From The World of Rabbi Avraham Kook (First Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael)
“On Purim, the entire Jewish People are showered with a willingness to accept the Torah. On that day, every Jew who supports G-d’s Torah is illuminated with a true desire to choose the Torah and its pathways.” (Olat Re’iyah I:445)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Two Kohanim Gadolim [High Priests]”
The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on two ornaments amongst the apparel of the Kohen Gadol [High Priest]. One ornament consisted of the two avnei shoham [onyx stones], one on each of the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders: “Take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of Israel’s sons. There shall be six names on one stone, and the remaining six names on the second stone inscribed in the order of their birth” (Exodus 28:9-10).
The second ornament was on the Kohen Gadol’s heart, the Choshen Mishpat [decision breast plate]: “Aaron will thus carry the names of Israel’s sons on the decision breastplate over his heart when he comes into the sanctuary. It shall be a constant remembrance before God” (verse 29).
The avnei shoham on the the Kohen Gadol’s shoulders, and the Choshen Mishpat on his heart, served as a reminder for G-d, as it says: “Place the two stones on the two shoulder pieces of the ephod as remembrance stones for Israel’s sons. Aaron shall bear their names before the L-rd on his two shoulders as a remembrance” (28:12). Rashi interpreted “remembrance” to mean: “G-d should see the tribes inscribed before Him, and He should remember their righteousness.”
The Kohen Gadol’s benevolent heart encompassed within it the entire Jewish People, in all their tribes and all their variety, as alluded to by the avnei shoham. After all, he was commanded to bless G-d’s people lovingly, and the intent was that he should bless the ENTIRE Jewish People. If, G-d forbid, a Kohen hates someone from the congregation, he is not entitled to bless them.
Yet it is not enough to love the Jewish People. One also has to take responsibility for them and defend the entire generation, as Isaiah said (3:10), “Say of the righteous, that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.” As Mesillat Yesharim (Chapter 19) comments, “The entire generation benefits from those fruits.”
Shoulders are a symbol of taking responsibility (perhaps this is why army officers, who bear heavy responsibility, have their ranks on their shoulders).
Today, our generation, the generation of Israel’s rebirth, has merited the appearance of those two Kohanim Gedolim, father and son, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt”l, and his only son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook, zt”l, who continued in his father’s path. It is equally true of both of them, that the entire Jewish People was in their heart constantly, just as Aaron the Kohen Gadol bore the names of the sons of Israel on the Choshen Mishpat when he entered the sanctuary, as a constant remembrance before G-d (Exodus 28:29).
Yet the Jewish People, in all their tribes and variety were not just in their hearts, as symbolized by the Decision Breastplate, but also “on their shoulders”. In other words, Rav Kook, both father and son, took responsibility for the Jewish People to bring merit to their generation and to the entire world. It was akin to the way that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Eliezer brought merit to the entire world, requesting of G-d that He exempt the world from the yardstick of strict justice (Succah 45b). Moreover, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto writes that a saint directs all his deeds towards the good of his generation, to bring them merit and to defend them (Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 19).
On the 14th of Adar, twenty-five years ago, the pure, enlightening soul of our master and teacher Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l ascended to the celestial realm, after being privileged to establish a generation of Torah scholars who illuminate the soul of the nation by way of the light of Rav Tzvi Yehuda’s father, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen, zt”l. During these dark times, the nation is in such great need of this light. This light shall continue to illuminate the path of the Jewish People and the entire world, down through the generations until the arrival of our righteous Messiah, speedily in our day, Amen. With blessings for a joyous Purim,
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner – Chief Rabbi of Beit El
The fast preceding Purim is called Ta’anit Esther [The Fast of Esther], and the Megillah is called Megillat Esther [The Scroll of Esther]. Women are obligated to hear the Megillah reading because “they, too, were involved in that miracle.” The Rishonim [medieval commentaries] explain this in two ways: 1) women were included in Haman’s decree; 2) the miracle occurred through a woman.
A terrible situation was created in which all the Jews were threatened with total annihilation in one day, a tragedy with ostensibly no way out. Deliverance came via a woman who was righteous and shy, but also wise and determined. She was a humble, taciturn woman with humble, taciturn ancestors who made quiet humility their byword. There was King Saul, who, when summoned to assume the kingship, “hid himself among the baggage” (I Samuel 10:22), and didn’t brag about being chosen when he had the chance (10:16). There was Benjamin, who remained silent [in Jacob’s presence] about Joseph’s sale, and Rachel, whose silence enabled her sister to wed Jacob first.
Rachel’s conceding in this way to her sister was remarkable. She started in the shade, and retreated further into the shade. Her first meeting with Jacob with accompanied by weeping, because it contained a fragile, transient element, and our sages say that she saw by ruach hakodesh [spiritual intuition] that she would not be buried with him. Already at the start she sensed the end, that she would be pushed aside. She thus said, “Bring me sons. Otherwise, I shall die” (Genesis 30:1). The Midrash teaches that she was prophesying that she would soon die and she wanted children beforehand.
Esther’s status as monarch was tenuous, as was Joseph’s. Seemingly she was a well-respected queen, but as certain as she was of her status, in approaching Achashverosh uninvited she really was risking her life, hence she said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). In doing Mordechai’s bidding she was endangering herself. She endangered her physical self, but also her soul, sunken, as she was, in the impurity of King Achashverosh, whom she had married willingly. All her life she was captive in that palace, so full of idolatry, sexual sin and bloodshed.
