1. As is the Jewish custom (and a Jewish custom “is Torah”), we “open with a blessing” — even when only two Jews meet, and certainly when many Jews gather together, for “the splendor of the king is in a multitude of people.” The idea of “the splendor of the king is in a multitude of people” is cited in Jewish law concerning reading the Megillah on Purim: “Although one has one hundred people with him, it is a mitzvah to read [the Megillah] in a congregation, for “the splendor of the king is in a multitude of people” (Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 690:23). This benefits not just the individual who hears the Megillah read in a congregation, but each individual adds to the “multitude of people,” and thereby adds to the “splendor of the king” — the King of the world (G-d).
Opening with a blessing is particularly appropriate at this occasion, when the meeting together of Jews takes place within the framework of a “hisva’adus” (farbrengen). The name “hisva’adus” is cognate to the term found in the verse (Amos 3:3), “Will two walk together, unless they have arranged to do so (“no’adu”)?” “No’adu” means an arranged time (Rashi, Metzudas Dovid), implying appropriate preparation beforehand. In a “hisva’adus,” then, where Jews after the appropriate preparations have arranged to meet together, the idea of opening with a blessing applies with extra force.
“Open with a blessing” means that the occasion should begin with a blessing. But, since the term used is “open (“poschim”) with a blessing” and not “begin with a blessing,” something extra is being implied.
We find in Torah a difference between the terms “said” and “opened”: In most places the phrase, “So and so said” is used; but there are places which use the term “So and so opened (his discourse).” Chassidus explains that the phrase “So and so opened” indicates the opening of a new path in understanding. “Said” means the person added only a new detail to the subject; “Opened” means he opened a totally new path or method of comprehension.
So too in the case of “open with a blessing”: not only is there an increase in the blessings bestowed (since each of those assembled blesses the others), but a new avenue of blessings has been opened — i.e., not just an increase in quantity but a totally new quality.
Even an increase (without a new “opening”) in a blessing is a lofty thing, for, as in our case, when Jews assemble to undertake good resolutions concerning Torah and mitzvos, and begin with mutual blessings for success, it is a very great thing indeed. This is particularly so regarding a blessing of the congregation, for “the Divine Presence rests upon ten Jews,” and certainly “in a multitude of people.” However, when it is in the manner of to “open with a blessing,” opening a totally new avenue of blessings, it is incomparably loftier.
The “opening with a blessing” of this farbrengen provides a new avenue of blessings even in comparison to the “opening with a blessing” of previous farbrengens, for it is a new opening effected by a whole community with a forceful will and undertaking.
The idea that the “opening with a blessing” of one farbrengen is incomparably greater even than that of preceding farbrengens is alluded to in the verse. “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the L-rd; we bless you from the House of the L-rd.” The name “L-rd” is mentioned twice in this verse, and each represents a different level of blessing. “L-rd” is the highest of the Seven Names which may not be erased, and thus the blessing which flows from it — “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the L-rd” — is of the loftiest level. Simultaneously, such a blessing has a connection to the types of blessing which flow from the Names which are on a lower level than “L-rd.”
The second part of this verse, “We bless you from the House of the L-rd,” represents a new blessing (“opening”) flowing from the name “L-rd” on yet a higher level, a level incomparably loftier than those blessings which preceded it.
The “opening with a blessing” at a farbrengen gains further distinction from the place in which the farbrengen is being held. The place to which the blessing flows must be an appropriate “vessel” to receive the blessing, for if not, even if the blessing is from the loftiest level, it will have but an external effect, or temporary one, or a delayed effect. In our case, the farbrengen at which “we open with a blessing” is taking place in a synagogue and study-hall, and also a place in which tzedakah is given. Thus, the three pillars on which the world stands are present: Torah, prayer and deeds of loving-kindness — and this adds to the blessings.
Not only are the blessings themselves lofty, stemming from the highest levels, but they have an effect on the lowest regions — in the words of the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, p. 90), “this physical, corporeal world ... of which there is nothing lower.” In this world itself, the blessings reach the lowest level, the intense darkness of the era of the “footsteps of Mashiach.”
