Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Tzav/Purim

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Vaya’as Aharon u’banav es kol ha’devarim asher tziva Hashem b’yad Moshe (8:36)

After discussing more of the laws governing the various offerings, Parshas Tzav turns its attention to the inauguration of the Kohanim. It relates at length the procedure by which Aharon and his sons were consecrated to serve as Kohanim. After relating all of the details of the process, the parsha summarizes and concludes by recording that Aharon and his sons did everything that Moshe had commanded them to do in the name of Hashem.

Rashi explains that the Torah specifically records that Aharon and his sons did everything which Hashem commanded in order to praise them, in that they followed Hashem’s instructions without the slightest deviation. This is difficult to understand. Why does the Torah find it noteworthy that the righteous Aharon and his sons obeyed Hashem’s explicit commands, something that we would have naturally assumed and taken for granted?

The Darkei Mussar notes that the prophet Yirmiyahu relates (15:17), “I didn’t sit together with a group of jokesters.” This is also perplexing; would we have expected a prophet of Hashem to waste his valuable time with such unproductive members of society that it was worth mentioning otherwise? Wouldn’t it strike us as odd to hear somebody mention in a eulogy of the Chofetz Chaim or Rav Moshe Feinstein that he didn’t spend his days at the circus or the bar? Rav Moshe Rosenstein, the Mashgiach of the Lomza yeshiva in Europe, answers that human nature is to be innately interested in such frivolous matters, and it is therefore proper to praise these individuals for refusing to remain with their inborn tendencies. Instead, they worked on themselves until they reached a level at which they had completely uprooted their natural inclinations, and doing Hashem’s will became second nature.

Similarly, Aharon was born as a regular person; only through many years of hard work did he become the great Aharon HaKohen with whom we are familiar. Instead of remaining average, he became a person for whom there was no possibility of intentionally deviating from Hashem’s commandments. Although at the time of the building of the Mishkan he was already on a level at which he faced no struggle, the Torah still praises him for his lifetime of work that brought him to that high level.

The following story presents a contemporary application of this concept. The Beis HaLevi was renowned for his tremendous Yiras Shomayim (fear of Heaven). A Rav in Europe once remarked in jest that if he was on the Heavenly Court at the time of the Beis HaLevi’s death, he would refuse to give him reward for any sin that he didn’t commit. The Beis HaLevi was on such a high spiritual level that he had no evil inclination pushing him to transgress. Because he had no internal struggle, he wasn’t deserving of any reward for his choices. The Rav added that he would, however, give the Beis HaLevi unimaginable reward for using his free-will to develop himself to the point that he reached such a lofty level.

While we may not be on the level of Aharon, Yirmiyahu, or the Beis HaLevi, this lesson is still applicable. We all have mitzvos and areas of life with which we struggle. Our natural instincts guide us in the opposite direction of where we know we’d like to be going. We can take strength from seeing that true and lasting change is possible, and we should be encouraged by the knowledge that we will receive eternal reward for our efforts, even after they become second nature to us.

Vatomer Ester la’melech b’shem Mordechai (Esther 2:22)

When Mordechai overheard Bigsan and Seresh plotting to assassinate the king, he told Esther about their plan, and she in turn went to inform Achashverosh of their plot. From the Megillah’s emphasis on the fact that Esther conveyed this information to Achashverosh in the name of Mordechai, the Gemora (Megillah 15a) derives that whoever relates something in the name of the person who said it brings redemption to the world.

In this case, only because Esther made sure to tell Achashverosh that her information came from Mordechai was it attributed to him in the royal chronicles, which enabled the plot to advance on that critical night when Achashverosh was unable to sleep. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why it is so essential to relate something in the name of the person who said it, and how that is connected to bringing redemption to the world.

The Maharal explains that when Hashem wants to perform a miracle or bring salvation, He wants to make sure that everybody will recognize that it came from Him, and not ascribe it to their own talents and abilities. This is why the Torah stresses repeatedly in conjunction with the redemption from Egypt (e.g. Shemos 7:5) that one of the purposes of the plagues was so that the Egyptians should know and recognize Hashem as He took us out from slavery.

