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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
by Rabbi Eli Touger
The Purim saga centers around two people: Mordechai and Esther. Certainly, it was a series of Divine miracles, but the people who set the example and provided the catalysts to call forth those miracles were these two.
What was so unique about their conduct? When the Megila describes the way Mordechai informed Esther of Haman's decree, it states: "And Mordechai told her of all that had happened to him."
But the decree was against the Jewish people as a whole. As the king's counselor and as the uncle of the queen, it is very likely that Mordechai could have avoided being included in it! However, he had no thought of that. The decree "happened to him." This is also the tone with which he approached Esther when at first she hesitated to join him: "Do not imagine... that you will be able to escape in the king's palace any more than the rest of the Jews."
Esther heard the message and risked her life for her people.
These weren't absentee leaders, people who sat in the back and gave advice on how to deal with difficulties; they felt their lives were on the line and behaved accordingly. Why? Because the most important things in their lives were their people, and their people's mission in the world.
Once the Baal Shem Tov had a spiritual vision of a calamity that was to be visited on an outlying Jewish community. He traveled there with his students and for several days and nights engaged in spiritual activities that were able to arouse G-d's mercies and avert the decree.
Afterwards, his students asked him: "Why did you have to travel to that community? You could have carried out the same spiritual activities in your home town."
The Baal Shem Tov answered: "If I could not save them, then I would share their lot."
For a true Jewish leader, there is no difference between the fate of his people and his own personal fate. On the contrary, he has no thought of himself at all and thinks of destiny only in terms of his people.
This has an effect on the people, jarring them out of their self-concern and their involvement in their petty private affairs and pointing their attention to their national mission.
When a person sees a Mordechai or a Baal Shem Tov giving up all his personal concerns for the people, that person realizes that he too can and should focus on a goal in life that is greater than his individual self.
And as that aspiration spreads within the Jewish people, G-d creates an environment that allows it to happen, even bending the natural order - if that is what is needed be - for that to happen. This is the core of the Purim story.
From Highlights, a publication of the Moshiach Resource Center, www.mashiach.org
This week's Torah reading, Tetzaveh, is the only portion in the entire Torah following Moses' birth, in which Moses' name does not appear. (It is also, incidentally, the portion usually read during the week in which the anniversary of the Moses' passing, the seventh of Adar, falls.)
Our Sages explain that the reason for this omission was Moses' own request, made of G-d after the Children of Israel sinned with the Golden Calf: "And if not (if You will not forgive them), blot me out, I pray you, from Your book which You have written." The words of a tzadik, a holy and righteous person, are always fulfilled, even if spoken conditionally. Thus, we find that Moses' wish was granted in this week's Torah portion, for his name never appears in the entire portion.
However, when we delve into the text itself, we find an interesting phenomenon: This chapter, which specifically does not mention Moses, begins with a direct address to the very person whose name it omits! "And you shall command (ve'ata tetzave)."
A name is of lesser importance than a person's essential nature. It is a means of identification and a way of being known to others. But one does not really need a name in order to live. A newborn baby exists as an independent being from the moment it is born, and only receives its name after several days. From this we learn that the use of the grammatical second person, "you," expresses an even higher level of relationship than calling a person by his given name, which was only bestowed on him secondarily. If such is the case, then it follows that the omission of Moses' name only serves to underscore the very special essence of Moses, which was even higher than the mention of his name could express.
Moses' whole life was Torah, to the extent that we refer to the Torah as "The Five Books of Moses." But his greatness was best illustrated when the lowest elements among the Children of Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, explicitly expressing their desire to separate themselves from the Torah. Yet, Moses was willing to sacrifice that which he held most dear on their behalf. "Blot out my name from Your book," Moses pleaded with G-d, if You will not forgive them even this grave sin.
Moses and the Jews formed one entity, each of whose existence was dependent upon the other. The commentator Rashi explains; "Moses is Israel, and Israel is Moses." When even some Jews sinned, Moses suffered a spiritual blow. Even though Moses was up on Mount Sinai when the Golden Calf was actually made, he was still affected by the actions of the others.
It was Moses' self-sacrifice and his desire to forgo that which was most important to him that express a unity that is beyond mere names. It is therefore precisely the portion Tetzave, in which Moses is not mentioned, that reveals his strength and his greatness. The willingness to sacrifice oneself for every fellow Jew, even one who sins, is the mark of every true leader of the Jewish People.
