Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Rav Yitzchok Hutner would comment that we don’t make Havdolah at the conclusion of Purim because we want the day to remain with us. We struggle to hold on to the spiritual clarity, sense of purpose and mission that were so apparent at the mishteh yayin.

The growth is not a fleeting byproduct of the wine; rather, it is something that was buried within and was revealed by the wine. The joy we experienced wasn’t outside of us, but inside. All we did was strip away the complications and cheshbonos that are there the entire year. At the conclusion of Purim, we seek to draw that joy into our souls, so that we can create a cocoon for it and have reserves of simchah available at all times.

I am always on the lookout for new insights, ideas I have never heard before. Chiddush doesn’t have to be new to excite us. The Torah is endless, and every time we gain a new understanding, it is a chiddush and the neshomah gets charged from it.

I saw a fascinating idea in the Sefer Shela Hakadosh brought from sifrei kodesh. The Shela explains that Binyomin was the only one of the shevotim who did not bow to Eisov. When a person bows, he accepts some degree of the power possessed by the person or object he is bowing to. All of the shevotim, except for Binyomin, bowed to Eisov, and thus, to a certain degree, Eisov was able to harm them – and maintain a hold on them – with his powers of tumah.

Shmuel Hanovi anointed Shaul Hamelech king, because, as a descendant of Binyomin, he was confident that Shaul would be able to remove the effect of Amaleik, the descendant of Eisov, from Am Yisroel. However, Shaul sinned and failed in his mission.

Mordechai Hatzaddik took over where Shaul left off (see Medrash, Esther Rabbah 10:14). As a descendant of Binyomin, he was also untouched by Eisov and Amaleik and was able to stand up to Haman and remove Amaleik’s hold. With strength inherited from his forefather, Binyomin, who did not bow to Eisov and remained untainted by him, “lo yichra velo yishtachaveh,” Mordechai did not bow to the Amaleik of his day. Putting his life in jeopardy to reject the power of Amaleik, Mordechai was able to defeat him.

Binyomin and his offspring are blessed with an additional source of strength to withstand the forces of evil. The Medrash in Esther Rabbah (7:7) lists several similarities in pesukim pertaining to Yosef and those talking about Mordechai. This strength came from Rochel Imeinu, mother of Yosef and ancestor of Mordechai, says Rav Gamliel Rabinovich. She was moser nefesh to preserve the pride of her sister Leah and implanted this ability, a burning ga’avah d’kedushah, in her children.

Mordechai fused the pride and strength of Rochel with Binyomin’s purity and was thus equipped to withstand Haman’s threats. He rallied Am Yisroel around him and, b’achdus, together, they dislodged Amaleik’s grip over them.

Hence the new light of Purim, laYehudim hoysah orah, for their light had been dimmed by Amaleik and their Torah wasn’t complete as long as the shadow of Amaleik hovered over them. Purim marks the day when all the Jews were freed from that heavy veil of darkness.

Purim stands as a beacon to Jews for all time to withstand temptation and threats of evil occupiers and the evil inclination. We are all strong enough to stand up to our enemies. Not only shevet Binyomin, but all of Klal Yisroel. Not only the ainiklach of Rochel, but all of us.

The neis of Purim bequeathed this power to all of us. Every Yid is gifted with this mix of pride, confidence and purity.

Our first encounter with Eisov’s grandson, Amaleik, comes in Shemos (17:8), where the posuk states, “Vayavo Amaleik vayilocheim im Yisroel b’Refidim.” Amaleik came and battled Klal Yisroel in Refidim. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 101a) explains that the posuk states that the battle took place in Refidim to tell us that Amaleik was able to fight Klal Yisroel because the nation became weak – rofu yedeihem – in their study and observance of Torah.

In order to beat back Amaleik and his descendants, we have to be dedicated to the Torah. Amaleik is the descendant of Eisov and inherited his abilities. Yitzchok promised Eisov that when Yaakov is weak, he shall rise over him. Cleaving to the Torah means seriously devoting ourselves to its study and also following its commandments.

