|This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s, Yissachar Frand, Yossi bilus, Asher Hurzberg, Artscrol Siddur|
As of right now, we are at the threshold of the holiday of Purim, yet it seems impossible to escape all the hype of the Presidential elections which will take place this coming November. While we ponder who to vote for, whether it be Clinton, Trump, or anyone else who won the designated party nomination, one cannot help but to wonder the first and foremost question that we should be asking ourselves: Who will be good for the Jews?
Purim is wonderful! Purim is fun!
I personally have a problem with the catch phrase for the month: MESHEH NICHNAS ADAR MARBIM B’SIMCHA – when the month of Adar is upon us there will be a great increase in the joy of all of us Jews. Well that wasn’t exactly the case for this Jew, for I just commemorated on the 5th of Adar the twelfth anniversary of my father’s, z”l, passing. Where was the joy? It was a difficult time in my life. I was no happy camper, I remembering feeling numb while seeing the rest of the world celebrating Purim. If it was time for my father to depart this wonderful world, why couldn’t G-d escort him out during a negative month? It didn’t make sense.
Oddly enough my father passed away on the Hebrew same date of his mother’s passing. How spooky is that!!
There are a number of fascinating questions pertaining to the above topics mentioned on the Megilat Esther – the story of Purim.
There are two points that stand out as we look into the Megilla. The first is Queen Vashti:
Achashverosh, the king of Persia, threw a big party and when he was in a drunken state of mind, he commanded his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear before those assembled to show off her beauty. Vashti refused to come. According to the Talmud [Megilla 12], her refusal to come was not based on any sudden sense of modesty on her part, rather the Angel Gavriel came and put a tail on her.
Out of all things to make a person undesirable, why did G-d’s messenger, the angel Gavriel, choose a tail? If one wants to make a person ugly there is an entire smorgasbord of gruesome appearances to consider. We come from a “creature feature” Hollywood horror films society that views what Gavriel the Angel chose to be amateurish. Ask us, we’re the professionals, especially after 45 years of alien villains on the different Star Treks. Furthermore, in today’s day and age, where “different” is “cool” many would find tail actually attractive and refreshing. It would be a great conversation piece. “Hey, you know what grew out of my backside? A tail!” Ooh ahh.
The second point that relates to us is the number 127, pertaining to the countries that Achashverosh, and later Esther, ruled. Interestingly we never hear about this number again in the Megila. For the most part it’s insignificant. Why is this number even presented?
Now for another point, unrelated to the Megila, yet related to our discussion. Our prayers are very deep in meaning. However, unfortunately many people simply do not have access to innermost meaning rooted inside of them. One particular prayer which will help shed some light on our questios is BARUCH SHE’AMAR. With the recitation of this prayer talking is omitted till the end of the AMIDA. BARUCH SHE’AMAR elevates our prayers; it is the first step of 4 of the spiritual ladder of getting close to G-d. We will explore how it plays a crucial role in our understanding of these subject matters.
Often, when the Talmud relates a story of Aggadic nature, such as this, the Gemara is not to be taken literally. The Gemara is teaching a message with this story. The Chofetz Chaim suggests that the Gemara means something else. We do not need to assume that Vashti literally grew a tail.
The Talmud teaches [Sanhedrin 96] that Nevuchadnetzar, King of Babylonia, was not born into royalty. How did he become King then? The Gemara relates that Chizkiyahu, King of Judea, became very sick and he was miraculously saved. The Almighty wanted to publicize the fact that the King of Judea was miraculously healed so he made a second miracle – namely, the day that King Chizkiyahu was cured lasted 18 hours! That got people’s attention! The whole world realized that it was a miraculous day. The King of Babylonia at that time was a person named Biladan. Biladan said, “I need to send congratulatory remarks to the King of Judea. He is so righteous that the Almighty changed nature for him, I must send him a letter of congratulations and admiration.” He ordered his scribe (who at the time was Nevuchadnetzar) to draft the letter for him. However, that day, for whatever reason, Nevuchadnetzar was not there. So, the other scribes went ahead and drafted a letter without the input of the chief scribe, Nevuchadnetzar. The letter’s salutation was as follows: “Peace unto you King Chizkiyahu; peace unto Jerusalem; and peace unto the Almighty G-d.” Nevuchadnetzar returned from wherever he was and asked to review a copy of the letter. When he saw the salutation he objected. The honor of the Almighty G-d should have been placed first, not third in the letter! However the other scribes told him that the original had already been sent off. Nevuchadnetzar ran after the messengers to try to stop them so as not to send the letter with such a “blasphemous” salutation. The Talmud says that he ran four steps in the direction of the courier. He wanted to stop him and reverse the salutation by rewriting it according to proper protocol: “Peace to the Almighty G-d; peace to the city of Jerusalem; and peace to King Chizkiyahu.”
