Parshas Tetzaveh/ Shabbos Zachor
The regular Torah reading this week is from the Book of Exodus--Parshas Tetzaveh. While last week's portion described how the different parts of the Mishkan were to be made, this week's discusses the special garments the Kohanim were to wear when they performed the service in the Beis Hamikdash. The regular Kohanim wore four such garments, and the Kohen Gadol, eight.
Besides having great symbolic significance, which the commentators discuss, the vestments were, in the words of the Torah, for glory and splendor; their beauty and distinctiveness lent a special air of dignity and nobility to the whole Temple service, and helped onlookers experience a sense of spiritual elevation. The Sefer HaChinuch points out that the special garments also helped awaken awe of G-d in the Kohanim who wore them: whenever they looked at any part of their bodies, they would remember before Whom they were serving. (This is certainly one purpose of all special uniforms, no? To remind the wearer of his or her special purpose or function.)
Other topics mentioned in the parsha include the procedure for the week- long inauguration of the Tabernacle (upon the completion of its construction), the design of its golden incense altar, on which a special mixture of spices was burned every day, and the commandment to bring the daily korban tamid, or continual elevation-offering.
There is also a special Torah reading this Shabbos called Parshas Zachor. We read the final verses of Ki Seitzei, in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which instruct us never to forget the evil actions of Amalek, the nation--descended from Ya'akov's brother, Esav--that attacked the Jewish people soon after they left Egypt. Their eternal hatred of Israel, and its ideal of holiness, is an important component of the Purim story (recorded in the Book of Esther), for Haman was a descendant of Amalek. This is why our Sages decreed that Parshas Zachor be read on the Shabbos directly preceding Purim.
II. A FEW PURIM THOUGHTS (WHILE WE'RE STILL SOBER...)
I was teaching a class on Purim recently, and we got to talking about this strange idea of the Rabbis commanding us, as part of the day's rejoicing, to get shikker. One person in attendance just couldn't understand it: while he may not have been aware of the many explicit admonitions against excessive drinking throughout Torah (Proverbs, the Prophets, the Talmud), he just felt that it was...well, out of character.
Let's face it: your frat brothers notwithstanding, we Jews have never historically been party animals. The Torah counsels a path of moderation with regard to the physical pleasures of this world: Ramban famously explains the commandment of the Torah, Kedoshim ti'hiyu--be holy-- as a warning against overindulgence in even permitted pleasures. (Two glasses of wine with dinner is a guideline for drinking given in the beautiful ethical work, Pele Yoetz.) What's more, being in full possession of one's faculties, and one's faculty of reasoned judgment (da'as in Hebrew) is the very essence of the developed Torah personality.
So, how do we explain the mitzvah to be wild-and-crazy on Purim?
Understand this well: there is NO mitzvah--or even permission--on Purim to be wild-and-crazy a la Animal House. (Food fights are definitely out of the question.) Nor is there any resemblance between Purim and the Dionysian revelry of Mardi Gras, l'havdil--despite an outrageously ill-informed comment to that effect which I happened to hear on a National Public Radio program.
After expressing the very same puzzlement at this commandment as my friend in the class I taught, the great Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (better known as the Chofetz Chayim) explains the drinking on Purim as follows (Biur Halacha on Orach Chayim 695).
All of the hidden miracles that the Jewish people experienced in the days of Achashverosh, as chronicled in the Book of Esther, took place through the medium of wine: the execution of Queen Vashti, and subsequent selection of Esther to replace her, was a result of the King's drunken rage on the seventh day of his week-long party for the residents of Shushan; Haman's fate was sealed at Queen Esther's (second) wine party, when she exposed him as the villain who planned to destroy her people. The elevation of Mordechai to greatness was also brought about through wine, for Esther cunningly invited only the King and Haman to her first wine party in order to plant suspicions in the King's mind against Haman; it was those uneasy thoughts that night that caused him to have the book of the royal chronicles read to him...which led him to discover that years before, Mordechai had exposed a plot on the King's life by two of his servants.
Both the downfall of the wicked, and the elevation of the righteous, were effected by means of wine!
So, the Chofetz Chayim continues, the Sages decreed that we should celebrate our deliverance by getting shikker...thereby, remembering--through our drinking--the great miracles recorded in the Book of Esther. In other words, drinking on Purim has the effect of pirsumei nisah (publicizing the miracle), just as reading the Megillah does!
He goes on to quote the beautiful words of the Meiri:
The drinking is supposed to lead us to greater love of Hashem, and gratitude for His miracles; it is truly a divine service--just as fasting is a divine service on Yom Kippur. If it's not elevating us, then it's not the proper Purim drinking. And much better, in that case, to drink only a bit--or not at all.
We should also mention the fact--noted by many other
sources--that the actual source of our suffering in the times of Achashverosh had to do
with wine: the Talmud explains that what caused the heavenly decree against the Jewish
people (which led to Haman's rise to success) was the sin of those Jews of Shushan who got
pleasure from the great banquet of Achashverosh...despite Mordechai's warnings not to
attend. The drinking and feasting that the Sages ordained on Purim is meant to
rectify our sin of getting forbidden pleasure from the banquet of Achashverosh. It
is--and must be--a feasting and joy of holiness, of delight in doing the will of Hashem.
(Sifsei Chayim: II, p. 198)
May we rejoice--and drink--with the proper intentions on Purim, and may the holiness of this special day bring us closer to one another, and to Hashem.
Edelstein is Director
of the Savannah Torah Education Project (STEP). Phone: 912-355-0157;
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