The above serves as the preparation to the time when the world will be perfect — when this corporeal, lowest of all worlds will be a dwelling place for G-d. And G-d’s desire to have an abode in this world specifically, is carried out through the service of each Jew: His soul, enclothed in a corporeal body which is similar to the bodies of non-Jews, and living in this material world, fulfills Torah and mitzvos even outside Eretz Yisrael and in the darkness of exile. Through this an actual abode is made for G-d in this world.
In other words: The responsibility to implement G-d’s desire to have an abode in this world is given to each Jew; and through their service in observing Torah and mitzvos G-d’s desire is actually carried out. Each Jew effects a new element in his particular service, and all these elements combine together in a true unity — “all of us as one” — thereby eliciting a new blessing — “Bless us our Father, all of us as one.” And then the true and main blessing will be fulfilled — the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, speedily in our time.
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2. We noted above the lofty distinction of the opening of a new avenue of blessings, a phenomenon which is present at every gathering (“hisva’adus”) of Jews for a good purpose. However, the nature of the blessings elicited at any particular gathering corresponds to the individual reason for that gathering; a farbrengen connected with Pesach, for example, will be different than that connected with Shavuos or Sukkos, since each festival has its own unique meaning — and the blessings elicited at the farbrengen will correspond to that festival’s particular meaning.
Purim, too, in addition to being a festival as all others, has its own unique nature differentiating it from the other festivals. And, just as the other festivals each have their main theme besides possessing other concepts — e.g., Pesach is primarily the “Season of Our Freedom” and Shavuos is the “Season of the Giving of Our Torah” so Purim, although it comprises several matters, such as reading the Megillah, feasting, sending gifts and giving to the poor, also has one principal theme which expresses the essential nature of Purim. This principal theme may be ascertained by searching the Megillah, which recounts the events of Purim.
Of all the matters related in the Megillah, there is one which is so obviously puzzling as to inspire a person to ponder its meaning and to derive a lesson from it. The Megillah in general is the narration of the details of the miracle of Purim, and how this day was established as a day of rejoicing and feasting for all generations. To this end, the Megillah must relate at length the power Haman possessed, how he managed to convince the king to decree destruction against the Jews, and then how Esther was successful in having the decree abolished to the extent that “For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor”; and finally, how Mordechai and Esther established Purim as a festival everlasting.
The very beginning and end of the Megillah, however, recount events which seem to have absolutely no relevance to the miracle of Purim. The beginning tells, at great length, of King Achashverosh and the number of provinces in his kingdom, and of the 180-day feast he made for all his subjects, followed by another feast for the citizens of his capital city. The end of the Megillah informs us that King Achashverosh placed a tax on the land, and that the tale of the king’s might is recorded in the chronicles of the Persian kings. None of these things seem to have any relationship whatsoever to the miracle of Purim — and yet the Torah, which normally is so exact with its words, relates these matters in the greatest of detail!
Another, related question concerns the fact that every matter in Torah provides a lesson for a Jew’s service to G-d, “Torah” stemming from the root “horo’ah,” meaning “instruction.” The events related in the Megillah are part of Torah — but there doesn’t seem to be any lesson for service to G-d to be derived from the passages which tell of King Achashverosh’s might and the taxes placed on the
Furthermore, Rambam rules that “All the books of the Prophets and all the Writings are destined to be abolished in the days of Mashiach except for Megillas Esther.” It follows from this that the lessons derived from the Megillah will also be in place in the Messianic era. But what lessons for the Messianic era can possibly be learned from the fact that once there was a King Achashverosh who ruled “from Hodu to Cush, 127 countries,” and who placed taxes on the land?!
However, the story of the Megillah in its entirety, including those details which seemingly are unconnected with the miracle of Purim, teaches a wonderful lesson for man’s life on this earth.
