Insights and Inspiration
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
March 17th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 24–11th of Adar 5771
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
March 17th 2011 -Volume I, Issue 24–11th of Adar 5771
It’s Purim time. As long as I have been writing this Weekly Insights Email it has been my week to let down my writer’s quasi humorous hair (that’s hair singular) and get into the cheer of things. This week however I just can’t. I’m still crying…
How could it happen? How does someone murder a baby? Lying in bed… next to his father. A young boy reading a book? From where does a 12 year old girl (the same age as my son) get the strength, after coming home on Friday night from a fun evening with her friends singing shabbat songs and finding her parents and siblings massacred bodies, where does she get the strength to stand up and say “I will be strong and succeed in overcoming this. I understand the task that stands before me, and I will be a mother to my siblings”. How can you stop crying…? How can we even think of Purim?
This week we read the supplemental Torah reading before Purim of Parshat Zachor. It is the only biblically mandated Torah reading that each individual has a Mitzvah to hear. We are obligated to remember our brutal first attack by enemies that came on a suicide mission to attack the Jewish people. They had no beef with the Jews. We were not a threat to them. They lived in the North of Israel we were coming from the South. We were powerful. We had just destroyed the world empire Egypt and were on the top of the world. Yet against all logic and without any strategic rationale Amalek attacked us. We destroyed them with our faith in God as we watched the hands of Moshe up on the mountain raised to the Almighty in prayer. We won. We survived for another day. Yet we are commanded never to forget. When Hashem finally relieves us of all our enemies we must destroy Amalek.
We have faced so many Amalekites in our history. The story of Purim is the story of a genocidal plot by Haman a descendant of Amalek. The Greeks, The Babylonians, the Romans, The Crusaders, The Cossacks, Stalin, Hitler. How many hundreds of millions of our ancestors have been massacred, tortured and destroyed by those who again and again come up against us. There are those that thought that with the establishment of the Jewish State and with our own government and army we could finally have peace, rest, perhaps even respect. Yet, it continues. How many tears have been shed? Blood spilled? When will it stop? How can we celebrate Purim?
The answer, I believe lies in the understanding the essence of this holiday; perhaps even more so in the understanding of its prelude, of Zachor. As we know the holiday of Purim is always preceded by the fast of Esther. Unlike all other fasts that relate to the destruction of the Temple and are considered days of mourning, the fast of Esther is unique. In fact, this year when we cannot observe the fast of Esther on the day before Purim, as it is Shabbos, we push the fast earlier to Thursday, contrary to the general rule of pushing off days of fasting and mourning to a later date. The reason, are sages tell us, is because the fast of Esther, which recalls the fasting and prayer the Jews engaged in on behalf of Esther’s mission to King Achashveirosh to plead for our people, is not one that is meant to evoke feelings of mourning and sadness, rather it is one that is meant to celebrate and commemorate the Jewish peoples response to the nations that seek to destroy us. In truth the entire holiday of Purim is exactly of the same nature.
“The Jews established and firmly accepted on themselves and on their descendants, and on anyone who might convert to Judaism, to faithfully observe these two days, as written, and at the right times, each and every year. These days must be remembered and observed for every generation, every family, in every part of the world, in every city. The Holiday of Purim will never be abolished among the Jews, and their descendants will never cease to observe them …. the days of Purim be kept at their proper times, as established by Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther, and as accepted by all Jews on themselves and their descendants, the fasts and the prayers as well.”. Esther 9:27-31
Purim is established as a day that celebrates the strength of the Jewish people through our collective memory.
“Remember what Amalek has done to you…..And when Hashem will give you rest from the enemies that in the land Hashem has given you for an inheritance,, wipe out the memory of Amalek…do not forget”.
What is the power of this memory? Why is it so celebrated? The answer is that the Jewish people have an inner strength as a result of all that we have been through. It is the strength of knowing that we have been through all this before. It is the strength of knowing that all the tears that we shed and suffer for ultimately have a function. There is a day of celebration, of Purim, that will follow. No matter how hard they will try to wipe us off the face of the Earth we have a Father in heaven that we can turn our eyes up to and who will never allow his children to be destroyed. Purim is a day of laughter because although we were in Exile in Persia and we were just facing our national demise, we miraculously overcame our enemy’s designs. We could laugh at them. We could laugh with the memory that this battle has happened before and that we are still standing. They could laugh with the knowledge that there lays within each of us that incredibly Divine eternal power to transcend and rebuild from tragedy and from the ashes a Temple for the Almighty.
