ISBN 0-8226-0573-7 (Vol. 13)
1. Our Sages, on the verse “This day the L-rd your G-d commands you,” say that all matters of the Torah, even events of the past “should every day be new in your eyes, as if you were commanded about them today.” Not only do they provide a lesson for the present, but it is with the same force as if happening for the first time.
The above applies to all matters of Torah. In addition, special things have extra emphasis, indicating they need greater admonition, and that the idea of being “new” applies with greater force. One of the things which stress the idea of being “new” is Purim. The Megillah states (9:28) “These days shall be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim shall not depart from the Jews, or their memorial perish from their seed.” Thus we see that besides the regular admonition concerning all matters of Torah, Purim has extra emphasis to be considered “new” every year. The Baal Shem Tov interpreted the ruling of the mishnah (Megillah 2:1) “Whoever reads the Megillah backwards has not performed his obligation,” that whoever reads the Megillah thinking it is an event of the past (“backwards”), has not fulfilled his duty, for it must be “new” — as originally.
However, it seems as if a Jew is being asked to perform a contradiction. On the one hand, a person must understand the meaning of what he reads in the Megillah, where it states clearly that it happened “in the days of Achashverosh” thousands of years previously. on the other hand, he is being asked to realize that although it happened in the past, it must be literally “new” for him. How can a person do both things?
The answer comes from the name “Achashverosh.” Our Sages say that Achashverosh alludes to the Holy One blessed be He, to Whom belongs the “Acharis” and “Reishis” — the “beginning” and “end.” The idea of kingship on this earth stems from the concept of Kingship Above, the concept of a King of Israel stemming from the concept of the King of kings (G-d); and non-Jewish kings stems from the idea of a king among the Jews. Hence, the kingship of Achashverosh stems from the level of Kingship Above — He to whom the “beginning” and “end” belong.
The “beginning” refers to the beginning of time (i.e. the past) and the “end” refers to all following time (i.e. present and future). G-d is called Achashverosh because the “beginning and “end” belong to Him — G-d is the only Master of time, and such that the beginning and end of time (past, present and future) are one. For since “Reishis” and “Acharis” are alluded to in the same word, it indicates that their separate concepts (past, and present and future) are united.
Since the Megillah emphasizes that G-d’s name is Achashverosh, it follows that all the concepts in the Megillah are related to this idea that the past, present and future are all one. Even an event that was in the past (“Reishis”) applies to the present and future (“Acharis”); and since they are written as one word (“Achashverosh”) it must apply in the present and future in exactly the same way as it was originally — at the “beginning.” Hence there is no contradiction between reading and understanding the Megillah literally (which relates an event in the distant past) and reading the Megillah as if it were “new.” For despite it happening at the “beginning” (past), it extends into the “end” (present and future), and as if it happened originally — the synthesis of “beginning” and “end” in the one word (Achashverosh).
This is the idea of “these days are remembered and kept.” When we read the Megillah and “remember” all the events of the past, it is in the manner of “kept” — their effect is new, as originally. Simply put, this means that just as the original Purim marks the conversion of war (on the 13th of Adar) to “light and joy, happiness and honor” (the celebration of Purim on the 14th), so too today. This is effected by the service of Purim — the reading of the Megillah and the other mitzvahs of the day.
Through this we merit G-d’s blessings, an increase in “light and joy, gladness and honor.” And, as the Talmud states (Megillah 6b), “one period of redemption is brought close to another” — immediately following the redemption of Purim, the future redemption shall come, of which it states “as in the days of your going out of Egypt I will show you wonders.”
