Purim and Permanence

One of the questions that have pried on my conscience is exactly how we managed to let life return to normal in the past 6 years. 9/11 was supposed to make everything different, but no longer to we see all that much of the friendliness and helpfulness that was our culture for those first months.

And now, just two weeks ago, we again are immersed in tragedy. Who can blog on young boys killed, particularly on Purim? It would seem designed by the A-lmighty to have happened to boys whose death would echo across the whole Torah observant community. Boys from a Religious Zionist yeshiva, killed because they were the ones who needed to grab another few minutes in front of a seifer when everyone else was preparing to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar II. Thus awakening the chareidi sector with images of what they dream for their own sons.

Meanwhile, here in the Greater New York area we were morning a death that also seemed designed to unify the community. Of all people, Rav Zev Segal whose son is on the radio. And a type of death that left his whereabouts unknown, mobilizing many of the fine members of our various chesed organizations, and a crowd fathering worried about their radios as they wondered where his was throughout a morning’s show.

And just in case someone failed to see the unifying theme behind both events, the idea that we need to unify, there is an eerie element connecting them. Rabbi Segal was a survivor– and likely the last survivor of a previous attack on a yeshiva, the slaughter in the Chevron Yeshiva during the 1929 pogrom.

And so, the question that burns within me: How do we hold on to that unity? How do we not waste another opportunity for permanent change?

דברים כה:יז זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
יח אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃
יט וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַֽחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃

Devarim 25:17 Remember what Amaleiq did to you on your way out of Egypt.
18 When they happened upon you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear God.
19 Therefore, when Hashem gives you peace from all the enemies around you in the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you to occupy as a heritage, you must obliterate all reminders of Amaleiq from under the heavens. You must not forget.

Rashi on our verse identifies Amaleiq with a philosophy of miqreh, happenstance. Thus the use of the word qarkha — happened upon you. There is also frequent mention of the gematria of Amaleiq being the same as that of safeiq, doubt (240). They taught of a world of accident, not purpose. This is why, in the original war against Amaleiq, Moshe’s role was to sit atop the mountain with his hands raised, and “As long as the Jewish people looked Heavenwards and humbled their hearts to their Father in heaven, they prevailed.” (Rosh haShanah 2aa)

The word “qarkha“, is somewhat ambiguous, allowing Chazal (cited by Rashi on Devarim to also be taken as a derivative of “qar“, cold — “who cooled you off on the way”. Amaleiq is also identified with a cooling off of the spiritual high and prestige Israel had after all the miracles of the first half of the book of Shemos. To quote the Tanchuma:

Amalek cooled you off in the presence of others. This may be likened to a boiling hot bath, which no person could enter, for fear of being scalded. One roughneck came along and jumped into the steaming water. Although he became scalded, he cooled it off for others; now others will say that it’s possible to enter this hot bath. Likewise, when the Jews left Egypt, at the time of the Exodus, G-d split the Sea for them and all the Egyptians were drowned in it. At that time, the fear of the Jews – and G-d – fell upon all nations of the world, as is written, “Then were frightened the Dukes of Edom..” (Shemos 15:15)

Combining these two, we get an image of Amaleiq who allows our spiritual peaks cool by making up excuses, how the event we found so moving and inspiring at the time can be explained away as coincidence or a single odd event, nothing to cause us to rethink “real life”.

Amaleiq stands for that very thing that is so bothering me — the mindset which avoids holding on to permanent improvement.

And so, Purim’s fight against Haman can be viewed as a battle to see the meaning in the events of our lives, and to refuse to simply “cool off” after them. That purim, lots, aren’t random, they are expressions of the Will of G-d. Whether it is Hashem’s postponing Haman’s attack until we had a chance to do teshuvah or whether it is the difference between the goat chosen in the Beis haMiqdash on Yom hakePurim to be headed upward to G-d, or downward to ruin.

This notion that Purim explains the way to make a change permanent dovetails well with ideas we have discussed in the past. In a thought on parashas Pequdei I wrote:

There is a famous Aggadita that explains why Moshe Rabbeinu could not be the one to take us into Eretz Yisrael. Anything Moshe did is permanent. This is important, because if it were possible to abrogate one thing that he did, it brings into question the permanence of the Torah. However, Hashem knew that the time would come when the Jews would deserve punishment. By having Joshua bring us into Israel, it made the choice of exile a possible punishment.

… On the eighth day the assembly was done by Moshe. The eighth day also parallels the Third Beis Hamikdosh, which will never be destroyed. Moshe was not merely participating in the consecration of the Mishkan, but also was demonstrating the permanence of the Messianic age. The Temple will not fall again, there will be no more exiles.

But what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the power of permanence?

We find that Hashem uses two adjectives to describe Moshe. The first is anav, modest….

R. Yochanan Hasandler (Avos 4:14) describes what gives permanence to a congregation. “Any congregation which is lesheim Shamayim will end up existing, and congregation which is not lesheim Shamayim will not end up existing.”

Perhaps this too is the source of the permanence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions. Just as a congregation that is lesheim Shamayim endures, so too other activities.

In turn, when defining anavah we looked at Esther’s willingness to step forward “if it’s for this very time that you reached royalty” and how stepping forward and making something of herself required “ka’asher avadti avadti – as I am lost, so I will be lost. A balance between knowing who you are capable of being and who you aren’t.

And so, Esther too explains that road to real, permanent, change.

And, as we noted last week, Purim is permanent in a way the other holidays isn’t. It alone has a role that doesn’t end with the messiah.

And this would explain why the megillah’s story doesn’t end with the Jews’ victory in defending themselves. It continues on to tell us how to revisit the events of Purim each year. And then, the short chapter 10… After everything the king goes back to setting taxes, and Mordechai is liked by most of Jewry. Not all, this is no fairy tale ending. Everything is back to the same, but it isn’t… There is commitment for the future, and thus the journey to the second Beis haMiqdash began.

A while ago I wrote about Greek notions of circular time in contrast to Judaism, which gave the notion of progress to the world. Not that we deny circular time; each year at the seder, “a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself left Egypt”. However, in addition to the repetition of the shanah, we have the notion of incremental progress of the yom. Eis and zeman. We have the lessons we can take from that day’s new events, and the concept of chazarah, reviewing the lessons we would otherwise relegate to ancient history.

And so, to return to our opening question… How do we hold on to that unity that so clearly was engineered by the A-lmighty emerge from the tragedy of the past two weeks? First, take the lesson. Notice the unity and note how Hashem was teaching us something. Hislamdus.

Second, revisit it. Today is Purim. Take responsibility for the poor you give your money to, and when you meet them, treat them as people, not tzedaqah cases. When giving out mishloach manos, think about and appreciate the friends and neighbors who stop by. Think about renewing that friendship with the person who dropped off this year’s list but still had you among their names. And perhaps you might read this with time to still bring one last package to someone outside of your normal circle. Someone who approaches G-d differently than you do, who dresses differently and has a different social group. If enough of us bridge the gap, that gap could disappear.

And your thoughts...?