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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Tetzaveh

Parshat Tetzaveh

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter    Print Version

Parashat Tetzaveh
9th of Adar, 5778 | February 24, 2018

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Daniel Staum
All About Punctuation

The Megillah tells us that King Achashveirosh entrusted Haman with the charge to oversee that letters be sent out to all his provinces commanding them “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all the Jews” (Esther 3:13). As we read later in the Megillah, however, after Haman is killed, Achashveirosh tells Mordechai and Esther to “write concerning the Jews whatever is favorable in your eyes…” (ibid. 8:8). Mordechai and Esther are enjoined to draft letters to resend to the provinces, which permitted for the Jews of every city to organize and defend themselves.

How, though, were Mordechai and Esther able to overwrite the first edict issued by Achashveirosh? Once the first decree was put into effect, and a king’s declaration can generally never be rescinded, what was done to allow for its amendment?

As one yeshiva student made his way to his best friend’s wedding, he noted the time. As it was, he was running late. The time for the chuppa was just minutes away, and he knew it would not be easy at all to find parking. It was one of those areas where you could drive around and around and come up empty-handed. But this time, to the boy’s utter surprise and delight, a spot opened up right in front of the wedding hall. It was absolutely amazing.

The boy quickly pulled in, put the car into park and rushed off onto the sidewalk towards the front entrance. But then he glanced over his shoulder, and lo and behold, a cop was standing aside his car issuing a parking ticket. The boy stopped in his tracks and hastened back to his car. “Officer, is everything alright?” “Well son,” he said, “you’re parked in a ‘No Parking’ zone. Can’t you see the sign right there? It says ‘No Parking’.” The boy smiled and straightened himself out.

“Officer, allow me to explain. I also made the same mistake. As I was driving, I badly needed a parking spot. I was driving around and around, up and down the streets, but I could not find even one available spot. But then I pulled up in front of the wedding hall, and guess what, there was an opening! So I thought to myself, ‘Of course I cannot park here. It is such a good parking spot, right in front of the wedding hall, there is no question that I need to find something elsewhere. But then I looked up and saw the sign and realized what really was the case. The sign said, ‘No… (pause) Parking!’ So officer, of course you can park here!”

The truth is that our elementary school grammar teachers were right. It’s all in the punctuation. Along these lines, the Vilna Gaon, amongst other commentators, explains the same to be true of the Megillah. Mordechai and Esther did not change the wording of the previous edict which was “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all the Jews.” Instead, they merely inserted a comma. They changed the punctuation for the phrase to read, “to destroy, to kill and to wipe out all… (pause) the Jews.” Who was going to destroy, kill and wipe out everyone? The Jews. Mordechai and Esther merely reworked the connotation of the original decree, thereby giving license to the Jews to fight for themselves.

The Shalmei Todah further explains that this is what Achashveirosh meant when he told Mordechai and Esther, “write concerning the Jews whatever is favorable in your eyes…” They were to write whatever they found favorable about the word Yehudim – the Jews – cited in the original decree. And they did exactly that. They added a comma and in that way altered the intent of the previous proclamation.

It is not coincidental that punctuation plays another role around this time of year. In Parshas Zachor, read immediately prior to Purim, we read about the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to the Jewish people as they left Egypt and how we “must wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven” (Devarim 25:19). As prescribed by halacha, due to the question of how to pronounce the Hebrew word for memory – Zecher – in the Torah, we must read the word in two ways. The word is pronounced with both a tzeirei and segol to cover all possibilities.

The import of this halacha is most apropos. It is one nekudah, one dot which differentiates the pronunciation between these two words. But that is exactly what the nation of Amalek wishes to destroy. The small spark of the pintele yid, the pristine Jew, is what Amalek cannot withstand to see existent in this world. It is what the Chiddushei HaRim calls the spark of Avraham Avinu, which is embedded deep within each and every Jew. It is that spark which Hashem ensures will never be extinguished. As we express in our davening of Shemonah Esrei, Hashem is “Magen Avraham,” the shield of Avraham. Homiletically, He protects this spark of Avraham which resides in every Jew no matter how far they may have strayed. Every Jew remains holy and with a neshama that is connected to Hashem.

The celebration of Purim is therefore one of celebrating our identity as an eternal Jewish nation which will never be destroyed. Hashem will protect us and save us no matter who tries to harm us. He is our Father who will always ensure that we survive and thrive.