Adapted from the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Dachau's Purim Shpiel
By Solly Ganor
Arriving from Auschwitz in groups of 20, they looked like walking skeletons; triangular faces with pointed chins and sunken cheeks, lips shrunken to thin blue lines, large eyes with a strange luminous sheen. They were known in concentration camp slang as "Musselman," usually the last stage before death.
Their Yiddish accent sounded strange to us Lithuanian Jews. They came from the ghetto of Lodz through Auschwitz, before they were sent to our camp. Our camp was known as the "Outer camp of Dachau, #10," situated near the picturesque town of Utting by Lake Amersee, in a small forest surrounded by green meadows and beautiful landscapes.
I remember the day we were brought there, I thought to myself, "Can anything bad happen amid all this beauty?" But the beauty was in the landscape only; the Germans were sadistic murderers.
The Lodz people fell into the same deceptive trap. After Auschwitz, our camp looked like paradise. Most of them died soon after arriving, from hard labor, beatings and starvation, but they preferred to die here than in Auschwitz's gas chambers.
It was from them that we heard the horrors of gas chambers and crematoriums, where thousands of our people were killed every day. Some told us that they were standing naked before the gas chambers when they were suddenly ordered to dress and were sent to our camp. The Germans must've been desperate for workers to send these walking skeletons all the way from Poland.
Around March 1945, only a few remained alive. One of them was known as "Chaim the Rabbi." We never found out whether he was actually a rabbi, but he always washed his hands and made a blessing before eating. He knew the Jewish calendar dates, and also knew the prayers by heart. At times when the Germans weren't looking, he would invite us to participate in the evening prayers.
Our Jewish camp commander, Burgin, tried to get him easier jobs. Most people died when they had to carry 100 pound cement sacks on their backs, or other chores of heavy labor. He wouldn't have lasted a day on a job like this. He once told me that if he survived, he would get married and have at least a dozen children.
Around the middle of March, we were given a day off. It was a Sunday. The camp was covered with snow, but Spring was in the air. We heard rumors of the American breakthrough into Germany and a glimmer of hope was kindled in our hearts.
After breakfast of a slice of moldy bread, a tiny piece of margarine, and brown water known as "Ersatz Coffee," we returned to our barrack to get some sleep.
Suddenly we saw "Chaim the Rabbi" standing in the snow and shouting, "Haman to the gallows! Haman to the gallows!"
He had on his head a paper crown made out of a cement sack, and he was draped in a blanket that had cut out stars from the same paper attached to it.
Petrified, we watched this strange apparition, barely able to trust our eyes, as he danced in the snow, singing: "I am Ahasuerus, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia!"
Then he stood still, straightened himself up, chin pointed to the sky, his right arm extended in an imperial gesture and shouted: "Haman to the gallows! Haman to the gallows! And we all know which Haman we are talking about!"
We were sure that he had lost his wits, like others in those times. About 50 of us were gaping at the "rabbi," when he said: "Yidden vos iz mit aich! Jews, what's the matter with you?! Today is Purim! Let's make a Purim Shpiel (play)!"
Back home, a million years ago, this was the time of the year when children dressed up for Purim, playing and eating hamantashen. The "rabbi" remembered the exact date on the Jewish calendar. We hardly knew what day it was.
Chaim then divided the roles of Queen Esther, Mordechai, Vashti and Haman among the onlookers. I received the role of Mordechai, and we all danced in the snow in our Purim Shpiel in Dachau.
But that was not the end of the story. The "rabbi" said that we will get "Mishloach Manot," our Purim food gifts. That was hardly likely to happen.
But, miracle of miracles, that afternoon, an International Red Cross delegation came to our camp. It was the first time that they bothered about us. Still, we welcomed them, because they brought us the "Mishloach Manot" the "rabbi" had promised.
Each of us received a parcel containing a tin of condensed milk, a bar of chocolate, a box of sugar cubes, and a pack of cigarettes. It is impossible to describe our joy! Here we were starving to death, and suddenly on Purim, we received these heavenly gifts. Since then, we never doubted the "rabbi."
His prediction also came true. Two months later Haman/Hitler went to the gallows and shot himself in Berlin, while those of us still alive were rescued by the American army on May 2, 1945.
I lost track of "Chaim the Rabbi" on our Death March from Dachau to Tyrol, but I hope he survived and had many children as he always wanted.
