Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Tzav/Purim


Vaya’as Aharon u’banav es kol ha’devorim 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 answers that human nature is to be innately interested in such frivolous matters. It is indeed 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 person with whom we are familiar. Instead of remaining typical and 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.

Vayehi Esther noseis chein b’einei kol ro’eha (Esther 2:15)

            In the spirit of Purim, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky joking questioned how Esther managed to find favor in the eyes of everybody who saw her. As everybody knows that men have different tastes in what traits they find desirable and important in a woman, how could Esther manage to please them all?

            Rav Abramsky explains that there was one unique quality that Esther possessed that they could all agree was desirable, something that they’d never before found in a woman: the Megillah records that despite being given the opportunity to select anything she wanted to improve her appearance, Esther didn’t ask for a thing. When the men heard that there was a woman who didn’t want or need anything to enhance her looks, they unanimously agreed that she was indeed unique and special!

Vayikra Mordechai es begadav vayilbash sak va’eifer vayeitzei b’soch ha’ir vayiz’ak ze’aka gedolah u’mara (4:1)

            The Arizal writes that Mordechai was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Yaakov, and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav, which can enable us to appreciate a number of fascinating parallels between them. The Medrash (Esther Rabbah 8:1) says that because Eisav screamed when Yitzchok told him that Yaakov had come and taken his blessings (Bereishis 27:34), Haman caused Mordechai to scream in a similarly bitter manner.

This also explains why Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman in order to rectify the fact that Yaakov had bowed to Eisav (Bereishis 33:3). The Gemora in Chullin (139b) teaches that Mordechai is hinted to in the section of the Torah which lists the spices that were used in creating the anointing oil (Shemos 30:23). Since Mordechai is associated with the sense of smell and sweet-smelling spices, it’s not surprising that when Yaakov came to Yitzchok to get the blessings, Yitzchok commented that he smelled the pleasant aroma of Gan Eden entering with him.

            The Baal HaTurim (Bereishis 25:34) points out that the word “vayivez” (and he disgraced) appears twice in Tanach, once regarding Eisav and once in conjunction with Haman (3:6). Just as Yaakov bought the birthright from Eisav with bread and lentils, so too the Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni Esther 1056) that Mordechai purchased Haman as his servant by giving him food.

            When Yaakov thought that Yosef had been killed by a wild animal, the Torah records (Bereishis 37:34) that as a sign of mourning he wore sackcloth, something that Mordechai also did in response to Haman’s decree. When Yaakov approached Eisav, he prayed (Bereishis 32:12) “Hatzileini na mi’yad achi mi’yad Eisav” – please save me from the hand of my brother Eisav – and the Baal HaTurim points out that the first letters of the first three words can be rearranged to spell Haman.

            In order to pacify Eisav, Yaakov sent him a gift of many animals and instructed his messengers (Bereishis 32:17) “v’revach tasimu bein eider u’bein eider” – leave a space between each drove. The Baal HaTurim points out that the word “revach” appears only one other place in Tanach: “revach v’hatzala ya’amod la’Yehudim mi’makom acher” – relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from some other place (4:14).

            Finally, Rav Dovid Cohen points out that this insight from the Arizal can help us understand why the song we sing on Purim to commemorate the victory of Mordechai is … Shoshanas Yaakov!

Vayitlu es Haman (7:10)

            The Gemora in Chullin (139b) teaches that Haman is alluded to in the section of the Torah which relates the sin of Adam and Chava in eating from the forbidden fruit (Bereishis 3:11). The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12) points out a fascinating parallel: from the beginning of Sefer Bereishis until the curse of the serpent there are 70 verses. Not surprisingly, from the verse (3:1) which states “after these things Achashverosh promoted Haman” until our verse, which records the death of Haman, there are also 70 verses.

            The Maharal explains that there are 70 nations of the world, and corresponding to them Yaakov descended to Egypt with the core of the Jewish nation, which also numbered 70 (Bereishis 46:27). The mission of the Jews in this world is to keep their core of 70 holy and separate from the 70 nations of the world, in which case the Jews will prevail. Unfortunately, at the end of their 70 years in exile in Babylon, the Jews sinned by going to Achashverosh’s party where everybody was drinking yayin (wine), which has a numerical value of 70. Because they sinned by knocking down the barriers between themselves and the non-Jews, they were punished through the menacing ascent of Haman for 70 verses.

