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Shabbat Parashat Tzav| 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: The Hidden Power in the Purim Story

Rav Daniel Mann

So much having to do with Purim seems to be hidden, from the absence of Hashem’s name in the Megilla, to the true identity of the costumed children, to the very name of Esther, which in Hebrew comes from the root for hidden. Part of the behind-the-scenes intrigue is the struggle of Haman and Mordechai. While one could have claimed (Heaven forbid, on our side) that it was about overly proud individuals, it was actually their generation’s continuation of the historical struggle between ancient nations.

Haman, in planning to destroy the Jews, looked for Bnei Yisrael’s “Achilles’ heel.” He was happy when the lot showed that the time to fight the Jews was in the month of Adar, during which Moshe died. Chazal (Megilla 13b) tell us that it was actually a good time because Moshe both died and was born on the 7th of Adar. My rosh yeshiva, Rav Chayim Yaakov Goldwicht (who died on the 7th of Adar, 15 years ago) picks up on the implication that not just Moshe’s birth made Adar positive but even his death was part of the month’s positive element. How could this be?

He starts his answer with some background. The gemara (Shabbat 88a) says that Hashem coerced Bnei Yisrael to accept the Torah but that they willingly renewed their acceptance at the time of Achashveirosh. The midrash (Tanchuma, Noach 3) says that “we shall do and hear” was said willingly regarding the Written Torah, and the initial reluctance was regarding the more difficult Oral Law. The difficulty of the Oral Law is felt strongly at the time of one’s teacher’s death, when unanswered questions fall upon students who may feel insecure. The midrash (Bamidar Rabba 14:4) attributes the pasuk that calls the words of the wise “nails that are planted” to this time of the rabbi’s death, as the students know they have to internalize what they learned. Indeed, at the time of Moshe’s death, many Torah ideas were initially lost but were pieced together by the brilliance and hard work of Otniel ben K’naz. Thus, Moshe’s death was, at once, a tragedy but, on the other hand, was the impetus for the next generation of scholars to assume their role in the chain of tradition.

Moshe, Rav Goldwicht explains, is described as the sun, representing the immense power of the Written Torah, while Yehoshua, his prized disciple, represented the moon (Bava Batra 75a). The latter’s job was to reflect Moshe’s light, in the tradition of the Oral Law. Thus, the time of Moshe’s death was a good time for Bnei Yisrael to display their power of Oral Law, as Moshe’s death prepared them for the rededication to that element of the Torah at the time of Purim.

We can point out that the moon’s reflection of the sun’s light is only significant when the sun has passed on to another place. Even as the sun is then blocked from view, it continues to give light through the moon. As we pointed out, Purim is the holiday of hidden things, including the invisible hand of our ultimate Master, whose light is hidden throughout the story but is recognized only by those who know to discern it.

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