“Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Is a land born in one day? Is a nation brought forth at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.”
– Isaiah 66:8, JPS 1917 Tanach
“And He will set up an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the dispersed of Israel, and gather together the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”
– Isaiah 10:12, JPS 1917 Tanach
We thank You for the heroism, for the triumphs, and for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors, in other days and in our time. In the days when Your children were returning to their borders, at the time of a people revived in its land as in days of old, the gates to the land of our ancestors were closed before those who were fleeing the sword. When enemies from within the land together with seven neighboring nations sought to annihilate Your people, You, in Your great mercy, stood by them in time of trouble. You defended them and vindicated them. You gave them the courage to meet their foes, to open the gates to those seeking refuge, and to free the land of its armed invaders. You delivered the many into the hands of the few, the guilty into the hands of the innocent. You have wrought great victories and miraculous deliverance for Your people Israel to this day, revealing Your glory and Your holiness to all the world.
– Al HaNisim for Yom HaAtzmaut, Siddur Sim Shalom, by Jules Harlow
May G-d remember the valiant men and women who braved mortal danger in the days of struggle prior to the establishment of the State of Israel and the soldiers who fell in the wars of Israel.
May the people of Israel cherish them in their memory; let them mourn the splendor of youth, the altruism of valor, the dedication of will and the dignity of self-sacrifice which came to an end on the battlefield.
May the loyal and courageous heroes of freedom and victory be sealed forever within the hearts of all Israel, in this generation and forevermore.
“And Moses said unto the people: Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the L-RD, which He will work for you to-day; for whereas ye have seen the Egyptians to-day, ye shall see them again no more for ever.”
– Exodus 14:13, JPS 1917 Tanach
As the Egyptian army approached, Torah records that B’nei Yisrael, encamped near the Sea of Reeds, cried out to H’Shem in great fear (14:10). Commentary notes that the people were divided in their response: 1). Some cried out to H’Shem in prayer, akin to the later writing of the psalmist, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will make mention of the name of the L-RD our G-d” (Psalm 20:8, JPS). 2). Another group of the people, having great trepidation about their circumstances, took the exact opposite approach, expressing their regret for having left Egypt, and complaining to Moshe (see Exodus 14:10-12).
When Moshe responded to the consternation of B’nei Yisrael, in light of their present circumstances, despite the seemingly near danger that was imminent, he said to them, “Fear ye not, stand still and see” (see above). Or HaChayim comments, that the words “stand still” convey the essence of prayer, a reliance on H’Shem, turning to Him in the midst of nisyanos (trials). H notes that the same Hebrew phrase is used in the Tanach, in regard to the prayer of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who prayed in all sincerity to H’Shem. The picture derived from this understanding is one of a people’s reliance on H’Shem, in hope of seeing His salvation at a time of great need, when Pharaoh’s army was bearing down upon them.
That night, an angel of H’Shem protected the people from the Egyptians, a cloud darkened the Egyptian camp, while a pillar of light shined upon the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe stretched his hand over the sea; and, H’Shem caused the sea to part by way of a strong east wind. The Children of Israel passed through the sea; however, when the Egyptians pursued them, Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the sea. Our own expectations of H’Shem for deliverance in our lives, regardless of our circumstances, when made through the prayer of sincerity, may bring results greater than our expectations. Especially, when there is no other recourse to be made, it is then that we may see the grandeur of His salvation.
While in bondage in Mitzraim , the B’nei Yisrael had sunk to a low level of impurity, having neglected to distance themselves from the surrounding environment of idolatry. The Midrash records that when about to cross through the Sea of Reeds, the angels questioned their merit, saying both these and those – the Children of Israel and the Egyptians – were both idol worshippers. Why should these be spared, and the others not? Yet, H’Shem honored the covenant that he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order to bring His newly acquired nation out of bondage, and into covenant relationship with Him through Torah.
H’Shem brought us out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai, where He gave us the Torah. He had said to Moses, “This shall be the token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve G-d upon this mountain” (Exodus 3: 12, JPS 1917 Tanach). The revelation of Mount Sinai was the pinnacle of the redemption. Why? “The tables were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d, graven upon the tables” (Exodus 32: 16, JPS). The Hebrew word for engrave is charut. The Sages note that the word cherut, “freedom” is from the same shoresh (root word). This implies that our true freedom is derived through Torah.
