Purim 5781

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Reaching the greatest heights through regretting sin[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]

Everyone is familiar with the concept of getting drunk on Purim. Our Sages even seem to say that a person is obligated to get drunk on Purim. This begs the obvious question[3]: How could our Sages obligate such a repugnant thing? Our scriptures are full of descriptions of the evils of drunkenness, and it is known to all that it causes people to stumble in their behavior. Why would the day of Purim be any different? This is a question that many struggle with. One suggestion[4] is that it’s to commemorate the fact that all the miracles of Purim occurred through the drinking of wine. Vashti was sentenced to death because Achashverosh was drunk, allowing Esther to become the queen. Haman’s downfall occurred during a wine drinking party. Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory explanation. Why should this commemoration be enough to justify something so vile?

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Mishpatim / Shekalim 5781

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Joyous acceptance[1]

ואל-אצילי בני ישראל לא שלח ידו ויחזו את-האלקים ויאכלו וישתו
[Hashem] didn’t send His hand against the dignitaries of the Children of Israel, [although] they had seen G-d and ate and drank[2]

After detailing various monetary and ritual laws, the Torah returns to the story of the Divine Revelation at Sinai. As the Jews were receiving the Torah, the dignitaries of the Jewish People feasted; they ate and drank. While this normally could have been justified, they were in front of the Divine Presence. The environment commanded a very high level of awe and respect. A public feast perhaps wasn’t appropriate at that moment, and the Torah seems to rebuke them for it. The Torah implies that the dignitaries could have been wiped out at that moment, but Hashem had compassion and spared them. One explanation is that this was to not ruin the celebratory event of the giving of the Torah[3]. Instead, the dignitaries were later punished with death when they complained unjustifiably[4].

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Purim 5780

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The end of all miracles[1]

למנצח על אילת השחר מזמור לדוד
For the conductor, regarding a morning doe, a song for David[2]

We are taught[3] that Psalms Chapter was recited by Esther. It starts off by referring to a morning doe. The gemarra explains[4] why she decided to start her composition this way. She wanted to inform us that just like the morning is the end of the night, so too the miracles of Purim were the end of all miracles. To this, the gemarra retorts that Chanukah also had miracles. The gemarra says that Chanukah wasn’t recorded in Tanach, unlike Purim. While this may be true, its still misleading to say that Purim was the end of all miracles. What was Esther trying to convey? As well, what’s the significance of saying that the morning is the end of the night? One could just as easily say that the night is the end of the day[5].

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Purim 5779

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The depth of ingratitude[1]

‏…וישלח ויבא את-אהביו ואת-זרש אשתו: ויספר להם המן את-כבוד עשרו ורב בניו ואת כל-אשר גדלו המלך ואת אשר נשאו על-השרים ועבדי המלך: ויאמר המן וגו’ וכל-זה איננו שוה לי בכל-עת אשר אני ארה את-מרדכי היהודי יושב בשער המלך
…[Haman] sent for and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. He spoke to them about all of his glory, wealth, multitude of children, the promotions that the King had given him, how he was in charge of all the ministers and slaves of the King. Haman said [to them]: “…All of this is worthless to me, so long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the gate of the King”[2]

Towards the end of the Megillah, Haman practically had a mental breakdown. His arch nemesis Mordechai was still alive, despite Haman’s desire that all the Jews be killed. Haman himself delayed Mordechai’s execution, in order to kill his entire people on the same day. It’s clear that Haman had grown impatient, waiting for the decreed day’s arrival. He complained to his family and friends that he felt like nothing in his life mattered, so long as Mordechai the Jew was alive.

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Ki Sisa 5778

Rabbi Reznick requested that I remove all divrei Torah that I wrote up from him. He didn’t want them in a public forum. If you would like to see a copy from this week’s parsha, please email contact@parshaponders.com.

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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Korach 5777

A self-fulfilling prophecy[1]

ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם וגו’‏
Korach the son of Yitzhar the son of Kehas the son of Levi took (something), and Dasan and Aviram, etc.[2]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The result was that the sages who joined Korach died in a fire, while Korach and his entire family were swallowed up alive into the earth, to live there until the end of days. The parsha starts with the awkward phrase ויקח קרח, Korach took. The verse doesn’t specify what exactly it was though that he took. There are various explanations among the commentators[3]. Reish Lakish in the gemarra says[4] that it means that לקח מקח רע לעצמו, he acquired a bad purchase for himself[5].

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Purim 5777

The Spice of Purim[1]

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”[2]

Chazal inform us[3] 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[4] 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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