Yet even there she maintained her holiness and her spiritual intuition. In this she resembled the Jewish People. Even if we sin and fall asleep in our mitzvah observance, our spiritual uniqueness remains within us: “You are all fair, my love. There is no blemish in you” (Song of Songs 4:7); “a virgin, never known by a man” (Genesis 24:16). Esther was an orphan, captive to impurity, but she remained in her supreme purity, like the divine presence in exile. The crux of the miracle was accomplished through her.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner
The Reengagement Movement
This is our movement, the Reengagement Movement, so new yet old. The more people join it, the more blessing it will bring, and it will foment a revolution. The Reengagement Movement travels a road that bypasses the media, politics, demonstrations, harsh protests, and the balance of fear that states, “If things are bad for me, let them be bad for you too. It bypasses being “anti”. Reengagement is “pro”. It places the nation’s unity above all else. Reengagement is against having winners and losers. It is in favor of us all being winner, with no one losing. It is in favor of our going door to door, heart to heart.
In our movement, we are used to saying that we are happy to be together in our land, happy that we have a country and an army. We are happy with what we have, yet simultaneously we long for much more: that there should be respect for labor, and it should not be farmed out to foreigners; that there should be a longing to hold on to our land, and not to give it away. We believe that being a soldier is an honor, and being a combat soldier is a great honor. We long for there to be good education steeped in heart, faith and good character. We long for the courts to make decisions that are natural, upright and honest. We long for good, honest youth, devoid of violence, alcohol, prostitution or drugs. We long for there to be security in Israel, without surrendering to terror. We long for there to be clean television and gentle art.
We long for happy families, without humiliated or battered women. We long for kosher, modest, stable marriages, for families with lots of children, for people to respect Shabbat and not to spend it at night-spots and shopping, thereby negating the rights of workers to a day off. We long for a broad-based welfare system in which all the economic distress of our brethren will disappear. We have so many longings. How shall we succeed? Towards that end we must engage in dialogue, reengage, far from the media spotlights. Our rule must be always to seek out our brethren. We must meet together, not to get something out of them, but just for the sake of meeting, for we are brothers. By such means we will achieve everything we want.
Rabbi Ya’akov HaLevi Filber
“Write My Story for Future Generations”
When Esther sent the sages her request, “Write my story for future generations” (Megillah 6a), they responded, “You are arousing jealousy between us and the nations.” Seemingly, their response is puzzling. Since when do we censor Scripture because of what the nations will say? A point in Rambam’s Igeret Teiman invites the same question:
“‘What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws?’ (Deuteronomy 4:8). G-d’s setting us apart through His laws and commandments, thus highlighting our superiority over the nations, made all the idolaters enormously jealous of us.”
Would we ever consider erasing or hiding our Torah-based superiority so as not to arouse jealousy amongst the nations? Assuming we wouldn’t, what was the argument between Esther and the sages?
We can understand the sages’ response on the background of their times. When they lived, new works were still being added to Scriptures, and Esther was asking the sages that her scroll, as well, should be included in the Bible. Our sages had their own yardstick for what should or should not be included in the Bible. As they said (Megillah 14a), “Many prophets arose in Israel, twice as many as the number of Jews who left Egypt. Yet, prophecies needed for future generations were included, and those not needed were excluded.” The argument between Esther and the Sages was: Is or is not the content of Megillat Esther relevant to future generations?
According to our sages (whose wisdom was based on past experience), the Purim story could not be classed as “needed for future generations”, because until Haman’s appearance, there was no precedent of genocide. Hence, the Purim story seemed to be a one-time event such that no one could ever imagine it recurring. It is true that the Jewish people had previously known trials and tribulations, for example Esau and Laban, or Pharaoh in Egypt, who decreed, “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22). After that there was Amalek in the desert, and all the other enemies of Israel from the period of the Judges and the Kings. Yet such an “insane” decree as this one, “to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day” (Esther 3:13), the Jews of Mordechai and Esther’s day had never known. The Rabbis, based on their empirical experience, viewed this genocidal plot as an extraordinary, one-time event that would never repeat itself. They therefore concluded that the Bible should not include such a transient event. For them it was a prophecy irrelevant to future generations.
Esther, by contrast, was one of seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel. Prophecy is not the product of past experience. Rather, it looks forward, transcending the limits of time and place. Esther in her prophecy looked towards the future of the Jewish People, and with her ruach hakodesh [spiritual intuition] she knew that the Purim story was not a one-time event, but rather, one that unfortunately would repeat itself many times throughout the future history of the Jewish People. Through her prophecy she knew that a prolonged exile awaited the Jewish People in the desert of nations, an exile whose end could not be seen on the horizon. It was an exile in which the Jewish People would face harsh trials. They would view themselves as a person drowning in an endless sea, in need of a life-raft, even if he does not know where the stream of troubled times is dragging him.
Such a life-raft – in Esther’s view – was Megillat Esther, for it taught the Jewish People that even if Israel in exile reached a situation of total annihilation, of a Holocaust, and even if the light could not be seen at the end of the exilic tunnel, even then they should not despair, because a decree could sometimes be transformed overnight. Indeed, “venahafoch hu” [the overturning of expectations – Esther 9:1] was the lesson of the Megillah, and throughout Jewish history there was never a prophecy so needed for future generations as that of Megillat Esther. In fact, the Rabbis ultimately accepted her view, and Megillat Esther was included in the Bible.