The Spice of Purim
מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי
A person is obligated on Purim to get inebriated to the point where they don’t know the difference between “Cursed Haman” and “Blessed Mordechai”
Chazal inform us that משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה, when Adar arrives, we increase in joy. For sure on Purim itself we should be joyous, as it’s referred to as a day of משתה ושמחה, partying and joy. One could wonder, how exactly are we supposed to increase in joy? Are we supposed to put a big smile on our faces? Seemingly, it can’t simply be an external joy. It must be something felt internally. How can a person reach a state of true joy during Adar and Purim?
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Four Golden Children
ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת
You shall make two golden Cherubs; you shall make them beaten out [of a solid piece of gold] from the two sides of the ark lid
The Ark of the Covenant is a well-known part of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It contained the tablets from the Ten Commandments, and represents the Torah as a whole. It signified the bond between the Jewish people and Hashem, forged by the acceptance of the Torah. On top of the lid of the ark stood two golden angels, known as Keruvim, or Cherubs. There is a lot written on the significance of these Keruvim, what their purpose was and what they represented. The Torah says explicitly that Hashem’s voice to Moshe emanated from the point between the two Keruvim. They were tremendously important to the prophecy which Moshe transmitted to the Jewish people.
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זה יתנו כל-העבר על-הפקדים מחצית השקל בשקל הקדש עשרים גרה השקל מחצית השקל תרומה לשם
This they shall give, all who pass over the counting, the half shekel coin of the holy shekel, 20 gerah to a shekel, the half shekel as a donation to Hashem
This week, besides being parshas Mishpatim, is also parshas Shekalim. It’s the first of what’s known as the “daled parshiyos”, four parshas that lead up to Purim and Pesach. Instead of reading the usual maftir for Mishpatim, we read a passage from parshas Ki Sisa. It describes the mitzvah of machatzis hashekel, the half-coin donation. Every year, a half-shekel coin was collected from all the Jewish people in order to provide funds for the Temple. In addition to being a form of tzedakah, the Torah says that it provides atonement for the people’s souls.
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The princess and the peasant
לא תחמד אשת רעך ועבדו ואמתו ושורו וחמרו וכל אשר לרעך
Don’t covet the wife of your friend, his servant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your friend
Many people have found the final of the Ten Commandments very hard to comprehend. People naturally have desires for things they see that attract them. If someone sees their friend in possession of a nice object, how could Hashem forbid them from wanting it? This is something that happens automatically, how can anyone be expected to avoid these desires?
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How to deal with troublemakers
ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבכים הם בארץ סגר עליהם המדבר
And Pharaoh said of the Jews, “they are lost in the land, the wilderness has closed in on them”
Hashem had just granted the Jews their freedom and they had begun their exodus from Egypt. Word got back to Pharaoh that the Jews took a detour, and he thought this was to his advantage. He then described that they appear to be lost. The problem is the verse says that ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל, Pharaoh spoke to the Jewish people. Who was there to speak to? All the Jews had left! This is why Rashi explains that the prefix ל in Hebrew, while usually meaning “to”, can sometimes mean “about”. The verse is then telling us that he spoke about the Jewish people, not to them. Targum “Yonasan”, however, takes the verse literally and says that it means “to”. Who was he speaking to? He understands that Pharaoh spoke to Dasan and Aviram, who remained in Egypt.
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The miracle of nature
והיה לך לאות על-ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יקוק בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך יקוק ממצרים
And [tefillin] will be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth, because with a mighty hand Hashem took you out of Egypt
There are many mitzvos, commandments, that are associated with yetzias mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin, both on the arm and on the head, contain four sections from the Torah, written on parchment. Two of them are sections from the end of this week’s parsha, which not only describe the mitzvah of tefillin but various other commandments. Both parshiyos also mention the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. Other examples of mitzvos associated with the Exodus include Shabbos, Sukkos, tzitzis, mezuzah, the obligation to remember twice daily the Exodus, and of course the holiday of Pesach and all that it entails. Why are there so many mitzvos connected with leaving Egypt? While the Exodus is a central part of Jewish history (it’s where the Jews emerged as a nation and was the precursor to entering the Land of Israel), what does it have to do with us today?
