From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
“There is no parallel to Israel’s longings amongst any other nation or tongue. Human history knows of no other people that have sat in the exile for 2,000 years and still pines and longs for its homeland. This is a mystery to the world, and we know that it is the word of G-d, who sustains and keeps us alive”
(Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, 257)
Rabbi Dov Begon – Rosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today:
When the Wine Goes in, the Fragrance Comes Out
“A person is obligated to drink [Hebrew: lehitbasem]on Purm until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai'” (Megillah 7b; Orach Chaim 695:2). Seemingly we can ask: How can our sages require us to drink? Surely drunkenness causes great sin. Yet it is because the miracles performed for the Jewish People on Purim occurred by way of drinking parties. Vashti was removed from the throne by way of a drinking party, bringing in Esther. Likewise, Haman’s downfall came about through a drinking party. Our sages therefore required us to drink enough that we should remember the great miracle by way of wine.
All the same, we are not commanded to get drunk and to allow our reveling to diminish our dignity to the point of rakish foolishness, but only enough to achieve a pleasurable feeling of love for G-d and thankfulness for the miracles He performed for us. If, however, someone knows about himself that drinking will make him treat one of the mitzvoth lightly, such as ritual hand-washing or the blessing after the meal, or that it will make him skip mincha or ma’ariv, or behave frivolously, then better he should abstain. Let all one’s deeds be for the sake of heaven. (Orach Chaim 695:2, Biur Halachah).
Seemingly we can ask, “Why do our sages use the Hebrew expression “lehitbasem” [literally to have a fragrance] for “to drink”, rather than “lehishtaker”, the normal expression for “to get drunk”? It is because, as our sages said, “When wine goes in, secrets come out.” And what are the “secrets” that come out of a Jew who drinks wine on Purim? Only good words leave his lips, and, as our sages said, “‘Good’ can only mean Torah,” or, “‘Good’ can only mean a righteous person.”
The opposite occurred at the drinking feast of Achashverosh. There, the king’s honorees, gathered together from amongst all the nations, sat and drank a king’s share of wine, and their true faces were revealed, all lasciviousness and corruption, the opposite of the pleasant fragrance exuded by the Jewish People even when they drink wine.
Today, twenty-four years ago, on the 14th of Adar, the first day of Purim, our master Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook was taken to the celestial sphere. All his life he engaged in disseminating the Torah lights of his father. Those lights have spread a good and pleasant fragrance to the entire House of Israel and to the entire world. Rav Tzvi Yehuda was privileged to be the great educator who actualized the potential of his father’s blessed light and raised up numerous disciples who follow in his light.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda would customarily explain our sages’ words, “The sanctification of G-d’s name is greater than the Profanation of G-d’s name [me’chullul Hashem] as meaning, “The greatest sanctification of G-d’s name is one that emerges from the profanation of G-d’s name.” When a believing person merits ascending in Torah greatness, and in the fear and love of G-d, he merits seeing with his spiritual sight how truly everything is for the best. Then, even what seems at the time like the profanation of G-d’s name, darkness and evil, turns out to be part of G-d’s kingdom.
And perhaps that is the spiritual level that the person drinking wine on Purim must reach, such that “he cannot distinguish between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordechai’.” Both stand beneath the watchful gaze of G-d, and “everything G-d does He does for the good.”
The entire House of Israel caught a glimpse of this when they saw the reaction of the rabbis of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav and its yeshiva high school, as well as the bereaving families of the pristine children murdered by Arabs seeking to steal our land. All of them reacted out of faith and valor, out of an all-encompassing vision of the intricate and complex reality faced by our nation and our country at this hour. How fortunate we are to have been privileged to learn and to teach Rav Kook’s lights. We hope that those lights will illuminate the entire House of Israel, and that Israel will bask in their pleasant fragrance. And may we be the living fulfillment of Song of Songs 8:14: ” Make haste, my beloved! Be like a gazelle or a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”
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Rabbi Shlomo Aviner– Chief Rabbi of Bet El
Nerves of Steel
In his last year, our master Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, zt”l, before ascending on high, spoke every Saturday Night on the same topic: Moses. Certainly one can talk about Moses day and night for a thousand years and only scratch the surface of his gargantuan greatness, which reaches to the heavens. Yet Rav Tzvi Yehuda chose to speech specifically about a particular chapter: the Golden Calf.
