Friday, March 21, 2008

Do we really get the message of the Megilah?

this note (as many of them are) is inspired by a good friend of mine in the exile who seems to disregard my impassioned notes as "brainwashing." to him and others who share his views I pose this question: "do you really get the message of the megilah and if you do, what are you going to do about it?"

יג וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-אֶסְתֵּר: אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים.יד כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ; וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת.

Chazal provide us with insight into the reason for the feast in the third year of Achashveroshes reign - the first mishteh in the megilah. The gemarah in mesechet megilah explains that Achashverosh, noting the prophesy that the first exile would last for 70 years did the calculations. He discovered that 70 years had passed and the Jewish people were not yet redeemed, therefor he threw a big party to celebrate what he assumed to be G-ds abandonment of His people. He, melech Achashverosh was one-up'ing hkb"h, Melech Malchai HaMelachim. Achashverosh threw the feast to beat all feasts. He invited everyone and feigning benevolence wanted to please everyone "k'ratzon ish v'ish." We learn that the Jews being upstanding citizens attended the party and in the spirit of the king wishing to please everyone, not only were provided with kosher food but each had his own hechsher, each had his own wine with his own hechsher. The Jews of shushan, like Jews throughout our long history in exile were connected to Torah and Mitzvot, they were committed to being good citizens of their adopted land. And yet while being so connected to halacha they were utterly disconnected from the true meaning of that celebration. While eating their "badatz" food and drinking their kosher wine they were participating in one of the gravest chillul hashem! They were in essence confirming Achashveroshes assumption that yes, G-d had forgotten them and that the promise of a return to Eretz Yisrael was false.

What makes Megilat Esther unique from all other books in Tanach? Hashem's name is not mentioned once. This is the obvious answer that any three year old can tell you but a careful reading shows that the whole sefer is written in veiled terms, woven with uncertainties. The p'shat never tells us what the true relationship is between esther and mordechai, esther has two names, we don't know why the king can't sleep at night. In order to understand the megilah at all we have to look beneath the surface and we rely on midrashim and chazal to reveal the details of what transpired in Persia at that time. The Megilah is not just a metaphor for how Hashem works in the world and the idea that Hashem is "hidden," rather this is the very heart of the story. The megilah is written in this "hidden" fashion not only to show us that our salvation from total annihilation was not obvious at that time but to instill this message in the Jewish people for rest of history. Hashem will not reveal himself openly. We, as His people must make the choice to recognize Hashem's hand in the world. What is the miracle of Purim, is it merely that we were saved? Certainly Hashem has saved us many times from the hand of our enemies but we don't mark every single salvation with a holiday. The true miracle is that the Jewish people made the choice to recognize Hashem. We made that choice to accept that Hashem has a plan in history and that the Jewish people are to fulfill a certain destiny that has been in motion since the creation of the world itself! The Megilah tells us "kimu v'kiblu" the Jewish people recommitted themselves to a life of Torah and a mutual relationship with Hashem. At har sinai Hashem chose us and with Hashem holding the mountain over our heads we said "na'aseh v'nishmah" and now at purim of our own volition we did - "kimu v'kiblu" - we upheld and accepted the Torah. At matam torah Hashem chose us and at purim we chose Hashem.

In the fourth chapter of the megilah there is a remarkable dialogue between Mordechai and Esther albeit through Hatach. Esther is hesitant (and understandbly so!) to go before achashverosh to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. First Mordechai tells Esther that she shoudln't think that just because she is the queen she personally will escape the decree of Haman against the Jews but then he says something amazing: רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר, וְאַתְּ וּבֵית-אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ - "relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your fathers house will perish." Hashem will save the Jewish people from utter destruction, He will find a way to do it but you, Esther, for not taking this opportunity to recognize that you are the vessel by which Hashem will save us, you from the house of shaul hamelech, will be lost to the Jewish people and your descents will be lost to Jewish history. Today, as in the time of Purim 2,200 years ago Hashem is providing us ways to be vessels and be part of the geulah - the redemption - of the Jewish people.

In one month we will celebrate our redemption from Egypt. We will celebrate the open miracles that G-d displayed and were seen by even the simple servants of Egypt. Even then with open miracles chazal tell us that only one-fifth of the Jewish people left Egypt. That means that the majority of the Jewish people were not redeemed. This is a theme that continues throughout history. The destiny of the Jewish people moves on and so many of our brothers and sisters get left behind vanishing from the pages of Jewish history and yet the value of "kol yisrael areivim zeh la'zeh" - the responsibility we feel towards our fellow Jew remains strong. Time goes on, our destiny unfolds and in the face of assimilation and outright denial of the redemptive process by the most observant of Jews we continue to reach out and implore that our fellow Jews live up to the role G-d has bestowed upon us. "Revach ve'hatzalah yavo mi'makom acher" the Jewish people will live on and fulfill the destiny Hashem has in place for us. The question is will you look for the chance to be that vessel by which G-d brings redemption? Will you look for hashem's hand in history and take note of current events? Will you take up the call or will you ignore history, ignore the Torah, ignore chazal? Will you find relevance in the message of the Megilah or dismiss it and face the possibility of ultimately being lost to the Jewish people?

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