Torah Fax    

Thursday - Sunday February 25 - 28

Correction: the Fast of Esther ends this evening at 6:17 PM. Megillah is only read on Motzaei Shabbat and Sunday, 2/27 & 2/28. For the full Purim schedule, click here.

Mattanot LaEvyonim:

Torah Reading:  Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)
Candle Lighting Time 5:25 PM
Shabbat ends 6:26 PM

Holy Chutzpah

“You shall make a head-plate of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it, engraved like a signet ring, ‘Holy to G‑d.’ ”

This head-plate was one of the eight garments worn by the High Priest, which included a breastplate, which served as an oracle that communicated G‑d’s messages to the Jewish people. Yet, only the head-plate had the words “Holy to G‑d” etched in it. Why not the breastplate or any of the other garments?

Ktav Sofer offers the following explanation based on the Talmudic premise that the garments of the High Priest served as atonement for various sins of the Jewish people. For example, the breastplate – called the Choshen MIshpat, the breastplate of judgment - atoned for the sin of perverted justice. The tzitz-head-plate was worn by the High Priest to atone for the specific sin of azut panim — hubris or brazenness.

This premise that brazenness is regarded as a significant sin that required the wearing of the head-plate by the High Priest is problematic. After all, Judaism sanctions assertiveness and boldness. The very same term in Hebrew azut is used by our Sages to describe the ideal mode of behavior for a Jew:

In Ethics of the Fathers we are taught: Yehudah ben Teima says, “Be bold (az) as a leopard when fulfilling the will of your Father in heaven.” Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch, the authoritative Code of Jewish Law, begins with this citation underscoring its importance. One’s introduction to Jewish observance is the realization that one must be assertive and bold to overcome all obstacles. How do we reconcile this with the fact that the head-plate worn by the High Priest was intended as a form of atonement for the sins of boldness and brazenness?

The answer is quite obvious. Brazenness in and of itself is not a vice. It depends on what one is assertive about. If one’s brazenness and hubris involves one’s own personal life and interpersonal relationships it is not a virtue at all. On the contrary; it can be terribly destructive. On the other hand, when it is directed to the fulfillment of G‑d’s will - standing up for one’s convictions and not being deterred by any opposition—then it is a virtue.

Thus, the head-plate had the words “Holy to G‑d,” engraved on it to underscore that the head-plate that symbolized brazenness was indeed a virtue when it was used for G‑dly purposes.

One could still return to the original question: Why did the breastplate—which atoned for perversion of justice—not have the same words “Holy to G‑d” etched on it to indicate that justice too must be consecrated to G‑d and not be based on human reasoning alone? Justice can be based on either G‑dly principles enunciated by the Torah or on secular man-made principles. Wouldn’t it have been appropriate then to underscore here too that justice is only a virtue when it is directed to and by G‑d?

The answer is that justice when it is meted out based on human reasoning and secular considerations is not necessarily the antitheses of G‑dly judgment. And while the ideal for any society is to base its moral code on G‑d given laws, nevertheless, a society that uses rational thought to prevent theft and murder is certainly preferable to one in which anarchy reigns.  The antithesis of G‑dly judgment is outright deception and the perversion of justice. Some justice is certainly better than no justice.

With respect to boldness and brazenness, however, there is no middle ground. Brazenness is justified only when it is used to maintain one’s loyalty to G‑d and to uphold one’s convictions and principles. Brazenness for anything else is absolutely one of the worst possible traits one can possess. It is not simply a trait that falls short of the ideal. Indeed, it is the trait that our Sages associated with the arch evil nation and perennial enemy called Amalek, whom we are required to remember. Indeed, this Shabbat there is a Biblical obligation to read a section of the Torah, known as Zachor, that speaks of the need to remember Amalek.

When G‑d took the Jews out of Egypt in the most miraculous fashion it instilled the feeling of respect, awe and fear in the other nations. Nobody would dare to start up with them; nobody except Amalek. Amalek knew that it would be defeated, but wanted to cool off the fear that others had for the Jewish nation. This represented unprecedented chutzpah. And it is this trait that we are required to uproot.

We can now understand the words of our Sages cited above “Be bold (az) as a leopard when fulfilling the will of your Father in heaven.” These words are followed by the statement of the same author: “One who is brazen is destined to go to Gehinnom (the Hebrew for hell).” How do we reconcile the two apparently contradictory statements in the very same paragraph about brazenness?

In light of the above analysis it is clear that the two statements complement each other. The trait of brazenness is a positive trait only when it is to “fulfill the will of Your Father in heaven.” Any other use of it takes us down the slippery slope to a world of destruction.

 With the above premise we can also shed light on a puzzling statement in the Talmud about the upcoming Holiday of Purim:

“One is obligated to drink on Purim until they no longer know the difference between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai.” Certainly our Sages did not intend that we bless one of the vilest men in history and curse the saintly hero of the Purim saga. Commentators have supplied numerous interpretations to these enigmatic words.

In light of the above, we can add another insight into those words. The obligation to rejoice on Purim is compete only when we know that there is a clear distinction between the chutzpah associated with Haman—the descendant of and heir to Amalek—and the Jewish pride exhibited by Mordechai who refused to bow down to Haman. Both men were brazen. Both had chutzpah. Mordechai’s was a blessed form of chutzpah; Haman’s was a cursed and totally objectionable form of chutzpah. And there is no middle ground. Either we use our Chutzpah for the repudiation of evil and the affirmation of our Judaism, or dispose of it entirely. There is no room for hubris in our interpersonal relationships and the way we live our mundane lives and yet, when it comes to the service of G‑d and the pursuit of our spiritual goals, we cannot be without some strength and hubris.

Purim occurred when the Jews were in Exile. Exile is a state of mind in which we possess all the traits that we have in good times; we just don’t use them the right way. Either they are unbalanced or used for the wrong things. Exile conditions could cause us to “fall asleep” or to be so “”intoxicated” with our problems that we lose our ability to stand up to our enemies and we will exhibit a lack of pride in our Jewish heritage.

In a slightly different yet negative vein, we can be so intoxicated with the joy of experience in the Purim festivities that can cause us to lose our inhibitions and display arrogance and chutzpah towards others.

The Talmud therefore admonishes us to realize that no matter how much we drink, i.e. no matter how we are intoxicated by the sorrow of exile or the joy of Purim, we must know that there is no “between” cursed is Haman and blessed be Mordecahi. The only Chutzpah that is warranted is the type demonstrated by Mordechai; any other form must be rejected as being as cursed as Haman.

As we stand on the last legs of exile, on the road to Redemption, it is crucial that we “Bless Mordechai”, i.e., employ chutzpah in defying the forces that try to stifle our Jewishness, and “curse Haman” by repudiating the chutzpah that is associated with evil. This will lead to the fulfillment of the words of the Megillah: “And the Jews had light, gladness, joy and glory,” with the imminent coming of Moshiach.

Moshiach Matters  

"The final redeemer is just like the first redeemer (Moses). Just as the first redeemer revealed himself and then was temporarily concealed (after Moses’ first discussions with Pharaoh, Moses left Egypt for 6 months before he returned and brought about the 10 plagues) so too will Moshiach be temporarily concealed from the Jewish people before he brings about the final redemption." (BaMidbar Rabbah 11:2)

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