A glimpse at Purim from the eyes of Rabbi Kook.
From the book: “Celebration of the Soul” by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriyah.

Translated by Rabbi Pesach Yaffe.

Purim in Volozhin

In 1885, the year the Rav studied in Volozhin, he was unanimously chosen to lead the Purim revelry as “Purim gabbai” a position which had replaced the customary “Purim rav.” The most important students in the yeshivah lit the streetlights along the road from the Rav’s lodgings to the yeshivah in order to create a festive atmosphere as he was led to the yeshivah and to the home of the Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (the Netziv). Efraim Teitelbaum, the Rav’s roommate, related that when the Rav reached the home of the Netziv, he recited the usual verses poking fun at the administration and at events that had occurred in the yeshivah. However, instead of composing his doggerel in the vernacular Yiddish, he did so in Hebrew and Aramaic. One of his quips was, “Berlin will sink and Berlin will rise” — that is, the haskalah of Berlin will sink, while Berlin the Rosh Yeshivah will rise. Several students in the yeshivah had studied the haskalah literature and been enticed by it. When they expressed their delight and amazement at the Rav’s mastery of Hebrew and Aramaic,
the Netziv turned to them and said, “Not only does he excel

in Torah and reverence, but even in this subject you do not reach his ankles.”

In delivering his Purim compositions, the Rav imitated the Netziv’s manner of speech and enunciation. But he was repaid in kind many years later by the great-grandson of the Netziv, Rabbi Yitzchak Charif, who was chosen to be “Purim rav” in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, Rabbi Yitzchak, having internalized every word that he’d heard the Rav speak, proceeded to make a Purim speech in precise imitation of the Rav’s style and cadence. He analyzed his position of “Purim rav”: Did it encompass only the rabbinate of Jerusalem, or did his nomination entitle him to officiate as the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael? The scholarship and mental agility which he brought to his speech amazed all those present. The Rav was also impressed by Rabbi Yitzchak’s address. He admitted that he had been unaware of the rabbi’s greatness in Torah and added, “Now I am getting my due. 1116 great-grandson is repaying me here in Jerusalem for that which I said to his great-grandfather in Volozhin.”

Purim at the Rav’s Home

Yitzchak Greenberg related a description of Purim in Jaffa that he had heard from his father: “Breslav chassidim, who received a warm welcome throughout the year in the Rav’s home, led the Purim festivities. Meir Anshin and his friends danced on the table, and the sounds of song and revelry drew more people into the house. After every song and every dance the Rav would speak, pausing each time to drink a Tchaim1 before he continued.

“Then in walked Moshe Betzalel Todrosovich, a wealthy Jaffa merchant who founded the Sha’arei Torah school and was instrumental in bringing the Rav from Boisk to Jaffa. A bit inebriated, Reb Moshe Betzalel called out and requested that the Rav discourse on the verse ‘And the sister of Lotan was Timna’ [Gen. 36:22], a passage seemingly completely unrelated to the holiday.

“The Rav raised his eyes, fixed his gaze on his interlocutor,

and said with a broad smile, ‘Why, Reb Moshe Betzalel, this verse is the very origin of Purim! The Talmud [Sanhedrin 99b] states that Timna wanted to join the household of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but was rebuffed. She became the concubine of Esau’s son Elifaz, thinking, “It is better to be a maidservant of this nation than the mistress of another nation.” As punishment for the forefathers’ sin of rejecting Timna, “She gave birth to Amalek, who aggravated Israel.” Amalek, of course, was the forebear of Haman the Aggagite, enemy of the Jews. Haman’s decree therefore originated in the failure of the Jews to proselytize his “great״grandmother,” Timna, the sister of Lotan. The sin was redressed in the days of Mordechai and Esther, when “Many of the people of the land became Jews’” (Esther 8:17).

“The Rav continued to expound for another two hours, draw׳ ing from halachah and aggadah, from Zohar and Maimonides, from medieval and modern commentators, his words sparkling with sophistication and erudition. When he finally concluded, Reb Moshe Betzalel jumped up and hugged the Rav, saying, ‘Rebbe, I love you!”’

Purim at the Rav’s Home

Shabbetai Daniel described a Purim at the Rav’s home: “The Rav spoke about the difference between Israel and the nations. The joy of Israel is internal, a song of the soul, while the joy of the nations is external, issuing from the most fleeting desires. On Purim our custom is to wear costumes, because it is an auspicious time to frustrate the prosecuting angel. Hence, we adopt the behavior of Amalek for one day: we wear his clothes, drink wine, and act frivolously. He thinks we are one of his and forgets about harming Israel…. ‘One is obligated to drink on Purim’ [Megillah 7b] means that one must abrogate the evil designs of Amalek.

“The Rav stood up and began to sing with great joy, ‘Do not fear, My servant, Jacob, do not fear.’ Then, to confuse the Satan, he sang the words in Russian. Afterwards he spoke in a mixture of  Russian, German, and English, which added to the jollity. When the festivities reached their height, the Rav stood at the head of the table and began a lengthy Purim speech in which he interpreted every mitzvah in the Torah as a source of the obligation to drink on Purim. With a blend of erudition and ingenuity, he derived from every mitzvah a metaphorical, homiletic, mystical, or literary proof that one is obligated to drink ‘until he cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai”’ (ibid.).

