Parashat Ki Tisa
16th of Adar, 5778 | March 3, 2018
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi Doniel Frank Searching Deep
As the Megillah (Esther 1:12) relates, upon Achashveirosh’s request for Queen Vashti to present herself at his lavish feast, she refused. But such a response only enraged Achashveirosh and caused his anger to burn within. It was not long before he was advised to kill her, to which he acceded to go through with.
But the Gemara (Megillah 12b) lends further insight into the story behind the story. Vashti, aside from rejecting the request to attend the party, sent the following message to Achashveirosh, “You stable boy, my father (Belshazzar) drank wine the amount that a thousand people drink and didn’t get drunk, whereas you became foolish from your wine.”
It is interesting to note that the Gemara explains Achashveirosh’s anger in an additional way aside from the simple reading of the Megillah. Why wouldn’t Vashti’s refusal to come to the party be enough of a reason to anger Achashveirosh though? Why does the Gemara feel compelled to search for a different reason?
After people let off steam, they typically calm down. Achashveirosh, however, continued to boil even afterwards. This is why the Gemara assumes, explains the Vilna Gaon, that something else was bothering Achashveirosh. Other than the fact that Vashti did not appear, there must have been a personal insult that Achashveirosh was too embarrassed to acknowledge. That was, as the Gemara explains, the inadequacy which he felt relative to Belshazzar. Such rage stewed within Achashveirosh and frustrated him.
Purim’s overall theme is to live a profound life where we look to find the root and source of everything. Underneath our rage there is usually a lot of pain. But sometimes it is hard to admit to what is really bothering us. We therefore cry about the more obvious pain, leaving the real issue unresolved. Now this is an important concept, but why is it taught to us in the Megillah?
Purim’s teaches us to search and dig deep in every area of our life. If we are familiar with Purim as it relates to world events, and how the hidden hand of Hashem drives all of human history, the same extends to other areas of life as well, including our own behavior. We are meant to go deep, beneath our personal mask and discover the true issues and motivations that drive our own decisions and reactions.
On Purim, we are prompted to think about what truly makes us tick deep down. What goes on within our internal self when we face challenges or setbacks? These are the questions that will lead to greater self-awareness and allow us to be more attuned to ourselves. It is a golden opportunity over Purim to reach deep into ourselves and discover who we really are.
Rabbanit Amit Yaghoubi
The Story of Purim Today
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 690:6) rules that if the Megillah is read out of order, one has not fulfilled his obligation. One cannot read chapters three and four and then one and two. It must be read in sequence. The Baal Shem Tov writes that, on a spiritual level, this teaches us the attitude we are to ingrain within ourselves when entering Purim. Purim is not a story that once happened thousands of years ago; it is our personal story. Megillat Esther must be viewed as a manuscript of each and every one of our own individual lives.
How can we achieve viewing the Megillah under such terms?
Examining the story of the Megillah closely, we essentially see that it is the story of the Jewish people. Ever since our inception as a nation, we have persistently been thrust into exile. Exile after exile, we have been awaiting the time when it will all come to an end and G-d will save us once and for all. It is this theme which encapsulates the story of Esther. Following the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, the evil Haman ardently attempted to blot out all remnant of Jewish life. But then we experienced the unexpected. With a miraculous salvation by Hashem, the Jewish people experienced a rebirth of sorts and survived. Esther then gave birth to Daryaveish, who went on to rebuild the Second Beit Hamikdash. The cycle of birth, destruction, exile and rebirth is something which has hallmarked Jewish history ever since the incipient stages of the infant Jewish nation.
But what has kept us alive until this day? The fact that we know we are going to be redeemed. We may be unsure as to when it will exactly occur, but we have been promised by Hashem that it will certainly take place.
The first time Hashem spoke to Avraham Avinu, He informed him to leave his “land, his birthplace and house of his father” and head to an unknown land which Hashem would reveal to him. Life, however, was not going to be easy upon arriving in a new environment. Famine would ravage the land. But nevertheless, Hashem promised Avraham that he would serve as a source of blessing to the world.
The Zohar states that these words which Hakadosh Baruch Hu said to Avraham Avinu are the very same words every neshama is told before being sent into this world. The neshama is told “Lech Lecha” – to travel away from its Father in Heaven and descend through spiritual worlds until it arrives on earth. Only after traversing such places of spirituality does it reach our physical world. But life will be challenging for the pristine neshama on earth. There will be times of spiritual starvation, a reality non-existent in Heaven next to the Kisei HaKavod. The neshama will thirst for nourishment and become confusedly off kilter. But it is precisely through this test of life that the neshama will attain ultimate blessing and achieve its purpose for which it was sent down to earth.