When a person begins to think about his existence, he first realizes that since nothing can create itself, some being must have created him and that being is G-d, Creator of the world and of man. And since G-d did not create anything for naught, he, the person, must have been created for some purpose.
But when the person ponders the events of his life, he arrives at the conclusion that most of his time was spent on matters that were not so important that G-d should have created him to engage in such matters. His childhood years were spent on childish matters, and even a goodly part of his adult years were spent on eating, drinking, sleeping, etc., things which of themselves are certainly not the ultimate goal of one’s creation. Any normal person realizes that life must have loftier pursuits than eating and sleeping; indeed, these activities are but means whereby one is able to utilize his intellect and other spiritual powers for good purposes.
Thus, after even a simple reckoning, a person will realize that even if his life is a normal and righteous one, a substantial part of it is spent on trifling matters, matters in which one can see no special purpose associated with man’s distinct qualities and reason for being.
On the other hand, simple logic, as we shall see, dictates that every happening in a person’s life, comprising every detail, must have been arranged in orderly and wonderful fashion by the Creator. If so, even the smallest matter must be for some goal.
The world is comprised of a vast array of details, each different from the other; yet there is order and harmony between them and together they form a complete world. One need look no further than one’s own self to observe this phenomenon. The many, many parts of one’s body, each of which is different in form and purpose, not only do not conflict one with another but are so wonderfully ordered that all the parts work harmoniously together and complement one another. Even the atom is comprised of small particles which revolve around each other and exert an effect one on another. When the arrangement of these particles is correct, then the atom is whole. And a person’s body is composed of millions of atoms, which combine together in a systematic, orderly arrangement.
Simple logic will dictate that these millions of separate atoms did not suddenly combine together and of themselves start working in perfect harmony for the duration of the person’s life! Thus, when faced with some parts of the body the purpose of which one does not understand, — it is only logical to suppose that these parts of the body are also an integral part of the wonderful system of arrangement present in the other millions of parts — and that the person simply doesn’t understand exactly what role they play.
The same argument can be extended to the whole of creation. Just as a person’s body is comprised of millions of atoms joined and harmonizing together, so the whole of creation, which is comprised of millions of people, together with billions of other species of the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, each of which is comprised of millions of atoms — is certainly arranged in the most systematic order. And if there are some parts of creation which a person does not understand the purpose thereof, we must conclude that they too are part of an ultimate plan and goal and it is the person who lacks the capacity to understand. Hence, to return to our original case, the difficulty a person has in understanding how the different periods in life all fit in to the purpose of his creation does not mean they do not fit in — we must simply conclude that all the years of his life, childhood and adulthood alike, really form an orderly, harmonious pattern leading to the desired goal.
This concept is heavily emphasized in the Megillah, for the purpose of teaching a lesson for man’s life. The Megillah’s tale — from its beginning concerning the start of Achashverosh’s reign, until its end concerning the tax on the land encompasses a period of many years, in which many events occurred which seemingly are unrelated. The Megillah teaches us, however, that all these events form one connected chain, step after step, all associated with the Megillah’s theme — the miracle of Purim.
The beginning of the Megillah, which relates the greatness of King Achashverosh in that he ruled over 120 countries — the whole known world at that time — provides us with the background necessary to appreciate the extreme danger in Haman’s decree. Had Achashverosh not ruled over the whole world, it would have been impossible for Haman to consider destroying all the Jews.
We can go a little further and delve into the reason why the Megillah says specifically that King Achashverosh ruled “from Hodu until Kush” and not just that he ruled over the whole world. Chassidus explains that “Hodu” symbolizes light and goodness and “Kush” darkness. The citizens of these countries possessed characteristics corresponding to their names: The citizens of Hodu righteous men of good traits; the citizens of Kush — cruel people. That Achashverosh ruled over the whole word “from Hodu until Kush” emphasizes that he had the ability to rule over and endear himself to all types of people in the world, good and bad.
