Purim 5778

Undeserved merit[1]

חייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point that they don’t know the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”[2]

The mitzvah to get drunk on Purim is quite surprising. It is well-known that getting drunk can easily lead to inappropriate behavior. Why was this instituted on Purim? As well, what relevance is the idea of “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai”? Why is our getting drunk dependent on it? To begin to answer these questions, another halacha needs to be examined. There is an obligation on Purim to say the words “ארור המן ברוך מרדכי”, “Cursed is Haman; Blessed is Mordechai”[3]. Why is this formulation unique to Purim? There are other festivals where we were saved by our leaders from our enemies. Why don’t we say on Pesach: “Cursed is Pharaoh; Blessed is Moshe”? Or on Chanukah: “Cursed are the invaders; Blessed are the Hasmoneans”?

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Tetzaveh / Zachor 5778

Misplaced humility[1]

ויהי דבר-יקוק אל-שמואל לאמר: נחמתי כי-המלכתי את-שאול למלך כי-שב מאחרי ואת-דברי לא הקים וגו’ ויאמר שמואל הלוא אם-קטן אתה בעיניך ראש שבטי ישראל אתה וימשחך יקוק למלך על-ישראל וגו’‏
And it was that the word of Hashem came to Shmuel, saying: “I have regretted coronating Shaul to be King, as he has turned away from Me and has not fulfilled My words.”…Shmuel [later said to Shaul]: “Is it not true that you view yourself as insignificant? You are the head of the tribes of Israel! Hashem has anointed you to be King over Israel…”[2]

This week is the week before Purim. As such, for maftir we read parshas Zachor[3], which enumerates the mitzvos involved in remembering what the nation of Amalek did to us when we left Egypt. As well, we read a special haftarah[4], recounting the sin of King Shaul. He was commanded by the prophet Shmuel to put an end to the evils of the nation of Amalek, and he failed to do so. The gemarra makes an interesting observation[5]: King Shaul transgressed one mitzvah[6] and had to suffer the consequences. He was punished with an early death, and the kingship was taken away from his descendants and given over to David. This is unlike King David, who transgressed two mitzvos[7] and kept the kingship. Why was this so?

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Terumah 5778

The Holy Ark and the Torah[1]

ועשו ארון עצי שטים אמתים וחצי ארכו ואמה וחצי רחבו ואמה וחצי קמתו
You shall make an Aron out of acacia wood: an amah and a half its width, an amah and a half its length, and an amah and a half its height[2]

In the wilderness, the Jews were commanded to construct the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, for the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It was a golden box, with two angels carved out of its lid. Inside the Aron Kodesh was the Torah[3]. Today, we no longer have the original Aron Kodesh[4]. However, as a remembrance for the original, every shul contains its own Aron Kodesh. While there are differences between the two structures, they serve the same purpose: a designated place to store the Torah. Chazal instruct us[5] regarding the tremendous kedusha, the holiness, contained within the Aron Kodesh. Where did this kedusha come from? The Aron Kodesh of today may be a pretty structure, but at first glance it’s simply a box.

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5778

Seeking refuge[1]

ואשר לא צדה והאלקים אנה לידו ושמתי לך מקום אשר ינוס שמה
If he didn’t plan to kill [his victim], but G-d caused it to happen, then I will provide for you a place for [the killer] to find refuge[2]

There is a law in the Torah[3] that someone who unintentionally kills another Jew, must be exiled to one of the six cities of refuge in the land of Israel. This serves two purposes: to protect the killer from the vengeance of the deceased’s family[4], who will find it difficult to not take the law into their own hands, and to provide a spiritual atonement for this accidental sin[5]. However, this exile isn’t necessarily forever. It’s until the death of the Kohen Gadol. Once he dies, the inadvertent killer goes free[6]. These cities of refuge only protect the killer when all six cities are established[7]. Moshe, towards the end of his life, established the three cities on the other side of the Jordan River[8]. He knew he wouldn’t merit to enter the land of Israel proper to finish the job; nevertheless, he didn’t refrain from starting the mitzvah[9]. Yehoshua, his successor, after fourteen years of conquest and dividing the land of Israel, established the final three[10]. It comes out from this that for those fourteen years, someone who accidentally killed another, had no safe haven. They were vulnerable that whole time. Why didn’t the Torah provide them refuge as well[11]?

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Yisro 5778

The qualities needed to receive the Torah[1]

…באו מדבר סיני: ויסעו מרפידים ויבאו מדבר סיני ויחנו במדבר ויחן-שם ישראל נגד ההר
…[The Jews] arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. They traveled from Refidim, and they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness. Israel encamped[2] there opposite the mountain[3]

Just before the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the revelation of the Ten Commandments, the Torah describes the Jews’ journeys through the wilderness. The Torah describes it in an unusual fashion, first stating that they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai, and then saying that they left Refidim to arrive in the wilderness of Sinai. Usually when describing a journey, a person would state where they left from first, and only then mention the destination. Why did the Torah make this switch?

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