It is customary to always begin with a blessing, and since it is Purim, it should be the blessing, "For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor." There is special assurance that this blessing will be fulfilled, as we say in Havdalah (following this verse) "So too let it be for us."
Furthermore, on Purim all natural boundaries are nullified, as seen in the law that the joy of Purim must be without limitation: ad d'lo yada. This indicates that the blessings associated with Purim are also infinite in character.
This unlimited nature of Purim is further reflected in the requirement of giving charity on Purim, "Give to anyone who stretches forth his hand." On Purim we are given special instructions to give to anyone who asks, and not even to question their worthiness. And since Haman's decree was against all Jews – men, women and children – all should give charity in this manner.
Giving charity should be unlimited not only regarding who it is given to, but also as to how much is given. One must assist both the physically needy and the spiritually needy without limitation.
[Someone might want to ask, "How is it possible that everyone be capable of giving such large amounts of charity? People have limited budgets!"
The answer to this lies in the well-known story regarding the printing of the works of the Tzemach Tzedek. The Previous Rebbe requested of a certain Jew here in America that he cover the costs of printing, in spite of the fact that it far exceeded his means. After he agreed, his income increased to the extent that not only was he able to pay for the printing, but he became a very wealthy man.
The Previous Rebbe explained that he really was unable to afford this project; but after he made the resolution to undertake it, new "pipelines" of heavenly blessings were opened to him to enable him to carry it through.]
This must not remain in the realm of theory or good intentions, but reach this physical world, the world of action. This is especially true regarding Purim. Chassidus explains why on Purim, unlike other holidays, one is allowed to do work. This is because on other holidays, there is an elevation in all the worlds, rendering the idea of physical work inappropriate and therefore forbidden. On Purim, however, this elevation is unlimited in nature. Therefore, it is able to penetrate the physical realm as well, and physical work is no contradiction. In the same way, our resolutions must be actualized in the physical realm.
Practically speaking, it is now the time to prepare for giving ma'os chittim for Pesach. This is brought by the Alter Rebbe in Shulchan Aruch: that the giving of ma'os chittim begins on Purim. And since we are making our resolutions on Purim, when we are in a spirit which transcends limitation we will certainly be most generous in this as well.
It is also an auspicious time to make other resolutions regarding increasing in Torah and mitzvos. This also includes influencing non-Jews to keep their mitzvos, the Seven Noachide Laws. This also has a special connection with Purim, since the miracle of Purim also affected non-Jews, to the extent that, as said in the Megillah, "many from the non-Jewish nations decided to become Jews."
This will assist our task of making the world into a dwelling place for G-d, and help bring about the arrival of Moshiach. This should be in a speedy fashion, as King Achashverosh told Haman, "Rush and take the clothing and the horse (of the king)...and do so to Mordechai the Jew." This refers to G-d (as the Midrash explains, every reference to the king in the Megillah refers to G-d) speedily bestowing honor upon every single Jew with the Messianic redemption.
Lately a question has come up regarding the content of these gatherings. "Why is it," it has been asked, "that there is such lengthy and frequent discussion regarding the redemption?" Farbrengens have taken place for many years, also by previous Rebbeim, and although it was occasionally mentioned, it was never such a central topic. Now, on the other hand, effort is made to discuss it and to show its connection with every single Jew.
True, it was clearly discussed by our Sages and by the Rambam, who said that, "Every individual should view himself...and the whole world as half-meritorious and half-guilty...and by doing one mitzvah he can tip himself and the entire world to the side of good and bring redemption and deliverance." But we have never seen this point continually stressed and repeated before recent years!
A similar question is asked regarding the constant stress on spreading the Noachide Commandments to non-Jews. Here again there is a clear ruling from the Rambam that every Jew is required to do so. The question is asked though, since this law has been in effect for many hundreds of years, why is it that only recently has it been stressed, and so constantly?
There are two explanations regarding why now the Seven Mitzvos must be spread. The simple reason, as explained by commentaries on the Rambam, is that in previous generations it was impossible to influence non-Jews in this regard. Any attempt to influence a non-Jew in religious matters would put one's life in danger. And even when it no longer was a matter of life and death, it was still dangerous enough that people were exempt from the obligation of reaching out to the Bnei Noach.
Today, however, we see that the world has changed drastically. Not only is it possible to influence non-Jews without endangering oneself, but they are actually appreciative. When notified that there is a "Super-Being" and that they can help fulfill making the world a better place through keeping the Seven Mitzvos, they see that you care for their well-being. Frequently, they will even show their appreciation by helping him in his livelihood, etc.
Furthermore, the Rambam uses the expression, "lakuf ("to forcefully influence") all inhabitants of the world to accept the Noachide commands." Although obviously one must do this in a pleasant, gentle, and peaceful way, it still must be done with persistence. If you have already tried several times, try again nevertheless. We frequently see that although people are sometimes spoken to five times, they do not change until they hear it a sixth time!