The Talmud in Sanhedrin teaches that after he ran those four steps (according to an alternate version in the Yalkut he ran only 3 steps) to stop the letter, Gavriel came and stopped him in his tracks so that he would not be able to run any further. The Talmud comments that had Gavriel not come and limited the merit, Nevuchadnetzar was gaining for himself by showing G-d this honor, “There would not have been left a remnant of the enemies of the Jewish people” (The Gemara often uses euphemistic ways to express bad things, in this case saying that as opposed to saying the Jewish people would have been totally wiped out). The Gemara asks, “What did Nevuchadnetzar get as reward for his walking the four steps?” The Gemara answers that he saw himself and 3 generations after him become royalty. The 4 generations were Nevuchadnetzar, Evil Merodach, Balshatzar, and Vashti. Vashti was a great-granddaughter of Nevuchadnetzar.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that there is actually no dispute between the version that says Nevuchadnetzar ran 4 steps and the version that says he ran 3 steps. He actually ran 3 full steps. In the middle of the fourth step Gavriel came and stopped him before he had a chance to complete the fourth step. It was cut off in the middle.
That is why the Gemara testifies that if he would have taken four whole steps the Jewish people would have been wiped out! The Chofetz Chaim interprets: Since he did not take a complete fourth step, the reign of his fourth descendant [Vashti] was terminated prematurely. Had Vashti remained on the throne, Esther would never have been in a position to save the Jewish people and they would have been wiped out in the time of Haman.
The Chofetz Chaim states further that this is what it means that Gavriel (the same Angel who stopped Nevuchadnetzar from taking that fourth step) came and placed a tail upon Vashti. The term “zanav” (tail) alludes to the fact that it was the tail end of the dynasty of Nevuchadnetzar.
The lesson of this story is that this is how the Almighty runs his world. The incident with Gavriel happened in the time of Chizkiyahu King of Judea – many years before the era of Haman and Achashverosh. Because of what took place then, Klal Yisrael was saved many years later in the time of Purim.
Events happen or do not happen for many seemingly many random reasons, but behind the supposed motivations of people, the Almighty is manipulating history to carry out His Will. Behind the curtains, the Master of the Universe is pulling the strings.
There is a true story, which appears in the historical archives of the Knesset, which Rabbi Frand heard from Rabbi David Ordman. The story goes, Rav Shlomo Lorenz (a former Knesset member of Agudat Yisrael) once met Harry S. Truman, President of the United States. President Truman told Rabbi Lorenz, “You should know that when I agreed to recognize the State of Israel, it went against the advice of my advisors and it was against every political instinct that I have. But I will tell you why I did it…” (The conventional wisdom is that Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel in 1948 because he had a Jewish partner in the haberdashery business in Independence, Missouri many decades earlier. The partner had come to him in the White House and asked him for the favor. Now you will hear the real story from Harry Truman himself.)
President Truman told Rabbi Lorenz “I was a little boy growing up in the United States and every little boy growing up in the United States dreams of becoming president. That was my dream. I’ll tell you something else. I was a good Christian boy and I learned my Bible. My hero in the Bible was Cyrus (who we know a Koresh, none other than a descendant of Queen Esther). Koresh is the one who let the Jewish people go back to their homeland and build their Temple (Bais HaMikdash). I said, if I ever become President of the United States, I want to imitate my hero and if I ever get the opportunity to let the Jewish people go back to their country and rebuild their Temple that is what I am going to do. And that”, he concluded, “Is why I recognized the State of Israel.”
This is the same story: The Hand of G-d at work. Just like with Vashti – we do not know what on earth possessed her to disobey her husband and not come as he ordered, but we do know what in Heaven did. The Almighty sent an Angel and made it happen, so that Klal Yisrael should be saved. So too, Harry Truman had this ‘mishugaas’ – he wanted to emulate Koresh. Some of us have odd heroes, as well. When I grew up my hero was Bud Harrelson, a baseball player who played shortstop for the New York Mets, as opposed to the popular choice of either Tom Seaver or Bobby Mercer. There is probably not another person in the world whose main Biblical hero was Koresh, but that was the idiosyncrasy of Harry Truman. And because of that, the rest is history.
THE NUMBER 127
There is a popular Midrash which links Esther and Sarah, which pertains to the very beginning, the very first sentence of the Megillah. The first sentence includes the apparent superfluous information that Achashverosh ruled over 127 provinces. The Midrash describes Rabbi Akiva as asking, “How did Esther merit to rule over 127 provinces?” He answered, “Let [Esther,] the descendant of Sarah who lived 127 years, come and rule over 127 provinces.”
Sarah is the only woman in the entire Torah whose age is recorded: 127 years, a number that the Kabbalists explain denotes perfection and achievement. The commentaries mentioned that the reason that Sarah is linked to Esther is because Esther is in essence is replacing Sarah who is the antithesis to Vashti.
In Tractate Megila the Gemara asks, “Who were the most beautiful woman that ever lived?” It goes on to list, Chava (Eve) the first woman, Sarah the first matriarch, Esther the Queen of Persia and Rachav the woman who helped the spies conquer Israel and who later converted to Judaism.
The Gemara also lists their virtues that led to them to be attractive. Physical beauty is not enough; it needs to be complemented by personality. The Gemarah says what brought out Sarah’s beauty was her modesty.
