The following short essays by HaRav Dov Begon first appeared in Hebrew in the Machon Meir weekly Shabbat giveaway bulletin. Translations are by Rabbi Menachem Weinberg.
Message for Today
“Go gather together all the Jews” (Esther 4:16).
Esther asks of Mordechai, “Go gather together all the Jews.” On the surface, Mordechai’s mission seems to be to gather together and to unify all of the Jews, who appear to Haman as “a people scattered and dispersed among the nations” (Esther 3:8). This task seems impossible. Is it really possible to gather together and to unify all the Jews? After all, there are so many differences and so many opinions, so many streams and parties. How is it possible to gather together and unite them all? What is the secret of unity?
From where does one find the strength to gather together and unite the Jewish People? Is it only our fear of Haman’s decrees in the past, or threats to the Jewish People in the present, that can unite us all? The secret of uniting all of the Jews is to return to ourselves, to return to our roots. The root of a tree is where all the divergent branches unite, and so, too, in the roots of the Jewish People, we can find what unites and binds us. Surely we all possess one Father, and our whole nation has one destiny. It is just that the tree’s root is hiding in the ground, and only the branches are visible to the eye.
This is alluded to by the expression “Megilat Esther.” On the one hand, the word “megilah” is linked to the word “gilui,” meaning “revelation.” On the other hand, the word “Esther” is linked to the word “hester,” meaning “concealment.” It is the same with the human body, whose many limbs and organs are visible to the naked eye, whereas the soul, which is hidden, unites all the limbs and organs together. It is likewise the same with the Jewish People. All of us together possess one soul, down through the generations.
Right now, the more we delve and ponder and study, to clarify and know our roots, going back to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the more we will find what unites us. We will find ourselves and our private and universal destiny, and we will march together up the winding path to complete Redemption, as G-d promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation… You shall become a blessing…. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2). Then, all together, we will merit the “new light that will shine upon Zion.” Have a happy Purim!
Message for Today
“The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.”
The Sabbath before Purim it is a mitzvah to read “Parashat Zachor” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), about “what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.” And what did they do?
“When they encountered you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear G-d” (verse 18). Amalek wished to show all the nations that Israel is like all other nations, even those inferior to it. Amalek therefore attacked and fought us. As Rashi comments:
“‘When they encountered you [Heb.: ‘karcha’] on the way’: The meaning is ‘cold’ [kar] as opposed to heat. They cooled you, moderated you to tepidness from seething heat. For all the nations were afraid of waging war against you, until they commenced, preparing the way for others. This is compared with a boiling bath into which no creature could enter. One villain came and leaped into it. Although he was scalded, he cooled it for the others.”
Amalek’s gross impudence in fighting Israel immediately after the Exodus and the splitting of the sea, when all could see that Israel are exalted over all other nations, and G-d’s special favorite, was made possible as a result of the weakness that reigned over Israel, as it says, “Amalek came and fought Israel at ‘Rephidim’” (Exodus 17:8), which our sages interpret to mean “the place where Israel grew lax [raphu yedeihem] in Torah learning.” At Rephidim, their faith and identity were weakened, and they said, “Do we have G-d in our midst or not?” (Exodus 17:7).
Israel’s victory over Amalek was rendered possible by Moses and Joshua exalting and strengthening the spirit of the nation and their faith, as it says, “When Moses would lift his arm, Israel would prevail” (Exodus 17:11). Our sages ask:
“Did Moses’s arms make or break the war? Rather, the point is that as long as Israel gazed upward and subjugated their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they would prevail. Otherwise, they would fall.” (Rosh Hashanah 29a).
Moses, in raising his arms upward, was hinting to Israel that Amalek’s goal was to defeat Israel, and that their defeat of Israel would constitute a profanation of G-d’s Name. After all, G-d’s Name was called upon us, Israel’s wars are G-d’s wars, and Israel is G-d’s army.
The goal of the Amalekites of the past, and those who have followed in their path down through the generations until today, is to show everyone that Israel are like all the nations and can be fought and humiliated, and even annihilated, as Haman and Hitler tried to do. In our very day as well, the Arabs who seek to steal our land, and their Muslim supporters, have the same goal.
In face of this goal of humiliating Israel and blurring their identity and purpose of bringing light to the world from Eretz Yisrael, we have to place at the head of our country a leadership that recognizes the identity and special superiority of the Jewish People – a leadership that will broadcast faith and trust in the righteousness of our historic and divine right to our Land. It has to be a leadership that will deter our enemies not only with weaponry and a strong army, but with a profound spirit and strong faith. It has to be a leadership that will unite the nation, and that will call out with a loud, clear voice, both to our people and to the whole world, that the L-rd G-d of Israel is King, and is sovereign over all, and that He chose us from among all nations and gave us His Torah and Land. By such means may we be privileged to see with our own eyes how the tables are turned, how the Jews will have light and gladness, joy and honor.
With blessings for a joyous Purim,
Looking forward to complete salvation.
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, 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.