Someone might wish to complain: "and is this all that we're lacking? There are so many things which need our attention!"
Obviously, this complaint cannot be taken seriously. By the same reasoning, you could do away with all 613 mitzvos, G-d forbid! Ask someone to do a mitzvah, and he can reply, "But there's something else important that I'm attending to!" And this is not just a theoretical answer – it's something we see on a daily basis. People claim that they don't need to do mitzvos because they give charity! True, charity is a great mitzvah; but does that exempt one from doing the others? With this reasoning, a person could even say, "But I'm doing mitzvos by helping other Jews – I have no time to ever think about G-d!" Therefore we must be concerned with all the mitzvos – in this case, spreading the Noachide commandments.
This is the simple reason for the present stress on spreading the Seven Mitzvos, but there is a deeper reason, connected with the idea that the world has changed.
[A parenthetical statement: everything one hears or sees must be taken as a lesson in serving G-d. Regarding the changing attitudes of non-Jews, an amazing event has transpired within the last few days. An American leader, who for years opposed prayer – and even a "moment of silence" – in the schools, has suddenly made an about-face. He publicly stated, "How is it possible that schoolchildren learn math, geometry, etc. and learn nothing about what is right and wrong? The latter is certainly more important," he claimed, "because it is necessary for day-to-day life."
But what is the situation with Jewish children? There are hundreds of thousands of Jewish children – about one hundred thousand in the New York area alone – who receive no Jewish education whatsoever!
Where are the rabbis, community leaders, educators? Everything else they find time for, whereas something of such central importance is left on the side, undone.
When they are repeatedly reminded about this, they begrudgingly call a meeting, make a resolution, etc. But what does the child have from that?! He knows nothing about the meeting – it only matters when it is accomplished, when he receives a Jewish education. If not, G-d forbid, another day goes by, and another, and it becomes increasingly more difficult to turn him back from his self-destructive path.
Everyone has a personal responsibility to be concerned with the child who lives down the block, who attends the shul, etc.]
In spite of the fact that the world has undergone such change, nevertheless Moshiach still has not come. In the times of the Talmud our Sages already said, "kalu kol hakitzin" ("all deadlines for Moshiach's coming have passed"). Throughout the generations, Jewish leaders such as Rav Saadia Gaon, the Rambam, and many others have spoken about later deadlines. Although they have not been so publicized, the Alter Rebbe and the Rebbe Rashab also spoke of deadlines. But a new era began when the Previous Rebbe proclaimed, l'altar l'teshuvah, l'altar l'g'eulah ("Do teshuvah now and Moshiach will come now!"). He had it printed and publicized, and in spite of bitter opposition, had it continually repeated.
It is decades after these proclamations, and nevertheless, Moshiach still has not come. I have searched and searched for an explanation for this, and the only answer I've found is the following. In previous generations, since haNassi hu hakol ("the Nassi is everything") it was possible to rely on the Nassi's efforts. However, after so long, when even the Previous Rebbe's proclamation has passed and Moshiach still hasn't come, the only possibility is that every single Jew must be involved in bringing the redemption.
This is why now is the time to stress the ruling of the Rambam mentioned above – that even one action, etc. of a single Jew can bring the redemption. Since so much time has passed, and the world situation has even changed for the better (as mentioned above) and Moshiach still has not come, the only thing which could be missing is that every Jew feel that bringing Moshiach is his personal responsibility.
This is also the other reason for the stress on the Seven Mitzvos. Since the world has changed, and Moshiach has nevertheless not come, every individual must do everything possible to hasten his coming.
It would be appropriate that at every gathering of Jews, it should be announced: "Jews, attention! A single additional good act from one of you could be the final act which brings the redemption!"
And although there are many complaints and excuses as to why it is improper to speak about Moshiach's coming...these complaints themselves are a sign of how badly the world needs him! The darkness is so great that people don't even realize that they're in darkness. The very speaking about Moshiach itself nullifies these complaints.
Similarly with the Seven Mitzvos: the time has come to prepare the world for Moshiach. This includes making it a "settled place" through spreading the Seven Mitzvos.
There are other areas in which we see radical changes in the world today. Never have we seen such extremes – both in the positive and in the negative.
In interpersonal relationships, there are violent arguments taking place among people who seem to lack even the potential for controversy. Similarly on the good side: there are acts of charity and goodness being done in a way unparalleled in previous generations. People are giving huge amounts of charity, and showing absolute self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. Anyone who thinks about what is happening in his immediate environment will realize this.
In the world of Torah, there is also a unique development in this generation. The Rogatchover's way of learning is something the world has never seen. On this everyone agrees, even those who might not be deeply involved in his approach. There is not even room for discussion; it is obvious the moment you open one of his works.
On the world scene, we are also witnessing an extreme sort of negative development. Among the events described as characterizing the days immediately preceding Moshiach's coming is that "kingdoms will fight with one another." Recently – and especially in the last few days – there has been extreme violence to an extent that defies the imagination. However, since they are occurring in distant lands, people are not paying sufficient attention.