When we remember Amalek, we also can bring to mind all the other remembrances of the Torah. We remember the uniqueness of the day of Shabbos; our covenant with God. We remember the day we left Egypt and were swept off our feet by our Father that chose as his nation. We remember the vows we took at Sinai and we remember both the communal and individual responsibilities we have and the consequences for our misdeeds as we recall the incidents of the golden calf and Miriam’s lashon harah on her brother Moshe. The battle of Amalek is the crescendo of all of these memories because it concludes with a promise and mandate of Lo Tishkach- we can overcome and will never forget. Our memories will destroy our enemy’s memory. We will find the strength to laugh and rejoice in the face of those who seek to destroy us because we know that Hashem has some eternal plan for his eternal nation that will make this all right. A plan that will avenge the murders of our innocents, a plan that see our people once again reunited and exalted by the nations of the world as the Nation of priests with our Temple in Jerusalem once again. A plan that will wipe away the tears of sadness and replace them with tears of joy as our orphaned nation once again celebrate the love and warmth of our Father’s holy caress.
Have a truly happy Shabbat that you will remember forever!
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
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RABBI SCHWARTZ MOST INSPIRING JEWISH ISRAELI ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK
Rami Levi, the controlling owner of one of the country’s largest supermarket chains, not only joined thousands of others who visited the surviving members of the Fogel family to comfort them in mourning – he also stocked their shelves and refrigerator with food. You will have to get used to my face,” Levi told the mourners and friends. I have committed myself that every week I will deliver food and stock your home until the youngest orphan turns 18 years old.
RABBI SCHWARTZ ' S COOL PLACES IN ISRAEL TO CATCH TWO DAYS OF PURIM OF THE WEEK
PEOPLE ASKED ME BEFORE I MADE ALIYAH IF THE REASON I DID SO WAS SO I WOULD ONLY HAVE TO CELEBRATE ONE LESS DAY OF PASSOVER SHAVUOT AND SUKKOT (AS IN THE DIASPORA THEY MUST KEEP AN EXTRA DAY AS PER JEWISH CUSTOM- TO INSURE TIME FOR THE MESSENGERS TO ARRIVE TELLING THEM WETHER A NEW MONTH WAS ESTABLISHED OR NOT) I RESPONDED THAT I ACTUALLY DIDN’T COME TO ISRAEL FOR ONE LESS DAY BUT RATHER BECAUSE IT GIVES ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO CELEBRATE AN EXTRA DAY OF PURIM JSHUSHAN PURIM FALLS ON ADAR 15 AND IS THE DAY ON WHICH JEWS IN JERUSALEM CELEBRATE PURIM. PURIM IS GENERALLY CELEBRATED ON THE ADAR 14 BECAUSE THE JEWS IN UNWALLED CITIES FOUGHT THEIR ENEMIES ON ADAR 13 AND RESTED THE FOLLOWING DAY. HOWEVER, IN SHUSHAN, THE WALLED CAPITAL CITY OF THE PERSIAN EMPIRE, THE JEWS WERE INVOLVED IN DEFEATING THEIR ENEMIES ON ADAR 13-14 AND RESTED ON THE 15TH (ESTHER 9:20-22). IN COMMEMORATION OF THIS, IT WAS DECIDED THAT WHILE THE VICTORY WOULD BE CELEBRATED UNIVERSALLY ON ADAR 14, FOR JEWS LIVING IN SHUSHAN, THE HOLIDAY WOULD BE HELD ON ADAR 15. LATER, IN DEFERENCE TO JERUSALEM, THE SAGES DETERMINED THAT PURIM WOULD BE CELEBRATED ON ADAR 15 IN ALL CITIES WHICH HAD BEEN ENCLOSED BY A WALL AT THE TIME OF JOSHUA’S CONQUEST OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL. THIS CRITERION ALLOWED THE CITY OF JERUSALEM TO RETAIN ITS IMPORTANCE FOR JEWS, AND ALTHOUGH SHUSHAN WAS NOT WALLED AT THE TIME OF JOSHUA, IT WAS MADE AN EXCEPTION SINCE THE MIRACLE OCCURRED THERE.
TODAY, THERE IS MUCH DEBATE AS TO WHETHER OUTLYING NEIGHBORHOODS OF JERUSALEM ARE OBLIGED TO OBSERVE PURIM ON THE 14TH OR 15TH OF ADAR. FURTHER DOUBTS HAVE ARISEN AS TO WHETHER OTHER CITIES WERE SUFFICIENTLY WALLED IN JOSHUA’S ERA. IT IS THEREFORE CUSTOMARY IN CERTAIN TOWNS INCLUDING HEBRON, SAFED, TIBERIAS, ACRE, ASHDOD, ASHKELON, BEERSHEVA, BEIT SHE'AN, HAIFA, JAFFA, LOD AND RAMLAH TO CELEBRATE PURIM ON THE 14TH AND HOLD AN ADDITIONAL MEGILLAH READING ON THE 15TH.
(IN THE DIASPORA, JEWS IN BAGHDAD, DAMASCUS AND PRAGUE ALSO "CELEBRATE" SHUSHAN PURIM)