U’vabiza lo shalchu es yadam (9:10)

            The Megillah records (8:11) that Mordechai included in his decree permission for the Jews to kill all of their enemies and to plunder their possessions. However, although the Jews adhered to Mordechai’s instructions in slaying their enemies, the Megillah records that they did not take any of the spoils.

            The Ralbag explains that they intentionally did this to atone for the sin of Shaul HaMelech, who was commanded to destroy the Amalekites and all of their possessions but sinned by keeping their animals alive. In the Megillah, the Jews atoned for this sin by being given explicit permission to take their money and belongings, yet refraining from doing so. Rav Aryeh Leib Tzintz points out an allusion to this explanation by noting out that the first letters of the four words which record that the Jews refrained from plundering any the spoils spell Shaul.

            The Imrei Emes adds that it took tremendous self-control for the impoverished Jews to restrain themselves and not take any of their possessions. They had a legitimate opportunity to improve their financial plight, yet every one of them passed it up to sanctify Hashem’s name. As a result, Hashem rewarded them by giving us a mitzvah for all generations of Matanos L’Evyonim, in which every Jew has an obligation to seek out the poor and give them gifts to make up for what they declined to take in the times of the Megillah.

L’kayeim es y’mei haPurim ha’eileh biz’maneihem ka’asher kiyam aleihem Mordechai HaYehudi v’Esther HaMalak (9:31)

            The Megillah records that Mordechai and Esther sent letters to all of the Jews to establish the observant of the days of Purim “on their proper dates.” This expression is difficult to understand; when else should Purim be celebrated if not at the time that the miracle occurred? The Meshech Chochmah explains that non-Jews begin their day in the morning and end it at night, while the Jewish day is the opposite, beginning and ending at sundown. Since the story of the Megillah was based on Haman’s decree, it is reasonable to assume that he, being a non-Jew, issued an order that the Jews should be killed  on the day of 13 Adar and the following night, what Jews would call the night of 14 Adar.

            If so, Rav Meir Simcha suggests that the miracle of Purim occurred during the day of 14 Adar and the following night, what we call the night of 15 Adar, while in Shushan it was on 15 Adar and the following night, what we call the night of 16 Adar. Nevertheless, Mordechai and Esther emphasized that the Jews should observe Purim “on their proper dates,” based on the Jewish calendar which begins and ends at sundown.

            In light of this, he brilliantly explains the mistake of Haman. The Gemora teaches (Megillah 13b) that when Haman cast his lots, he was excited that they fell out in the month of Adar which was the month when Moshe died. The Gemora adds that Haman’s mistake was that although Moshe died on 7 Adar, he was also born on 7 Adar because Hashem completes the years of the righteous, in which case it doesn’t reflect negatively on the mazal of the Jews in the month of Adar.

            But if Haman knew when Moshe died, why didn’t he also know when he was born? The Meshech Chochmah explains that Moshe was born on 7 Adar, but on which part of 7 Adar was he born? Rashi writes (Shemos 2:2) that when Moshe was born he filled up the house with light, so he must have been born at night when it would be noticed that he was filling up a dark house with light. When did he die? The Torah records (Devorim 32:48) says that he died in the middle of the day on 7 Adar.

            Haman mistakenly thought like a non-Jew that the day starts in the morning and ends at night, in which case Moshe didn’t die on the same day that he was born. Haman thought that Moshe was born on 6 Adar and died on 7 Adar, in which case the month of Adar had a bad mazal for the Jews. In reality, the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset, in which case Moshe was born and died on 7 Adar, and the mazal of Adar was in fact good for the Jews.

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

1)     Prior to the performance of a mitzvah, we customarily make a blessing thanking Hashem for commanding us regarding that specific mitzvah. Why is no such blessing recited before fulfilling the Torah obligation (Devorim 25:17) to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors by recounting the event from a Torah scroll once annually? (Shu”t Maharam Shick Orach Chaim 336, Shu”t Ginzei Yosef, Chashukei Chemed Megillah 10b, Ma’adanei Asher 5769 Purim)

2)     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)

3)     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)

4)     The Gemora in Megillah (7b) relates that Rabbah and Rav Zeira once ate their festive Purim meal together. They became so intoxicated that Rabbah killed Rav Zeira, but the next day he prayed for him and brought him back to life. At this point, was Rav Zeira still married to his wife, or did their marriage terminate with his death? (Birkei Yosef Even HaEzer 17:1, Ben Yehoyada Megillah 7b, Shu”t Avnei Nezer 56, Ha’aros Al Kiddushin 13b, Ma’adanei Asher 5769)

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