Torah for the Times  

Friday, April 26 - Iyar 16, 5773 

Torah Reading: Emor (Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23)
Candle Lighting Time: 7:29 PM

Shabbat ends: 8:33 PM  


Double Talk 

Purim in the Spring

Torah, as Divine wisdom, defies the limits of time, space and personality. A non-kohain can study the laws of the Paschal offering in the present day and age, in the Diaspora, and in so doing, have the same spiritual effect as though a kohain had actually sacrificed the animal in the Beis Hamikdash-Holy Temple on the eve of Passover. To perform the ritual properly one must be a kohain, before Passover and in the Beis Hamikdash.  When it comes to Torah study, however, these requirements of time, space and personality are irrelevant.

Based on the premise that “as if” can take the place of “it is”, this week we celebrate every single Jewish Holiday. Parshas Emor contains within it the laws of Shabbos, Passover, counting the Omer, Shavuos, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Even the rabbinic Holiday of Chanukah is hinted at in the discussion of lighting of the Menorah which follows Emor’s section on Festivals. This week we can “plug into” or “download” all of the spiritual energies of these Holidays!

One important Holiday appears to be missing, though, the holiday of Purim.

However, our Sages have shown us a connection to Purim in the very beginning of the Parsha, where it introduces the laws that pertain to the kohain. The verse commences with the following statement: “G‑d said to Moses, Say (Emor) to the priests, Aaron’s sons, and say (v’Amarta) to them…”

Our Sages were intrigued by the repetition of the word “say” in this verse. In their attempt to find an explanation, they cited a parallel repetition of this word in the Book of Esther, which discusses the miracle of Purim.

The Midrash cites the verse in Esther (7:5): “King Achashveirosh said and he said to Queen Esther…”  Here, too, the Midrash asks why the repetition of the word “said?”

The Midrash cites the interpretation of Rebbi: “Before he knew that she was Jewish he spoke to her through an interpreter. Once he discovered that she was Jewish he began to communicate with her [directly].”

There are two ways that people communicate: directly and indirectly. When we speak directly to an individual it is an indication that we are on the same wave-length. When a translator or interpreter is necessary it is an indication that a gulf exists between the two individuals who are trying to communicate.

Based on this premise, the question can be asked why Achashveirosh began to communicate to Queen Esther directly only after he discovered that she was Jewish? Achashveirosh was not exactly a paragon of virtue. He also harbored no love for the Jewish people as was evidenced by the fact that he was so eager to grant Haman the license to annihilate all the Jews that he even refused payment for the license.

What suddenly occurred to him and changed his attitude towards the Jewish nation?

Furthermore, why would he not speak directly to his queen before her disclosure?

You can Run but You Cannot Hide

When a Jew tries to hide his or her Jewishness, the non-Jew senses that there is something amiss. A Jew who is a product of exile conditions is a walking contradiction. On the outside he or she is like everyone else, but on the inside he or she is a Jew, a spiritual entity that does not belong in an unholy place. The non-Jew senses the discrepancy and is unnerved by it. Is the Jew trying to deceive me? Much of anti-Semitism can be explained by the fear that outsiders have of a Jew whose identity is thus blurred. Achashveirosh was no exception to this rule. He sensed contradiction and tension and could not communicate directly.

Only after Esther shed her façade and fully revealed her Jewish identity did he feel comfortable communicating directly to her.

The question arises, though, as to why we do not feel ourselves conflicted when we live a dual life?

The Dream

The answer can be found in the word for exile, Galus.  Galus has been likened to a dream, a state of mind that allows opposites to coexist. The dreamer neither feels the conflict nor is even aware of the contradiction. An outsider granted the ability to watch another’s dreams would be baffled at the inconsistencies that he would observe.

This lesson appears in the Midrash on parshas Emor, the parsha that focuses on the chosen and exalted role of the kohain. In truth, every Jew is a kohain; a member of the Chosen People. The Torah establishes this in the Book of Exodus during the run up to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: “And you shall be for me a nation of priests and a holy nation.”

When we know who we are and where we belong–namely being close to G‑d in the land of Israel – t hen the King Achashveiroshes of the world seek to communicate with us directly. To them it is the greatest honor to speak directly to a member of a priestly class and of a Divinely Chosen people. It is only when they feel that the Jew hides his true identity and denies his or her chosen status, that they feel comfortable in delegitimizing us as well. Then they speak to us “indirectly” because they are distrustful of the Jew who is not honest about his or her identity. 

