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It Once Happened | Moshiach Matters
By Rabbi Israel Rubin
"Five a day" isn't only a catch-phrase we should keep in mind when planning what we'll eat daily. It's also a way to remember how many extra mitzvot we have a chance to perform on Purim, this year beginning March 20th in the evening and ending on the 21st at nightfall. The "five a day" for Purim are: hearing the Megila (Scroll of Esther), adding the special Al HaNisim liturgy to our prayers, giving extra charity to the poor, eating a festive meal and sending shalach manot - gifts of food - to friends.
Shalach manot need only contain a basic minimum of two edible foods. But, the world-over, people have been putting together much more eleborate Purim gifts. From super-fancy and exquisite, to trendy or "theme" Shalach Manot, they often contain hamantashen (filled with prune, poppy seed, apricot or strawberry), cookies and pastries, wines, liqueurs, chocolates, fruit baskets or deli platters. The more the merrier.
Shalach Manot may be presented in virtually anything from A to Z. They are Available in A wide Assortment of Average, Abstract, or Awkward Arrangements: Alcoa Aluminum, Archaeological Artifacts, Acrylic Ashtrays, Artificial Alligator Attache Briefcases, Banana Boxes, Brown Bags, Bowls, Breadbaskets, Baby Bottles, Bigger Bushels or Barrels, Beverage Cans, Crates, "C-thru" or Colored Cellophane, Cereal Containers, Crockpots, Crystal or China Cups, Cornucopias.
Limited space does not permit us to continue this alphabetical listing, so we leave the rest to your imagination.
But instead of getting all wrapped up in what's superficial, let's focus on what's really supposed to go inside the shalach manot, in addition to the goodies.
After all, shalalch manot isn't a care package - the recipients can certainly afford to buy their own fruits and hamantashen. Sadly, the most important shalach manot ingredient is becoming a rare commodity,and it isn't available at the store like all other Purim stuffers.
The most important shalach manot ingredient is love. Real Genuine Love, not the mushy greeting-card kind of love, or the selfish gratification "love" that they make nowadays.
"Love your fellow as yourself" is always the basis of the Torah. But Purim is when we best express the unconditional love that bonds us together. It is our best response to Haman's divisive accusations.
Unfortunately, Haman & Co. are only part of the problem. We become our own worst enemies when we discriminate between one Jew and another, when we label or stereotype Jews by association with this or that synagogue, or lack of affiliation.
Did you know that not all Jews think alike? We have our differences. In fact, two Jews have three opinions. But a Jew is a Jew regardless of affiliation or background. True love is blind to external differences, for so much more unites us than divides us. Deep down, we are one and the same. Love is what makes shalach manot go around!
Rabbi Rubin is director of Chabad of the Capital District, Albany, New York.
The Hebrew letters of the Torah are written in three sizes: the standard letters with which most of the Torah is written, a smaller size and a larger size. The first word of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) is written with an alef that is of the smaller size, both in a Torah scroll and in a printed Chumash (Five Books of Moses).
When the Tzemach Tzedek (the third Chabad Rebbe) was a young boy his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur Zalman (founder of Chabad Chasidism), sent him to learn in cheder. Rabbi Shneur Zalman instructed the teacher to begin with the first chapter of the Book of Leviticus.
When the Tzemach Tzedek returned from school he asked his grandfather why the alef of Vayikra was so little. Rabbi Shneur Zalman pondered the question deeply for some time and then replied:
"In the beginning of Divrei HaYamim (the Book of Chronicles, one of the 24 books of the Bible), Adam's name is written with a large alef. The big letter alludes to the fact that Adam considered himself to be very important. After all, none other than G-d Himself had created him! Adam was aware of his own significance, which was a contributing factor in the sin of the Tree of Knowledge.
"By contrast, in the verse 'And [G-d] called to Moses' ['Vayikra'], the alef is small, which alludes to Moses' humility. Even though Moses was aware of his many extraordinary talents, he did not perceive himself as great, nor did he take pride in his abilities. It states in the Torah, 'And the man Moses was very humble.' Moses was modest and unassuming. He felt that if someone else had been blessed with the same abilities as he, the other person would have utilized them better.