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Sticks and Stones (and Snakes)
כי ידבר אלכם פרעה לאמר תנו לכם מופת ואמרת אל-אהרן קח את-מטך והלשך לפני-פרעה יהי לתנין
When Pharaoh speaks to you saying, “Present for yourselves a wonder”, say to Aharon, “Take your staff and throw it before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake”
After a failed attempt to get Pharaoh to release the Jews from slavery, Hashem commands Moshe to impress Pharaoh with a miracle: Hashem will turn a staff into a snake. This perhaps would inspire him to change his mind and let the Jews go. However, the plan doesn’t seem to go as expected. The story continues: ויקרא גם-פרעה לחכמים למכשפים ויעשו גם-הם חרטמי מצרים בלהטיהם כן, Pharaoh also called to his wise men, the sorcerers, and they did the same [as Aharon]. The necromancers of Egypt did it as well with their incantations. Apparently, this wasn’t such a unique ability; these experts in the occult were also able to make their staffs into snakes.
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A Selective Memory
ויקם מלך חדש על-מצרים אשר לא-ידע את-יוסף
A new King arose over Egypt that did not know Yosef
In only a few short generations after Yaakov and his children had descended to Egypt, their descendants are in the millions. We are told that after Yaakov’s twelve sons had all died, a new Pharaoh was appointed. He was not aware of all the good that Yosef did for the Egyptians. As a result, he had no problems taking advantage of this golden opportunity. There is an entire foreign nation within Egypt’s borders, available for the taking. Why not force them to work without pay? Pharaoh thought, they’ve been living here all this time for free, without justification; they owe it to us.
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Give me a break
וישב ישראל בארץ מצרים בארץ גשן ויאחזו בה ויפרו וירבו מאד
And Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they populated it, becoming incredibly numerous.
ויחי יעקב בארץ מצרים שבע עשרה שנה ויהי ימי-יעקב שני חייו שבע שנים וארבעים ומאת שנה
And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt 17 years, and it was that the days of the years of Yaakov’s life were 147 years.
Rashi asks an interesting question. Why is this parsha סתומה, literally blocked or sealed off? Every parsha, the way it appears in a Sefer Torah, is separated from the previous parsha with a certain amount of blank space. Consequently, you can easily spot the beginning of a parsha. Parshas Vayechi is the only exception. It has no blank space between it and the previous parsha. The last verse of parshas Vayigash runs right into parshas Vayechi (making the beginning harder to find). Rashi is bothered, why is this so? Rashi brings two answers, both from the Midrash, as follows:
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To approach or not to approach, that is the question
ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני ידבר-נא עבדך דבר באזני אדני ואל-יחר אפך בעבדך כי כמוך כפרעה
And Yehudah approached [Yosef] and he said: “Please my Master, let your servant speak something in the ears of my Master, and don’t be mad with your servant, because you are like Pharaoh”
The sons of Yaakov hadn’t yet caught on that their long-lost brother Yosef is the viceroy of Egypt. Binyomin was just caught “stealing” the cup of Yosef, and has been sentenced to life as a slave. The brothers felt hopeless; how can they return to their father without his most beloved son? Yehudah mustered up the courage to approach Yosef for a final confrontation. The Torah uses a unique phrase to describe this act: ויגש, to approach. This phrase appeared earlier in the Chumash with Avraham: Hashem had just informed Avraham that He intended to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Amorah. Avraham couldn’t allow this to happen, and the Torah says ויגש אברהם ויאמר, and Avraham approached and spoke. He tried his best to convince Hashem to change His mind, but no to avail.
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