Following the spiritual climax of the Sinai Revelation, in which the Master of the Universe revealed Himself to the Jewish People face to face, Moses took hold of the Tablets, written by the finger of G-d, in order to bring them down to the people. Yet he was first banished from heaven. G-d said, “Go down, for the people have become corrupt” (Exodus 32:7). G-d was saying: “The people you brought out of Egypt are corrupt and there is nothing to be done with them. The shidduch [match] has unraveled! As for My promise to Abraham about a great nation, that shall be fulfilled through you. With this Jewish People, I have no further dealings.” G-d concluded, “I shall destroy them and make you into a great nation” (verse 10).
How did Moses react to this announcement? First of all, he admitted guilt, saying indeed, “This people have committed a grave sin” (verse 31). He did not respond like a lawyer might, trying to blur the facts. Yet at the same time, he presented a shocking argument to G-d: “Now, if You would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that You have written” (verse 32). What “book” was he referring to? The World-to-Come (see Igarot HaRe’iyah II:188-189). Moses was saying, “I am willing to forego everything, my place in the World-to-Come, for the sake of the Jewish People.” Rav Tzvi Yehuda emphasized that here Moses’s great love for the Jewish People was revealed, to the point of “mesirut nefesh”, meaning not just “sacrifice of the body” but “sacrifice of the soul”, of his place in Heaven. (Sichot Rabbenu 53, 58).
What had happened here was just terrible. “On the day of his wedding, the day of his rejoicing” (Song of Songs 3:11), Moses was banished from on high. Down below, not only did he discover the people dancing around the Golden Calf, but committing sexual sin and murder (Rashi). The whole thing defies belief! Yet Moses was ready to sacrifice his soul and to abandon his World-to-Come for the sake of the Jewish People.
Rav Tzvi Yehuda would stress again and again that for that you need nerves of steel. Every Saturday Night he would mention Moses’s nerves of steel. You can view this as a sort of “last will and testament” of our master. It wasn’t his way to leave behind a will laying out who should receive what inheritance or position, but a last will regarding spiritual matters, yes. He apparently thought that days would come when we would need nerves of steel. And indeed, those days have arrived. The Jewish People are not exactly the way we would want. Yet this is our people and we must always stay with them.
With this people, this generation, this country, this army – we are together. Without divisiveness, without arrogance, without rejection. Just with nerves of steel and great patience. It is true that we have harsh criticism for many Jews – and they have harsh criticism of us as well. All the same, we must continue on together. Always we must remain together with the Jewish People, the Assembly of Israel, the soul of Israel.
And anyway, we know that all the shortcomings we see in public life do not reflect shortcomings deep down in the soul.
A Christian said to Rabbi Chanina: “Now you are most certainly impure, for it says, ‘Israel wore her impurity’ (Lamentations 1:9), and the Divine Presence cannot rest amongst you when you are impure.” (Rashi). Rabbi Chanina responded, “Come and see what Scripture says about them: ‘He dwells with them amidst their impurity’ (Leviticus 16:16). Even when they are impure, the Divine Presence dwells amongst them” (Yoma 57a).
“Come and see!” This is an expression from the Zohar that appears ten times in the Talmud. It means, “See from within. See with your spiritual sight. Then you will see something clear and simple. You will see all the virtues of Israel, who dwell in Zion, who carry on their backs an entire country, with all its problems. Then you will fall in love with the Jewish People once more, in keeping with the Master-of-the-Universe, who “lovingly selects His people Israel” (Morning Prayers) and who “loves His people Israel”.(Evening Prayers). G-d loves us always, and chooses us always, and rejoices in us always. And we are His people! His people!
Rabbi Azriel Ariel
“Every Family, Every Province”
Megillat Esther is relevant on many different levels. It relates ethnically to the Jewish People and politically to Persia. It affects walled and unwalled cities. It also relates to the personal lives of its heroes – Achashverosh and Haman, Esther and Mordechai. Here, however, I shall read between the lines, striving to touch on yet another level, that of the family.
Megillat Esther is a story of broken families. Achashverosh’s family is destroyed violently when he puts his wife Vashti to death on the advice of Memuchan. Esther’s parents’ home is destroyed when her father and mother die young. Mordechai’s home is destroyed as well. According to our sages (Megillah 13b), Esther is Mordechai’s lawful wife until she is stolen by Achashverosh. Even Haman’s home is destroyed on the day he is hanged on the tree. Only one house is reconstructed – the House of Israel.