B’nei Yisrael was enslaved to sin in Egypt, having assimilated, to some degree, to the immorality of Egypt at that time. Although freed from slavery in Egypt , we were still slaves to sin; so, H’Shem gave us the Torah to free us from bondage to the yetzer harah (the evil inclination). May we all break through the limitations of our own personal Mitzraim (Egypt), so that we may also pass through the Yam Suf (Dividing of the Sea), into the freedom of responsibility – the ability to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination), for the sake of choosing a righteous path on a daily basis in all of our endeavors.
In Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther), towards the end of the story, King Ahasuerus allows the Jews to avenge themselves of their enemies on the 13th day of Adar. In Shushan, the capital, the Jews kill 500 men and hang Haman’s ten sons on a gallows. Queen Esther then approaches the King with an additional request: “…allow the Jews who are in Shushan to do tomorrow as they did today, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows” (Esther 9:13). It’s curious that she would request the hanging of Haman’s already slain sons. Nevertheless, the King complies.
Now, the Hebrew word for “tomorrow” (“machar”) occasionally refers to the distant future. Further, the Sages tell us that whenever the word “king” appears in the Megillah it alludes to the King of kings as well. Thus, the verse could be understand as a request by Esther to G-d to again hang the ten sons of Haman at some point in the distant future. Now, when the Megillah lists the ten sons Haman during their hanging (9:7-9) there are a number of unusually-sized letters. (We have a tradition to write certain letters in the Torah larger or smaller than the standard size.) According to the most accepted tradition, there is a large ‘vuv’ (numerical value = 6) and a small ‘tuv’ (400), ‘shin’ (300) and ‘zayin’ (7). The following suggestion has been made: The large vuv refers to the sixth millennium (of the Hebrew calendar); the small letters refer to year 707 of that millennium. The meaning, then, is that G-d agreed to hang Haman’s ten sons again in the year 5707 = 1946-7.
On October 16, 1946 (21 Tishrei, 5707) ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. (An eleventh, Hermann Goering, a transvestite, committed suicide in his cell. The Midrash tells us that Haman also had a daughter who committed suicide.) As if the parallel were not obvious enough without further corroboration, Nazi Julius Streicher’s last words were, “Purimfest 1946.” (In case you question the accuracy of Streicher’s last words, they are are well-documented; they appeared in Newsweek, October 28, 1946.)
In the Book of Esther, the narrative that is read on Purim, the name of G-d is not found even once; rather, His divine guidance is hidden within the framework of coincidental events within the narrative. G-d’s providence is already at work, in order to provide for a yeshua (salvation) for the Jewish people, even before the initial threat arises as recorded in the narrative. First of all, Queen Vashti is deposed after she disobeyed her husband, king Ahasueros, who is king of 127 provinces from India to Ethiopa. The sets the stage for a beauty pageant, won by Esther, whose beauty resides within as well as without. The king loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight” (Esther 2:17, JPS). Moreover, she remained obedient to her Uncle Mordechai; and, as he instructed her, she did not make “known her kindred nor her people” (2:20).
As recorded at the end of chapter two, Mordechai had overheard a plot against the kind by two of his servants; so, he informed Esther, who told the king in his name; thus, his good deed was recorded in the chronicles of the king (Esther 2:21-23). This preceded a threat that rose up from Haman, who in the next chapter is raised up to a position of power. Therefore, both the position of Esther as Queen, and Mordechai’s deed for which he will be honored later in the narrative, as the ensuing events unfold, are as seeds of redemption waiting to ripen in due time.
It is Haman, whose new position demanded that all bow down to him. Mordechai, a Jew who is a Benjamite will not bow down to him. It is interesting to note that our of the twelve sons of Jacob, Benjamin is the only one who did not bow down to Esau when he approached Jacob and his family. This is because Benjamin was still in the womb of his mother. Therefore, Mordechai exhibits this trait, if you will, by not bowing down to Haman, who is a descendant of King Agag, who was a descendant of Amalek. In turn, Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau. So, Haman’s hatred of Mordechai, went beyond his refusal to bow to him: rather, this was an ancient hatred that manifested in Haman’s ire, and insistence as well as determination to destroy all of Mordechai’s people.
Yet, as mentioned in the Talmud, the remedy precedes the sickness, specifically, “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not smite Israel unless He has created for them a healing beforehand” ( Megillah 13b, Soncino edition). Therefore, when Mordechai learns of Haman’s decree to destroy the Jewish people, he sends word to Esther, requesting that she appeal to the king on behalf of her people. “Who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14). Her response is one of mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice). “So will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (4:16).