2. The miracle of Purim seems to start from the chapter relating Haman’s anger against Mordechai, which was the reason for his decree against all the Jews, leading to the miracle of Purim. Why therefore, does the Megillah tell us (in such great detail) about the previous events — the reason for Esther’s election to queen, and the story of Mordechai’s “sitting in the king’s gate.” In those days this was not an unusual occurrence. We find other instances of Jews, before Mordechai’s time, who were the king’s counselors. For example, Daniel was Nevuchadnezzer’s counselor. Since Torah is written in the most concise and terse of styles, we must say that these events told in great detail teach us (besides the chain of events in the story of Purim) lessons in halachah. And since the reading of the Megillah is a mitzvah incumbent on all Jews, the lessons derived from it must be comprehensible to all. Women too were included in the miracle, and indeed the miracle of Purim happened through a woman — Queen Esther. Likewise children: the Megillah emphasizes that “the remembrance (of these events) shall not depart from their seed,” which refers to children.
One of the lessons from the Megillah comes from the feast King Achashverosh prepared, where he made sure that everything should be done “according to every man’s desire.” That is, if Mordechai the Jew, or one of his people (Jews) should come to the feast, he would have kosher food and drink. Despite Achashverosh’s might and greatness, and despite the Jews’ position of being “spread out among the nations” of his kingdom, he wanted to make sure there would be kosher food for the Jews who came to the feast.
The lesson from this is as follows: A Jew may think that when he is in the capital city of a country, in the “king’s gate,” (i.e. a position of influence in the government) he should not openly display his Judaism. He should not, by asking for kosher food, show that his conduct is different from other people — for why should he let himself “stick out?” Since in exile Jews are only a small minority, dispersed among the nations, a Jew may think that he should be happy he has been invited to the king’s feast in the capital city. In regard to kashrus, he can eat fruit and drink water — but not to display his Judaism by asking for kosher foods, thereby showing he doesn’t eat food all others partake of. Why touch on non-Jews’ sensibilities by showing that “their (Jews’) religion is different from all peoples?!”
The Megillah teaches us otherwise: Even when a Jew is in the capital city, and he knows that one of the ministers is “Haman” who wishes to do evil to Jews, and the other ministers are not opposed to this — he must still openly display his Jewishness and ask for kosher food — “according to every man’s desire!” Every man’s desire is to show that he is a whole man, not crippled. If he is ashamed of being a “man,” ashamed of his identity, he is the greatest cripple of all. So too in our case: A Jew must be proud of his Jewishness; and if he is ashamed of his identity and tries to hide it — he is the greatest of cripples!
The claim that is made that one shouldn’t “start up” with or impinge on the sensibilities of non-Jews by emphasizing the differences between them, is a complete error. A gentile in any case knows that a Jew’s religion and conduct is different from others. Hence, when a Jew tries to hide his identity and acts as if he has no connection to the “one people” whose “religion is different from all others,” the non-Jew considers him a hypocrite, trying to deceive them all into thinking that he is not a Jew.
G-d has created him a Jew, and therefore there can be no impugning anyone’s sensibilities by acting in accordance with how he was created. And since non-Jews know in any case he is a Jew, trying to hide it won’t help anything. Not only will one not receive honor from non-Jews by doing so, but they’ll consider him a “swindler” trying to conceal the truth. Indeed, if one’s wish is to get into the right circles and thereby be successful “in the king’s gate,” the way to do so is to display his Judaism. Hence, when sitting at the king’s table, one must demand to be given kosher food. G-d, the King of kings, has decreed that when a Jew acts in such a fashion, eventually his demands will be met.
Such conduct wins honor and respect for a Jew also in non-Jewish eyes, to the extent that they pay attention to his views on governmental matters — for they see he is a true person worthy of complete trust. whereas when non-Jews see he does not act as a Jew they cannot trust him in governmental matters, for seeing the contradiction between his essence and his conduct, they cannot know if he speaks the truth.
Conduct in the above manner when a Jew is in the “king’s gate” is applicable to all Jews, regardless of whether he is in the “king’s gate” of the capital city or another city, or whether it is the “king’s gate” of his house, neighborhood, borough etc. A well known saying is that “a person’s house is his castle (palace)” — and hence there is a “king’s gate” regarding his private home, school, neighborhood, business etc. The Megillah teaches us that wherever a Jew is he should openly conduct himself as a Jew, and not to conceal his identity. Through this he will have greater success in all his matters, finding favor in non-Jewish eyes.