For this reason, it was critical that Esther be the type of person who was willing to repeat something in the name of the one who said it, as this demonstrates that she was capable of giving acknowledgement to somebody else instead of claiming it for herself, such as by telling Achashverosh that she had uncovered the assassination plot in order to find favor in his eyes. Since Esther demonstrated her willingness to give credit to somebody else, she was the perfect candidate to bring liberation to the world, since she would properly attribute it to Hashem and wouldn’t claim that it was her doing.

Why did Hashem specifically teach this principle regarding this redemption and not any of the earlier ones? During the Exodus from Egypt, there were so many clear and open miracles that it was obvious that they came from Hashem. In the Megillah, where there are no open miracles and the entire theme is one of hester panim (Hashem seemingly hiding His face), it would have been much easier to make the mistake of claiming credit for the seemingly natural salvation, so it was critical to find someone who demonstrated that she would not do so.

The Maharal adds that this also explains why so many people repeat things in the name of those who said them, yet we don’t see them bringing redemption to the world. This is because our Sages never intended to guarantee that doing so would in fact bring salvation, but rather that such a person is capable of bringing redemption if it is in fact the proper time.

Lada’as mah zeh v’al mah zeh (4:5)

After Mordechai became aware of Haman’s decree against the Jewish people, he responded by donning sackcloth and mourning bitterly. When Esther heard about these developments, she sent a messenger to ask Mordechai what this was all about. The Gemora (Megillah 15a) relates that Esther commented that never in Jewish history had there been such a crisis, so she instructed Hasach to find out from Mordechai what was the underlying spiritual cause behind Haman’s decree.

Playing on Esther’s words mah zeh v’al mah zeh, the Gemora explains that she asked if perhaps the Jews had transgressed zeh K-eili v’anveihu – this is my G-d, and I will glorify Him (Shemos 15:2) – or what is written in the Tablets, which are described by the Torah (Shemos 32:15) as being mi’zeh u’mi’zeh heim kesuvim – they were inscribed on one side, and the other. Even though Esther understood that Haman would not be able to make such a decree unless the Jews had sinned, why did she specifically single out these two sins?

The Beis HaLevi explains that in the Torah, Amalek came to attack the Jewish people for two sins. One is that they asked (Shemos 17:7) ha’yeish Hashem b’kirbeinu im ayin – is Hashem in our midst or not – which demonstrates a lack of emunah (belief in Hashem), and second, the Torah records (Shemos 17:8) that Amalek attacked in Refidim, which the Medrash explains (Tanchuma Beshalach 25) hints that when they were there, rafu y’deihem min HaTorah – they weakened their involvement in Torah study.

Esther understood that Haman, who was descended from Amalek, would only attack if the Jews had repeated one of these sins, so she asked Mordechai if they violated zeh K-eili v’anveihu, which is a codeword for a lack of emunah, or the Luchos (Tablets), which represent Torah study.

However, when alluding to the Luchos, Esther curiously referred to the fact that they were written mi’zeh u’mi’zeh, from one side to the other. Why is that feature relevant to the question of whether or not the Jews were learning Torah and keeping the mitzvos?

The Be’er Yosef explains that both of their sins, bowing to Nevuchadnezzar’s statue and eating at Achashverosh’s party (Megillah 12a), had one common underlying basis. The mistake of the Jews was that they thought that now that they were in exile, surrounded by non-Jews and no longer living by themselves in Eretz Yisroel, they couldn’t live completely separately and observe all of the mitzvos with every detail, as this would cause them to be hated even more by their new neighbors. They reasoned that they needed to be a little flexible in order to be accepted in their new countries, and this reasoning caused them to justify their decisions to bow to Nevuchadnezzar’s statue and to attend Achashverosh’s party.