Additionally, on a night that King Ahasueros is not able to sleep, he decides to peruse through the chronicles of the king: here he finds mention of Mordechai’s good deed, whereby a plot against the king was thwarted. In the morning, when Haman happens to be in the King’s court, Ahasueros asks him, what shall be done for the man whom the king would like to honor. Haman, in his self conceit, thinks that king wants to honor him, so he replies:
“Let royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and on whose head a crown royal is set; and let the apparel and the horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man therewith whom the king delighteth to honour, and cause him to ride on horseback through the street of the city.” The king responds, “‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as thou hast said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew” (Esther 6:8-10). So, there is a reversal of fortune, whereby Mordechai is now honored, while Haman is humiliated.
At Esther’s second banquet for the King, of which Haman is also invited, when reveals the plot to the king: “We are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish” (Esther 7:4). He asks, “Who is he, and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so?” (Esther 7:5). She responds, An adversary and an enemy, even this wicked Haman” (Ester 7:6). Additionally, the kings servant points out that this Haman had made a gallows “for Mordecai, who spoke good for the king” (Esther 7:9). Thus, Haman’s fate is sealed, and the decree against the destruction of the Jewish people is countermanded by a second decree.
Esther petitioned King Ahasuerus to spare her people. She, her maidens, and the Jewish people fasted for three days, before she approached the King. She was risking her life, in doing so, because, no one could approach the king without permission. Therefore, she was only emboldened to approach him, after fasting, with all of her people in support of her.
Additionally, Mordechai, her uncle, encouraged her, saying, “‘Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house will perish; and who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14, JPS 1917 Tanach).
“There is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place” (Pirkei Avos 4:3). Queen Esther, was given her moment in time: “who knoweth whether thou art not come to royal estate for such a time as this?” According to the Talmud, H’Shem arranges the remedy, before the sickness (anti-semitism). We have Him to thank for our safety then and now.
Furthermore, we should not take that shield of protection for granted. It would be good to renew our appeal and seek Him for refuge in all of our trials and tribulations, keeping in mind that He is the Source of our well-being, and continuance as a people. Let us remember Him for the good that is bestowed upon us during the entire year. And celebrate Purim with joy.
On Shabbos Mevarchim for Rosh Chodesh Adar 5781, this past Shabbat, I reflected on the blessing for the new month, traditionally recited on the Sabbath before Rosh Chodesh:
I noticed how this Adar will bring the globe, as well as, Jewish communities around the world full circle; inasmuch, that it will have been about a year since the proliferation of the coronavirus. May H’Shem have mercy on us; may He bless our lives, family, friends, and communities. May He preserve us during the days that will follow. Amein.
For myself, I have been sheltering in place, virtually twenty four – seven. I have much opportunity for reflection, writing, and kavanah (intention). Yet, the days are somewhat bittersweet, since my thoughts turn pensive, akin to the required seriousness necessary for the sake of heshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul). To examine one’s conscience in this manner, will only lead to joy down the road, after rooting out unhealthy maladaptive behaviors, negative character traits, and making an effort to do better. Additionally, I count the hours of each and every day, until evening, when I hope to have fulfilled the day’s tasks, that are expected of me from Above. May we all be productive in divinely inspired ways. Amein,
Focusing on what is essential, as the restrictions let up, I wonder how often will newly found essentials continue to be important in my life, and the lives of others down the road. To revert back to former ways would only prove to be detrimental, if what has been learned at this slowed down pace of life, simply gives sway to momentum, approaching the previous standards of the often frenetic pace of society. Yet, positive societal change should be the result of individuals focusing on retaining the lessons learned during these challenging times. May we all continue to grow in our understanding of what is important in life. Amein.
The Hebrew month of Adar is traditionally associated with joy (Taanis 29a).
May our joys in life increase, despite the challenges ahead. Amein.
Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eishtamid (eternal light) that is symbolized by Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.
A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in it’s mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil.
This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Yes; because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today. Midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; therefore, a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. One explanation, may have to do with the talmudic saying that the cure precedes the ailment.
Thus, one may conclude that G-d, having foreseen the defilement of the Temple by the Seulicid empire, provided the means for its sanctification, shortly after the near destruction of the earth. The oil, “potential light” was passed down, safeguarded across the generations for its eventual use in re-lighting the menorah in the Temple, signifying the triumph of light over darkness.
The message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives. Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.
Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine, is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.
The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, ever dependent upon Him for every breathe we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by H’Shem, by way of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy, we were spared from capitulation to the ungodly agenda of the opposing force, that tried to erase our belief and practice.