Don't Read Backward! | Living with the Rebbe | A Slice of Life | What's New
The Rebbe Writes | Rambam this week | A Word from the Director | Thoughts that Count
It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
One of the mitzvot of Purim is to hear the Megila (Scroll of Esther) read twice on the holiday: once in the evening and once on the day of Purim. Concerning this mitzva, our Sages declare, "Anyone who reads the Megila 'backward' does not fulfill his duty." The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, explained that this alludes to the idea that anyone who thinks that the miracle of Purim was valid "back" then-but not now-has not fulfilled his duty. All of the events that took place back then are equally applicable today.
All we have to do is read the headlines or listen to the news to know that when it comes to Haman's plan of annihilating the Jewish people it didn't just happen, "back then." Surely, there are many Haman's today.
But, its Purim! Why emphasize the negative? There's much more to being Jewish than tracking anti-Semitism, studying about the Holocaust, or scrupulously "oy"ing the lot of the Jewish people. And there's much more to Judaism that happened back then that is applicable today. We'll mention just a few contemporary points from the ancient Purim story that we would do well to incorporate into our lives:
- Esther's only interest in all of the luxury, abundance and power of the palace was to use them to save her people and to serve G-d.
- Mordechai would not bow down. He was proud of being a Jew and even the threats of the powerful and evil Haman could not induce him to compromise his beliefs.
- The deliverance of the Jews from Haman's evil plot was hastened by the uninterrupted prayers and Torah study of the Jewish children.
Depsite the fact that the Jews were scattered throughout Ahasuerus's 127 provinces, they were-in Haman's words-"one nation." They were united. Our greatest strength comes from standing united as one people.
Though G-d's direction of the world is often hidden, as was the case throughout the Purim story, it is truly G-d who controls the world and its every detail.
Backward, forward, up or down. Purim is the time to rejoice in the great miracle that G-d wrought for us "back" then and to acknowledge the miracles that He continually bestows upon us every moment of each day. May we celebrate Purim this year all together in Jerusalem with the ultimate miracle of the revelation of Moshiach and the final Redemption.
As related in this week's Torah portion of Tetzave, there were two steps involved in lighting the menora (seven-branched candelabra) in the Sanctuary. The first requirement was that the oil had to be brought to Moses: "And they shall take to you pure olive oil...for the lamp to burn always." The second consisted of Aaron the High Priest actually kindling the menora: "Aaron and his sons shall set it in order [to burn] from evening till morning."
This raises two questions: Why did the oil have to be brought to Moses, if Aaron was to light the menora? Secondly, why does the Torah refer to a lamp that burns "always" regarding Moses, whereas regarding Aaron it states "from evening till morning"?
To explain: The menora in the Holy Temple is symbolic of the Jewish people. In the prophecy of Zechariah the Jews are likened to "a menora all of gold." Every individual Jew is a "candle," as it states, "The soul of man is the candle of the L-rd." The function of Aaron is to "kindle the lamps" - to ignite the Jewish soul by revealing its innate, fiery desire to cleave to G-d.
This "fire" is lit by the Torah and its commandments. In general, there are two aspects to our service of G-d: the study of Torah, and prayer. (The performance of mitzvot is included in the latter.) A fire can burn steadily - "always" - or it can vary in intensity, growing brighter or dimmer - "from evening till morning." In the service of G-d, the Torah is the flame that burns "always," whereas prayer and the performance of mitzvot are dependent on time, place and circumstances.
The Torah is completely above time and place. It is G-d's word and wisdom. The obligation to learn Torah is a perpetual mitzva, and applies day and night. The Torah is therefore called "a lamp that burns always."
By contrast, prayer has a specific, set time: morning (Shacharit), afternoon (Mincha), and evening (Maariv). The performance of mitzvot also varies, as some mitzvot can only be done at set times and only if specific criteria are met. For this reason, prayer and mitzvot are likened to a lamp that burns "from evening till morning."
This also helps explain the difference between Moses and Aaron. The essence of Moses is the Torah, which is why it is called "the Torah of Moses." Moses is thus associated with a perpetual light that "burns always." Aaron, however, symbolizes the service of the sacrifices in the Holy Temple, for which nowadays, prayer is substituted. Aaron is thus associated with a lamp that burns "from evening till morning."
