Purim: Tranquility and Torah

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10 Mar 2022

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Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Purim is unique among Jewish holidays in respect to the date of its observance. Pesach is celebrated on the day we were redeemed and left Egypt; Shavuot is celebrated on the day we received the Torah. In contrast, our salvation from Haman and the Persians who sought to annihilate us occurred on the thirteens of Adar. Why did our Sages mandate that we celebrate the following day, the fourteenth as the holiday? Manos HaLevi suggests that we are not celebrating the demise of our enemies, but our survival against all odds, a survival we realized only on the following day, the fourteenth of Adar.

Rabbi Mintzberg explains the reasoning of our Sages. He writes that although the war was won on the thirteenth of Adar, Bnei Yisroel only realized they were now out of danger on the fourteenth. We celebrate the emotional and psychological result rather than the physical victory of war.

Rabbi Mintzberg notes a further important point. The entire miracle of Purim was a concealed miracle involving many interconnected details in the narrative. Which was the turning point? Was it when Esther ascended the throne? When Haman had to lead a royally clad Mordechai through the streets of Shushan? Each step is a miracle in itself, but the result became clear only after the battle was fought and won, when the weapons were put down, the people rested, and free breathing was restored.

In Halekach Vehalebuv, Rabbi Avraham Schorr points out that this reasoning is supported by the text itself. The Megillah states, “… they should keep the fourteenth day of the month of Adar… yearly… as the days asher nachu/that they had rest from their enemies…” (9:22) Rabbi Schorr sees within this resting the key to the Purim celebration. The goal of the conflict was not only to achieve physical safety, but especially to gain inner tranquility. Haman wanted both lehumam/to disorient/create panic and chaos, and leabdom/to destroy them physically. (9:24) This is the trademark of Amalek, and victory can only be declared on the day emotional and psychological victory was achieved.

Taking it one step further, Rabbi Biederman explains Haman’s purpose in creating panic. Haman knew that when Bnei Yisroel find themselves in danger, they pray to their God. If Haman allowed had the Jews to pray, his plans would fail. For Haman to succeed, he needed to create a state of panic so that Bnei Yisroel would be too confused to think of davening to Hashem. Therefore, Mordechai decreed that to counter the effects of Amalek, Bnei Yisroel would need to establish Purim, a holiday dedicated to being shalev/tranquil, both numerically equal to 336. Purim is a day to focus on reaching this inner sense of peace.

In fact, the Gemarra  itself attests to Haman’s philosophical appearance in the Torah. At the very outset of creation,  Adam eats the fruit from the forbidden tree. Adam hides, and Hashem asks him, “Hamin/have you eaten of the tree…?” With different vowels, Hamin is Haman, the model of Amalek. What was it that Haman/Amalek introduced into Adam’s mind at this moment? It was nothing else but safek/doubt, doubt in Hashem’s perfect omnipresence and omniscience. It was distance between Man and his Creator. The 240 safek of Man was the result of the intervention of the 240 of Amalek. When we ate of that tree, we entered into a world of chaos and uncertainty, writes Rabbi Tatz.

Rabbi Ostrow in The Menuchah Principle calls this state of mind pizur hanefesh, a scattered mind caused by constant distraction and turmoil, a situation embedded in today’s society of instant tweets and assorted distractions. We crave menuchas hanefesh, a tranquil mind that allows for introspection, for the harmonious and synergistic blending of all the parts of our being in the service of Hakodosh Boruch Hu. As Rabbi Friedlander adds, one needs time to consider and deliberate, to act without duress, without acting hastily in the moment. [Perhaps this was what Haman meant, or at least was hoping for, when he described Bnei Yisroel to Ahashueros as “a people mefuzar/scattered and dispersed among the peoples.”(3:8) CKS] This menuchas hanefesh can only be achieved through bitachon, through trust and security in Hashem Who is Sovereign over this chaotic world.

This concept is already imprinted when a sofer/scribe writes a Megillah and indeed a Sefer Torah, writes Rabbi Zev Leff. Before any ink is put to parchment, almost invisible lines are scored on the parchment. The scroll represents the divine plan, while the ink, the words relate the events that unfold to comprise the entire plan. When I understand that there is a plan, whether I perceive it as, “Blessed is Mordechai,” or as, “Cursed be Haman,” I can remain calm and tranquil in both circumstances. I must believe, writes Mesillot Bilvovom, that Hashem leads me on tranquil waters. With that mindset, I can vanquish the Amalek of doubt within myself.