When a Jew is in the “king’s gate” — an influential position in the government — it is even more important to display his Judaism, for then there are many people who observe his conduct; whereas in his house or neighborhood, only a few see. Of course, Torah requires a Jew to be fully observant of Torah and mitzvos in every place, in one’s house or in the “king’s gate” — for G-d is everywhere. On the other hand, when a Jew is not observed by others he may think that if he sins, he can always repent. But when many others see his non-Jewish behavior, it causes them to sin also. Hence, even if he personally repents, it won’t help rectify that which he caused the others to sin. Especially if the others who learned from him do not even know that his conduct was wrong, for seeing how he conducts himself, they think it is the correct and best way. Hence, when a Jew has a particular job in running a neighborhood, city or even the entire country, he must realize the great responsibility he carries — and must therefore openly act as a Jew.
The above applies not only to those who see his conduct (Jews and non-Jews) but also to the person himself. There are some things a person can change: for example, his external appearance, changing clothes; but there are others it is impossible to change — his very essence, his soul. Notwithstanding his thoughts, speech or deed, his soul given by G-d remains his essence throughout his lifetime.
True, a person has free choice in actual conduct (in thought, speech and deed). But choosing to conduct oneself in the wrong manner is tantamount to fighting against one’s soul. One’s soul is always in the state of purity, and of itself cannot stand non-kosher food and conduct antithetical to the spirit of Judaism. Hence, if a Jew chooses the wrong path and does battle with his soul, he is creating a personality crises: his soul pulls him one way, and his body the opposite way — which causes damage to his soul. And since a person cannot change his essence, his conduct must be consonant to his soul — and then his soul helps him in all his activities. He will then have a healthy, whole personality.
Those who claim that it is impossible to achieve anything with non-Jews if simultaneously he shows that his conduct is different from theirs, is saying the same thing as the wicked Haman! Haman claimed that Jews could not conduct themselves such that “their religion is different from all peoples” while being “spread out and dispersed among the nations.” It is a paradox. Hence, he claimed, if they do conduct themselves so, they have no right to live in the country. Nonetheless, the Megillah tells us, the Jews conducted themselves as Mordechai — “he did not bow down or prostrate himself” even in the “king’s gate.” Jews do not conduct themselves so to fight against Haman, but to act as Jews, consonant to G-d’s directive. And when they do so, all the incitements against the Jews will be temporary, and in the end truth will triumph. As we read in the Megillah, that the proud conduct of a Jew eventually won honor for Mordechai, to the extent that “the king removed his ring from Haman and gave it to Mordechai.”
As elaborated on above, the reading of the Megillah is an eternal lesson: When a Jewish child lives in a neighborhood where non-Jewish children also reside, his parents may take “pity” on him and tell him that since he lives among non-Jews and meets non-Jewish children, he shouldn’t show he is different from them. He shouldn’t let his “tzitzis” be seen, or refuse to eat non-kosher candy — for this might anger or insult non-Jews.
The Megillah teaches us that a mother must know that such conduct is antithetical to the child’s quintessence. The only way to protect a child from non-Jews is to show them that he does not fool them, but acts as a Jew. When a Jewish child walks with his head covered, and checks candies for kashrus, and tells the non-Jewish children he must first make a blessing to G-d — his worth increases in the eyes of the non-Jewish child. When the non-Jewish child asks why he must make a blessing before eating, he answers that there is a G-d in the world. And when asked the connection between G-d and eating candies, he answers: “That all came into being by His word” — although it seems this candy was made in a factory, in reality it exists only because of G-d’s word. Hence the non-Jewish child also learns to bless G-d before eating, just as he knows one must say “thank you” for a gift.
But, some say, since it is not written specifically in Shulchan Aruch that when going on the street it should be seen he is a Jewish child (and the reason for this is that it is so obvious Shulchan Aruch doesn’t need to state it explicitly!), it doesn’t apply to him. And if there are “fanatics” who do so — he doesn’t want to be a “fanatic!”