The requirement to first bring the oil to Moses imbued Aaron with the eternal power of the Torah. Its transcendent aspect could then be brought down into the limitations of time and place, to be carried out by means of Torah and mitzvot. The individual "fire" within every Jew could thus also illuminate with a steady and perpetual flame.
Adapted from Sefer HaSichot 5749, Vol. 1
Purim, Pietermaritzburg and Providence
By Rabbi Shlomo Wainer
My wife and I came to the North Coast of South Africa as emissaries of the Rebbe seven years ago, just prior to Purim, and established a Chabad House in the resort area of Umhlanga Rocks. Together with a few local Jews, some vacationers and three families who had traveled all the way from Pietermaritzburg, we organized a small Purim party at our beachfront Chabad House. The Megila (Scroll of Esther) was read, everyone exchanged shalach manot (gifts of food to friends) and a festive Purim meal was enjoyed by all.
When I think of Purim, I realize that there are astounding similarities between the holiday's history as told in the Megila and our work here. In the Megila, G-d's name is not mentioned. Yet, a whole chain of events was set in motion by G-d's guiding hand; Divine Providence is evident, at least in retrospect. Likewise, though not apparent at the time, a whole chain of events was set into motion at our Purim party which culminated in a modern-day manifestation of Divine Providence.
The city of Pietermaritzburg is about 80 kilometers outside of Durban. The attendance by the three Pietermaritzburg families at the Purim party established our friendship with them and our involvement with their community. At regular intervals we visited to give classes, distribute educational materials, help affix mezuzot, etc. We kept in touch through weekly faxes, e-mails and even "snail mail."
Four years ago, one of the boys from Pietermaritzburg was about to turn 13. It was decided that the Bar Mitzva would take place in Pietermaritzburg, though there had not been a minyan there in years. We arranged for kosher food, acquired tefilin for the young man and made plans to be in Pietermaritzburg for that Shabbat. There was a minyan for each of the Shabbat prayers, the Bar Mitzva boy outdid himself and everyone was thrilled with the meaningful and inspiring Shabbat experience.
Our involvement with the Jewish families in Pietermaritzburg continued. About a year after the Bar Mitzva of the first Pietermaritzburg boy, we met a family that had been living there for 15 years but had been totally uninvolved in Jewish life. The youngest son was 14 years old and had just found out (upon the passing of his grandmother) that his family was Jewish. A wonderful relationship ensued based on this family's thirst for Jewish knowledge. The young man began putting on tefilin. During a subsequent visit to Pietermaritzburg we brought mezuzot as requested by the family and helped affix them to their doorposts. After further discussions and extensive reading, the family asked us to come to Pietermaritzburg to make their home kosher. As there was still no Shabbat minyan in Pietermaritzburg, the family often joined us for Shabbat or holidays in Umhlanga.
Last year, the young man decided that he wanted to have a Bar Mitzva. The family spent Shabbat with us as they had many times before, but this time was different. The young man accepted upon himself to don tefilin daily, to wear tzizit, to eat kosher and to observe Shabbat to the best of his limited knowledge at the time. How the angels must have been dancing!
On our visit to Pietermaritzburg prior to Rosh Hashana this year, another family inquired about their eldest son's Bar Mitzva. We chose a date in the beginning of February which was convenient for all. The date coincided with the tenth of Shevat, the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe's passing and the day on which the Rebbe accepted the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Two months ago I received an e-mail from the mother of the Bar Mitzva boy asking if we could formalize the plans. We immediately made the necessary arrangements. I suggested he prepare a Devar Torah-a Torah thought-on the portion that would be read that Shabbat, Parshat Bo.
Now this is where things might get confusing, so hold on tight! Four days before the Bar Mitzva (of Pietermaritzburg Bar Mitzva boy #3) I received a phone call from the mother of Bar Mitzva boy # 2. Her son had decided that he wanted to spend a year studying in a yeshiva in Kfar Chabad, Israel. After pushing off the trip until he received a passport and took care of various medical concerns, he was now ready to leave. The young man wanted to spend his last Shabbat at Chabad of Umhlanga before going off to yeshiva. What excitement! A double portion of good!
The family of Bar Mitzva boy #3, whose Bar Mitzva we were celebrating, arrived at the Chabad House a short time before Shabbat. I helped the Bar Mitzva boy don tefilin for the first time in his life. We hastily took a few photos as the synagogue began filling up for the afternoon services. As we left my office to enter the shul, I was utterly shocked to meet Pietermaritzburg Bar Mitzva boy #1 and his entire family! They had come to Umhlanga on vacation, unaware that there was anything "special" happening. Three families from Pietermaritzburg, three Bar Mitzva boys and G-d's guiding hand orchestrating this special Shabbat! What Divine Providence!
The Bar Mitzva boy (#3) said the blessings upon being called up to the Torah flawlessly. At the Kiddush following the services he gave a talk that he had researched on the Internet about the Torah portion and compared his life to that of the Jews leaving Egypt and going to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Such joy! Such a Shabbat! Such Providence!
May we very soon see not only G-d's guiding Hand but actual G-dliness revealed with the coming of Moshiach and the Redemption, NOW!
MIT MAZEL NETWORK
The Mit Mazel ("with luck") website - "Where Jewish Singles Click!" - has met with such success that it is launching a website in Spanish for Chabad of Argentina. Membership is for an unlimited time. There is a new section with Torah insights on marriage and finding one's soul-mate. Visit www.mitmazel.com and it should be "mit mazel."
The largest web site of its kind for the Russian Jewish community was launched recently in Moscow and has proved to be an enormous success. www.jewish.ru was developed by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and is updated several time a day with news and articles on Judaism and Jewish life and culture. It includes a large virtual library for reference, chat rooms where participants can ask Rabbis questions on all aspects of Jewish life, forums, bulletin boards, and more. In its first months, the site had more than 10,000 users weekly.
Erev Purim 5737 
Blessing and Greeting:
I received your letter of Feb. 22, and may G-d grant the fulfillment of your heart's desires for good, and you should have good news to report in all the matters about which you wrote, especially that you and your husband are bringing up your children to a life of Torah, Chuppah [marriage] and Good Deeds and having true Yiddish Nachas [joy] from each and all of them in good health and pleasant circumstances.
The Zechus [merit] of your observance of our sacred traditions - which I was gratified to note in your letter - will surely stand you and yours in good stead in all above, including your continued advancement in all matters of Torah and Mitzvos. For, although this is a "must" for its own sake, in compliance with G-d's Will, this is also the "channel and vessel" to receive additional Divine blessings in all needs, materially and spiritually.
The above is a particularly timely message now that we are about to celebrate Purim, the highlight of which is the reading of the Megillah [Scroll of Esther], evening and morning. It is noteworthy and significant that although - as the Megillah tells us - both Mordechai and Esther were instrumental in bringing about the Miracle of Purim and saving our people, the Megillah is not named after both of them jointly, nor after Esther and Mordechai in this order, but solely after Esther - "Megillas Esther."
Here is a pointedly emphatic message for every Jewish woman about her unique role in Jewish life. To be sure, no one can compare to the stature of Queen Esther, but it does emphasize the extraordinary potential of every loyal Jewish daughter to shape the future of her family, with far-reaching consequences for the environment and even for the entire Jewish people.
If this seems farfetched and mystical, the following episode will illustrate what even a comparatively small effort can accomplish.
You may have heard that many of our senior Lubavitch students volunteer their summer vacation to travel to distant places in order to reach out to fellow Jews in need of encouragement to strengthen their identity with, and commitment to, our people and the Torah way.
In the course of this program it so happened that one of the students visited a small, Jewishly isolated town where he found only a few Jewish families, and, as he later reported, he was disappointed to have accomplished nothing there. But several months later, our Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, which sponsors this program received a letter from one the families in that town.
The writer, a woman, related that one summer day she happened to stand by her front window when she saw a bearded young man, wearing a dark hat, his Tzitzis [ritual fringes] showing, approaching her door. She confessed that when she admitted the young man and learned of the purpose of his visit, she was not responsive, for she and her family were not prepared at that moment to change their lifestyle. Yet for a long time after that encounter, the appearance of the young man haunted her. He reminded her of her grandfather and had refreshed her memories of the beautiful Jewish life she had seen in her grandparents' home, though the material circumstances were incomparably more modest than she had come to know in her married life.
Finally - the letter went on - she decided to make the change. She made her home kosher, and the family began to observe Shabbos and Yom Tov [holidays], and she is raising the children in the Torah way. Since then her home was filled with such contentment and serenity that she decided to write to the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch and express her profound gratitude.