"The Torah is written in intermediate-sized letters, for a Jew must always strive to be a beinoni [a Chasidic term meaning a person with complete mastery over his Evil Inclination]. By means of the Torah, every Jew can attain that level."
With this answer the Alter Rebbe taught his grandson, and by extension all of us, an important lesson in the service of G-d:
On the one hand, we must learn from Adam and correctly perceive our own qualities: We possess a G-dly soul, and have inherited many positive character traits from our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
On the other hand, we must emulate Moses and not be overly proud of ourselves. For if someone else were blessed with the very same qualities it is possible that he would make use of them to an even greater degree.
Thus we must always have a sense of our own significance, yet temper our pride with humility.
Adapted from Likutei Sichot, Volume 17
A BIRTHDAY REUNION ON PURIM
By Tzvi Thaler
A few months before the 37th anniversary of my Bar Mitzva, my wife, Rachel Blima, told me that she wanted to surprise me by inviting some of my old school friends for a birthday reunion. We had been out of touch for many years, though, and she had no idea how to contact them.
Actually, I had been thinking along the same lines, because we were all reaching the same milestone within a few months of each other.
To backtrack: We were all baby boomers whose parents had moved to the borough of Queens from other parts of New York City as pre-schoolers. We had attended the same public schools, Cub Scouts, and Hebrew school, had the same hobbies, and had one sibling (most, a younger sister). For college, some of us stayed closer to home and some went further away. I probably went the furthest geographically than most, but eventually "came back" even further after meeting and getting involved with Rabbis Gurary and Greenberg at the Chabad House in Buffalo. By the mid-70s I had become Torah observant, had gotten married and had started a family in the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Crown Heights.
In 1988 the Rebbe spoke about the importance of birthdays. He suggested that people celebrate by getting together with family and friends, sharing Torah thoughts, giving charity and making good resolutions. I had done that each year since then, but for my 50th birthday, I was going to try something more monumental.
I set about tracking down those old friends, not having seen or spoken with any of them in a very long time. The easiest ones to find were those whom my parents still had contact with their parents. I used the medical library at Sloan Kettering where I work to find who had become physicians, and I began searching the Internet.
It took time. With my birthday fast approaching and not everyone yet contacted, we decided to invite them to our home for Purim, which came out on a Sunday that year. I started "cold-calling" by phone and sending out e-mails. After lots of wrong numbers, disconnects, and e-mails that went out never to return, I had a list of ten attendees, including yours truly. My wife and I went into high gear to make preparations.
But what would Purim be without dressing up? I thought the guys would get a kick out of dressing up in "Chasidic regalia" - a long black coat ("kapota") that Chasidim wear on Shabbos and other festive occasions. Purim morning arrived with only three kapotas in the closet. I went to shul, hoping to be able to drum up a few more. I mentioned my predicament to a friend who just happened to have a dozen previously-owned kapotas waiting for placement!
As neighbors and neighborhood children were happily walking around performing the Purim mitzva of giving shalach manot, gifts of food, to friends, I was just as happily walking down the street overloaded with kapotas. But hey, anything goes on Purim.
The guys began to arrive around 4 p.m., hailing from New Haven, Rochester, Princeton, and Metro New York. Some arrived with their wives and some without. It was remarkable how familiar everyone's voice had sounded on the telephone, but hairlines and midlines had changed considerably. Had I not done the inviting, I probably could not have greeted them each by name. There were a lot of handshakes and hugs and shmoozing and guessing "who's that?" from the faded class pictures from P.S. 18 or J.H.S. 109. We sat down to the festivities and distributed an assortment of hats, from very Chasidic to very camp.
The blessing "Shehecheyanu" is said when we read the Megila in the evening and on the day of Purim. Usually, it is said by the person reading the Megila and everyone else answers "Amen." But it can also be said upon seeing a dear friend after a long absence. Not having been together as a group in over 30 years, we all said "Shehecheyanu" aloud in unison. We laughed at how each person's gragger-shaking exactly fit his personality. At the festive Purim meal, we reminisced about teachers, Hebrew school and boyhood pranks. One of us handed out a list of numerical brainteasers (we had been more geek than jock). Another read a poem written for the occasion (predictably reminding everyone that he had taught me to tie my shoes). There was even some talk about "religion." Taking a cue from the Rebbe's public gatherings, we had telephone hook-ups with California and Colorado for two more friends who wished they could have been there.
