Thursday, March 09, 2017

assorted ideas on zachor and Purim

1. The Shem m'Shmuel (5677) notes that the instructions for war in the haftarah are all expressed in the singular, e.g. G-d tells Shaul, "leich v'hikisa es Amalak...," "va'yomer Shaul el ha'Keini" to leave the area, "va'yach Shaul es Amalek" as the war begins.  Shaul is blamed for sparing Agag; Shaul loses the throne.  It's all about Shaul, with almost no attention paid to the nation as a whole and their sin in not finishing off Amalek. 

"V'atah titzaveh es Bnei Yisrael v'yikchu eilecha shemen zayis zach..."  Why, asks Ramban,  doesn't our parsha use the the simpler formulation of "tzav es Bnei Yisrael..." that is found so often in the Torah?  R' Shimon Sofer (Sha'arei Simcha) reminds us (as we've discussed before) that the menorah represents the light of Torah; the squeezing of the oil is the ameilus of learning.  The way to convey the light of Torah to others and encourage them to bring their own light into the world is by living a life of Torah oneself.  "Atah titzaveh" -- embody the ideal in yourself, and others will follow.

Had Shaul truly embodied the hatred for Amalek that Hashem expected, then the nation would have risen to the challenge of defeating their enemy (see Sefas Emes 5646 for a little deeper insight.) 

2. Rav Amram Gaon (quoted in the Hag. Maimoni at the end of Hil Megilah) holds that one should not recite al ha'nisim in ma'ariv of Purim night because it cannot be said until after one has heard the megillah.  Why should al ha'nisim be different than ya'aleh v'yavo, which we recite in ma'ariv as soon as Yom Tov or Rosh Chodesh starts?

My son suggested that while the chiyuv to say ya'aleh v'yavo stems from the kedushas ha'yom of yom tov, the chiyuv to say al ha'nisim stems from a requirement to make a zecher of the nes itself.  Therefore, until one has read megillah and reminded onself of what the nes is all about, one has no chiyuv to say al ha'nisim.

(What about on Chanukah?  R'av Amram Gaon does not say that you have to wait until after hadlakas neiros to say al ha'nisim?  My son suggested that the chiyuv of hadlakas menorah is different than the chiyuv of reading megillah.  Lighting is a commemoration of the miracle, but it doesn't tell the story of the miracle.   That is unique to megillah.)

3. Every detail of the megillah is necessary to tell the story of the nes, writes the Sefas Emes.  Each snapshot of history and dialogue included in the megillah is like a puzzle piece that, when combined with all the other pieces, gives us the full picture. 

We read in 2:11 that, "B'chol yom v'yom Mordechai mis'haleich lifnei chatzar beis ha'nashim," that every single day Mordechai would visit the woman's court to check on Esther and see how she was faring.  Every day!  My mother would love it if I called her every day, but I am remiss in doing so more often than not.  It's a nice thing to do.  It was nice of Mordechai to check up on Esther every day.  However, is this really necessary to know in the grand scheme of the whole story?  Ok, so maybe I learn a musar haskel to call my mother more often, but why is this important to the story of the megillah?

The answer comes next chapter: "Vaye'hi k'amram eilev yom va'yom..."  Every single day Mordechai had to answer the same question: "Why don't you bow to Haman?"  When are you going to give in and do what everybody else does.  Every day!  This is the important part of the story, the issue that will push Haman into hatching his plot and reveal Mordechai as a tzadik. Explains the Sefas Emes, it's only someone who realizes the value of every single day showing concern for others, someone who each and every day takes the time to care for someone like an orphaned girl all alone trapped in the king's palace, those who have no one else to care for them, it's only that person who can rise to the challenge each and every day of answering Haman and his advisors. 

4. The Aruch haShulchan proves that to fulfill having a "mishteh" you have to wash and eat bread from the fact that when Lot made a "mishteh" for his visitors, the pasuk tells us "matzos afah va'yocheilu," he baked matzah/bread for them to eat.  I would have thought the opposite was true -- since the pasuk has to go out of its way to tell us that he served bread, mistama the word "mishteh" does not include that.  But what do I know.

