Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#21 - Make it PURIM - Make it RIGHT!

There is something unique about the reading of the Torah for Purim that we don't find during any other time of the year. You see, there are Halachot/Jewish Laws about the details of the Torah reading. For example, there has to be a minimum of three verses read for any Aliyah-being called up to the Torah as an honor for whom verses are read for. At the same time, for a Torah reading on any given day, a minimum of 10 verses have to be read - thus, at least four verses have to be read for one of those called up to the Torah. However, for the Torah reading for Purim, only nine verses in total are read (Exodus 17:8-16). And of course, the question that can be asked is why is it only this one time that only nine verses, rather than the usual required minimum of ten verses, are read?

Of course the answer that people will give is that this is the story about Amalek fighting us which has to do with Purim celebrating our victory over our enemies who fought us as a result of Haman, a descendant of Amalek, convincing the king to send letters to have all the Jews annihilated, and the story of Amalek in the Torah consists of only nine verses, not ten verses. However, there has to be some kind of inner meaning to this.

Fast forwarding to the Haggadah, there is a song near the end of it that points out to the first 13 numbers - "Echad Mi Yodeia". Three are the three Patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and four are the four Matriarchs - Sara, Rebbeca, Rachel & Leah. So, we see that three is related to the masculine aspect of spirituality, and four is related to the feminine aspect of spirituality. Morever, in a court of Jewish Law/Beit Din, there has to be a minimum of three judges. Also, women are not allowed to be judges. The women have enough on their minds making constant decisions in relationship to their children so they already have their role cut out for them. Now, in this battle with Amalek, it was clearly a war between men - only later on do we see clearly that King Saul is given orders by Hashem to kill the entire Amalekite race, including women and babies.

There is one exception to this concept of only men in terms of judging or war. Devorah the prophetess was also a judge, and took the initiative of fighting the enemy. Ironically, her whole story in the Book of Judges is the very Haftara for Parshat Beshalach that ends off with the story of Amalek! Now mind you, this Haftara is read because of the first half of this Parsha dealing with Pharoh chasing after the Jews until the Sea of Reeds/Yam Suf ending with the Jews singing praise to Hashem for saving them from their enemies. Similarly, the Jews in Devorah's time had a battle ending off with their singing praise to Hashem. In any case, it seems strange that after mentioning the end of the Parsha that relates specifically to a male concept, we have a whole long Haftara (in fact, the longest Haftara of the year consisting of 52 verses!) dealing with a whole war and song led by a woman! And then, right after the Torah reading on Purim, we read the Book of Esther, named after a woman! So, maybe there is some kind of corelationship here between the Amalek story and the role of women in eradicating the enemy; and in fact, it was Esther who got Haman, Amalek's descendant to be killed and hung on the pole.

True, the Megilla is indeed named after a woman. But how did Esther wind up getting rid of Haman? If you recall, Esther was initially afraid of approaching the king without permission. In fact, it was Mordechai was convinced Esther that she MUST take action or expect to be wiped out Hashem's list of those who will be saved.

Back to Parshat Beshalach about the Sea of Reeds story. We see that after Moshe led the Jewish people in singing praise to Hashem, his sister Miriam led the women in their singing praise to Hashem. Thus, while everyone was entitled to praise Hashem, we see that the men had to start the process which would eventually be concluded by women.

There is in fact another hint to the masculine aspect of spirituality in the Torah reading of the story of Amalek, as well as the commandment of remembering what Amalek did to us mentioned at the end of Parshat Ki Tetze. The wording is Zecher Amalek - "memory of Amalek", but homiletically, the word in Hebrew for Zecher can also be potentially read as Zachar - male. In fact, King David's top general Yoav had a war with Amalek where he killed only the males, when he was in fact supposed to kill all of Amalek, because his teacher from grade school mistakenly taught him that it is supposed to be read as Zachar - male, rather than as Zecher - memory.

The question can be asked: How can Yoav's teacher, who no doubt had to have been versed in the whole Torah, make such a fundamental error about one of the 613 commandments of the Torah? What I believe is that in fact, there is a concept here related to Amalek that is related specifically to males - and after all, it is generally males that go out to war, not females. But the mistake that this teacher made was that he thought that only men have a part in fighting for the rights of spirituality or as Amalek fought against spirituality; and that women at best or worst have a passive role. However, the Torah tells us that while the men do in fact lead the way, but the process is NOT complete without the women. It's just that it cannot start with the women in charge because without the complete proper thinking process, as required in a court of Jewish Law, things will not be accomplished the right way at the end. Thus, it was only with past leadership of men was Devorah, who was most devoted to the Torah, able to follow their example in leading the Jewish people the proper way. But normally, the men have to take charge, and thus, specifically ONLY three verses are read for each person about the story of fighting Amalek as read on Purim. Also, the special portion of Zachor about what to do with Amalek, read on the Shabbat before Purim, consists of three verses, and consists of three commandments: 1) Remembering what Amalek did to us. 2) Not forgetting what Amalek did to us. 3) Wiping out the nation of Amalek.