Rabbanit Amit Yaghoubi
Seeing G-d Behind the Mask

The Megillah read on Purim is called “Megillat Esther,” explained by Chazal to be a play on two words. Megillah stems from the word gilui, revealed, while Esther cognately relates to the word hester, hidden. The merging together of Megillat Esther balances the hidden and the revealed. On a personal, introspective level, it forces us to enter into our lives and examine everything we take for granted and recognize the hidden miracles.

Although we live during a time of hester panim when Hashem’s presence is opaque, He is still very much orchestrating the events of the world behind the scenes. As Rabbi Avrohom Sutton observes, the word “history” is phonetically similar to the word “hester,” hidden. “History” is “His story.” It is G-d’s story whereby global and personal events are guided by His Divine hand. Hidden within history is His story.

In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, that which most succinctly depicts the hester of our lives and the lives of our ancestors is the game of hide and seek. Throughout history, Hashem plays “hide and seek” with us.

Imagine a young child playing this game with his friends. As he is running around and having a good time, he eventually comes across the perfect hiding spit. Although his friends begin searching for him, they are at a loss to find him. Where has he gone? The boy continues to play along with his friends, while his father stands away at a distance smiling. He knows his son’s friends are nowhere near finding him.

Peeking out at his father from his hiding spot, the boy whispers, “Abba, can I come with you?” Looking back at his son, the father dissuades him. “Don’t move; you have the best spot!” “But I just want to say hello,” whispers back the boy.” “Trust me,” reiterates the father, “just stay where you are.” The son trusts such advice and listens, as his father continues to look on with a wonderful feeling.

As the boy grows older and matures, though, so do his games. Every now and then, when the father steps in to take a look at his son, the son yearns to join his father. But each time the response is the same, “Stay where you are.”

Finally, there comes a point where the boy grows older and his games are now heavily intricate. Engrossed in the glamour of the game, the son no longer thinks about his father. As time progresses even further, the son soon forgets about him altogether.

But then everything changes one day. “Where is my father?” wonders the boy, “I really miss him. He always used to show up, but I haven’t seen him in such a long time.” A few days later, the son is in for a big surprise. He at last sees his beloved father. Unsatisfied to merely wave at him from a distance, the son races over to give his father a big hug. “Abba,” says the son, “this time I am not leaving you. I missed you so much; I want to follow you all around. Arm in arm, we will never again separate from one another.”

This is the story of our lives, explains the Baal Shem Tov. On a national level, Hashem every so often peeks out at us and reveals Himself. And when that occurs, it is a breathtaking revelation. All we can say is, “Zeh Keli v’anveihu – This is my G-d and I will glorify Him.” Throughout Tanach, the Jewish nation was privy to open miracles of immense proportion. But as time moved forward, with the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, Hashem moved into the background. We no longer saw Him on front and center stage. And especially nowadays, with the opening of the newspaper, we are heartbroken to read of tragedy after tragedy and illnesses and hardships rampantly affecting people every which way we turn.

But we mustn’t forget that Hashem is part and parcel of our lives as a nation. Every so often, if we are keen to observing, He ever so slightly reveals Himself in our day and age, as during the miracle of Purim. It may be a “hidden miracle,” and require us to carefully connect the dots to see the hidden hand, but it is certainly there.

The same is true on a personal level. Throughout our daily lives, Hashem appears every so often. And when that happens, we come to realize, “Hashem, you are really looking after me.” Living with such an inspirational high, we feel Hashem is inseparably a part of our daily lives.

Learning the Lessons of Life

But to a certain degree, even while we feel He is involved in our world, it appears as if He wishes for us to stay preoccupied in our game called life. He doesn’t want us to say, “I have seen Hashem and now let me excuse myself from the game.” He wants us to continue playing. If we would have left when we first sighted Him, it would have been a premature and rash decision. He wishes for us to continue in life in this world keenly aware that He exists and is constantly a part of our lives, despite His presence being hidden.

Only after learning the lessons of life and accomplishing that which we have been sent down to earth for, will we then be able to leave the game. At that point, we will be capable of embracing Hashem and remaining with Him forever in the World to Come. But as long as we remain in our earthly station, we are to continue learning the lessons and truths of life.

Imagine a student sitting in a class distracted and drawing a picture. He is clearly not paying attention. How will the teacher get the child to focus on the material being learned? Announce, “This is going to be on the test!” When children hear this, their attitudes immediately shift. They change gears and realize that they are in school to learn.

Our lives here in this world are akin to a child in a school surrounded by teachers. When we begin to zone out and lose focus, all we must do is alert ourselves to the reality that we are here in this world to learn lessons and pass the test of life. If we are remiss in alerting ourselves, Hashem sends others to wake us up and bring us to realize that we ought to redirect our focus. During the days of Purim, it was Haman who woke us up to this reality, and spurred us to repenting and reaccepting to adhere to the Torah, as we received it on Har Sinai.