This further stresses the great danger facing Jewry in Haman’s decree. Normally, it may be expected that people of good character and worth would resist the idea of exterminating an entire people; or at the very least, if they would be forced to participate, would do so half-heartedly. However, because Achashverosh was held in high esteem by all the peoples and he knew how to rule over their different natures, a decree signed and sealed in his name would ensure full cooperation without any coercion necessary.
The last chapter of the Megillah, which tells that the King placed a tax on the land and the islands of the sea, also is related to the Megillah’s central theme. It is telling us that even after the Jews were miraculously saved on Purim and they were able to rejoice mightily, Mordechai knew that this period of time had to be used constructively, to do good in the world.
And this carries on the theme of the Megillah: Utilizing the fact that Achashverosh was the supreme ruler of the world, Mordechai, after the miracle of Purim, bent his energies to ensure that there would be stability and order in the world. The proper raising of taxes and the subsequent distribution of monies contributes to an orderly, rrenqtrl ti vo world
3. The above provides a lesson for a Jew. Although a Jew may live his private life according to the Torah’s tenets, he must simultaneously never forget that he is part of the world around him and that he must do his utmost to improve it, tn infil
The Megillah’s general theme, then, teaches the following wonderful lesson for man. The seemingly unconnected events recounted in the Megillah are in truth steps in a single theme — the miracle of Purim. The first step — Achashverosh’s dominion of all the countries of the world from Hodu to Kush; the second step — the holding of a feast in the third year of his reign; the third step — the choosing of Esther as queen; and so on, until the last step, when Mordechai uses his influence to make the world a fit and orderly place in which to live.
The same applies to all events in the world. As noted previously, simple logic dictates that every item and thing in the world is in the most exact order, forming a wonderful coherent pattern in the whole. Anything that seems not to fit in is due to the lack of man’s understanding.
So too with each Jew’s individual life: Everything is in the most wonderful order, with today’s particular happening connected with that of perhaps three years ago or with that of three years hence; but one thing is certain — every detail occurs with Divine Providence, and “G-d did not create in His world even one thing for naught,” but “all that G-d created in His world He created only for His glory.” Therefore every deed, word and even thought of a Jew should be permeated with a meaning commensurate to the purpose of his creation — G-d’s glory, to make the world a fit abode for Him.
Every deed, word and thought in this manner hastens the true and complete redemption through our righteous Mashiach, as Rambam has ruled: “When one does one mitzvah, he tilts himself and the whole world to the meritorious side and causes salvation and redemption for himself and them.”
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4. Another lesson to be derived from the Megillah concerns the way Mordechai conducted himself. As elaborated on above, since the Megillah is part of Torah, which provides instructions for a Jew, every detail recounted in the Megillah contains an eternal lesson for a Jew’s service to G-d. Of course, some of Mordechai’s ways were of relevance only to himself, but any of his ways recounted in the Megillah contains teachings for all Jews. In the words of the Megillah: “For they told him [Haman] the people of Mordechai” — in other words, even Haman knew that every Jew belongs to the “people of Mordechai” and therefore every Jew behaves as Mordechai does. When Mordechai “does not bend down nor prostrate himself,” every one who belongs to “the people of Mordechai” also “does not bend down nor prostrate himself.”
In other words, Mordechai’s conduct is a “trail blazer” for every Jew, enabling him to behave as Mordechai, although his powers do not reach the lofty level of Mordechai’s. For once Mordechai has blazed the path in a certain matter, every Jew can tread that same path.
One of the things recounted in the Megillah about Mordechai is that “Mordechai was sitting at the gate of the king.” Although the Jews at that time were in exile, Mordechai sat at the king’s gate and indeed, became the king’s viceroy — which in the case of Achashverosh, who was the ruler of the whole world, meant that Mordechai was in a position to influence the entire world.
This teaches a Jew that although he may still be in exile, he cannot only fulfill all aspects of Torah and mitzvos fully and firmly — for once Jews had become G-d’s servants they can never be anyone else’s servants — but he can also “sit at the king’s gate.” What does this mean? “King” here refers to “the King of the world,” G-d, and thus a Jew “sits at the king’s gate,” his service to make the entire world a fit abode for Him. It also means that every person must do his utmost to bring to perfection his own “kingdom”: Some may be in a position to influence their neighborhood, others their city, country, or even the globe. But every person can have influence at least over his own “four cubits,” his own home; there he can “sit at the king’s gate.”
