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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Tetzaveh

Parshat Tetzaveh

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Tetzaveh
11th of Adar, 5780 | March 7, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Eytan Feiner
A Phenomenal Insight

Rav Nosson Greenburg once relayed to me first-hand testimony from Rav Yaakov Mordechai Greenwald about an incident he himself experienced years ago:

“Since the 1980s, the phenomenon of Torah Codes has become both famous and controversial. I personally enjoyed a relationship with Rav Michoel Dov Weissmandl, the Torah Sage from Hungary, known as the “Father of All Torah Codes.” All of his work was done in his head without computers; he was truly a genius. So many of the Torah Codes we have now are to be found in his sefer called Toras Chemed. Even way before computers existed, Rav Weissmandl thought of all the myriad calculations in his head.

Once, I visited Rav Weissmandl in Mount Kisco, New York in the month of Adar, a short time before Purim. Rav Weissmandl asked me, “Did I ever tell you how many letters there are in Megillas Esther?” “No, “I replied, “I have no clue.”

“Well I know,” said Rav Weissmandl, “I counted. There are 12, 196 letters.” Incredibly taken aback by the fact that he knew this, I asked if there was any significance to this number. Rav Weissmandl smiled and asked me to bring him a Chumash. Upon doing so, he told me that counting 12,196 letters from the first instance the letter Aleph appears in the Torah (the third letter in the word Bereishit), one arrives at the letter samech. Continuing to count another 12,196 letters one reaches the letter tav. And yet again, after another 12,196 letters, one arrives at the letter reish. These four letters, not coincidentally, spell the name Esther (אסתר).

Hearing such a phenomenal insight, I could not help but wonder why the name of Esther was alluded to but not the name of Mordechai. And so I asked Rav Weissmandl, “Is the name of Mordechai also hinted to in the Megillah?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “try me again next year.”

The next year I made sure to visit Rabbi Weismandel again. “Okay Rebbe,” I said, “tell me about Mordechai.” “I also found a hint to Mordechai,” he said. “If you count 12,196 letters in four equal intervals from the first instance the letter mem appears in the Torah, the name Mordechai (מרדכי) results.” At this point, all I could think of was the probability of such odds. But I was not all too surprised for I knew fully well that the Megillah was written with ruach hakodesh (Divine Inspiration).

A number of years later, a nice Jewish young woman came to my house. Although irreligious, she was interested in Judaism and had come to learn about it. Attending a Seminar in my community, afterwards, it was recommended that she come and spend some time at my home. And so, my wife and I invited her for dinner one night and to stay over.

After the meal, we entered into a discussion and, at her request, she began asking all the questions which were troubling her. When she mentioned that she did not believe that the Torah was given by G-d, I immediately knew what I wanted to say. I would tell her about the Esther and Mordechai intervals. Telling her this fascinating allusion, she paid close attention. It was only afterwards that she asked to be excused and retired to her room for the night.

The next morning she returned red-eyed and looked exhausted. “What’s the matter?” I asked. She proceeded to tell me that she had been up the entire night on her portable computer which she carries everywhere. Being that her expertise was in computer science and mathematics, she had determined to devise a program to calculate the probability of such a phenomenon occurring naturally. After many hours, the inescapable decision she was forced to conclude was that the odds were so astronomically vast that it had to be considered impossible.

Many years after the above incident, I attended a wedding and was invited to the Chuppah to recite one of the blessings. Afterwards, a woman called out, “Rabbi Greenwald!” I did not recognize her, and so I asked, “Excuse me, but do you mind telling me who you are?” “I am Esther and Mordechai,” she said. Not sure as to what she exactly meant, I stood there confused. But then she explained, “I came here because I wanted you to see that today I am religious, cover my hair, and have a husband who is very religious and studies in a Kollel. We have as well been blessed with many children who all attend yeshiva schools. I thought you would be pleased to know that. I guess this all happened because of Esther and Mordechai. I am the woman who you showed the Esther and Mordechai allusion to years ago. Because of that, I am here today.”

While the Megillas Esther may seem to be just another story, as we all know, there is unbelievable profundity embedded in every verse. What may not have crossed our minds, however, is that its depth of meaning goes so far. But yes indeed, if we only choose to plunge deep enough, the Megillah reveals worlds of insight far beyond all imagination.

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.

Rabbi Daniel Coren
Dressing Up

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.

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.

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