This week, the Maftir we read is Parshat Zachor, which is the second of the four special Parshiot we read prior to Purim and Pesach. This Torah reading is a Biblical obligation to listen to, unlike the regular Torah reading, which is only rabbinic in nature.
The Torah teaches us in this Parsha that Amalek “killed among you all the weaklings at your rear” (Devarim 25:18). Who were these “weak” people, who were the only ones Amalek was apparently able to kill? Rav Dovid Feinstein (SHLIT”A) explains that they were those who did not have enough merit to be saved. Amalek knew that they could succeed only against these spiritual weaklings. It was their hope, however, that by attacking these people, they would cause the rest of the nation to question the presence of Hashem in this world, thereby spiritually weakening the nation. It is this spiritual weakness that the Torah in Parshat Zachor warns Bnei Yisrael to avoid: “Do not forget,” it instructs, “what their evil design was. Be aware of their plans and guard against them.”
Rav Dovid also explains that the word Tishkach (in 25:19), forget, is a contraction of the words “Tash Koach,” weakened strength. The Torah commands us, “Lo Tishkach” – do not allow your spiritual strength to weaken; remain strong and Hashem will be with you.
What did the Jewish people do wrong to deserve Amaklek’s attack? Tosafot in Masechet Kiddushin (33b s.v. Ve’Eima) quotes a Midrash that states, “The Jewish people were not honest with their weights and measures, so as a punishment for this dishonest behavior, Amalek attacked. This is shown by the Torah’s writing about keeping honest weights and measures (25:13-16) immediately before writing, ‘Remember what Amalek did to you’ (25:17).”
Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L, in his Sefer Bastion of Faith, poses several questions on the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did. First, we do not know today who Amalek is. Second, even if we did know, we would still be powerless to do anything about it, as any action on our part would jeopardize the survival of the Jewish people. Third, this commandment seems contrary to the rest of the teachings of the Torah, particularly the commandment not to bear a grudge. How, then, can we understand and fulfill this Mitzvah?
Rav Moshe answers that this Mitzvah is intended to produce internal changes rather than external results. We are therefore called to always be on the alert, never becoming too confident of our righteousness. The Mitzvah is thus actually to kill, i.e. to destroy, the Yetzer Hara, which resides in each and every one of us.
May we learn the message of this Biblical commandment – to have no doubts about the existence of Hashem in our daily lives, to be honest in our dealings, and to try to annihilate the evil which each of us has in his heart and mind. May we merit seeing the completion of the throne of Hashem when Amalek is destroyed (see Shemot 17:16) and the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
The Fair Garb
by Kevin Beckoff
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh, Bnei Yisrael are commanded to make a breastplate for the Kohen Gadol to wear as part of his priestly garb. The Torah presents a very strange title for this breastplate: “Choshen Mishpat,” a “breastplate of justice” (28:15). The Chachamim comment in Gemara Zevachim (88b) that the reason for this conglomerated title is that the breastplate was intended to atone for the “miscarriage of justice.”
In defining what this ambiguous sin is, the Akeidat Yitzchak presents four fundamental factors that can corrupt justice and how the breastplate directly compensated for and related to them. He posits that the first item is favoritism. Favoritism is usually evoked for someone of great wealth or erudition and is to be avoided as the Torah states (Devarim 1:17), “Do not show favoritism in judgment.” By arranging the names of the tribes in order of birth, and not importance, the breastplate served as a Tikkun, a correction and preventative measure, for the problem of favoritism in legal disputes. The second item, opines the Akeidat Yitzchak, is the judge’s disparagement of the case as being too petty a (financial) dispute to bother wasting his time judging it. The Torah undoubtedly forbids such an attitude when it states (Devarim 1:17), “You shall consider the small matter just as the great matter.” Because all the stones placed in the breastplate were of equal importance despite their true monetary value, the breastplate again served as a Tikkun. Quite the opposite of the case of a judge’s condescension is the third scenario, whereby a judge is frightened of one of the litigants; this fear is also forbidden expressly by the Torah. To alert the judges to “have no fear” from any being other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the sacred name of Hashem is engraved in the breastplate. Finally, the fourth “miscarriage” is error due to lack of knowledge. As such, the breastplate had within it the Urim VeTumim, a direct medium of communication with Hashem for receiving definitive answers to the most difficult questions.
Nowadays, with the absence of such constant reminders, the challenge to pursue proper justice is even more daunting. It is important to not despair, but rather to realize what the Choshen Mishpat represented and to chase those great ideals of fairness. --Adapted from Talelei Oros
It’s Not a Coincidence
by Zack Fagan
Why is Parshat Zachor always read on the Shabbat prior to Purim? The Mishnah Berurah (O.C 685:1:1, citing the Gemara) states that this is because Parshat Zachor reminds us to wipe out Amalek, and Haman of the Purim story was related to Amalek. The connection, then, is that Haman, a later descendant of Amalek, was wiped out, just as we are commanded to wipe out the entire nation. This is a fine answer, but nonetheless, we may perhaps find another explanation.
Rashi (on Devarim 25:17) comments that Amalek represents “Mikreh,” coincidence (as hinted to by the word “Karecha” in that Pasuk). Amalek denies the existence of Hashem and his role in coordinating the happenings of the world, claiming that all that occurs is merely coincidental.