I recall his Shpiel whenever Purim comes around.
Solly Ganor email@example.com went to fight in Israel's War for Independence, was honorably discharged in 1949, joined the Merchant Marine, and fulfilled his desire to see the world. After 12 years at sea, he married his wife, Pola. They now divide their time between La Jolla, California and Herzlia, Israel.
Rabbi Ber and Esti Rosenblat arrived recently in Palo Alto, California, where Rabbi Rosenblat will serve as Camp and Program Director for Chabad of Greater South Bay and Mrs. Rosenblat will serve as Education Director for the Torah Academy Pre-school. Rabbi Adam and Esther Haston have moved to Orange, Connecticut, to head programming and development of Chabad of Orange/Woodbridge
New Mitzva Tank
Moscow, Russia, now has its own "Mitzva Tank" - a mobile outreach center, familiar on the streets of New York city since the Rebbe initiated them in 1974.
Freely adapted and translated
... I am in receipt of your letter. I trust it is un-necessary to emphasize to you at length that one of the foundations of our faith and way of life is the firm conviction that G-d's providence extends to everyone individually, and that He is the Essence of Goodness and does only good, as the Torah states, "G-d saw all that He had done and behold it was very good."
And while G-d gave man freedom of choice to choose his way in life and his daily conduct, He has, in His goodness, given us His Torah, which teaches us what the right way of life is and how to accurately pursue it.
Therefore, writing that you find life "a burden," and the general mood of your letter, are completely out of harmony with the Jewish way of life.
I can, of course, understand that such a mood is possible in light of the events and occurrences that you describe in your letter. However, this is possible only if you do not take into account the fact that everything is by Divine providence, and therefore you think that you are alone in the world and quite for-saken, having only yourself to rely upon, and so on.
On the other hand, if you bear in mind that everything that happens occurs through G-d's provi-dence which affects every single individual, and that the only freedom a person has is freedom in those matters with which he personally is concerned but he has no control over events relating to others, then you will view matters in a different light.
Though you may still not understand why such seeming untoward events occur, it will no longer surprise you, knowing the limitations of the human mind and how impossible it is for a human mind to grasp and understand the infinite wisdom of G-d, who is called Ein Sof (Infinite).
Consequently, seeing that G-d provided you with the gift of life and other blessings, and at the same time provides you the opportunity to fulfill His will, not because He needs the satisfaction and pleasure of having His will fulfilled, but simply because this is how He makes it possible for a Jew to spread G-d's light in the world at large, and especially in his own family and immediate environment, surely it is out of place to refer to these blessings of G-d as "a burden," G-d forbid.
Nor is it right to consider as burdensome the fact that it is difficult to see the good clearly for, as our Sages declare, "The reward matches the effort." The better and more worthy the object, the harder it is to obtain, and while the difficulties may be imaginary or real, the effort to overcome these difficulties will be truly rewarding, and the reward will infinitely surpass the effort. It is surely unnecessary to elaborate further on this subject.
I suggest that you have the mezuzos of your home checked, as well as your tefillin, if they have not been checked within the past twelve months, and every weekday morning before putting on tefillin you should set aside a coin for tzedakah (charity).
No doubt your wife observes the good custom of putting aside a small coin for tzedakah before lighting the candles.
21 Adar 2, 5711 (1951)
Jews are generally "believers, sons of believers," that is to say, they all believe and also comprehend that G-d alone conducts the entire world. Jews also believe with perfect faith that G-d is the Essence of Goodness.
You surely heard the saying of my father-in-law, the Rebbe, who related in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, that G-d loves every Jews as a father loves an only child. (In fact, He loves them even more than that; this analogy is used because we cannot imagine a greater love than that of a parent to an only child.)
The upshot of all the above is: that all that G-d does is for the good; and since G-d desires that things be good for Jews not only spiritually but materially as well, surely His goodness extends not only to the realm of the spiritual, but also to the realm of the material.
As mentioned before, Jews not only believe the above but understand this rationally as well. It sometimes happens, however, that while this is believed and understood by the person, unfortunately this belief and understanding does not seep into the person's heart and emotions. The result of this is that certain untoward events cause him to feel heartbroken and despondent, G-d forbid.
... When, however, a person works on himself, endeavoring to have his belief and understanding filter down into his emotions, this results in the realization and feeling that "All that G-d does, He does for the good" - indeed, it cannot possibly not be so. This enables the individual to eventually be able to perceive and feel that matters are overtly and obviously good.