Our Two Tools: Tefillah and Torah

Every child needs his supplies to make it successfully through school, though. And indeed, in order to avoid getting completely lost in the games of this world, Hashem has granted us two tools: Torah and Tefillah. These two tools are inseparably united. Only are we most effectively able to connect to Hashem in Tefillah when we are connected to Torah.

What does the Torah teach us? Exploring its main themes, it is clear that Hashem repeatedly tries to show us that He exists in this world. Whether it be the mass preaching of belief in G-d by Avraham Avinu or the story of the Megillat Esther or the intimate relationship conveyed in Shir HaShirim, throughout Tanach, one clear theme is stressed time and again. “My children, I exist in this world. You may not be able to see me, but I am here.”

Tefillah focuses on the same theme. A true, heartfelt Tefillah is offered when one searches deep in the recesses of his or her heart and seeks to fulfill Hashem’s will. When one yearns that G-d be recognized and seen by all of mankind, one’s entire approach to Tefillah dramatically changes. This is the meaning behind the dictum, “Aseh retzono kir’tzonecha – Make His will like your will” (Avot 2:4). Such a perspective indelibly impacts one’s outlook. It is no longer, “Hashem, save me!” It is rather “Hashem, help me see You in this situation.”

Often times we feel that we alone need to solve our own problems. But then Hashem reminds us, “Don’t just tell Me to solve the problem; ask that you be able to see Me in your problem.” Whatever we are dealing with, the greatest solution is being able to see Hashem in that difficulty.

The climax of Tefillah is Shemonah Esrei, known as the Amidah. Amidah literally means “Standing.” Why do we refer to prayer with such a term? Herein lays one of the greatest truths. Sometimes we feel that we are standing stagnant in life and not going anywhere. But the reality is that at that very moment we are right before the Kisei Hakavod. All we must do in order to see G-d is remove the barriers of our mind.

It is for this reason that when we pray we close our eyes. Our physical location appears to constrain and confine us. It seems to hold us down and keep us motionlessly standing. But the truth is that as we pray, we are meant to think of ourselves as changing locations. We may be physically thousands of miles away, but we are in fact standing in Yerushalayim, on Har Habayit and in the Kodesh Hakodashim.

Anyone who has ever dreamed or been stimulated by imagination has experienced such a phenomenon. Located in one place, our minds take us somewhere else. Tefillah is about removing the barriers of our mind in order to clearly experience G-d. The message is that even as we stand, we can travel to the greatest of spiritual revelations and heights.

Our second tool provided to us in this game of life is the Torah. Learning about the greatness of our ancestors, we gain a glimpse into the lives of human beings who led larger than life roles and revealed G-d’s cosmic plan. They were human beings with physical qualities and characteristics, yet rose above and beyond the limits we believe man can achieve. In their unparalleled greatness, they revealed G-dliness into the world and played an integral role in His ultimate plan of world history.

Learning about the lives of our Avot and Imahot, however, entails much more than a peripheral study. We are meant to deeply connect with them and integrate their life messages and lessons into our own lives. If they were capable of seeing Hashem in every aspect of the world, we can do the same.

It is through these two means – removing the barriers of our mind and recognizing that each of us is part of G-d’s overarching scheme of world history – that we create a most intimate relationship with Him. And this is achieved on Purim. When we connect to Hashem in Torah and Tefillah and see His involvement in our lives, we will achieve the greatest degree of closeness we can with Him, and merit experiencing His full presence in our world with the heralding of Mashiach.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Yosef Palacci

When Rav Meir Shapiro launched his magnanimous vision of the Daf Yomi, which went on to change the face of Torah learning around the world, the big question became what merit he had to start such a world-changing movement. Everyone began wondering what kind of eternal reward they would have received had they been the one to introduce the Daf Yomi.

Rav Yosef Kahaneman, the Ponovezher Rav, had a slightly different take however. “I am not jealous of the fact that he began the movement of the Daf Yomi,” he said, “but rather what mitzvah he did beforehand that Hashem granted him the merit to facilitate the further mitzvah of such massive Torah learning. As Chazal teach, ‘Mitvzah goreret mitzvah – One mitzvah brings about another mitzvah’ (Avot 4:2). What mitzvah did he do that Hashem gave him the zechut of starting the amazing mitzvah of the Daf Yomi?”

Every mitzvah which we perform paves the way for the performance of more mitzvot and our further growth in Torah. It will ensure that we continue progressing higher and higher in our spirituality and fill our lives with Torah and mitzvot every moment.

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