Surprisingly enough, amongst the broken homes, one home stands out as fairly stable: that of Haman. Whoever ponders the spousal relationship between Zeresh and Haman will find good communications between them. Haman shares his experiences with her, both the good and the bad. He has no need to hide anything from her. When things are going well for him, he invites her together with his friends: “He fetched his friends and Zeresh his wife” (Esther 5:10) in order to tell them “the glory of his riches, the multitude of his children, and everything as to how the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the princes” (verse 11). She is the first to give him good advice, from his point of view: “Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him…” (verse 14).
When things are going badly for him, he feels certain enough of her friendship to tell her – and after her the others – about the distressing thing that happened to him: “Haman recounted to Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had befallen him” (6:13). She shares in his sorrow, without causing him to harbor any illusions. At the same time, she does not volunteer to be the first to tell him bad things: “Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife to him” (ibid.). And when “his friends” become “his wise men”, she remains what she was before. She is always “Zeresh his wife”.
True, Haman is “Haman the evildoer”, but even in evildoers one can find something positive. Not without reason did our sages say that “Some of Haman’s descendents taught Torah in Bnei Brak” (Gittin 57b). We, too, are allowed to learn something from him.
The unhealthiest home is that of Achashverosh. For him, a wife is nothing but a “disposable” object. He has no normal communication with his wife. With Vashti he does not talk (Incidentally, she is never once called “his wife”, but “the queen”, attesting to merely functional communication, without any personal relationship). He “lets drop” a command, she refuses, and the wise men rule that she must die, without his trying to talk to her and to hear from her the background to the crisis between them. In regards to that story we are aware of our sages’ words that Achashverosh was not from a royal family. Inside his home, he therefore acted like “a slave who becomes king”. Vashti, who was the daughter of kings, and possessed self-respect, did not agree to submit, and she was murdered (even if this occurred by dint of some sort of “legal proceeding”).
With Esther as well, the threat of death so loomed over her that she was afraid to approach him of her own accord. The conversations between them do not characterize those of a married couple, but rather those between a master and a weak slave: “Esther spoke yet again before the king, and fell down at his feet, and besought him with tears” (Esther 8:3). Esther, who was likewise a daughter of kings, dealt out to him as he did to her, hiding her secret from him: “Esther did not make known her kindred nor her people” (2:20). Esther, as well, like her predecessor, is never called “Esther, his wife,” but only “Esther the Queen”. Even when Achashverosh has his moment of romantic jealousy, he screams at Haman, “Will he even take the queen from me right here in my house?” (7:8) instead of “my wife”, etc.
The greatest tragedy is the shared home of Mordechai and Esther. The relationship between them is complex. He is many years older than her: “He brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther … When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her for his own daughter [Hebrew: bat]” (2:7). Yet our sages expound, “lebayit” – “for his wife”.
Esther treats Mordechai obediently: “Esther did not make known her people… for Mordecai had commanded her not to” (2:10). Later, as well, “Esther did not make known her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up by him” (2:20). Yet this obedience did not stem from any threat, but from great reverence.
Later on there are differences of opinion regarding whether or not to approach Achashverosh, and Esther is not deterred from expressing her own opinion. Here we see a couple having a dialogue. There is no coercion from the one side, and no impudent refusal from the other. There is an argument; there is a discussion, albeit harsh, charged and onerous. In the end, there is even a joint decision, and initiated by Esther at that. How distressing it is that that very same healthy marital relationship that finds expression in that discussion is irrevocably destroyed as a result of their joint decision. When Esther goes to Achashverosh on her own initiative, she finally becomes forbidden to her husband Mordechai [previously her being together with Achashverosh had always been against her will, hence she remained permissible to him]. She therefore says, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16), which our sages understand as, “Just as I was lost from my father’s house, so am I lost to you, Mordechai.”
Yet Esther’s sacrifice is not in vain. Her private home she sacrificed for the sake of the House of Israel, saving her people from Haman’s decree, and facilitating reconstruction of the Second Temple.
The story of the family, concealed in the winding course of Megillat Esther, is revealed at the end, when all the themes are joined together: nation and family, community and city: “These days shall be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city” (9:28). And regarding them all, “these days of Purim shall not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed” (ibid.).
Translation: R. Blumberg
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From the World of Rabbi Avraham Kook
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