Thus one must realize that if by Divine Providence he is in a position of “sitting at the gate of the king” — i.e., he has a position of power and influence — it is for the purpose of utilizing that position to do good in the area of his influence, be it his family, neighborhood, city or country. Conduct in this manner will immediately bring the redemption, when we will be together with our righteous Mashiach, in the Bais HaMikdash, in Yerushalayim, in our Holy Land.
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5. This year’s calendar, as we have noted lately, is in general similar to last year’s: The fast of Esther is brought forward to the 11th of Adar, Shabbos parshas Zachor is erev Purim, Purim is on Sunday — and last year we spoke about the lessons that can be derived from the fact that Purim is on Sunday. Nevertheless, there are some ways in which this year’s calendar differs from last year’s:
1) This year is a leap year;
2) The weekly parshah is different, and therefore the lessons to be derived from the parshah are different. At a previous farbrengen (on Shabbos parshas Tzav) we elaborated on the significance of the fast of Esther, and also on the special lessons to be learned from a leap year.
There is another matter which is special about this year’s calendar: It is identical with the year 5700, the year in which the previous Rebbe began his work in the United States of America.
Although the previous Rebbe was in the U.S. earlier, in the year 5689, it was only for a visit, whereas his permanent abode, family and Yeshivah were overseas. His arrival in the U.S. on a permanent basis was in the year 5700, close to Purim, and this year’s calendar is identical in all aspects (leap year, the weekly parshah, etc.). Thus there is great emphasis this year on all matters in which the previous Rebbe “opened” his work in the U.S.A., in the period of Purim in 5700.
The lofty nature of Purim is seen from the Tikkunei Zohar’s comment that Yom Kippurim (Yom Kippur) is “KiPurim” — “like Purim.” That is, that Purim is the principal object and Yom Kippurim is only like Purim.
The theme common to both Purim and Yom Kippur is that both festivals emphasize the idea of a lottery. On Yom Kippur the High Priest placed lots on the two goats to decide which was to be sacrificed and which was to be led away to a desolate place, and on Purim Haman cast lots to see on which day he would exterminate the Jews. The concept of a lottery in man’s soul corresponds to the essence of the soul which transcends reason. In man’s service to G-d it corresponds to self-sacrifice.
Yom Kippur is “one in the year” and the idea of “one” is the level of “Yechidah” in the soul, the essential lodestone of Jewishness, which was brought to the revealed fore on Yom Kippur in the High Priest’s service. On Purim, every Jew openly exhibited self-sacrifice: Just as all Jews were equal and one in the danger they faced, so the level of “one” in the soul blazed forth openly and equally in all Jews.
As with all matters that occur once a year, the theme of Purim lends inspiration to and is the “trail blazer” for service of the rest of the year. Thus Purim is the source of strength for self-sacrifice throughout the year. Of course, one cannot be in a state of self-sacrifice all day, for the state of self-sacrifice transcends all limits, whereas Torah and mitzvos in which a person is occupied during the day are within limits. In the mitzvah of tefillin, for example, a person must ensure that his tefillin are in the proper position, that he keeps his concentration on them by touching them at the appropriate times during prayers, etc. However, what should be done is that one be in a state of self-sacrifice at the beginning of the day, which state then permeates the entire day and its service.
This, then, is the lesson we derive from the time of the year in which the previous Rebbe arrived in the U.S.: The “opening” of his work in this country was in the period of Purim, the theme of which is service with self-sacrifice. And, as noted above, that this year’s calendar is identical to the calendar of the year of the previous Rebbe’s arrival emphasizes this lesson.
May it be G-d’s will that the remembrance of the events of the year 5700 will be in a manner of “these days shall be remembered and kept” — remembrance which leads to deed.