5. Chazal tell us that if a someone happens to drop money and a poor person picks it up, the person gets credit for fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah (see Rashi Ki Teitzei 24:19).  The giver may have not even wanted to give away anything, but it doesn't matter, since apparently the kiyum mitzvah of tzedaka is measured based on the to'eles, on the end result of the poor's needs being met.  The act of giving is just a means to an end; therefore, whether done intentionally or unintentionally, it's all the same.   

What about matanos l'evyonim?  Is it the giving which is critical, or is the end result of someone receiving a gift?  Nafka minah: can you mail a check beforehand that will arrive in the poor person's mailbox on Purim?  Do you have to do the act of giving on Purim day, or is all that matters the fact that the poor receive the gift?

The Ritva (Meg 7) writes that on Purim one doesn't have to be careful who one gives to -- whoever asks for charity, gets -- because the funds distributed on Purim are not for the sake of charity, but rather are for the sake of bringing simcha.  In other words, even if the recipient turns out not in truth not to be poor, that's not your concern, because even though the to'eles of the mitzvah of tzedaka was not met, the goal of giving money on Purim is not tzedaka but simcha.  R' Noson Gestetner proves from here that unlike tzedakah, the mitzvah of matanos l'evyonim is not measured by the result, but rather is all about the act of giving. 

I don't understand his proof from this Ritva.  Maybe matanos l'evyonim is in fact about the result, but the result we look for is not whether the needs of a poor person have been met (like the mitzvah of tzedaka) but rather the result we are looking for is whether we have made someone happy.

6.  The gemara (18a) says that no one really knows what "achashderanim bnei ha'ramachim" (Esther 8:10) are.  Rashash on the spot says that there has to be some peshuto shel mikra here and so he suggests that "achashderanim" means the people of a place by that name, which he identifies a "Astarchan" in Russia.  Any idea what place he is referring to?  (I am reminded of the riders of Rohan when I read these words, and if you don't know what I am talking about, good for you.)

7. "Chayav inish l'besumei..."  The gemara tells us that when the Torah was given there was a beautiful fragrant odor of spices, besamim, that filled the world.  On Purim, we reaffirm our kabbalas haTorah and once again, writes the Sefas Emes, the fragrance of Torah fills the air.  

"Akatei avdei Achashveirosh anan," we are sill under the rule of Achashveirosh, the gemara says, and therefore there is no hallel on Purim.  Even after all was said and done, after the defeat of Haman, Jews were still in galus.  But, says the Chasam Sofer, this gufa is why Purim is so filled with simcha.  The Purim miracle proved that even in the darkness of galus, Hashem was there watching out for us.  Chazal writes that wine was created for the sake of nichun aveilim, as it allows one to put aside one's troubles.  Chasam Sofer in his derashos says that this is why we drink on Purim.  Put aside the galus, forget the tzarah, put aside the "akatei avdei Achashveirosh anan," and remember that despite all that, Hashem is still there to help.


  1. On #2, your son's explanation sounds right to me:
    > My son suggested that while the chiyuv to say ya'aleh v'yavo stems from the kedushas ha'yom of yom tov, the chiyuv to say al ha'nisim stems from a requirement to make a zecher of the nes itself. Therefore, until one has read megillah and reminded onself of what the nes is all about, one has no chiyuv to say al ha'nisim.

    As for the follow-up question, What about on Chanukah? I would answer that while the days of Chanukah do not have kedushas yom tov, nevertheless the 8 days beginning Kislev 25 were established and defined by Chazal as *Yamim of Hallel v'Hoda'ah* (Shabbat 21b) i.e. to recite Hallel and Al ha-Nisim (Rashi). Whereas the day(s?) of 14 Adar (+ 15, Purim Meshulash, Adar 11+ in small towns ...) were not similarly defined as being special "days of Megilla"; rather, the zman for reading Megillah is simply established as falling at various times during those dates; and it can even vary.

    1. I like your answer. My son for a different reason argued against my use of the term "keduash ha'yom" for Purim, but in light of what you wrote, I think you can make the argument that since megillah can be read on any number of days, there is no one day designated with a kedushas ha'yom like other holidays have.