The afternoon which stretched into the evening, included lots of l'chaims [toasts], good food, good cheer and corny jokes. Our youngest daughter and two of her friends put on an hilarious, original Purim play. We sang some Sixties songs and "Hineh Ma Tov-How good and how pleasant, brothers sitting all together."
Our Sages teach that joy breaks down barriers. That Purim, the barriers of time and distance disappeared. After dessert, I brought out the kapotas and led everyone to the adjoining porch. In the clear night air under the full moon, a minyan of kids turned middle-aged professionals turned kids again sang and danced to lively Chasidic melodies. The inner connections of friendship and shared youth were complemented by the encompassing connection of joy and mitzvot. Cameras flashed as our better halves tried to capture the memorable moment while we danced round and round, oblivious of everything but our overwhelming feelings of unity!
The rest, I don't quite remember. But, if you are reading this even a few days before Purim, there may be an old friend out there somewhere who would be very glad to be invited over. It doesn't even have to be your birthday.
TORAH TEEN RESORT
The highly successful Torah Teen Resort is for high school-age boys. The four-week summer program takes place in the scenic Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. TTR will run from July 2 - July 30. The program, sponsored by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, is for Jewish teens with little or no formal Jewish education. The TTR experience emphasizes personal growth and leadership skills and includes trips, sports, camping, workshops, hiking and learning. For more information call (718) 735-0200 or visit www.torahteen.tripod.com/
WHO WANTS A MILLION...
This year, as in the past, the 2,300 Chabad-Lubavitch Centers world-wide will be distributing shalach manot, traditional Purim food gifts. This means over 1,000,000 hamantashen, candies, and coins (to be given to charity) are being packaged and delivered to Jews from all walks of life, including those in hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons.
THE JEWISH PEOPLE NOT SUBJECT TO LAWS OF NATURE
Erev Rosh Chodesh
Adar 1, 5733 (1973)
To All Participants in the Annual Mid-Winter Convention of N'Shei Ubnos Chabad
Blessing and Greeting:
The Annual Mid-Winter convention is taking place in this Leap Year between the two Purims. This lends added significance to the role of the Jewish woman in Jewish life as it is reflected in the festival of Purim; while the Leap Year factor presents the conference with a special challenge.
It has been pointed out before that the Leap Year offers a basic general lesson to all of us. The additional month which characterizes our Leap Year makes up for the accumulated deficiency between the Lunar Year-the basis of our Hebrew Calendar-and the Solar Year, which determines the four seasons. For the Torah requires that our festivals occur in their due season (Pesach in the spring, etc.). Herein also lies the meaningful lesson that it is never too late too make up for a deficiency in the past. Moreover, as in the case of the added month of the Leap Year, which not only fully makes up for the past deficiency, but also makes an "advance" for the future, so it is not enough to merely make up for the past deficiency in terms of achievement for Torah and Yiddishkeit, but an extra effort is called for as an "advance" on future achievement.
As for Purim, one of its well-known and oft substantiated is that of the Jewish people, by virtue of being a people of the Torah, is not subject to the conditions and laws of Nature which govern the fate and destiny of other peoples. For, while the elements which gave rise to the Purim festival seem to have followed a "natural" course, the truth is that Purim came about in a supernatural way, by Divine intervention. This is why it is described as Ness-Purim, the miracle of Purim. And what brought about the Miracle of Purim was the fact that not a single Jew attempted to save his life, under Haman's threat of annihilation, by compromising Yiddishkeit [Judaism]. This could have been an easy way out, as our Sages tell us, since Haman's decree only applied to Jews as Jews. It is because of this extraordinary Mesirat Nefesh [self-sacrifice], reversing a previous attitude, that the miraculous reversal of events took place.
The woman's role in the miracle of Purim is pointedly emphasized by the fact that the Megilah [scroll] of Purim is named after Esther alone. It is an eternal credit to Jewish womanhood, for it is inconceivable that the whole Jewish people at that time could have maintained such a high level of Mesirat Nefesh for such a long time without the women's encouragement and inspiration.