Unlike other nations, we do not celebrate victory, writes Rabbi Scheinerman. We celebrate a return to normalcy and tranquility. For Jews, this means a return to Torah, for the Jews now had Ohrah/light, the symbol for Torah which brings light to the world.

But Torah can properly be studied and understood only when one’s mind is calm, focused, unscattered. That is why Yaakov blessed Issachar with menuchah/tranquility, for this tribe was destined to produce many sages and leaders who would be members of the Sanhedrin, writes Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon in Matnas Chaim. Now that the Purim battle was over, the Jews can refocus their minds with joy on the study of the Torah they had now re-accepted.

Our Sages note the difference between our acceptance of Torah at Sinai and our re-acceptance of Torah after the Purim events. At Sinai, we readily accepted the written Torah, but the Oral Torah, the traditional explanation and interpretation of Torah law and its transmission from generation to generation, required deep concentration. Bnei Yisroel was hesitant to accept this half of Torah, for they saw no way to achieve and retain the tranquility necessary for its proper study and transmission. However, having seen how Hashem orchestrated the events leading to their salvation from Haman’s evil decree, their faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu grew to cover all circumstances. With this faith they knew they could study Torah with the calm understanding that they need not obsess over life, that they could let God take over.

We today are often beset with challenges of daily living. However, if we have faith that Hashem is orchestrating all the events of our lives, as He orchestrated the events of the Purim chronicle, we too can calm our emotions and fears, and exert the mental effort necessary for studying Torah sheb’al Peh/ the Oral Torah. With faith in God, one can study Torah under the harshest of circumstances, even in a Nazi concentration camp. Even under tremendous physical hardship, it is difficult but possible to be emotionally and spiritually tranquil. When were Bnei Yisroel able to declare a holiday and re-accept the Torah? The day after the victory, asher nachu/when they rested fully, without fear.

With the Purim salvation, the physical and the spiritual were in sync to accept both the written and oral Torah. Not only were the Jews saved from physical annihilation, but their intellect could understand God’s association in their lives. [With the redemption from Egypt, Bnei Yisroel had been redeemed physically, but in their minds and perceptions they remained enslaved. CKS] Inner tranquility is achieved when both the body, the intellect and the emotions are in sync, writes Rabbi Rothberg in Moda Labina. We can now understand why the Purim salvation, with the perception of Hashem’s concealed hand, was the catalyst for accepting all of Torah, both that revealed atSinai and that concealed within the text, that prima facie law and that which requires deep analysis.

In fact, notes Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi, the situation in Persia was a direct consequence of the behavior of Bnei Yisroel. When Ahashueros hosted this magnificent party, the Jews attended, and ate and drank with relish, even though the vessels being used were those looted from the Beit Hamikdosh, and the celebration was to commemorate what Ahashueros believed was the negation of the prophecy of rebuilding the Temple. For their physical pleasure at this party, the Jews would now be in danger of physical annihilation.

In fact, while the Jews thoroughly enjoyed this royal party, and they observed the Torah mitzvoth punctiliously, (all the food was kosher) they did so without passion, simply by rote. Haman picked up on this lackadaisical attitude when he approached Ahashueros with his plan. He told the king, “Yeshno/There is one nation… that it is not worthwhile for the king to suffer them.” (3:8) Haman understood that Bnei Yisroel yoshnoo/slept through their mitzvah observance. Perhaps the King will no longer protect them. This is the opportunity to attack. A Jew must feel joy in his Jewishness. He must take even his physical joy and channel it toward connection to Hashem. And this joy must extend beyond Purim to Pesach preparation, Pesach observance, and beyond.

The Megillah records the reaction of the Jews to their salvation: “The Jews had ohrah/light, vesimcha/gladness, vesasson/joy, veyekor/honor.” (8:16) Rabbi Schwab explains: They had Torah without light; they observed the festivals without gladness; they practice brit milah/circumcision without joy; and wore their tefillin without pride and honor. After the redemption of Purim, all these religious observances were again infused with light, gladness, joy and honor.

In our hectic world bombarded with technology, and often additionally beset with personal, national, and international crises, we can get so caught up in an internal dialogue of frustration, fear and panic that we lose focus and cannot concentrate on the truly important. If we take the message of Purim and integrate it into our lives, we will rebuild our faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu and infuse our lives with the calm tranquility to live not just Purim, but every day, with joy. Happy Purim.