Purim 5784: Yerushalayim Yearning

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18 Mar 2024

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

A recurring theme in all of Tanach is the centrality of Eretz Yisroel. each sefer takes place either within Eretz Yisroel or is about Eretz Yisroel. Megillat Esther seems to be the exception,. The only reference to Eretz Yisroel seems to be that Mordechai was an exile from Yerushalayim. But is this actually the case? If we study the Megillah more closely, writes Rabbi Rivlin, we will find that Mordechai and the entire Megillah is focused on Eretz Yisroel.

While the opening scene of the Megillah is the grand celebratory party Achashverosh throws for the princes of the realm and then for all the people, the backstory begins much earlier with the destruction of the Beit Hamikdosh. The Prophet Yirmiyahu Had prophesied that the exile would last seventy years, but the actual calculation of those years was not absolutely clear. In fact, an Achashverosh predecessor, Belshazzar, had miscalculated. He had also hosted a celebration when he assumed the seventy years were over and Bnei Yisroel would not return to Eretz Yisroel to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh. For Belshazzar, the writing was literally on the wall, and he died that night.

Between these two monarchs, Koreish/Cyrus the Great had granted permission to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh and had even funded the project. With the ascension of Achashverosh, however, the construction stopped. Achashverosh listened to his advisors, prominent among them was Haman who advised against the project. Achashverosh was celebrating the third year of the moratorium, assuming his reign was now safe, when the Megillah opens. It would take a few more years from this moment for the construction to resume and for the Jews to return to Eretz Yisroel, writes Rabbi Strickoff in Inside Purim.

We get further insights from Rabbi Ber in Ma’aseh Rokem. While Koreish had indeed permitted and financed the construction of the Beit Hamikdosh, very few Jews actually returned. If most had returned, the redemption would have occurred. While a small group of mostly poor Jews returned, the rich and the elite generally remained in Persia, in Shushan Habirah. They were the ones who went to Achashverosh’ party, not only attending, but also enjoying themselves, preferring the comfort and luxuries of Persia to the hard work making aliyah would entail. When they prayed the Shemoneh Esrai and blessed Hashem “Who returns His presence to Zion,” they mouthed empty words while actually assimilating, without taking the opportunity to return and rebuild the home for Hashem’s presence to return. By ignoring their core identity, they had indeed become מפוזר ומפורד בין העמים/ separated and spread out among the nations, abrogating their core mission and identity. Bnei Yisroel had assimilated both politically and spiritually.

This would be Achashverosh’ victory. He had feared being usurped by a Jew and, in fact, so he was, as his own Jewish son born of Queen Esther, Darius, would commit to rebuilding the Beit Hamikdosh, funding its construction with Haman’s money.

A well known mishneh in Masechet Taanis alludes to a further connection between the Purim narrative and Eretz Yisroel: “כשם/Just as when the month of Av begins, we lessen the joy, so when the month of Adar begins, we increase the joy.” We can understand lessening our joy in the month when when Yerushalayim and the Beit Hamikdosh, the place where our sins would be forgiven, was destroyed. Drawing a connection between Av and Adar,  in Sichot Eliyahu, Rabbi Roth z”l suggests that Purim is also about the Beit Hamikdosh, and about Bnei Yisroel returning to both their spiritual and religious levels.

Achashverosh’ celebration was not an ordinary party, but a meal that was intended to mirror the service in the Beit Hamikdosh. Achashverosh and the walls themselves were clad in the clothing and curtains of the Beit Hamikdosh; the utensils were the ones used in the Beit Hamikdosh; even the names of the advisors mimicked the names of sacrifices. And Bnei Yisroel not only ate of this food, albeit all was under strict Mehadrin supervision, but they enjoyed themselves! They were uprooting the essence of the Beit Hamikdosh, replacing spirituality with physicality, and forgetting about Yerushalayim.

The rituals Bnei Yisroel maintained were executed by rote, as if asleep. When Haman says, “ישנו/Yeshno/There is one nation,” with different vocalization, it can be read, “Yoshnu/A nation is asleep.” At Sinai, the Torah was given amid thunder and lightning, with fire and passion. The Beit Hamikdosh was symbolically a mini Har Sinai. Yet Bnei Yisroel were oblivious, were sleepwalking through their Judaism, forgetting about the Beit Hamikdosh and the Torah of Sinai.

Mordechai’s role was to reawaken Bnei Yisroel, to bring them back to re-experiencing Sinai, and accept the Torah anew. He taught them about the Omer offering, and reignited in them the memory and desire for the Beit Hamikdosh. As the Megillah testifies, “קימו וקבלו … they undertook and confirmed upon themselves” not only to celebrate these holidays of Purim, but to re-accept the Torah, as they had done at Sinai.

Adar is the month of Har Sinai and the Beit Hamikdosh. Just as after accepting the Torah we were worthy of building the Mishkan, so now, after re-accepting the Torah would we be worthy of rebuilding the Beit Hamikdosh.

Achashverosh’ party was the lure to ensnare the people so they will not want to return to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh. Achashverosh wanted to destroy the Beit Hamikdosh not only physically, but also emotionally, to sever any existing connection. Mordechai was the link that will reconnect Bnei Yisroel to the chain of Torah and their heritage.