It is also written in the Holy Scriptures that besides modesty, Sarah is also known for her love of Shabbat. The Sages say that she purposely had a different maid servant for each day of the week, so she would be aware it’s Shabbat; mind you this is before calendars existed.
When Sarah passed away, the coronation of her son, Yitzchak’s bride, Rivka as her spiritual successor was as follows: when she entered Sarah tent, the Midrash says, the Shabbat candles automatically lit. Sarah’s candles, which she lit before Shabbat miraculously lasted to the next Shabbat.
It’s not for naught that we recite the beautiful prayer Eshet Chail – woman of valor, Friday night at the beginning of the royal Shabbat table. The prayer was composed by King Shlomo and was influenced by the eulogy given by Avraham to his wife Sarah.
Sarah, the loyal wife of Avraham, was instrumental in his campaign to bring the world closer to G-d. Vashti on the other hand, chose the opposite path. Vashti was known to purposely force the Jewish women to work and dress immodestly on Shabbat. She caused a complete desecration of that holy day. Esther carried the torch of Sarah in trying to restore the G-dly decorum and dignity into the world, which only a queen or an equivalent stature can accomplish.
BARUCH SHE’AMAR: TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
BARUCH SHE’AMAR starts with a very popular world BARUCH. Baruch is commonly translated as “blessed”. If we contemplate this, we see that the translation “blessed” does not make sense. What does it even mean to say someone is “blessed”? Perhaps it means that he has a lot. Are we saying that G-d has a huge amount of everything?
A better translation of BARUCH is obtained by comparing this word to other similar words in Hebrew. When Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, brought his camels to the well where he met Rebecca, he caused his camels to bend their knees. The word used there is, “Vi’yavrach” (a derivative of “baruch”) which means “to make [the camels] kneel down. (Genesis 24:11)
The word BARUCH is also related to the word in Hebrew “berach” which means knee. Another use of the root of BARUCH is the Hebrew word “L’havrich” which refers to taking a vine, and to put part of the growing branch under the ground so that it may sprout roots. BARUCH is also related to the Hebrew word Barak, which means lightning. Barak is of a similar, although different root.
What we see by comparing the word BARUCH to all the various forms of the root of the word is something that has to do with a downward motion. The lowering of the camels, planting of the vine, and lightning, all have in common a downward motion.
What we now understanding is that the definition of BARUCH means coming down. In the standing silent prayer, the Amidah, we bend our knees when mentioning the word “BARUCH” in the first blessing. This is indicative of the real meaning of the word BARUCH – going in a downward direction.
More specifically in the general context of a “blessing”, it means that G-d is bringing something down to the earth and we through our prayers are requesting the goodness that will benefit us to do what we came to this world for.
* There are 13 BARUCHS equivalent to the 13 attributes of G-d.
* The prayer BARUCH SHE’AMAR was transcribed by the men of the great assembly 2400 years ago from a script that fell from the heavens.
Interestingly, one may ask why we kiss our TZITZIOT at the end of this prayer. According to the Kabbalah tradition the TZITZIT represent the 613 mitzvot. What about the kiss?
One of the ways one can get close to G-d is through meditation which consists of breathing. It says (Bereshit 2,8) “And G-d blew into his nostrils the soul of life”. For this reason Shofar on Rosh Hashana is so potent. The blower, who represents the Jewish people, uses his breath to convey forgiveness. The same breath that we received for life is one to ask for forgiveness. Therefore breath is very spiritual. That is also why Jews are forbidden to blow out a candle with their breath. A kiss consists of breath and therefore it too is spiritual. Interestingly, according to the Mystics the proper way to have marital relationship is through kissing for it insures that the physical act has spirituality incorporated within. It would give it true and proper meaning. Therefore kissing brings down spirituality in the physical world. BARUCH SHE’AMAR is the bridge between the heavens and earth
All this is an introduction to the phrase in the BARUCH SHE’AMAR of BARUCH GOZER U’MIKAYEM – G-d decrees and fulfills the decree. Whether it be Vashti three and half generations later, whether it be Truman, the death of a loved one, whether the up and coming presidential elections, it’s all part of the master plan. HOWEVER WE DON’T KNOW WHAT THE PLAN IS AND THEREFORE ONLY AT END WE SHALL SEE THE GOODNESS.
ZANAV (tail) in Hebrew consist of the letter ZAYIN which is the numerical value of seven that is Shabbat which is the seventh day of the week and NUN and BET which is 52, for the 52 weeks of the year. Shabbat is the end of the week similar to the fact that the tail is at the end. Vashti’s tail was insignificant. G-d runs the world with measure for measure, or MIDA K’NEGED MIDA. Vashti desecrated the Shabbat therefore the tail was a source of death for her. However Shabbat if done right the ZOHAR states has the ability to generate life, energy, and SHEFA throughout the coming week, the future.
However, Vashti’s tail was insignificant. G-d runs the world with measure for measure MIDA K’NEGED MIDA. Vashti desecrated the Shabbat, or perhaps made others desecrate it, therefore the tail was the source of death.