Rav Avrohom Gordimer explains that the major theme of Purim is the exact opposite of this – the recognition that God controls everything, even though we may not perceive His hand in what happens. Purim demonstrates how Hashem’s Hashgachah, providence, operates even in a world without open miracles. Even though the occurrences in the Purim story appear to be normal and natural, Hashem’s hand is really behind every event that transpires.
Amalek claims that things happen completely due to fate and chance. The Purim story counters this belief: in truth, everything that happens, whether Hashem’s hand in the matter can be seen or not, is all part of His well-designed plan. That, Rav Gordimer suggests, is yet another connection between Parshat Zachor and Purim.
Staying in Focus
by Chaim Strassman
In Parshat Tetzaveh, we see the continuation of Hashem’s command to build things for the Mishkan, particularly the Kohein’s garments. However, in relating to Moshe how the garments should be made, Hashem calls Bezalel and his workers “Chachmei Leiv,” “wise hearted” (28:3). In last week’s Parsha, Hashem did not refer to the workers as wise-hearted. He only said “you do this” or “they should build that.” Why now, in relation to the Kohein’s garments, does Hashem refer to the workers as wise-hearted?
To understand the answer, we must first understand what the Kohein’s garments were. On the head-plate (the Tzitz), the words “holy to Hashem” were inscribed. On the breastplate, the 72-letter Name of Hashem was printed. When the Kohein Gadol wore the Urim VeTumim, he had special Ruach HaKodesh, and the Shechinah rested upon him. These characteristics made the holiness of the Kohein Gadol’s garments equal to, if not greater than, the holiness of the Mishkan.
That being said, Hashem did not mean that the workers were wise-hearted (though he was not implying that they were not either). Hashem was sending out a warning. Although many important things had already been built (e.g. the Menorah, the Shulchan, the Aron), the workers were cautioned not to lose the proper mindset. Some of the holiest items for the Mishkan were about to be made, so Hashem was reminding the workers not to lose their focus.
We can see this today as well. Although it may be enjoyable to be on the basketball team or to watch a favorite TV show, we have to keep our focus where it belongs. Hashem did not put us on this earth to waste away our time. We should make time for learning, keep our focus, and help rebuild the Beit HaMikdash.
by Benny Berlin
Something very remarkable about the Megillah is that Hashem’s Name is not mentioned once. In order to understand why this is, we must first understand the Megillah’s background – the time period of the Megillah, and what the Jews were feeling at the time.
According to many opinions among Chazal the miracle of Purim took place at the end of Babylonian Exile. The Jews at the time did not feel a strong connection with God, and simply regarded Hashem as an old master to whom they had been enslaved but were now free to ignore. Instead of going to Israel to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, the Jews at the time chose to be in Galut and enjoy Achashveirosh’s feast. Masechet Megillah 11b-12a even states that Achashveirosh’s party was a celebration of the seventieth year since the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Achashveirosh purposely used utensils that came from the Beit Hamikdash for his party, and in a way he was making a statement that all hope for the Jews to leave exile was lost. Very tragically, it seemed that Achashverosh had succeeded in his goal. The Jews at that time were trading fundamentally important elements of their culture for elements of Galut, making a transition from Godliness to Gashmiut. It was as if they traded the city of Jerusalem for the Persian capitol Shushan, the Beit Hamikdash for the king’s royal court, and ultimately God for a mortal king.
Yet in this horrible period of exile there were many seemingly random events that miraculously formed a beautiful road to salvation. The first occurred when Vashti was killed at Achashveirosh’s party, and Esther was picked to be the new Queen. Since Esther was made the Queen, she was given the opportunity to be able to talk to Achashverosh about saving the Jewish people. The second event happened when Bigtan and Teresh planned to kill Achashveirosh. Mordechai overheard and reported the plan to the king via Esther, which he would never have been able to do unless Esther was queen. Finally, the third event occurred when Achashveirosh gave Haman power to obligate everyone to bow down to him. This led to Mordechai refusing to bow down to Haman, which in turn led Haman to go to Achashveirosh to ask for permission to hang Mordechai. However, before Haman asked to kill Mordechai, Achashverosh was reminded of the fact that Mordechai had saved his life, and Haman was forced to honor Mordechai instead. In the end, all of these random events came together and Haman ended up getting hanged on the same gallows that he had made for Mordechai.
These “random” events answer our question as to why Hashem’s name is not mentioned, and instead God is referred to as the Melech. Malchut, kingship, is a term that is used to describe God’s will and how it is ultimately revealed through a series of events. Just as God’s name was not written in the Megillah, Hashem also seemed to be hidden from the Jews at the time. However, He was actually formulating an ingenious plan in which all the pieces fit together into one marvelous story of salvation. This is why Hashem is referred to as the Melech – although His presence was not apparent, He was truly in control the entire time. This is a fundamental theme of Megillat Esther, and is also relevant to today. Many times we find it hard to feel a connection to God because He seems to be concealed from us in Galut. We need to apply the lesson of Megillat Esther into our lives and try to find God in every event that happens to us. May we reach a level where God is not hidden from us and we are able to see and appreciate His holiness through the events that take place in our lives.
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