GOOD MORNING! Purim is coming up next week -- Saturday night, February 23rd, through all day Sunday. Purim is the holiday that reminds us that God runs the world behind the scenes. Coincidence is God's way of staying anonymous! Nowhere in the Megillas Esther is the name of God mentioned, though there is a tradition that every time the words "the King" are used it also refers to the Almighty.
Megillas Esther is a book full of suspense and intrigue with a very satisfying ending -- the Jewish people are saved from destruction! I highly recommend Turnabout -- it has an English translation of the Megillah (literally: scroll) as well as a rendition of the Purim story incorporating the commentary of the Malbim. Another book that you will find fascinating insights is Inside Purim.
Usually the Fast of Esther immediately precedes Purim. However, this year the day before Purim is Shabbat. Since we only fast on Shabbat for Yom Kippur, the fast is moved up to Thursday, February 21st. The fast commemorates the three day Fast of Esther and the Jewish people before she approached King Ahashverosh with her request. Named in her honor, it is also in memory of the Jews' fast before going to battle the anti-Semites in the Purim story.
Also, before Purim one gives three coins to charity, to recall the half-shekel (Machatzit HaShekel) donated annually to the Temple treasury during Adar. Three coins are given because in the Torah portion dealing with the half-shekel (Exodus 30:11-16), the word terumah ("donation") appears three times. Each coin should be the denomination of half the standard currency in that country (e.g. half a shekel, half a dollar, half a pound). The money is then given to the poor.
A great book about Purim is Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf's The One Hour Purim Primer -- Everything a family needs to understand, celebrate and enjoy Purim (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). Writes Rabbi Apisdorf: If a family is a "twice a year to synagogue" family, then those days should at least be Purim and Simchas Torah (when everyone dances around celebrating the completion and beginning of reading the Torah). Our kids should see and be a part of the joy of being Jewish!
Purim comes from the word "pur" in Persian which means "lots" -- as in, "Haman cast lots for the most 'auspicious' date to kill the Jews." The date fell on the 13th of Adar. The events of that date were turned around from a day of destruction to a day of victory and joy. We celebrate Purim on the 14th of Adar for "they gained relief on the fourteenth, which they made a day of feasting and gladness" (Megillas Esther 9:17).
In very few places -- most notably in Jerusalem -- Purim is celebrated the following day, the 15th day of Adar. The Sages declared that all cities which were walled cities at the time of Joshua should celebrate Purim the following day. This is to commemorate the extra day which King Ahashverosh granted Esther to allow the Jews of Shushan (the capital of Persia, which was a walled city) to deal with their enemies. In Shushan they gained relief on the fifteenth. The holiday celebrated on the 15th of Adar is called Shushan Purim.
There are two ways in which to try to destroy the Jewish people -- physically and spiritually. Our enemies have attempted both. Chanukah is the celebration over those who have tried and failed to culturally assimilate us (the Greeks and Western Culture); Purim is the celebration over those who have tried and failed to physically destroy us (from the Amalekites to the Persians, ad nauseam).
Why do we masquerade with costumes and masks on Purim? As mentioned above, nowhere in the Megillas Esther does God's name appear. If one so desires, he can see the whole Purim story as a chain of coincidences totally devoid of Divine Providence. Just as we hide behind masks, but our essence is still there, so too God has "hidden His face" behind the forces of history, but is still there guiding history.
Why do we make noise every time Haman's name is mentioned in the Megillah? The answer: By blotting out Haman's name we are symbolically obliterating evil.
The holiday is celebrated by hearing the Megillah Saturday night and Sunday morning. During the day only, we fulfill three mitzvot: 1) Matanot L'evyonim -- giving gifts or money to at least two poor people. (While it is good to give locally, one can fulfill the mitzvot by giving at http://www.kerenyehoshuavyisroel.com for the poor Jews of Jerusalem) 2) Mishloach Manot, the "sending of portions," giving at least two ready-to-eat foods to a minimum of one person. One should send via a messenger. (You can order Kosher Purim baskets from: Rabbi Chaim Casper's Surf Florist of Miami Beach 305-865-0433 or SurfFlorist@juno.com) and 3) Seudah, a festive meal. During the meal we are commanded to drink wine until we don't know the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." (It is best fulfilled by drinking a little and taking a nap -- one doesn't know the difference between them while sleeping!) One should NOT drink to excess. The mitzvah is about connecting to the Almighty -- and sloppy drunks are lousy at spirituality. Drinking can be dangerous. The mitzvah is only at the meal with wine and should be well-controlled and minimized.
Why are we instructed to drink this amount? In a certain sense, Purim is greater than Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we fast and it is easy for our soul to have dominance over the body. Purim is the epitome of integrating the physical and the spiritual towards realizing that the Almighty loves us. The only thing that stands between you and the Almighty -- is you. The wine and the spirit of the day help us get beyond the barrier -- to realize that everything comes from the Almighty for our good! We may perceive things that happen to us as "bad" though ultimately they benefit us either physically and/or spiritually.
The mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and giving gifts to the poor were prescribed to generate brotherly love between all Jews. When there is love and unity amongst us, our enemies cannot harm us!
For more on Purim, go to: http://www.aish.com/holidays/purim/. Enjoy "Lego Purim" -- a short aish.com film unique retelling of the Purim story. Also, "Purim and Spain's Hidden Jews", Rabbi Ken Spiro's "Purim in Persia" from his "Crash Course in Jewish History" and Rabbi Shraga Simmons' "The ABC's of Purim."
Torah Portion of the Week
This week's Torah reading is an architect's or interior designer's dream portion. It begins with the Almighty commanding Moses to tell the Jewish people to donate the materials necessary for the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary.
The Torah continues with the details for constructing the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Tabernacle (the central area of worship containing the Ark, the Menorah, the Incense Altar, and the Table), the Beams composing the walls of the Tabernacle, the Cloth partition (separating the Holy of Holies where the Ark rested from the remaining Sanctuary part of the Tabernacle), the Altar and the Enclosure for the Tabernacle (surrounding curtains forming a rectangle within which was approximately 15x larger than the Tabernacle).
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"Take for Me (the Almighty) an offering from everyone whose heart impels him to give."
Rashi, the great commentator, tells us that "Take for Me" means that all donations for the Tabernacle should be given for the sake of the Almighty. The question: What difference does it make what a person's intentions are as long as he does a good deed?
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman clarifies the role of intentions with an illustration. Suppose there is a man who wants to ensure that every child in the community has wholesome milk for breakfast. Rain or shine he delivers milk every morning. What would you say about that man? Likely you would count him amongst the great tzadikim, righteous people, a person of great kindness.
However, what would be your opinion of the man if you knew he delivered the milk only because he was getting paid? No longer is he a great tzadik, now he is just a plain milkman.
Similarly, in everything we do. If we keep in mind that we are fulfilling the Almighty's command to do kindness, even the mundane interactions at work can be elevated to a higher spiritual level. The bus driver is no longer just driving the bus, he is helping people get to work or to shop for their families. The deed may be a good deed with or without one's intention, but our growth in character and spirituality depend on our intentions!
CANDLE LIGHTING - February 15
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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