Achashveirosh and Queen Esther: The Metaphor

On a deeper level, the reference to King Achashveirosh and Queen Esther is a metaphor for G‑d and the Jewish nation, respectively. The Midrash takes the name Achashveirosh and dissects it into three words, “Achris v’reishis shelo-The end and the beginning are His,” and applies it to G‑d.

G‑d also has two ways of communicating with us.

In times of exile, he speaks to us through an “interpreter.” We do not receive direct commands from Him, but we must find Him hidden in nature and in Divine Providence.

The Book of Esther is a perfect example of this phenomenon. During the time of Purim, G‑d was hidden and the miracle of Purim occurred within the confines of nature. The entire Purim saga occurred when the Jewish people began to lose their own Jewish pride by participating in a lengthy, orgiastic celebration and feast designed to humiliate the Jewish people. As our Sages teach, Achashveirosh threw this huge party when he felt confident that the Jewish hope for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash had been dashed.  When we lack self-respect, G‑d too uses indirect means to communicate with us. The Jewish community was shrouded in misery and confusion in the days of Esther.

However, when a Jew demonstrates his or her chosen-ness, and feels his or her priestly status, G‑d (King Achashveirosh) speaks to us directly. We see miracles and we have an open relationship with Him.  When Queen Esther finally divulged her true identity, the Heavenly King (just as the human monarch Achashveirosh) changed His whole attitude towards the Jewish people.

The Mes-Mitzvah

At this point we must try to understand how the two modes of communication—direct and indirect—relate to the subject matter of the two expressions of speech in this week’s parsha: “G‑d said to Moses, Say to the priests, Aaron’s sons, and say to them…”

According to the Midrash the “first [reference to saying] refers to how a kohain should defile himself to bury a mes-mitzvah [a person who has no relatives who can bury him]; whereas the second [mention of saying] concerns all others for whom the kohain may not defile himself, [with the exception of close relatives enumerated in the parsha].“

In the first instance of indirect communication, i.e., in times of galus when a Jew is ignorant of his or her identity, the Jew acquires the sad title of a mes-mitzvah. According to the Zohar, the term mes, which means dead, refers to one who has fallen from his or her spiritual level. It is a reference to a Jew who is haplessly and hopelessly a victim of galus obfuscation. In these circumstances we must put aside all of our spiritual activities to deal with this individual.

However, the status of mes-mitzvah is restricted to the time when the King does not recognize our Jewishness because we, as a people, are in the grip of the galus mindset.

The second reference to “saying” in the verse parallels the second “saying” in the Book of Esther, i.e., promising a time when G‑d will speak directly to the Jewish people because they are no longer hiding their identity. When galus is no longer a factor, the phenomenon of mes-mitzvah will disappear. This second “say to them” refers to the time of Geulah-Redemption, when death will cease, at first in the spiritual realm and then also, literally, in the physical realm.

The Twin Approach

As we stand on the causeway that links us to the future period of Geulah-Redemption, we are witness to two related phenomena: On the one hand there are many Jews who —due to no fault of their own— are slumbering in a state of mes-mitzvah. They are the casualties of galus and we must do our part to save them from being lost to the Jewish people. On the other hand, our generation has been exposed to unprecedented miracles, where G‑d’s “hand” is clearly visible, and we have begun to see G‑d communicating to us directly.

Accordingly, we have a dual responsibility. While we cannot forget those whose Jewish identities are suppressed, we must also recognize, focus on and celebrate the new revelations of G‑dliness in the world. We must, as the Rebbe exhorted us, “open our eyes” to the new realities and share this with those whose vision is still clouded by galus lenses. Indeed, the best way of getting someone out of galus is to awaken him or her to the incredibly positive phenomena we can already experience. This is a sure way to getting rid of the remaining vestiges of negativity in the world.


 Moshiach Matters 

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 11:3) says that the future Redeemer will be revealed, then concealed, then revealed again. This is quoted by the Chatam Sofer on the Torah at the end of the Torah portion of Exodus. He writes: "This is a great test that the Redeemer [Moshe] is concealed...and so it will be at the time of our righteous Moshiach; he will be concealed after his revelation, as mentioned in the Midrash."

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