought, as the questions sunk in. Then he continued and said that this is how it will be when Moshiach will come. Strange occurrences will be taking place. The news will be confounding. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Moshiach will arrive and everyone will recognize that all that transpired was tied to the geulah.


The Chiddushei Harim’s insight echoes a remark of Rav Chaim Volozhiner.


According to a tradition passed down in the Soloveitchik family, Rav Chaim’s talmidim once asked him what it will be like when Moshiach comes. This is what he answered:


“I will come home from yeshiva after Shacharis one morning. Therebbetzin will ask me if I’m ready for breakfast. I will say, ‘Relka, I haven’t yet finished preparing my shiur. I will eat after I review the sugya that I have to learn with my talmidim in the yeshiva.’


“‘Okay,’ she will say. ‘Since you’re not yet ready for breakfast, I will hurry to the market and buy some things. Meanwhile, I will keep the soup cooking on the stove. Please, Chaim, keep an eye out for the pot on the stove and make sure it doesn’t burn. I know that when you learn, you forget about everything else, but please do me this favor.’


“The rebbetzin will leave and I will open a sefer and get engrossed in the sugya. Suddenly, I will sense that the sun has begun shining much stronger than ever before. What clarity! Suddenly, I will hear the birds in the trees singing new tunes. Their song will be fuller and more pleasant than ever before. Their melodies will touch the heart. Then, suddenly, there will be a hum of activity from the street, getting louder by the moment.


“I will look out the window. I’ll see Elya the shoemaker running in a tumult and I will ask him, ‘What is the commotion about? What is happening to the sun’s light? What is that beautiful song the birds are singing? What happened that the trees are suddenly blooming so differently and beautifully? What is going on out there?


‘Rebbe,’ he will say to me, “do you mean to say that you don’t know? Moshiach has come!’


“I will immediately run to my closet to take out my Shabbos beged, put it on, and rush out to welcome Moshiach. I will notice that my jacket is missing a button. On Motzoei Shabbos, the button fell off, and when I asked my rebbetzin to sew it back on, she said, ‘There is no rush. You won’t need it until next Friday.’


“Now I have to go greet Moshiach and my beged is missing a button. I will stand there, unsure of whether to wear my Shabbos clothes without that button and wondering if I could go out to welcome Moshiach dressed in weekday clothes. At that moment, the rebbetzin will come running in to the house all out of breath. ‘Chaim,’ she will say to me. ‘Where were you? The soup I left on the stove has burnt.’


“I will say to her, ‘What do you care about the burnt soup? Quick! Put on your Shabbos dress! We have to go out to greet Moshiach.’”


Rav Chaim, in this evocative and poetic description, underscored the sheer ordinariness of the day when the long-awaited redeemer of the Jewish people will arrive. There will be no advance warning. One day, he will just be here. The sun will shine brightly, the birds will sing, the trees will bloom, and a new age will dawn. We will forget everything else, quickly put on our Shabbos clothing, and run out the door to welcome him.


The seemingly random daily events which take place in the world will suddenly culminate in the great moment.


Purim is a day of redemption. On this day, our forefathers were redeemed in Shushan. On this day, ever since, Jews have seen yeshuos. This day is marked for posterity as one of deliverance and joy.


If we are worthy, we will witness how the threats from Iran, the plague of deadly diseases, the crumbling economies of the world, the fearful political climate, the Arab Spring, and who knows what else will be tied together, and it will be plainly evident to us that they were all the precursors for the great day for which we have all been waiting.


May it take place soon.


Velo yikolmu lonetzach kol hachosim boch.


Ah freileichen Purim!



Facing the Test

  Parshas Behar opens with the mitzvah of Shmittah. The discussion of the topic begins by stating that Hashem told these halachos to Moshe Rabbeinu

Read More »

My Take on the News

    Five Soldiers Die in Friendly Fire Mishap Tensions are running high in Israel, and even if life seems to be moving along normally

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated