This Week Only! A Fresh Pair of Purim Goggles
Reading the news from Israel this week has been tough. It's tough to hear of the murder of another pair of brothers. To see the tears of their families, and to know that our enemies are still trying so hard to hurt us. It's tough to see the riots and hear the vitriol of our brothers and sisters. It's tough to hear the relentless and disproportionate condemnation from the rest of the world.
For full disclosure, I do not believe that I am nearly educated enough to understand the nuances of the Israeli legal policy, and I don't know how best to punish and deter murderous terrorists. As someone who is living in Chute La'Aretz (for now), I'm not going to offer my unqualified opinions.
What I do know is that we, as a people and as a nation are in pain. For all of the immense success and progress we have achieved in the past 75 years, it feels like we still have so much further to go. Our story, thousands of years in the making, has not yet arrived at “happily ever after.”
Sometimes, it's hard to dispel the cynicism and pessimism. But the Kohzniter Maggid (פרשת זכור) gives a name to this negativity: Amalek. It's the destructive nature of Amalek; alive and well inside of each us. It's those feelings of ego, hatred, divisiveness, laziness and anger that pull us away from who we want to and need to be.
But the greatest Yetzer Hara of Amalek is believing that there is no meaning to our story; or perhaps, that there is no story at all. As Rashi tells us: אשר קרך בדרך. לְשׁוֹן מִקְרֶה – “Amalek happened upon you on your way” – He made it seem random.
The world of Amalek is one of happenstance. Nothing is inherently meaningful, there is no story. And if there's no story, then there's nothing for me to do. There are no heroes, no villains, no good, no evil, no purpose.
Amalek doesn't only feature in on the center stage of Jewish history, and it's not only a danger when watching the news. If we're honest with ourselves, we've all felt this way from time to time about ourselves. It's that powerful (and deviously useful) Yetzer Hara which allows us to take certain liberties: “Who says this matters anyways...? Do you really think Hashem cares? Is it really such a big deal?!”
It's that part of us that we need to take note of, remember and destroy. Contending with this Yetzer Hara is a life of work, but there is a shortcut to victory – a unique tool in our national spiritual arsenal – and it's available this week only: Purim Goggles.
Amalek looks at the world, and at people, as random events, thrust together in the hurricane of history. Purim Goggles allow us to see people, history and the universe as having direction, purpose and destiny.
The News Headlines of the Megillah
Imagine the scene – someone rushes into Shul in the middle of davening to tell you that the king got angry with his wife, has had her killed, and wants to find a new one.
It's fantastic gossip, but little more than a terrible interruption in davening. Someone might turn around and shush who ever is making the noise.
Imagine they whisper that the new wife is a Jewish girl from the neighborhood. Now people are listening. It's tragic, upsetting, and it's also probably Lashon Hara; definitely not a conversation for shul.
Now, imagine someone tells you that two people were plotting to kill the king, and were stopped by some Rabbi in the capital. Perhaps you'd be intrigued, perhaps you might tell them to stop listening to these crazy conspiracy theories.
But amazingly, all of these stories together are read out in Shul, and we ensure that we hear each and every word. It's called Megillas Ester.
The Chiddushei HaRim (על התורה ע׳ קכז) explains: When Mashiach comes, each and every event in the history of humanity will be understood as part of the story. All of the complexities, difficulties and challenges will be seen as culminating in the great redemption of our nation, and our world.
Seeing in the Dark
This is wonderful in theory and it's nice to be hopeful, in retrospect. But in the darkness of our world, of Galus, with anti-semitism on the rise, divisiveness amongst our people stronger than ever, knowing that Purim had a happy ending does little to help us now. We are not at the end of the Megillah, we're in the middle. It might be more beneficial to ask how we did it back then?
The Megillah tells us: As the plot against the Jewish people formed, our desperation grew. Fasting, prayers and sackcloth.
And then it all began to change.
People started to understand that something special or different was happening when they saw Mordechai on the horse being let through the streets of Shushan. This scene, frozen in time, is in fact, the theme with which we conclude the reading of the Megillah:
שושנת יעקב צהלה ושמחה בראותם יחד תכלת מרדכי
The rose of Yaakov was thrilled and filled with joy when they saw Mordechai wearing – Techeles – royal blue.
Of course, the scene is powerful – Mordechai on the horse, and Haman leading him through the crowds, proclaiming “This is the reward for one whom the King wishes to honor.” Perhaps, indeed, this is the most hopeful event in the story. But of all the details to focus on, the Techeles is a strange thing to be happy about. What is the significance of seeing Mordechai wearing blue?
The Mishna (ברכות א:ב) tell us that there is a time in the morning called משיכיר “the time when one can recognize...” At this moment, we can recognize the difference between white and blue, Techeles and Lavan on Tzitzis. It's around this time that we could also begin distinguishing a friend's face in the early morning darkness.
Why Techeles and Lavan? Rashi (בראשית ט:כג ומזרחי שם) explains that Techeiles and Lavan came to us from difference sources. Shem ben Noach, who covered his father, gave us the whiteness – the pure and uncomplicated understanding that Hashem is the King of the Universe. But Avraham introduced us to the world of Techeles; the connection between heaven and earth, as Chazal (סוטה יז א׳) teach us:
שֶׁהַתְּכֵלֶת דּוֹמֶה לַיָּם וְיָם דּוֹמֶה לָרָקִיעַ וְרָקִיעַ דּוֹמֶה לְכִסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד
Techeles-Blue is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the Throne of Hashem.
In the darkness of night, we cannot recognize Hashem's involvement in the world. We know He's there, but we cannot understand it. As dawn breaks, however, we might begen to see His hand reaching out, moving history along, connecting Heaven and Earth.
The truth is, however, that משיכיר is little more than a halachic reality. Anyone that's stood outside in real darkness trying to discern colors or faces, knows that at משיכיר it's practically impossible to see anything with any certainty. We know that it's theoretically possible, but most importantly, we know that more light is coming.
Get Your Goggles
There's a great beauty to the Mitzvos of Purim: They're all shrouded in mystery and obscurity, and yet, we still able to celebrate. Purim comes to tell us: Ok, you know that you can start to see, but it's still really hard. Here's some suggestions to make it better:
- Read the Megillah. It's the only book of Tanach missing the name of Hashem and yet, it all made sense in the end.
- Give gifts to your friends, include them in your celebration. Mishloach Manos is best given through a messenger (שו״ת בנין ציון ס׳ מ״ב). Why not face to face? Perhaps it's because in this way you are telling your friends that you are sending them your love, your thoughts, even when they are not with you. Even when I can't see you, I know that you're there.
- Give tzedaka to those less fortunate – לכל הפושט יד – to anyone who asks, without an interrogation. Give without needing to know. (And like all tzedaka, Matanos L'evyonim are best given anonymously שו״ת בית אבי.)
- And once you've done all of that, have a Seudah where you try to get out of your own head. עד דלא ידע means we realize that we're not so smart after all...
This is the Avoda of Purim, and there is no greater refutation of the Amalek inside of us, and outside in the world.
Taken together, these mitzvos give us Purim Goggles; eyes to see the Greatness of Hashem and the beauty of His people, even in confusion and darkness. Eyes to see that our story is still being written. With His help, we should keep on writing the final chapters before Geulah together.