I trust that the above points, which are so relevant and timely for this year's conference, will receive full expression at the convention in general, and in each and every participant in particular, to be carried further by each to her group and circle.
May this year's conference, and each participant in it, produce a real "advance" in terms of achievement, and may it be carried out in the spirit of Purim, with real and abundant joy, to help bring about for all Jews-in the words of Megilat Esther- "light, joy, gladness, and honor." With blessing for hatzlacha [success] and happy tidings
10 Adar II 5760
Prohibition 320: working on the Sabbath
By this prohibition we are forbidden to do any work on the Sabbath. It is contained in the Torah's words (Ex. 20:10): "On it you shall not do any manner of work." [The term "work" refers to the 39 specific categories of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat.]
The holiday of Purim (which we will celebrate this Monday night and Tuesday) is connected to three ideas: shleimut ha'am (the complete Jewish people); shleimut haTorah (the complete Torah); and shleimut ha'aretz (the complete Land of Israel).
The "complete Jewish people" means the recognition that we are one nation. Haman's decree was directed against all Jews, "from young to old, men, women and children." By coming together in true unity, Haman's evil decree was nullified.
The "complete Torah" means the whole Torah - every single part of it. In the Megilla, Mordechai is referred to as "Mordechai Hayehudi," "Mordechai the Jew." The term "Yehudi" implies the rejection of idol worship. When a Jew rejects idolatry, he is declaring that the entire Torah is true. In the days of Mordechai the Jewish people were called "Yehudim" because they clung to the totality of Torah, every single detail, without compromise.
The "complete Land of Israel" means that all of the Holy Land belongs to the Jewish people. The events of Purim occurred during the 70 years between the First and the Second Holy Temples. Although by that time work had already begun on the new Temple, it was interrupted by order of the Persian King. Mordechai knew that learning the laws connected to the Temple would nullify the decree to stop building. He gathered the Jewish children together and studied these laws, and his efforts were successful. The Temple was completed, and the Land of Israel was in Jewish hands.
As we celebrate the holiday of Purim, let us ponder the fact that all of the Holy Land was given to every single Jew by G-d Himself. We must therefore behave in a way that makes us worthy of the name "Yehudim," declaring the truth of our whole Torah, and remain strong in our faith in G-d. Doing so will win the respect of the nations and bring true peace, culminating in the Final Redemption with Moshiach, speedily in our day.
You shall burn no leaven-chametz, nor any honey, in any offering of the L-rd made by fire (Lev. 2:11)
"Leaven" is symbolic of the kind of person who is angry at the world. Morning or evening, Shabbat or a regular weekday, he is always sour - "chamutz," (from the same Hebrew root as chametz). "Honey," by contrast, alludes to a person who is affable by nature. No matter what happens, he remains buoyant. The Torah teaches, however, that a person must learn to control his emotions, even positive ones. For there are times when it is appropriate to be "leaven," and times when it is appropriate to be "honey." (Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch)
Purim is a Persian word meaning "lottery." It refers to Haman's lottery in chosing a date for the annihilation of the Jewish people, G-d forbid.Purim is the only Jewish holiday whose name is not in the holy tongue. That the name of this festival is in Persian teaches us that even in the darkest moments of exile, we must never surrender and we posess the strength to transform darkness into light. Further, that even in the face of a seemingly all-powerful tyrant, G-d is Almighty and will rescue us. (Time and Transcendence by Rabbi Fivish Dalfin)
When the Torah commands us to "Remember what Amalek did to you," you is in the singular form. From this we learn that Amalek, symbolic of the Evil Inclination, attacks a person who holds himself apart from the Jewish community. By contrast, a person who is active in communal affairs and identifies with his brethren will be impervious to Amalek's assault. (Shmuot VeSipurim)
The numerical equivalent of Amalek is 240, the same as the Hebrew word "safeik," meaning doubt. Amalek dampens a Jew's enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot by injecting doubt about matters of holiness. There is no "cure" for Amalek's "coldness"; the only way to deal with him is by crushing him completely. This is why it is a mitzva to "erase" Amalek, rather than engaging him in arguments. (Sefer HaMaamarim Kuntreisim)
There was once a city in Tunisia with a large Jewish population. One year, a few months before Purim, the price of fish suddenly skyrocketed. The problem wasn't a scarcity of fish; the rivers swarmed with them. Rather, the trouble was that the government-appointed head of the fishing industry had arbitrarily decided to hike the prices.