In Purim Eternal, Rabbi Feiner makes another connection between the Megillah and Beit Hamikdosh. Citing the Gemarrah, Rabbi Feiner notes that the Beit Hamikdosh is called Habirah/the Capital. Identifying Shushan as הבירה once would have been enough. Why the constant repetition and linkage? The constant repetition suggests that Achashverosh was trying to substitute Shushan for the Beit Hamikdosh, an idea supported by the vestments and vessels highlighted at this party.

Mordechai had been one of the first people to return to Yerushalayim when Koreish had authorized the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh. Now that the construction had been suspended, indeed banned, Mordechai went back to Shushan to lobby to resume construction. Rabbi Feiner further suggests that we find Mordechai constantly at the gates of the palace so that he would feel the constant pain of the loss of the Beit Hamikdosh. His very name alludes to the spice used in the ketores/incense burned in the Beit Hamikdosh. Even the name Moriah, the mountain upon which the Beit Hamikdosh was situated, echos the name Mordechai.

In addition to Mordechai’s name, the Megillah also lists Mordechai’s ancestry, each name alluding to prayer,  ben Yair—will bring light through prayer, ben Shimi—whose prayers will be heard, ben Kish—who bangs on the gate of heaven. Mordechai’s essence was prayer and his connection to the Beit Hamikdosh.

According to Rabbi Kluger in Sharvit Hazahav, Mordechai saved the king from the two who plotted to kill him because Mordechai speculated that perhaps Achashverosh would then grant permission to rebuild the Beit Hamikdosh. However, the night Achashverosh couldn’t sleep and he asked that the book of chronicles be read to him, Shimshi, his antisemitic scribe, kept erasing this episode from the manuscript. But the angel Gavriel kept rewriting it onto the parchment, tells us the medrash.

Here Rabbi Kluger suggests a powerful theory. Perhaps Achashverosh suspected that Esther had invited him and Haman to her party to ask how Mordechai had been rewarded for having saved the king’s life. If that would be the case, surely Mordechai would request that the Beit Hamikdosh be rebuilt. Achashverosh now wanted to preempt this possibility; after all, Achashverosh was only willing to part with up to half his kingdom, the half not including the Land of Israel. By rewarding Mordechai with this honor of riding through the streets of Shushan on a royal horse, dressed in royal garments, with an official royal crier leading him, Achashverosh would already have rewarded Mordechai for his action and would no longer be beholden to him to honor his request.

The prerequisites for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh were being met. Haman, representing Amalek was being destroyed for having the temerity of falling on Esther’s bed, and Mordechai was now wearing royal garments and being elevated to a royal position. Two of the three mitzvoth we were commanded upon entering Eretz Yisroel were now being met, to destroy Amalek and to anoint a king. All that remained was actually building the Beit Hamikdosh.

Yearos Devash suggest a novel interpretation as to why Achashverosh wanted Mordechai to ride on the kingly horse.  Achashverosh had seen in the stars that a Jew would take over his kingdom after him. Now, by making Mordechai king for a day, Achashverosh thought he had fulfilled this forecast and he would now be safe. Even when Esther reveals her identity, Achashverosh no longer feels threatened, for his own son will succeed him.

Nevertheless, Mordechai was the catalyst for this redemption and for rebuilding the Beit Hamikdosh. Returning to Mordechai’s genealogy, he is called both an איש יהודי/a man of the Tribe of Judah and an איש ימיני, a man from the Tribe of Binyamin. While our sages explain that his mother was a descendant of Judah and his father was from Binyamin, Rabbi Feiner notes that the Gemorrah records another place where these two tribes are connected, the site of the Beit Hamikdosh, partly on Judean land and partly in Binyamin land. As such, Mordechai is symbolically a mini Beit Hamikdosh.

Mordechai wanted nothing more than to return to Yerushalayim, just as a dove always returns to its original nest, even if it has been damaged. So too, Bnei Yisroel yearn to return to Yerushalayim and to Hashem, even after prolonged separation. As the Megillah records in its last verse, Mordechai always sought the good for his people, that good being the return to our homeland.

Purim reminds us that today should be no different. We should all yearn for the good of our homeland and for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh.

The Talmud Yerushalmi reinforces our connection to Eretz Yisroel by mandating that Shushan Purim be observed in those cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, not in the time of the Purim events, for it is Yerushalayim Habirah that is our eternal capital, not Shushan, and Biblical Israel is defined by the conquests of Joshua.

If our hearts are in Yerushalayim, even in the USA, Australia, the Soviet Bloc, or any other country, we can feel the celebration of Yerushalayim, as Shushan Purim extend beyond Yerushalayim’s immediate borders. We can be connected, even if we are not physically there, writes Rabbi Wolfson.

In a time of galus/exile, Purim gives us hope and encouragement, for redemption can come in the blink of an eye, reminds us Rabbi Kluger. That focus on Yerushalayim is central in all our daily prayers as well as in our Blessings at the end of every meal. On Purim we have the special opportunity to pray for our complete redemption, for our full return to our unique relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh. May it be soon.

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