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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa 5777

Parashat Hashavua: Momentum Changer

Rav Daniel Mann

Purim, with its central mitzva of reading Megillat Esther, finds us in the midst of our preparations to read Parashat Ki Tisa. This prompts me to look for overlapping themes.

I have always been fascinated by the Jewish people’s change in fortune with Mordechai and Esther’s ascendance to prominence and the fall of Haman. Despite Achashveirosh’s sudden good will toward the Jews, he presented Mordechai and Esther with a frightening refusal. He claimed that he was incapable of rescinding his/Haman’s orders to have the Jews killed. He just allowed them to write new letters – that do not contradict the first ones (see Malbim, Esther 8:8). The letter that Mordechai sent simply allowed the Jews to actively defend themselves. It did not even command local officials to side with them (Esther 8:11), as indeed they had been told previously to take part in the murder. Why should we think that the Jews would have the upper hand in the fighting that transpired?

A similar question can be raised regarding our parasha. The sinners of the golden calf were not only involved in theological sins but in murder as well (see Rashi, Shemot 32:6). Although Moshe returned and opposed their actions, we see that several times in the desert groups stood up to Moshe’s leadership very strongly. This should be all the more so when Moshe decreed that the sinners were liable to be executed. Why didn’t the sinners fight and perhaps defeat or at least kill many Leviim, who took up Moshe’s call?

These questions can be answered together, both on a practical, natural level and on a more spiritual level. Each approach in each case can be summed up in one word – momentum. In Esther’s times, the enemies of the Jews felt empowered, and at first they were. They had governmental support. The Jews were not able to organize themselves to defend themselves and certainly would not have been aided by the government in their efforts. Under Aharon’s guard, the sinners were swarming. They killed Chur and other key people were too afraid to defy them. When Mordechai and Moshe, respectively, appeared and exerted their authority, the defensively-minded and defenseless-feeling suddenly felt that they could succeed. They had leadership; they developed a “swagger.” Their enemies’ leadership buckled with the lost feeling of immunity and lost their momentum.

On a spiritual level, there seems to be a similar concept of momentum, taught to us by an unlikely source – Zeresh the wife of Haman, whose thesis appears to be confirmed by the Megilla. “If Mordechai is from the offspring of the Jews, once you have begun to fall before him, you will not be able to stop him” (Esther 6:13). There are watershed moments in our history. There was a decree of hardship upon us. We repented, and the Divine grace returned to our side. At those points, it emerged that our efforts would be successful.

What is difficult to know is when and how far this idea of spiritual momentum will carry us. Bar Kochva, after all, was successful – for a while. The Hasmoneans were successful, but only to an extent, and their success also waned over time. Being able to predict the extent and staying power of the historical momentum of Divine Assistance is also something that requires Divine Assistance.

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