For since G-d rewards the individual in kind, "measure for measure," this attitude engenders G-d's revealing to all, and particularly to that individual himself, the goodness that lies concealed in the seemingly unpleasant event, so that it may be perceived for the good it truly is, even with the naked eye.
... I wish you that very soon G-d should demonstrate to you the complete goodness that transpired in the past events in your life and which you have failed to see until now, and that you be truly joyful in all aspects, both spiritual and material.
From Healthy in Body, Mind and Soul, compiled by Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg, published by Sichos in English.
Observe the commandments of Purim: hearing the Megila of Esther read, giving charity, eating a festive meal, sending gifts of food to friends and reciting the Al HaNissim prayer. In addition, the Rebbe asked that everyone take part in spreading the awareness of these mitzvot (commandments). "There should not be a single Jew in a far-off corner of the world who does not have the opportunity to fulfill all the mitzvot of Purim."
In memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and the other kedoshim of Mumbai
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
The Baal Shem Tov's explanation of the Mishna "He who reads the Megila backwards has not fulfilled his obligation" is well known: If someone reads the Megila thinking that it only relates to an historical event and that the miracle is not happening in our own times, he's missing the point. The purpose of reading the Megila on Purim is to teach us how to conduct ourselves today.
At the time of Haman's decree, the Jewish people enjoyed a relatively high standing in Persian society. Mordechai was a very respected personage in the kingdom, and having once saved the king's life, was accorded certain privileges. Esther, the queen, was the most important woman in the realm. In other words, the Jews were politically "connected." It would have been logical to think that once Haman's evil plan became known, the Jews would have capitalized on their "protektziya" and tried to influence Ahaseurus to nullify the decree.
But as the Megila relates, the first thing Mordechai did was "don sackcloth and ashes and go out into the city." Only afterward did he appeal to Esther to intervene with the king. Likewise, Esther requested that the Jews fast on her behalf. Instead of trying to improve her physical appearance to win the king's favor, she fasted and prayed for three days, something which no doubt did little to enhance her looks. Both Mordechai and Esther realized that Haman's decree would not be nullified through the natural order of things, but only through teshuva, a complete and sincere return to G-d.
How is this relevant to us? Whenever a Jew encounters a difficulty or danger and thinks he can solve the problem by acting "logically," he should remember the lesson of the Megila: Working within the natural order is the second step, not the first. The rules that govern our existence are different from other peoples'! The first thing to do is strengthen our connection with G-d, learning His Torah and observing His mitzvot. In that way, salvation and deliverance will surely come.
And you shall command... (Ex. 27:20)
"Because Moses had previously asked G-d to 'erase his name from this book' [unless He forgave the Jewish people], Moses' name does not appear in this Torah portion," comments the Baal HaTurim. From this we learn that it is forbidden for a person to curse himself. If Moses, who was motivated purely by self-sacrifice, caused his name to be omitted by merely saying "please erase my name," how much more damage can occur when a person curses himself in anger...
...That they bring to you pure olive oil... (Ex. 27:20)
"Pure olive oil" is an allusion to the Torah, implying that the Torah in its entirety was given to Moses at Mount Sinai: The Hebrew word for "pure," "zach," has the numerical equivalent of 27 - the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, plus the five letters that have a different form when they come at the end of a word.
...Pounded, for the lighting (Ex. 27:20)
The Egyptian exile, with its backbreaking labor, was the crucible of fire that refined the Jewish people, transforming them into a proper vessel to contain the illumination of the revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai. So it is with our present exile as well, when we find ourselves "pounded" by the harshness of the exile. But it is precisely this "pounding" that will bring us to the "light" - the light of Moshiach and the Messianic Era, as our Sages commented, "It is only when the olive is crushed that the oil can emerge." At Mount Sinai, it was primarily the revealed part of Torah that was revealed by G-d. Our present exile, however, prepares us for the revelation of the inner dimension of Torah that will be taught by Moshiach in the Era of Redemption.
The bitter cold chilled the officer's bones and fear made his heart tremble. Ivan was not a coward, but the rumors of the sadistic Bolsheviks who were nearing the city of Rostov frightened him terribly. He paced the streets, waiting anxiously for the light of day. He was oblivious to the two men following at his heels, not making a sound.