His reasoning was simple: Knowing how important it was for Jews to eat fish on the Sabbath and holidays, he figured that they would pay any price for the commodity. And indeed he was right. Most of the Jews sighed as they dug a little deeper into their pockets. But for the poor, it was a delicacy that was completely beyond reach.
When the month of Adar (whose celestial sign is fish) arrived, the poor Jews went to their Rabbi to complain. It wasn't fair that they would be unable to buy fish for Purim. The elderly Rabbi was a venerated Kabbalist, who was also the mohel of the community.
The poor Jews' grievance touched the old man's heart, and he promised to help them. That night, the candle in the Rabbi's study shone till dawn. He was very busy consulting his holy books.
Early the next morning the Rabbi summoned his attendant. Handing him a small slip of folded parchment he said, "I have an important mission for you, but it must be kept secret. Go to the river now, before any of the fishermen arrive. When you are sure that no one is watching, throw this parchment into the water." The attendant did as he was told.
That day began as usual on the waterfront as the fishermen cast their rods and spread their nets. But as morning turned into afternoon their faces fell. Not one fisherman had had even a nibble. Their nets were completely empty.
At first the fishermen assumed that for some reason, the fish were avoiding the coastline. But when the fishing boats returned from the deeper waters and reported that they too had had no luck, they realized that something was amiss. "Oh well," they consoled each other, "it was just a bad day for fishing."
But the next day the same thing happened, and the day after that. It was very strange how all the fish seemed to have simply disappeared.
Of all the people in the city the governor, who loved to eat fish, was particularly affected by the shortage. In the very beginning he instructed his servants to prepare dishes of smoked and dried fish, but eventually his supply was depleted. "Why are there no fresh fish?!" he demanded one day. "There simply aren't any," the servants explained. The governor decided to go down to the river to see for himself.
At the governor's command the fishing boats set sail, and nets were spread up and down the length of the river. But no one caught even one specimen. The whole day's efforts were wasted.
At that point the governor gathered all the fishermen together and asked them for an explanation. "Esteemed governor," a short little fisherman piped up, "I'm not certain that the two are related, but on the same morning the fish disappeared, I noticed a Jew throwing something into the water. He was very careful to make sure that no one was looking. From that day on we haven't seen even one fish."
The finger of suspicion was clearly pointed at the Jews. The governor announced that if the fish didn't return within one week, a heavy tax would be imposed on the Jewish community.
The Jews were distraught at the libelous accusation, and their leaders declared a day of fasting and prayer. The entire community assembled in the synagogue and implored G-d to have mercy on their innocent souls.
Suddenly, the elderly Rabbi stood up to speak. "My brothers," he said, "the governor is right. We are the reason that there are no fish. But an evil decree has not befallen us; on the contrary, it is G-d Who is fighting our battle. When the price of fish was unfairly raised beyond the ability of the poor, I prayed to G-d to make the fish disappear."
The people were shocked. No one could believe that such a thing had happened. But the elderly Rabbi encouraged them to keep on praying. "Don't worry," he reassured them. "I will go now to meet with the governor."
The Rabbi went to the royal residence and was granted an audience. He explained to the governor why the fish had vanished. "If our esteemed governor will promise that the price of fish will go down, I will make sure that they return to our waters."
The governor was astounded by the story, and amazed at the power of the holy Rabbi. On the spot he promised to appoint someone else as head of the fishing industry. The Rabbi smiled, and invited the governor to go with him to the riverbank. At the Rabbi's command the fishermen spread their nets. They were quickly filled with fish of all varieties, shapes and colors.
That Purim, "there was light and joy to the Jews, and gladness and honor." And of course, lots of fish on their tables.
Purim was a breakthrough in exile. After the great miracles celebrated during this festival, the Persian ruler granted us permission to rebuild the Second Holy Temple. We commemorate this freedom by serving G-d with unparalleled joy. During this preiod, the entire Jewish nation prays that the celebration of Purim will mark the beginning of the rebuilding of the Thrid Holy Temple. (Talmud Yerushalmi Megila)