Now, if all that was the result of a brief encounter with that young man, though unknown to him of his lasting impact, how much more can be achieved by an American Jewish family, whose influence is not limited to a few minutes' conversation, but serves as a shining example of the kind of daily life and conduct that should be the privilege and blessing of every Jewish family.
Needless to say, if in maintaining the proper Jewish standards there may be some difficulties to overcome (many of which may even be more imaginary than real), surely such difficulties should be of no significance in comparison to the infinite benefits. Moreover, the effort required is a personal one, while the benefit is also for the many.
With prayerful wishes for a joyous and inspiring Purim and
16 Adar 5761
Positive mitzva 171: giving a half-shekel annually
By this injunction we are commanded to give half a shekel every year to the Sanctuary. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 30:12-13): "Then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to the L-rd...half a shekel." The commandment is not binding on women, and applies only during the existence of the Holy Temple.
Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman
According to Jewish sources, the holiday of Purim is even holier than Yom Kippur. The Torah refers to the holiest day of the year as "Yom Kippurim," which literally means the Day of Atonement. But "Kippurim" can also be read as a combination of two words, "Ki" and "Purim," which means "like Purim."
On Yom Kippur, we seek atonement through prayer and fasting. On Purim, we achieve atonement through joy and revelry. Eating and drinking on Purim is a mitzva. G-d delivered us from Haman's decree because we repented and renewed our commitment to the Torah. The holiday of Purim, with its festive meal, symbolizes our ability to imbue the world with holiness by elevating physicality (eating and drinking) to higher levels of sanctity.
Significantly, the Scroll (Megila) of Esther is the only book of the Torah in which G-d's Name is not mentioned. In fact, the name of the holiday is derived from the "purim" (lots) that Haman drew. Thus instead of commemorating a miracle, at first glance we seem to be celebrating the principle of chance - that things "just happen" due to "luck" or "coincidence"...
In truth, however, the holiday of Purim teaches a fundamental principle in Jewish teachings: Nothing in the world happens "by chance." Natural events and occurrences are only a cover for the "strings" being pulled up Above by the Hand of Divine Providence. Whenever a Jew is faced with a negative decree, G-d forbid, he looks for its inner spiritual cause and tries to avert it by returning to G-d and improving his behavior.
The "pur" that Haman drew was not accidental, but intended by Divine Providence to arouse the Jews to a spiritual reawakening. For just as G-d's Name is not mentioned in the Megila, so too is G-d "hidden" in everything that happens in the world.
As it states in the Megila, "For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor." May the light and joy of this Purim holiday lead directly to the fulfillment of the words, "and the night will shine like the day," with the full and complete Redemption with Moshiach.
And you shall command (teztave) the Children of Israel (Ex. 27:20)
The Hebrew word "tetzaveh" is related to "tzavta," which means connection or bond. In other words, G-d commanded Moses to be always connected to the Jewish people. Because Moses was dedicated to the Jews to the point of mesirat nefesh (giving up one's soul), he merited that his strength would remain with them forever.
To cause a lamp to burn continuously...outside the veil (Ex. 27:20-21)
The Divine light within every Jew must illuminate at all times, not only in the "Tent of Meeting," the synagogue or the study hall, and not only when he prays and studies Torah. Rather, the intention is to cause G-d's light to shine even "outside the veil" - in the street, in one's day-to-day affairs, and in all of one's social interactions.
And that the breastplate not be loosened from the Ephod (Ex. 28:28)
The breastplate was worn on the chest of the High Priest over his heart. The numerical equivalent of "Ephod" is 85, the same as the word "peh," meaning mouth. In commanding that the breastplate, symbolic of the heart, not be loosened from the ephod, symbolizing the mouth, the Torah is giving us a hint that a person's heart and mouth should always be in sync with each other.
(Degel Machane Efraim)
The Urim and the Tumim (28:30)
The stones of the breastplate were engraved with the names of the Twelve Tribes. When the High Priest asked a question by means of the Urim and Tumim, individual letters on the stones were illuminated; to derive the answer, the letters had to be put in the proper order. However, in order to know how to arrange them correctly, the High Priest had to be Divinely inspired, which was arrived at by concentrating on the word "Tumim."
Rabbi Elazar Rokeach of Amsterdam sat at the head of the long table crowded with relatives and prominent members of the community. It was Purim, and the great Rabbi was about to begin the festive Purim meal.