“That was the year in which violence had burst forth across Germany. Synagogues were burned, Jewish leaders terrorized, and people beaten, robbed, and deported. The Rav sensed the impending Holocaust. Suddenly he rose, tipped his hat to one side like a soldier, girded his belt, and, with a drill sergeant’s voice, barked, ‘Let’s forge a battalion to make war on Amalek!’ Everyone leaped to his feet. The Rav passed among them with measured steps, shouted commands in garbled Russian, and marched them through the corridors of the house as they chanted, ‘Blot out the remembrance of Amalek!’ He passed among the columns singing in military style, ‘O nations, make His people joyful! He avenges the blood of His servants, renders retribution to His foes’ [Deut. 32:43]. His eyes blazed, his body trembled with excitement. They all marched after him singing until the Rav discharged the troop and they returned to the yeshivah.”

“Go, Gather All the Jews”

“Go, gather all the Jews” (Esther 4:16) — Rava said, “One is obligated to drink on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai.’”

Megillah 7b

During these days of Purim, in these difficult hours, many adversities from without besiege and afflict the entire nation of Israel.

Yet the greatest anguish stems from our internal conflicts, because internal tranquility, the peace of the House of Israel, is lacking. Let us then recall those days and their events as they are recorded in the Scroll of Esther, written, as it was, with divine inspiration. For the divine spirit transcends all passage of time and the changing ideologies of each generation. The eternal words “Go, gather all the Jews,” must once again revitalize us and elevate us from our degradation.

But one may certainly ask: Is it really possible today to gather all the Jews? How can one unite all the different factions and parties? How will the bones scattered across the wide valley of exile — both material and spiritual — once again form that entity known as Klal Yisrael and put forth a demand for its strength, its renewal, and a return from its captivity? The answer is that there is one location where this dispersion, both physical and spiritual, cannot govern us. But should you object: We see with our own eyes the awful internal strife, Jews fighting Jews, brothers turning against brothers like wolves and snakes. How then can one say, “Go, gather all the Jews”?

Whoever thinks that Haman was lying when he said, “There is one nation scattered and divided” (Esther 3:8), is mistaken. Indeed, this one nation is scattered and divided, but nevertheless it is one nation. Nor should one question the possibility of a nation being united and divided at the same time. There are wonders in the world. This nation, whose entire existence in the world rests upon wondrous wonders, demonstrates by its very existence that it is essentially one nation, despite its being scattered and divided.

True, the malady of exile has scattered and divided us. We suffer from both the actual exile, which has devastated us in its full fury, and the potential exile that has dogged us ever since and brought upon us the catastrophic eviction from our home: “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our land and distanced from upon our territory” (festival liturgy). But the Eternal One of Israel does not lie. The exile and all of its terrors must come to an end. Now that the wind has begun to blow from the four corners of the earth, from both the troubles surrounding us and from the spiritual revelation which stirs us to return and be rebuilt in the land of our life, now we are nearing the realization that there is a cure for the malady of our dispersion and division. In the final analysis, we are, and shall be, one nation, and Israel shall once again rise to the eternal words “Go, gather all the Jews.”

But the difficult question obstructing the path of redemption remains: dispersion and division are consuming us. The answer is that a person has two aspects. Medical treatment of the individual draws from the inner springs of vitality and health dormant within a person’s soul. ,That soul is so hidden that the patient himself is unaware of its essence. Spiritual maladies and their physical manifestations infect only the baser part of man, that familiar side of which he is aware. But his hidden, unknown side always bursts with energy, brimming with life and strength. This hidden repository of health has the power to affect the outer self, which misleads one into thinking that he is sick and feeble when he in fact possesses an energetic, healthy soul full of life and vigor.

That which is true for the individual applies to a much greater degree to the entire collective. Klal Yisrael in particular is truly one nation: “And who is like Your nation, Israel, one nation in the land?” (I Sam. 15:29). We must therefore admit our error in identifying the essence of Judaism with its surface appearance, its outer, baser side. For this self-image has made us fearful. We are conscious only of our dispersion and division. The Hamans’ of every generation, who strike at us with their poisonous hatred, particularly in this transition period, perceive our weak side, for it is visible and recognizable. But precisely through these tribulations we shall come to sense that we possess a previously unknown, collective soul, a great national spirit whose existence we have forgotten. It abounds with vitality and possesses sufficient power to renew our lives as of old and to withstand all of the Amalekites who wish to smite our feeble. This hidden Judaism, unknown even to ourselves, this great soul of a great nation, which bears both the suffering and the light of the world within it, will become known to us during these portentous times. The blessing of “Go, gather all the Jews” will emerge from its unknown place in the national soul. Every Purim we must appreciate the great, hidden repository of our blessedness and wealth and the virtue of our oneness, which shall vanquish our scattered and divided side. Amidst all the redeemers, emancipators, and friends, amidst all the subjugators and enemies and their various councils, He Who sits in the heavens laughs, bringing us the light of salvation and redemption of the worlds. From a condition of “until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai’” comes the supernal inclination to find the unknown Jew within us. Brothers shall know one another and join hands, and a mighty voice will be heard: “Let us rise up and ascend to Zion, to the house of our Lord!” (Jer. 31:5). And, as was said in the days of Mordechai and Esther, it shall be said that there is one united nation, standing strong, which will rebuild its ruins through its hidden, internal repository in which the blessing of “Go, gather all the Jews” is concealed. “One is obligated to drink on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordechai,”’ and let us say, “L’chaim, l chaim” to good life and peace for all of Israel, and all say, “Amen.”

Maamarei HaRe’iyah, pp. 155-7





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