The answer to this is that such conduct is not “fanaticism” but the quintessence of every Jew, belonging as he does to the “one people” created by G-d. We need not look for this in Shulchan Aruch for it is explicitly stated in Megillas Esther: It was Mordechai’s conduct as a true Jew in the “king’s gate” that led to his appointment as overseer of all governmental affairs.
Hence a mother must educate her child not to be ashamed of being Jewish, but the reverse: He/she is proud that G-d created him/her as a son of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov or a daughter of Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel and Leah. And when a non-Jewish child asks him his identity, he proudly answers: I am Jewish!
Although some countries are anti-Semitic, in a country where people are free to conduct themselves as they wish — “according to every man’s desire” — the directive to educate a child to be proud of his Jewishness is all the stronger.
May it be G-d’s will that the above lesson from the Megillah permeate the conduct of every Jew. This ensures that even in exile each Jew becomes a “deputy to the king,” each on his own level. And when all Jews conduct themselves according to Torah’s directives, they will be on the level of “who are the kings — the Rabbis,” the revelation of which will be in the true and future redemption.
3. We have just explained that the story of the Megillah of “according to every man’s desire” teaches us that we should educate our children with pride in being Jews. But, how can we say that the feast Achashverosh made thousands of years ago has any relevance to actual conduct today? That is, it is illogical to say that Achashverosh made his feast in the manner of “according to everyone’s desire” in order that we may learn a lesson from it today!
However, the mitzvah of reading the Megillah does not start from those parts which relate the miracle, but applies to the whole Megillah from beginning to end. Hence, to fulfill the mitzvah of reading the Megillah (the idea of which is to know what happened then), it is necessary to know that Achashverosh “reigned from Hodu to Cush, 127 countries,” and that “he made a feast for all his princes and servants” and all the details of that feast. The reason it is necessary to know all these details is because they are all connected with the story of Purim. In other words, Achashverosh ruled over 127 countries so that in the following years the miracle of Purim would occur: When Haman would want to give money to carry out his evil decree, he would be foiled, and Purim would be celebrated for all generations. And although we do not understand the connection between Achashverosh’s reign over 127 countries and the miracle of Purim — there are many things in the world we do not understand!
An example: A person needs bread to live, which he gets by sowing seed, then grinding the. wheat (or barley or whatever) to make flour to make bread. G-d has created nature such that to get 100 stalks of wheat for example, a person must sow much more than 100 seeds (since some of them get lost or ruined in the process). Why G-d should have made nature so, we just don’t know.
The fact that we don’t understand most things in the world is not surprising, since we are only creations — and how can we understand the works of the Creator? Just as a child does not understand things that an adult can, although the difference between them is only a number of years, certainly man cannot understand the works of G-d, the difference between them being infinite. Indeed, the wonder is that we do understand some things!
So too in our case: Achashverosh’s reign over 127 countries was caused by G-d so that afterwards Purim could occur. In other words, G-d arranged the events of the world to produce the events of Purim. This is why every detail in the Megillah is included in the command to read the Megillah.
Not only did G-d arrange events concerning non-Jews so that the miracle of Purim could eventuate, but also concerning Jews. The Megillah states “A Jewish person was in the capital Shushan, and his name Mordechai.” What was Mordechai doing there? The Megillah continues “who was exiled in the exile with Yechoniah the king of Yehudah.” Why? so that in time Mordechai would help annul Haman’s decree. G-d exiled Yechoniah together with the members of the Sanhedrin, one of whom was Mordechai, together with Esther — so that when the time came Haman’s decree would be made to naught through them and Purim would be established for all generations.
In the light of the above, we can understand that Achashverosh’s command to do everything “according to every man’s desire” was for the purpose of being written in the Torah to provide a lesson for us thousands of years later — just as the idea of Achashverosh’s reign of 127 countries was for the purpose of the miracle of Purim. It is an eternal lesson, for every Jew, man and child, to teach them to act proudly as a Jew.
