Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dvar Torah for Purim- 5776

       Once again, the holiday of Purim is upon us. Over the years, we have discussed the mitzvos of the day and the ideas we are supposed to focus on as the message of the day. This year, we will emphasize a different aspect of Purim.
       When Hashem offered the Torah to Bnei Yisrael, He held Har Sinai over their heads and declared, “If you don’t accept the Torah, I will destroy you and the entire world!” Since without Bnei Yisrael accepting the Torah, there was no purpose to creation.[1] The Gemarah in Shabbos (88a) asks that according to this, the Bnei Yisrael never truly accepted the Torah, they only accepted it in order not to be killed! The gemarah answers that even if they hadn’t fully accepted the Torah at that point, they accepted it by the miracle of Purim.[2]
       There is a famous medrash that explains that while the spectacle of Har Sinai was enough to convince the Jews of the authenticity of the Written Torah as it came directly from the ‘mouth’ of Hashem, they still had doubts of the Oral Torah. How could it be that mere man could know the will of God so clearly that he can determine His will in order to establish eternal law! However, by Purim, the Jews were finally completely convinced of the legitimacy of the Oral Torah and the ability of Chazal to know its true intentions.
       But how did Purim solidify this belief? After all the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim, Krias Yam Suf, Matan Torah, the Manna, all the different miracles in the desert and throughout the hundreds of years of history, the Bnei Yisrael still were not convinced until the miracle of Purim! The miracles in the desert are the biggest examples of revelations of Hashem in this world; what is so special about what happened on Purim that it was able to change the minds of the nation?
       Let us examine the foundation of the two sections of the Torah. The entire Written Torah was given to Moshe straight from Hashem. Because of its godly origins, there are parts of it that we can’t understand the process behind it.[3] We accept that since we know it’s impossible to completely understand the intentions of Hashem. The Oral Torah is derived from the Written Torah using thirteen methods that were also given to Moshe at Har Sinai. By using these methods, Chazal were able to determine the complete extent of the laws mentioned in the Torah, as well as determine new laws on their own.
       All the miracles that were done for Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim and in the desert were clearly supernatural; the only explanation for how they happened was that Hashem intervened in nature and made a miracle. Seeing this tremendous power and control over the world, the Bnei Yisrael knew that they should accept the Torah given to them by Hashem even if they couldn’t understand the origins or purposes of the various laws.
       But after seeing the extent of Hashem’s power, it became even harder for them to accept the Oral Torah. You’re telling me that a human being could reach the same understanding as a God who could split the sea and determine what He meant in His complex and incorporeal Torah? Impossible! So, while they accepted the Oral Torah at Har Sinai, and performed the laws of the Rabbis, there was still a part of them that didn’t understand how it was possible.
       The story of Purim changed all that. One of the biggest exclusions in the Megillah is that Hashem’s name is not mentioned once. But if you examine the entire plot line of the Purim story, it does not appear to need Hashem’s intervention at all. Everything seems to work its way out by coincidence. Esther becomes queen because Vashti was killed. Haman wanted to kill the Jews because Mordechai refused to bow to him. So Esther and Mordechai devised a plan to turn Achashverosh against Haman, and were able to save the Jews that way.
       But the only reason Vashti was killed was because Haman suggested it as punishment! And even though Achashverosh ended up regretting killing Vashti, he made Haman Prime Minister anyway. Esther was picked as queen from thousands of contestants. Mordechai was trusted by the king because he happened to overhear an assassination plot and report. And even though you would think Achashverosh would have learned his lesson about killing people in a moment of anger, he did it again when he agreed to kill Haman! So many coincidences happening all at once.
       This is one of the main ideas of Purim. We see that Hashem does not only act with open miracles, but with natural events as well. But the truth is these events all placed together are a miracle as well. We understand and recognize that all of these ‘coincidences’ may be natural events, but they were orchestrated by Hashem.
       Now we can understand how Purim caused Bnei Yisrael to fully accept upon themselves the Oral Torah. After reviewing all the events that led up to the Purim salvation, Bnei Yisrael realized that Hashem does not always have to split the sea in order to show his control over the world, He can use normal, everyday events as well. And even though they were coordinated by Hashem, these events are easily understood on all levels by human beings.
       Similarly, the Oral Torah may be built on the thoughts of man, but the entire foundation is built on the word of Hashem and is derived entirely from His intentions. After seeing this, קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלֻ הַיְּהוּדִים”, we fully accepted upon ourselves the entire Torah, giving us another great reason to celebrate Purim. Let us continue to follow in our ancestor’s footsteps, and make today a time when we also accept upon ourselves the Oral Torah. This can be done through the study of the Oral Torah, recognition of rabbinic mitzvos while we are performing them (like washing our hands when we wake up and before we eat), and recognition of the greatness of our Rabbis. Even easier, we can do it through the complete and proper celebration of Purim, a rabbinic holiday!

Purim Sameach!

[1] See my book, Reality Check, for a complete explanation of this episode.
[2] Based on the phrase, “קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלֻ הַיְּהוּדִים” “The Jews ordained and accepted upon themselves,” in Esther 9:27.
[3] For example, the mitzvah of Parah Adumah.

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