Rabbi Elazar was not only famous as an outstanding Torah scholar and authority on Jewish law, but was also a noted Kabbalist. Even the non-Jews of Holland recognized and respected him for his piety and holiness. Before coming to Amsterdam in 1735, Rabbi Elazar had served as Rav in several important cities in Poland, among them Brodi and Cracow. The Dutch royal palace had even minted a special coin in honor of his arrival, with a likeness of the esteemed Jewish sage.
The huge table was laden with enormous platters of meat, stuffed fish and other delicacies that had been sent to Rabbi Elazar as shalach manot (the special gifts of food that are one of the mitzvot of Purim). Fine wines and other beverages were also available in abundance. In between the many courses, Rabbi Elazar held forth on the meaning and significance of the Purim holiday.
The celebration was well underway when a knock was heard at the door. Standing on the threshold were three emissaries of the Queen on an urgent mission. After apologizing profusely for interrupting, they asked to speak to the elderly Rabbi. Rabbi Elazar motioned for them to approach the table and deliver their message. They told him that in a certain district of Holland a dam had burst, and that thousands of innocent people were in danger of drowning.
As is obvious from its modern name, much of the Netherlands ("lowlands") lies below sea level. Over the centuries, a series of dams - high, fortified walls - were built to protect the Dutch people from being inundated by the ocean. One of these dams had now given way, and a sizeable portion of the country was in the direct path of the water.
The Queen's emissaries had heard much about the piety of the saintly Rabbi. Thus, after delivering their message, they fully expected him go off into a corner and pray. Surprisingly, however, they were invited to sit down and join in the festivities.
It was even more curious when Rabbi Elazar ordered every bottle of wine and whiskey remaining in the house to be placed on the table. Within minutes it was covered with an assortment of bottles and decanters. "Now, gentlemen," he continued, "let us fulfill the mitzva of the day to the best of our abilities. We will drink until we cannot distinguish between 'cursed is Haman' and 'blessed is Mordechai.' "
The dozens of guests, including the venerable Rabbi, quickly drained all of the assorted bottles of liquor. Before the astonished eyes of the Queen's emissaries the elderly Rabbi jumped up to conduct the revelry, whereupon everyone began dancing around the table.
The emissaries could not believe what they were seeing. The scene in the Rabbi's house was starting to resemble an unruly tavern. Without anyone noticing, the three men crept outside and returned to the royal palace.
The Queen was overjoyed to see them. She told them that their mission had been successful, and that the breach in the dam had been repaired. Instead of death and destruction, the damage had actually been quite minimal.
The emissaries were shocked, especially when they learned that the dam had been fixed at the exact time Rabbi Elazar and his guests were at the height of their carousing...
They proceeded to describe to the Queen everything they had witnessed in the Rabbi's house. Now it was the Queen's turn to be surprised, and on two accounts: How could such an esteemed Rabbi have behaved in such a manner? And more importantly, why was it that the workers had suddenly been able to fix the dam at that exact moment?
A few days later Rabbi Elazar was summoned before the Queen. Officially, it was to be thanked on behalf of the nation. Privately, however, the Queen hoped to clarify exactly what had happened that day.
When the right moment presented itself the Queen asked him directly. Rabbi Elazar smiled, his countenance exuding an ancient wisdom. "We Jews act in a unique manner," he replied. "Whenever it seems as if G-d is angry, we try to appease Him by fulfilling His will.
"The day the dam broke was Purim," he continued, "when we are commanded to be happy to the point of intoxication. Had I responded by praying and imploring G-d amidst tears, not only would I have failed to fulfill His wishes, but actually transgressed one of His commandments. It was precisely because I recognized the magnitude of the danger that I encouraged everyone to be even more joyful, in the hope it would arouse G-d's mercy."
The Queen was very pleased by Rabbi Elazar's explanation, and sent him home accompanied by a royal entourage.
The Megila concludes with an expression of Jewish unity, describing how Mordechai "sought the welfare of all his people." On the highest level of the soul, there is no difference between one Jew and another and hence, complete unity can be established among our people. Since the exile came about because of "unwonted hatred" among Jews, through the expression of unity the reason for the exile will be nullified. This will bring about the nullification of the exile itself. We will proceed from the redemption of Purim to the Messianic Redemption, when peace and unity will be in the most complete manner.
(The Rebbe, 13 Adar, 5750)