If we want to be able to combat the koach hara, we have to embody the koach hatov. We are only tovim if we are ehrlich and straight and medakdekim bemitzvos. If we slack off in shemiras hamitzvos, even in only one mitzvah, then we will lack what we need to overcome the many temptations and difficulties Amaleik places in our paths to snag and destroy us.

We have to live like Yidden, leading virtuous lives.

Under the oppression and fierce opposition of the Communist regime, Rav Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch persisted in teaching Torah and spreading Yiddishkeit. He ignored threats and warnings, charging his spirited followers to do the same. He explained that this ability was a reflection of a middah demonstrated by Mordechai Hatzaddik in Megillas Esther. The posuk (5:9) states, “Ukere’os Haman es Mordechai besha’ar hamelech velo kom velo zah mimenu.” Haman left the king’s palace in good spirits, but when he saw Mordechai sitting in his path and neither rising nor bowing, Haman was overcome with anger.

If you examine the language of the posuk, you’ll notice that it doesn’t say that Haman was upset that Mordechai didn’t bow for him. It says “velo kom velo za.” The rebbe said that those words signify that not only did Mordechai not rise for the viceroy, but he didn’t even feel an inner tremor. Not only did Mordechai not react, Haman simply didn’t register with him. Mordechai was kulo tov and had no relationship at all with ra. It didn’t faze him in any way.

Good Jews have always striven to live with this middah, being certain and confident in their bitachon.

We have to live big and proud, free of pettiness and dishonesty. Purim is a day when we absorb that timeless pride, relearning how to grab on to the faith of Mordechai. And as we do on Yom Hakippurim, the day that is similar to Purim, on this day we are able to rid ourselves of sins, immorality, deceit and thievery. With proper faith and the emunah that is the bedrock of the day, we understand that it is not necessary to be devious or under-handed to obtain the sustenance we need.

When Purim is over, we lain Parshas Tzav and learn the halachos of the korban todah. Gratitude to Hashem for His gifts to us help us appreciate that what we have comes from Him. If we are grateful and appreciative, we recognize that our parnassah is from Hashem. If we want to be showered with His blessing, we would do better to study Chovos Halevavos Shaar Habitachon than to act unscrupulously. As we offer our thanks to Hashem with the korban todah, that message is reinforced.

The generations before us, including the ones that came to America with no physical possessions, were wealthy in the aphorisms and truisms that sustained them and their families in a spiritually inhospitable climate. “A Yid doesn’t bow. Ah Yid bookt zich nisht,” was a favorite. That is at the very core of our DNA.

It is all the more understandable in light of the Shela Hakadosh’s words.

We don’t bow, because we want to retain our purity. Our ideology is not for sale. Those who didn’t bow to the secular ideology in which they found themselves, didn’t become overwhelmed and overtaken by it. Those who stood proudly in the face of temptations and pressures to compromise on shemiras hamitzvos were saved from the vestiges of Amaleik that ripped so many millions of Jews from their moorings.

Those who were loyal to the Torah and never deviated from the proper course had orah vesimchah vesason viykor here in America and wherever else Hashgochah led them. Kein tihiyeh lonu.

Our zaides and bubbes bequeathed to us many other minhagim, practices and values. Some have a mekor in Shulchan Aruch, others don’t. Either way, we cherish them, for it is these small nuances that give Yiddishkeit its depth, defining the Jewish soul. When we refer to gutte Yidden, we are describing those who embody the subconscious goodness and tzikus accumulated over centuries of being on the side of “tov.”

We have often asked questions about issues that arise in the running of a newspaper. Sometimes, the answers are black and white. Oftentimes, however, they aren’t clear at all. The answers lie in the hearts of men who have toiled in learning for decades and have the refinement and sensitivity to know what is right and proper.

My friend, Rav Eli Hoberman, reminded me of a conversation that took place many years ago when an ambitious frum activist sent the Yated a picture of himself with Rav Aharon Schechter, clearly hoping that publically sharing the photo would send a message that the rosh yeshiva endorsed him and values his work. Unsure if the rosh yeshiva would appreciate the inference and being unable to reach him at that time for some reason or another, I reached out to Rabbi Hoberman, who is on the staff of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, to find out. He asked the rosh yeshiva, whose answer had little to do with the ideology of the subject of the photograph. It was an answer laden with Yiddishe hartz.