4. Concerning the fixing of the Megillah as part of the Holy Books, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) relates: “Esther sent to the Sages saying: ‘Write an account of me for posterity.’” They answered, “[Scripture (Proverbs 22:20) states] ‘Have I not written for you three times’ — three times and not four? [i.e. Haman was a descendant of Amalek, and therefore the Megillah commemorates the war and victory against Amalek. The above verse “Have I not written for you three times” refers to the mentioning of the war against Amalek three times in Scripture — in Shemos, Devarim, and Shmuel. Apparently this verse in Proverbs is warning against mentioning the war against Amalek a fourth time — that against Haman.] The Sages eventually allowed the Megillah to be written when they found a verse written in the Torah — ‘Write this for a memorial in a book’: ‘Write this’ refers to what is written here (Shemos) and in Devarim; ‘for a memorial’ refers to what is written in the Prophets (Shmuel); ‘in a book’ refers to what is written in the Megillah.”
Why indeed is the concept of wiping out Amalek written a number of times — twice in Chumash, once in the Prophets, and a fourth time in the Megillah? Furthermore, every word in Torah is written with the utmost precision. Why then, after the idea of wiping out Amalek has been explicitly stated the first time, is it necessary to repeat it another three times. Moreover, the binding force of words of Torah are greater than the words of the Prophets or Writings. Why then, if it has already been written in Torah with all its binding force, is it necessary to repeat it again in the Prophets (Shmuel) and Writings (Esther)?
We must say that although Torah has more binding force, nevertheless, each extra time it is written adds to this force. We find that in certain respects there is more binding force behind the words of the Prophets than in the words of Torah. Although all commandments of the Torah are from G-d, there are differences in their severity: on some transgressions a sacrifice must be brought, others are punished with “koress” etc. On a transgression of the words of a prophet however, the punishment (death at the hands of heaven) is the same regardless of the severity of the sin.
Hence, even in the case of a command from the Torah which carries a severe punishment, the severity is not because the mitzvah is written in the Torah (for all are written in the Torah), but because of the particular nature of the commandment. Any transgression of the words of a prophet however, receive the same punishment because of the severity of the words of a prophet. Thus, when the concept of Amalek is repeated in the Proverbs, it receives added binding power, similar to the extra binding power of the words of the Prophets (the transgression of which is death at the hands of heaven) compared to Torah.
Likewise, the commandment to eradicate Amalek is written twice in Torah itself, because there is a special binding power in Devarim (“Mishneh Torah”) compared to the first four books of Torah. Although all mitzvos in the Torah were said by Moshe, a prophet, they do not carry the extra severity attached to the words of a prophet (transgression being punished by death at the hands of heaven). For although Moshe was a prophet, he said the commandments not in the capacity of prophecy, but as one giving over the Torah heard from G-d.
This is the case in the first four books of the Torah. In the case of the last book, Mishneh Torah (Devarim), the Talmud explains that Moshe “said them of himself” with “Divine Spirit” (analogous to prophecy). Hence, we could posit that the commandments recorded in Mishneh Torah are in the category of the words of a prophet. Therefore the repetition of the commandment to eradicate Amalek in Mishneh Torah effects the extra binding power of the words of a prophet.
Of course, in the words of the Prophets themselves there are differences according to the level of prophecy — and hence there are different unique binding powers in the words of Mishneh Torah and the words of the Prophets.
The eradicating of Amalek is written a fourth time in Writings — Megillas Esther. There is a general rule that the words of Torah do not need strengthening, whereas the words in “Writings” do. Thus Esther, by asking the Sages to include her story (Megillas Esther) in Writings, effected that it would receive the strengthening due to matters found in ‘Writings.’
We find then that every time the eradicating of Amalek is repeated, it receives added distinction. First of all the distinction of Torah; in Torah itself the added distinction of Mishneh Torah; then the distinction of “Prophets;” and finally the distinction of “Writings.” Following all these, there are those things added on by the Sages, extending to the universal customs of Jewry associated with it.