Esther, Chazal say, symbolizes the holy and pure neshama which is sent down into this world. Stuck and entrapped within Achashveirosh’s palace, so is the neshama placed into a coarse, physical body. But there is hope to extricate Esther and the neshama from such physical confines. Mordechai HaTzaddik, the righteous sage of the generation, looks to improve the sorry state of affairs and thwart Haman, representative of the yetzer hara, who is always there to stop him and the Jewish people from carrying out their higher spiritual calling.
In equal opposition stand the accursed Haman and blessed Mordechai, not coincidentally being the same numerical value, five-hundred and two. It is at the moment Mordechai HaTzaddik can shine his light onto the darkness of Haman that he and his evil machinations cease to exist.
But eradicating the evil present in the world is not the end goal. If it would indeed be the ultimate objective, our Megillah reading would conclude three chapters earlier. Even after Haman and his children are eradicated, the Megillah continues its narrative. The Megillah goes on to detail the rescinding of the letters decreeing the Jewish people’s decimation, the war fought and the unexpected turning of events. But there is good reason for the Megillah doing so. The end of the story is not merely the suppression of evil, but the ascension of holiness. It doesn’t end with Haman’s downfall, but must record the rising of Mordechai.
Let us delve deeper into the story of the Megillah. As Esther remains confined in the royal palace, she knows she will soon be summoned by King Achashveirosh. It has been thirty days since she has last been with the King. Why then should she follow Mordechai’s instructions and enter the King’s inner chamber unauthorized? Let her wait until she is sent for? But Mordechai will not hear of Esther’s worries. It is now or never that Esther must make take the necessary steps to ensure the Jewish people’s survival.
Finally acquiescing to Mordechai’s plea, she instructs Mordechai to gather the Jewish nation together and declare a three day fast. Esther herself along with her maidservants will as well fast for three days. By accepting to fast for seventy-hours, it was hoped that they would revoke G-d’s strict meting out of din and evoke G-d’s chesed (numerically seventy-two).
Donning her royal clothes, Esther prepares herself to meet Achashveirosh. On a deeper level, Chazal note that Esther here was not only enwrapping herself with physical garments, but spiritual ruach hakodesh. Cloaked in garments of spiritual splendor and graced by G-d’s presence, after three days of self-introspection and internal spiritual growth, Esther was now ready to approach the King. While any outsider would have argued that Esther was on a suicide mission, her face remained vibrantly optimistic because she was confidently aware that she was not alone. G-d was walking beside her and accompanying her entrance into Achashveirosh’s private quarters.
Inching closer to Achashveirosh’s room, Chazal relate that Esther reached the Beis Ha’tzelamim, the house of idols. At this point, the Megillah says of Esther, “Va’taamod Esther – And Esther stood.” Why did she choose to stop and stand still? She had not yet reached the inner chamber of Achashveirosh?
Chazal, picking up on this nuance, explain that Esther stood frozen in fear at that moment for her ruach hakodesh had departed. Now feeling abandoned and alone, Esther turned to Hashem in prayer and said, “Keili Keili lamah azavtani rachok mi’yeshuati – Hashem, why have you abandoned me? You are so distant from my salvation!” As Esther continued to stand there, she began to weary. With the Beit Ha’Tzelamim, a room full of Persian deities, just ahead of her, Esther’s once radiant face wrinkled in pale lackluster. Cowering and losing her graceful sparkle, the guards on watch took note of Esther’s situation. And then they began to imagine what would happen if she died. “I will take her jewels!” one guard remarked. “I will take her crown and royal robe!” shouted the other. Hearing what the guards intended to do with her dead body, Esther just about fainted.
But then, at that very moment, “Va’taamod Esther – And Esther stood.” As Achashveirosh sees Esther standing amidst her worst moment, he finds favor in her eyes. At the moment Esther felt helplessly lost and dwarfed by the threatening idols, she stood up with all her might.
Esther’s journey is our journey. Every individual who attempts to grow in spirituality faces moments of emptiness and enervating strength. We wonder where G-d has disappeared to. Standing at the threshold of a greater spiritual level, we feel abandoned like Esther.
But it is precisely at that moment that we can rest assured we are growing. Before our neshama can rise in spirituality and advance, our previous lower-level neshama must be removed. It is on that account that spiritual growth often entails feelings of emptiness and neglect. In order to build a greater connection with Hashem and spiritually jump to higher plateaus, we must undergo a period of emptiness. This is clearly apparent from the life of Adam HaRishon. When Adam HaRishon was first created, his radiant neshama was capable of fitting into his enormous body which extended from one end of the earth to the other. However, after he sinned by eating from the Eitz Ha’daat, he physically shrunk from his previous gigantic stature. His soul could no longer completely fit into his body. Part of it hovered outside of him.
