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Friday
Mar182011

EDUCATED IN THE HOUSE OF MORDECHAI

Translated by Boruch Merkur

SALVATION CAME ABOUT THROUGH A WOMAN, THROUGH ESTER

It is written in Tanya that “hearing words of moral guidance is not the same as seeing and reading such guidance in books” [meaning that the former has a much more profound impact than the latter]. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to reiterate a matter that I have already written about in a letter.

Although women are exempt from timely, positively stated commandments, nevertheless, women are obligated to observe the holidays of Pesach, Chanuka, and Purim, holidays that are also relevant to them.

But there is a distinction, where women are concerned, between Purim, on the one hand, and Pesach and Chanuka, on the other. Regarding Pesach and Chanuka, the relevance to women is secondary in nature, as noted in the wording of the Talmud, “they too were involved with that miracle” (P’sachim 108b), whereas the main miracle of Purim came about through [a woman] Ester, and the entire Megilla is called by her name, Megillas Ester.

The reason for this special connection women have with Purim is that Purim is the completion and fulfillment of the Giving of the Torah, as expressed in the verse, “And the Jews accepted upon themselves what they had begun to do” (Ester 9:23). Just as prior to the Giving of the Torah it is stated, “‘Thus shall you say to the House of Yaakov’ – this refers to the women,’” and only then [referencing men], “and you shall convey to the children of Yisroel” [indicating the particular relevance the Giving of the Torah has to women], so too Purim, which is the completion and the fulfillment of the Giving of the Torah, is principally directed to women. The physical salvation, therefore, also came about [through a woman], through Ester.

GRIPPED BY THE CRISIS

How did Ester save the Jewish people? By proceeding with self-sacrifice. When Ester heard that there was a decree against the Jewish people, “the queen was extremely terrified.” To be sure, the decree did not affect her personally, for Ester lived in the royal palace, and Achashverosh was completely unaware that she was Jewish, even as far into the story as Ester’s second banquet. Nevertheless, when Ester heard that there was a decree upon the Jewish people, “ the queen was extremely terrified,” she was gripped by the crisis, and she went with self-sacrifice to nullify the decree.

Ester’s appearing before Achashverosh uninvited was fraught with danger, a risk to her life, as she remarks, “I have not been summoned to come to the king for the past thirty days.” Certainly it was dangerous, and according to the law of Torah, it was forbidden for her to put herself in such a situation, for it is unlawful to hand over one life for another.

(Had she asked a Misnagdishe rav whether she should approach Achashverosh under the circumstances, surely he would have ruled that it is forbidden, being that according to Shulchan Aruch one must preserve all 248 limbs and 365 sinews, the Mitzva of “And you shall guard your lives with extreme caution.” As it turned out, however, she did not go to ask.)

AD D’LO YADA

Where did Ester get this quality of unwavering self-sacrifice? From the upbringing she received in the home of Mordechai, for Mordechai was a Jew with self-sacrifice.

Mordechai was a chassid. Indeed, it was he who established the “obligation to celebrate on Purim ad d’lo yada” [i.e., to the point where one has transcended reason]. Who would come up with the idea to institute the enactment of “ad d’lo yada,” for all future generations, if not a chassid?! Prior to then, there was no place in Shulchan Aruch for the concept of “ad d’lo yada.” Even the joy of Yom Tov must be moderate and reserved. Only concerning a chassid is there the concept of going out of limits and boundaries. Thus, Mordechai established “ad d’lo yada” for generations. (Of course, some accessibility to “ad d’lo yada” had to provided for Misnagdim, so the advice in Shulchan Aruch is to fulfill it by falling asleep… However, the true concept is to go out of boundaries.)

In a chassidishe home, people are not offended by saying “l’chaim” on a regular weekday, especially at a Melaveh Malka, and how much more so on Purim.

A RAV WHO GETS DRUNK AND TEARS UP CLOTHING?!

Parenthetically, in the city where [my] Father officiated as rabbi, he faced many opponents, those who reacted to him with disdain on account of his recitation of chassidus and on account of the various stringencies and hiddurim (observing Mitzvos in a scrupulous, “beautified” manner) that he accustomed in the city.

One of Father’s opponents once informed on him to the governor, saying that many Jews had gathered and selected as a rabbi a person who gets drunk and tears up people’s clothing!

The governor, confounded by the notion that the majority of the Jews would choose such a person as rabbi, sent one of his representatives to Father’s home in order to see what goes on there. When the official arrived at Father’s house, he met my father as he was sitting and studying Torah. Seeing that there was no bottle of liquor on his table and that all was in order, the official became more intrigued as to what was going on there, and told Father about the informant’s claim. Father responded that the story is completely unfounded.

What was in fact the basis of the story? Later on they investigated and discovered that this is what had happened. On Yud-Tes Kislev they had had a farbrengen, a very intense farbrengen. Father recited a lot of chassidus and everyone was in a very exalted state. They continued to farbreng into the wee hours of the night.

Chassidim at that time had the custom, when farbrengens lasted until just before morning, to take off their kapatas (their traditional long, black jackets) and dance together without them. That is what they did on that Yud-Tes Kislev.

Among the participants in the farbrengen was an individual who, for some reason, was not forthcoming in taking off his kapata… Father was in high spirits. Having recently arrived from Lubavitch [to assume his position as rabbi], he was free of concern about making a living. So Father helped this individual remove his kapata, and what happened was that the sleeve remained in the hands of Father but the jacket remained on the man…

JEWS, FAST ON PESACH!

Returning to our topic now. Mordechai educated Ester that when we’re speaking about a decree upon Jews, there are no calculations to be made at all but to simply go with self-sacrifice. In response to the decree, Mordechai and Ester said: Jews, fast on Pesach! Concern about the decree superseded the law of Pesach. Indeed, Ester even put her own life on the line and approached Achashverosh.

Not only did they jeopardize their own wellbeing and stood with self-sacrifice, they even gathered 22 thousand children and encouraged them to study Torah with self-sacrifice. The effect of the children’s self-sacrifice was to reveal the power of self-sacrifice among all the Jewish people, even those who had “bowed down to the idol,” and “partook of the feast of that wicked man [Achashverosh].” And as stated in Torah Ohr, a foreign thought [i.e., to reconsider the approach of self-sacrifice], G-d forbid, did not arise in the heart of a single one of them throughout the entire year. It was specifically through this inspired response on behalf of the Jewish people that the decree was rescinded.

(From the address of Shabbos Parshas Tzav, Shushan Purim, 5714, bilti muga)

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