The Torah, which sheds "light" and clarity on every situation, also explains the meaning of these developments. Tractate Sotah, in giving the signs of the pre-Messianic period, clearly describes the present era. And regarding this period, the book of Daniel (12:10) says, "Many things will be clarified, refined, and purified...and the wise will understand." This refers to the present state of the world. Although previously the distinction between good and bad might not have been that pronounced, now it has become crystal clear. This is the significance of the phrase, "and the wise will understand." One need not be wise to see that these extremes exist; it is obvious to everyone in the world. But in order "to understand" – to recognize that this is part of the preparation for the Messianic Age – one must be "wise."
But G-d does everything for the good; what could be positive in this development of extremes, when there are also extremely negative results? The reason is that when evil remains concealed, it cannot be repaired. In fact, the person might even be unaware of its existence. Once this evil is revealed, however, it becomes possible to improve and elevate it.
But people still have free choice: therefore, once the evil is revealed, they can still leave it in a state of evil and even intensify it. Therefore we see extremes in bad in addition to those in good.
However, there still could be cases in which there is a fine line between good and bad. And since one's personal involvement might further cloud the matter, there still might be doubt regarding how to proceed.
This is one of the reasons for the recent stress on the Mishnah's statement, "Make for yourself a Rav." Since the Rav is neutral and uninvolved, he will certainly be able to give sound advice.
Even with this advice, however, a person might complain that he's unsure whether or not he chose a proper Rav. Here again, the Torah provides guidance, in a verse which also speaks of the pre-Messianic era (Malachi, 2:7), "...seek Torah from his mouth, because he is an angel of G-d." The Talmud explains, "If he resembles an angel of G-d, then `seek Torah from his mouth,' and if he does not, then don't."
But how can one tell if the Rav resembles an angel of G-d; one never even saw an angel of G-d! Here again, the Torah provides guidance, in the works of the Rambam, where he describes the lives of angels: "there is no eating or drinking...no jealousy, hatred or enmity."
Therefore, in order to tell whether or not someone is fit to be a Rav, one must see if he fits this description. Is his spiritual life governed without influence of physical factors (corresponding to "no eating or drinking")? Is he free of jealousy, hatred, etc.?
Of course, as always the Evil Inclination comes along with another objection – and one "according to the Torah" (since it likes to conceal its true motives in the holy garb of a "silk kapote"). "Isn't one of the signs of a true talmid chacham," claims the Evil Inclination, "that he is `vengeful like a serpent'?" According to this reasoning, peaceful behavior would not be a correct way of identifying a qualified "Rav"!
Fortunately, the Torah also answers this clearly. When is it proper for a talmid chacham to behave in this way? Only when someone has shamed him publicly, and a general insult to the Torah is involved. However, should he be insulted in private, the Torah requires the exact opposite response. In the words of the Rambam, the way of talmidei chachamim is to "listen to insult without answering back; and furthermore to forgive the person who uttered the insult."
Aside from these signs of a Rav, there is an obvious prerequisite: that the person has the signs indicative of a Jew in general. As the Talmud says, "This nation has three signs: they are merciful, bashful, and kind." Since these are called "signs," it is impossible that a person practice them only in private. To be considered a sign, the person must actually behave in these ways.
It should be reiterated that this process of choosing a proper Rav is associated with the necessity of having everything "clarified, refined, and purified" – both regarding choosing the Rav and regarding his guidance in clarifying ambiguous cases.
May it be G-d's will that everyone begin to become actively involved ("kochen zich") in bringing Moshiach even one moment sooner, with all these moments adding up to the immediate redemption.
It is customary to connect each farbrengen with the Torah portion of the week. In this case, there is an obvious connection with Purim. Parshas Ki Sissa begins with the mitzvah of the half-shekel. The Talmud says that in merit of this mitzvah, the decree of Haman to destroy the Jews was annulled.
Later in this parshah, the Torah commands us regarding the incense to be used in the Temple service. This is also connected with Purim: the main mitzvah of incense was performed on Yom Kippur, by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies. It is explained in many holy works that Purim and Yom Kippur are closely connected. This is seen from their names – as called in the Torah, Yom HaKippurim, "a day like Purim." In addition, the word "Purim" refers to the lots cast by Haman, similar to the lots cast in the Temple offerings on Yom Kippur.
To end with a "new decree"! In the past, we have discussed the necessity of every child owning a personal Siddur, Chumash, and tzedakah pushkah. Since it is now 30 days before Pesach, it would be very desirable to prepare Haggadah's for each child. Obviously, they should be made attractively, with pictures, etc., in order to attract the children. In this way, they will not only know the four questions, but also be able to answer them...
May it be G-d's will that even before the time comes for them to ask and answer these questions on Pesach, that there come the great answer to our biggest question – the inexplicable continuation of the exile – with the arrival of Moshiach and the complete redemption.