5. It was explained previously that the story of the Megillah concerning “a Jewish man was in Shushan the capital” is an eternal lesson for all generations in how to conduct oneself — proudly, “not bowing or postrating.” Since the matters of Torah are exact, there is special emphasis in the particulars of “a Jewish man was in Shushan the capital,” which teach us an eternal lesson in a Jew’s service to G-d.
Our Sages state: “Every person is obligated to say ‘the world was created for my sake.’” The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that, despite G-d’s greatness, He “puts aside the upper and lower worlds and unites His Kingship with His people, to Israel in general, and with each individual in particular; for a person is obligated to say ‘The world was created for my sake,’ ... and behold, G-d stands over him ... and watches over him and searches his heart if he is serving Him properly.” This applies to all Jews, as emphasized in the first page of Tanya, that it is “based on the verse ‘for the thing is very near to you in your mouth and heart to do it’ — to explain how it is very near ...” “Very near to you” refers to each and every Jew to whom the Torah was given — “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov.” An inheritance automatically belongs to the heir, independent of his status or particular service.
Hence, the words in Tanya “G-d stands over him” refer to all Jews. And since all Jews are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov, who were the “chariot” to G-d, so too all Jews are on the level of “chariots” to G-d. Therefore the words “G-d stands over him” refer to all Jews, in all places and in all times.
The word “stands” in “G-d stands over him” comes from the expression “the king stands.” Hence, every place where a Jew is found is the “capital city” of G-d (“Shushan the Capital” — Achashverosh referring to G-d, as above), since wherever a Jew is, G-d is found with him (since “G-d stands over him” applies to all Jews).
“Shushan the Capital” is the place where all matters of state concerning the 127 countries of which it is the capital are decided. As it is decided in the capital, so it is done in all the country. Since every Jew is in the “capital” city of G-d, it follows that he decides how the whole world will be run — he has influence on all the world.
This is a specific halachic decision rendered by the Rambam. He states: “Every person must see himself and the whole world as being in a state of half meritorious and half guilty ... when he does one mitzvah he tilts himself and the whole world to the meritorious side, and effects salvation and redemption for himself and them.” Hence a Jew can influence the entire world to the extent of bringing salvation to it.
Since the salvation is achieved through a Jew’s service, this salvation affects himself first and foremost. Since a person is obligated to say the world was created for my sake, it follows that when he effects redemption in the manner of “You shall be gathered one by one children of Israel,” this redemption starts first of all with him.
In addition to each Jew’s place being the “capital city” and therefore being able to influence the entire world, there are different particulars as to how this is carried out — just as there are differences between the king giving the orders, and the army which carries them out.
In man’s spiritual service to G-d this refers to the following: The king in “Shushan the Capital” refers to the Sages — “Who are the kings? The Rabbis,” — who learn Torah with the aim of elucidating the halachah which teaches us how to act. The “kings — the Rabbis” are also called “Achashverosh,” to whom “belongs the beginning and end” (as above). The Written Torah is the “beginning (timewise);” the Prophets and Writings are the “end.” To the “Rabbis,” there is no difference between the “beginning” and “end” — all matters of Torah are equal (“Beginning” and “end” written as one word — “Achashverosh”).
Since the “Rabbis the kings” render halachic decisions, they must be translated into deed, for “deed is the essential thing.” This is the concept of “There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital,” for “Jewish” in Hebrew is “Yehudi,” which refers to the state of self-sacrifice. And the service of self-sacrifice is the service of soldiers in the army, who do not have any will of their own, but their whole existence is to fulfill their function as soldiers.
The work of a soldier (“A Jewish man) is in two aspects: protecting the land — which corresponds to the service of keeping away evil; and fighting to enlarge the borders of Eretz Yisrael — corresponding to the idea expressed in the Megillah of “many of the peoples of the land became Jews.”