But Esther did not remain abandoned for long. Hashem immediately sent down three angels to support her. The three angels, Chazal relate, carried out different functions. One lifted her neck; another graced her with a chut shel chesed, a charming contour of kindness, thereby adding color to her pale face; and a third extended the scepter of Achashveirosh beyond his inner chamber to Esther who was outside. With the assistance of these angels, she was able to raise her head, touch the scepter and, as Divinely intended, receive a loftier neshama. Even during the most difficult and forlorn of situations, Hashem remained supportively at Esther’s side.
This episode of Esther is not simply a story, however. It carries with it profound ramifications and underlying meaning, as evidenced by its connection to Yom Kippur. As Chazal tell us, Yom Kippur is like Purim. It is a day “Ki’Purim,” similar to Purim. In what way are they alike?
On Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol would enter the Kodesh HaKodashim, Holy of Holies. Performing the service of the Ketores, incense, it was a day when G-d’s presence was most palpably felt and connected to. The same was true of Esther. Walking towards the inner chamber of Achashveirosh, Esther was eventually revealed the presence of G-d, like the Kohen Gadol in the Kodesh HaKodashim. But Purim goes even further than Yom Kippur in this regard. While on Yom Kippur, the Divine Presence is most vividly sensed in the Kodesh HaKodashim, on Purim, Hashem is not confined to one locale. He is seen everywhere. Even at the threshold of an irreverent, wicked king, Hashem reveals Himself.
The spiritual resistance felt whenever we wish to advance is experienced for two reasons, explains the Baal Shem Tov. Most simply put, Hashem wishes to see if we in fact are serious about reaching loftier heights. Additionally, such challenges and setbacks allow for feelings of spiritual emptiness to exist. But it is precisely then that we are meant to rouse ourselves and escalate to the next step. During the most difficult moments in our life the most spiritual opportunity avails itself. It is then that Hashem wants us to clench our Siddur and pour our heart out or grab the phone and go through with an act of kindness. That is our moment to shine.
Practically speaking, throughout our experiences in life, there are moments of ups and downs. But, as our Sages teach, all those wonderful situations are there to help us deal with the hard ones. It is exactly there, amid the distress and frustration, where we will find ourselves standing in front of the Kisei HaKavod. Just as the moment a child in school can shine is when he is put to the test, so is it in life.
This is the story of the Megillah. It is not a story which occurred centuries ago, but a story which occurs on a daily basis to each and every one of us. Trapped in the palace of Achashveirosh, we must resiliently confront the vicissitudes of life. But we must always remember that from the bleakest of situations, the most hopeful result. From the union of Esther and Achashveirosh, Daryaveish, who went on to build the Second Beit Hamikdash, was born.
All our experiences – between us and G-d, interpersonally and between us and our neshama – are opportunities to uncover G-d behind the hidden mask. This is why, in the event of a Jewish Leap Year, Purim is observed during the Second Adar. When we can succeed in finding Hashem behind the mask, we will merit miracles the likes of Kriat Yam Suf and experience G-d’s full glory.
May the day when the hester in our lives is revealed and G-d’s masterful plan of world history reach its climax with the heralded coming of Mashiach.
A Short Message From Rabbi Daniel Coren
As has been the long-standing custom, individuals and families dress up in costumes and masks on Purim. While typical costumes consist of Mordechai, Esther and the like, there are those who have the practice of dressing up as Achashveirosh, Haman, Vashti or some other type of villain. What is the reason behind this?
One of the many reasons for the custom of dressing up is based upon the Gemara (Megillah 12a) which relates that the Jews were spared from destruction in the times of Purim for their external actions did not reflect their internal thoughts and feelings. They bowed to Haman, who had made himself into a figure of idolatry, simply out of fear. In light of that, Hashem lightened the retribution and performed a miracle on their part.
Similarly, we wear costumes and masks to highlight the same notion. Even though we may externally do actions unbefitting us, deep within us, we all have a pristine neshama which only wishes to do what is right and listen to Hashem.
But there is more to add. The Talmud Yerushalmi (end of Mesechta Berachos) states that the difference between Avraham Avinu and Dovid Hamelech is that the former was able to channel his yetzer hara (evil inclination) towards the good and make it akin to his yetzer tov (good inclination). Dovid Hamelech, in contrast, out of fear that his yetzer hara would overwhelm him, completely suppressed all physical pleasure and drives, thereby ridding himself of it.
On Purim, we take the approach of Avraham Avinu and direct our physical, mundane lives towards serving Hashem. We eat, drink and rejoice – all physical acts – against the backdrop of tremendous closeness with Hashem. Purim is a time of “V’nahapoch hu,” of turning things their opposite way. We turn physical acts into spiritual experiences and elevate ourselves to higher and higher plateaus.
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