Obviously, this philosophy is completely mistaken, and not a single letter or law in the Torah can be changed at any time for any reason, but what symbolizes the eternality of the Torah? The fact that the Tablets weren’t written in ink, which can be erased over time, but were permanently carved out, and not just in one direction, but from one side to the other to represent the fact that the mitzvos are eternal and applicable in all locations and at all times. While Esther understood that the Jews would never willingly and intentionally sin, she hinted to Mordechai that perhaps they had fallen prey to this mistaken philosophy by not internalizing the message of the eternal and permanent Luchos.

Simcha u’mishteh v’yom tov u’mishloach manos ish l’rei’eihu (9:19)

After Haman was killed and the Jewish people successfully defended themselves and killed their enemies, Mordechai decided that this miracle was so great that it should be commemorated annually as a day of rejoicing, drinking, celebration, and sending gifts to one another. It is difficult to understand why the verse, which lists the other mitzvos that are performed on Purim, omits the mitzvah of matanos l’evyonim – gifts to the poor – especially when it is mentioned a few verses later (9:22).

The Gemora in Megillah (5b) teaches that initially, Mordechai suggested that Purim should be observed as a full-fledged Yom Tov. Although the Jewish people accepted the concept of establishing Purim to celebrate the miracle by reading the Megillah and sending gifts of food to their friends, they did not agree to mark it as a complete Yom Tov.

In light of this, Rav Yonason Eibeshutz explains that initially, Mordechai couldn’t mention matanos l’evyonim because he was hoping to make Purim a full-fledged Yom Tov, in which case it would not be possible to perform this mitzvah. Once Mordechai saw that this attempt failed, he sent out new letters omitting the proposal that Purim be a Yom Tov and replacing it with the mitzvah of matanos l’evyonim, which could now be fulfilled.

Based on this insight, Rav Chaim Kanievsky points out that initially, the word u’mishloach is written malei (complete) with the letter vav, but in 9:22 it is written without a vav. At first, the only gifts that were to be given were to one’s friends, so they had to be fancy and complete due to the fact that Purim would be a true Yom Tov. Subsequently, the mitzvah of giving gifts to the poor was added, and the Rambam writes (Hilchos Megillah 2:17) that one should spend more on matanos l’evyonim than on mishloach manos, so the gifts to friends were downgraded, which is alluded to by the missing letter vav.

As far as why Mordechai wanted to make Purim into a full-fledged Yom Tov but the people resisted, the Nesivos explains that Yom Tov is only appropriate for a spiritual redemption, as Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos each commemorate spiritual accomplishments. Mordechai maintained that because the Jews in his generation reaccepted the Torah (Shabbos 88a), Purim should be a Yom Tov like Shavuos, but the people felt that the primary redemption of Purim was the physical aspect, in which case it was inappropriate to establish it as a Yom Tov.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The parsha begins with the mitzvah of removing the ashes of the consumed sacrifices from the Altar (6:3-4). Was this mitzvah also performed on Shabbos, and if not, which prohibited labor(s) would be transgressed by doing so? (Mikdash Dovid 32:2, Ayeles HaShachar)

2) Given that Achashverosh was a tremendous anti-Semite, when Mordechai overheard Bigsan and Seresh plotting to kill him, why didn’t Mordechai keep the information to himself and allow them to proceed with their plan? (Esther HaMalka, Rinas Yitzchok, Shiras Dovid)

3) As the Gemora teaches (Shabbos 156a) that the Jewish people are exempt from the effect of the mazalos, why did Haman cast lots (3:7) in an attempt to determine the best time to destroy them? (Shu”t Rashba 1:19, Vilna Gaon on Megillas Esther, Rinas Yitzchok)

4) The longest word in Tanach appears in Megillas Esther. What is it?

5) If a father commands his post-Bar Mitzvah son not to get drunk on Purim, does the mitzvah of honoring his father obligate the son to obey his father’s request, or is this considered a command to violate a mitzvah which a child is required to disregard? (Halichos Shlomo Vol. 2 19:25)

6) If a minyan of men can be arranged only once for the reading of the Megillah on Purim, is it better to do so at night or during the day? (Aruch HaShulchan 687:3, V’Aleihu Lo Yibol pg. 242)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.