It's most interesting to note that Esther wanted the story of Purim to be recorded as part of the Bible/T'nach. The Rabbis at first felt that this was not the thing to do based on a verse in Proverbs/Mishlei that hints to the fact that the story of Amalek is mentioned specifically THREE times in the Torah - 1) Story of Amalek. 2) Commandments regarding Amalek. 3) Story of King Saul who was supposed to wipe out Amalek. But then, they interpreted the verse in Proverbs a little differently. The first time mentioned in the Torah includes both the story & commandment of Amalek within the Penteteuch/Chumash or Sefer Torah. The second time involves King Saul in the Prophets section of the Bible. Thus, the third time would then be included in the Writings part of the Bible, in which the Book of Esther is found in. (Talmud Megilla 7a)

So, were the Rabbis really wrong at first for interpreting a verse a certain way? In fact, it can be said that "Both these words and the other words are words of the Living G-d", a phrase in the Talmud describing the truth of opposing opinions of Rabbis, but are both part of the Torah Truth even though Jewish Law follows only one of them. The truth is that yes, the subject of fighting Amalek is indeed mentioned in three SEPARATE portions in the Bible. But, if we are talking about the Sefer Torah being ONE ENTITY instead of five separate books, then yes, the Torah is one continuous saga, and even one letter in the Sefer Torah is damaged or missing, then the Sefer Torah is disqualified, and cannot be read in public according to Jewish Law until the flaw is rectified. Indeed, the Megilla of Esther that we read on Purim has certain aspects to it that are similar to the qualifications for a scroll of a Sefer Torah. Also, the Talmud and Maimonidies tell us that even if all the other books of the Bible besides the Penteteuch were to be done away with in the future, the Book of Esther will forever be around. And so, even as there are now FOUR separate mentions about Amalek in the Bible, being that only the Book of Esther is assured eternity as the Penteteuch - indeed there are ONLY THREE sections of the Torah about Amalek that will forever be marked, and thus it is the Book of Esther that meets this qualification, and NOT the story of King Saul who was commanded to wipe out Amalek, who did not in fact follow Hashem's orders of totally destroying Amalek, which resulted in Amalek's King Agag who slept with a lady in the one night that he was allowed to remain alive, from which union did Haman descend from.

Indeed, if King Saul would have done his job right, there would indeed have been literally only three times of Amalek's mention in the Bible and could have had the unique privilege of completing three commandments in the Torah which would have been obsolete to future generations because Amalek would have been completely annihilated and thus only 610 commandments of the Torah would have been left to fulfill. Thus, Esther in the fourth place about Amalek, was in fact helping to complete the role of the third place about Amalek where King Saul failed (but after all is said and done, for whatever reason Hashem wants it this way, He did not have anyone since King Saul to totally eradicate Amalek, but only will have this accomplished once Moshiach comes).

Now, in the beginning of the 21st Parsha of the Torah (and this is my 21st POST), which is this week's Parsha, it begins with Parshat Shekalim, the special section in the Torah that we read as Maftir a couple of weeks ago on the Shabbat before the month of Adar. This deals with giving half a coin to the Temple to be used for the daily sacrifice. In Temple times, this was collected specifically in this month, hinting to the fact that it was in the merit of this Mitzva that offset the 10,000 coins that Haman, descendant of Amalek offered the king to annihilate the Jews. Now, the story of Amalek is at the end of the 16th Parsha of the Torah, Parshat Beshalach. Now multiply 21 by 16 and presto, a total of 336 - the Gematria of the word PURIM! Also, the way we have the order of the 24 Books of the T'nach/Bible these days, the Book of Esther is the 21st Book; thus in the majority of years, we read the 21st Book of the T'nach in the week that we read the 21st Parsha of the Torah. Also, Mordechai's name is hinted in the Torah of all places in this week's 21st Parsha, as his name is mentioned all over in the Book of Esther - the 21st Book of the T'nach (see Talmud Chulin 139b).

In terms of the Oral Torah - in the 63 tractates of the Mishna, the tractate dealing with the laws of reading the Megilla, which is called Megilla, is the 21st tractate! And if this would not be enough, in the Mishne Torah of the Rambam/Maimonides, his magnum opus which is a halachic work on the entire Torah as based on the 613 Mitzvot/Commandments, of the 83 sections of this work (like tractates), the 21st one deals with the laws of Megilla & Chanuka!

This year, Purim takes on a most special meaning. You see, this Purim is within one month to a most spectacular event - the position of the sun on the same day and time as it was at Creation which occurs once every 28 years! Now, there are 12 solar months to every year, and so 28 multiplied by 12 also equals...336! Thus, this Purim - whose word is the Gematria of 336 - is within the last solar month, the 336th month of the 28 year cycle!

We see something about timing related to the initial battle of Amalek. It says that Moshe had his hands positioned in his spiritual effort of fighting Amalek until sunset "Ad Bo HaShemesh". Thus, we see that there is a special connection here between fight the forces of evil and the power of the spiritual aspect of the sun. And the number for 28, the number of years for the sun to have a complete cycle until reaching the same position in the timing of the same day of the week and time, is Chaf Cheit, which can also be read as a word in Hebrew - Koach - strength or power. Upon this special occasion, we say the blessing of Oseh Ma'aseh Bereishit, describing Hashem as being the one who does the work of Creation. Yes, Amalek was ultimately looking to fight Hashem Who controls the world, because when Hashem took us Jews out of Egypt, the nations were afraid to attack us, knowing that the G-d of the Jews, even if not their god, was a powerful Entity not to be dealt with fighting His Chosen People. But Amalek, who had no immediate gain or a need of self defense, viciously came out in the open to fight us, and paved the way for the nations not to further fear Hashem's guided nation. So ultimately, Amalek's war was really aimed at Hashem, the One who controls Creation and maintains it. This is why Hashem made it clear that this nation is to be totally annihilated - with NO EXCEPTION. Only then can Hashem's cycle of running the universe can be evident to all, even if the other nations don't want to follow what Hashem wants, but at least there will be a general recognition of Who ultimately controls the world.

Stay tuned - I expect to post again in a couple of nights about another aspect of Purim, which doesn't end with the holiday itself, but has its spiritual influence until the next Purim around.

15 Adar - Shushan Purim 5769

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