“If publishing the picture can assist the Yid with his parnossah, then what’s the question?” said Rav Schechter.

Indeed, what’s the question?

This memory led me to another such treasure in my memory bank. A talmid chochom was niftar, and his talmidim desperately wanted us to feature his petirah on our cover, with an appreciation and coverage befitting a leading rosh yeshiva. Unsure if the situation called for it, I contacted my rebbi, Rav Elya Svei, to ask how to proceed. He responded with just one question. He didn’t ask how many talmidim the niftar had or how many seforim he wrote. He didn’t ask anything about him, in fact.

“Is there an almonah who will feel good that you put him on the cover?” Rav Elya asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then there’s your answer,” he said.

It’s certainly true about our gedolim that the white fire that comes along with words of Torah softens and refines their hearts. The chiddush of Purim is that every one of us has those instincts, the intuitive knowledge of what’s truly right.

Rav Shlomo Freifeld once explained how a simple, American-born woman merited sons who are respected bnei Torah. The woman had never attended a Bais Yaakov, and her husband was unlearned as well. But she had a unique minhag. When she met wealthy people, she solicited them for the yeshiva her sons attended. She never tired of her practice.

One day, the woman, a secretary, went on strike, refusing to do the work her boss needed from her because she had asked him for money for the yeshiva and he turned her down. She wouldn’t budge until he helped the yeshiva.

“Such stubbornness and persistence are Yiddishkeit itself, and that’s how one merits choshuve children,” Rav Freifeld reflected.

After arriving in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky would speak longingly about the beautiful minhagim of the simple Jews in Lita. “A Yid from my former hometown of Slutsk came to visit me this week,” Rav Abramsky told his talmidim, “and he was dressed in his bigdei Shabbos.”

Rav Abramsky looked around at his talmidim, a group of accomplished and diligent talmidei chachomim, and spoke about the values of the Jews in a bygone world.

“I recalled the minhag of the Jews of Slutsk: Whenever they would come to speak with the rov, even about a mundane matter at a mundane time, they would wear Shabbos clothing in honor of the Torah.”

It is not only the great rabbis, but also the simple Jews from the old country, the Jews from this country, who have been wizened by years of experience and vision to be able to look at the world differently than today’s gadget generation does. Their taavos do not involve blending into the culture and feeding off it. Their ambitions always leave room for Hashem and Torah. They act differently, dress differently, and listen to different types of music.

It is not enough not to bow. We need to pledge allegiance to the nuances of mesorah and to the teachings, habits and customs of those older and wiser than us. We need to adopt their ahavas Yisroel, their simple, unconditional love of other Jews, and their ability to absorb blows and stand up to pressure without cringing.

Mordechai Hatzaddik was a hero for his day and for all time. It is interesting that although he brought about the salvation of the Jews, rallying them to his side and causing them to willingly accept the entire Torah, unbowed by the threats of Haman and Achashveirosh, we have no idea of his physical stature. We may imagine him as a tall, strong, muscular person, but he may have been short and thin.

The strength required to persist in golus, throwing off the shackles of Amaleik, is not dependent on how much you can bench press. It is derived from “kvetching the benkel,” imbibing the timeless words of the Torah, and the wisdom and stamina that accompany it.

Purim is but one day, because it shouldn’t take us a lifetime to derive these lessons. In one day, we can grasp them and hold them dear, arming ourselves with what we need to empower our nation to survive, thrive and prepare the world for Moshiach.

The posuk towards the end of the Megillah states, “Verabbim mei’amei ha’aretz misyahadim ki nofal pachad haYehudim aleihem” (Esther 8:17). In the wake of the Purim miracle, many from the other nations converted to Judaism. Rabbonim would quip and say that if Purim can make a goy into a Yid, then it is certainly able to make a Yid into a Yid.

Let us hope that Purim made us a better Yid so that we may be ah gantz yohr freilach.

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