Suddenly he felt powerful hands grabbing him. He screamed a loud and bitter scream, but the two held him. In the morning the body of the officer was found with the warning: "Beware! The Bolsheviks are coming!"
The Jews were the most shaken by news of the Bolsheviks' approach, as the study of Torah and observance of its precepts was a serious crime to the Bolsheviks. There was only one part of the city where life went on as usual, where fear of the Bolsheviks was not felt: in the Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim.
The yeshiva students continued their studies without disruption. They drew their strength from their Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch - the fifth Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty. The Rebbe encouraged them to study and pray as usual, and the yeshiva bustled with life.
It was Zundel the Beggar who brought the news: "The Bolsheviks are on their way into the city!" Soon Rostov became a city of flames and the Bolsheviks beat and killed anyone they chanced upon.
Thus passed several weeks. The holiday of Purim was approaching. The Rebbe isolated himself and didn't speak to anyone. The students could not make peace with the Rebbe's isolation. They remembered the great joy of Purim, when Jews celebrate the victory over Haman who tried to "destroy, kill and annihilate."
And then it was Purim. Not a soul smiled. Finally, two yeshiva students who could no longer bear the thought of Purim passing in such a manner, summoned up their courage and entered the Rebbe's room. After a few silent moments they heard the Rebbe's voice: "The Bolsheviks are in the city. I cannot exist together with them. But for the sake of Purim, we'll forget about the situation. Go buy plenty of vodka and let there be light for the Jews!"
The good news spread through the city and the yeshiva students took their places for the Purim gathering. The Rebbe spoke and all listened. When the Rebbe concluded, an older Chasid began singing a soulful Chasidic niggun (melody). Everyone joined in, singing from the depths of their hearts. Suddenly the door burst open. At the entrance stood a Chasid. "The Bolsheviks are coming," the Chasid cried out in fear.
The singing stopped at once; everyone was gripped with terror. The Rebbe, however, disregarded the news, and began singing a niggun very softly. The melody touched and calmed the frightened crowd. Having concluded the melody, the Rebbe began saying a Chasidic discourse. The room was silent; the only audible sound was the Rebbe's voice.
Suddenly the silence was broken by loud knocking. The Rebbe continued speaking as though nothing was happening. After a few moments one of the members of the Rebbe's family said: "Rebbe, the Bolsheviks are demanding that we let them in. If they see us gathered here it will be our end...G-d forbid." The Rebbe interrupted the discourse and said, "Open the door for them."
In the doorway stood two tall and fearsome looking Bolsheviks, their eyes darting all about, hungry for prey. "What is this gathering? What is going on?"
Trembling, one of the Chasidim called out, "This is the Rebbe Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch. He is teaching Torah to his Chasidim. The Rebbe is busy with his talk and he cannot be bothered." He could hardly believe the words that came from his mouth. The two soldiers were astounded at the Chasid's nerve, and they turned on their heels and departed.
"An open miracle!" the Chasidim exclaimed to one another. They felt protected and sang with greater fervor. Thus passed two hours. So immersed were they in their joy, that they did not hear the Bolsheviks knocking again... "Rebbe, what shall we do?" several frightened Chasidim cried out.
The Rebbe freed himself from his thoughts and said, "Open for them! I don't fear them." The Chasidim understood that another great miracle was about to occur. The Bolsheviks burst through the door, their weapons in hand. The Rebbe ignored their threatening presence and said, "We will begin saying some words of Torah." The Rebbe raised his voice and began, "Amalek is first among the nations but his end will be destruction."
The Bolsheviks' faces softened. Their swords returned to their sheaths, and they watched with growing perplexity as the Chasidim listened to the Rebbe. They looked at one another and then, without a word, turned and left.
The Chasidim thanked G-d for miraculously saving them and for giving them their Rebbe in whose presence evil had no power. Everyone was deeply moved, feeling in their hearts without knowing why that this would be their last gathering with the Rebbe. Painful tears flowed from their eyes, tears of parting. A week after Purim the Rebbe became very weak, and on the second of Nissan his soul departed in holiness and purity.
Our Sages have stated: Even if all the festivals become obsolete, Purim will remain. In the Messianic Era, the joy and tranquility of the festivals will be a daily experience. Their light will be like that of a candle in the light of day. Yet even in that spiritually advanced climate, the loftiness of Purim will still be something to celebrate.
(Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi)