Purim: A matter of the heart

The famous verse (Esther 3:5) pronounces that Mordechai wouldn’t bow to Haman and Haman became “full of anger.” Anger as we know well is a fierce emotion of the heart, “lev” (linguistically pronounced as love in English, the true mission of the heart), and yet this passion appears in full force by our nemesis Haman. Why in a holiday of love and re-dedication by the Jews, does the “heart,” belong to the enemy, and what’s to be gleaned from this?

Many roads and bridges must be crossed to resolve this question.

The quintessential Gemara that puts the holiday of Purim in perspective is found in Shabbos (88a). There it states,” At the time of Kabalas HaTorahBnei Yisrael stood at the foot of the mountain. Rav Avdimi Bar Chama Bar Chasa says this teaches that Hashem held the mountain over the Jewish people and said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, good. If not, this shall be your burial place’. Rav Acha Bar Yaakov says we see from here that the acceptance of the Torah was coerced. Rava says it was reaccepted (willingly) in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written Kimu V’kiblu, Kimu mah sheh’kiblu kvar.”

So Purim was a reaffirmation of Torah SheBechtav and Torah shel Ba’al Peh.

However the idea of this Gemara must be understood in tandem with a Beis Halevi and Zohar. The Beis Halevi (Drush 18) explains that the first luchos had the Torah SheBechtav and Torah shel Ba’al Peh written on them as these luchos were to be the final transmission of Torah, not necessitating the need for the Oral Law to be passed on Ba’al Peh. However once Moshe broke the luchos, the second luchos were re-given but in a different manner. This time only Torah SheBechtav was written upon them but it was mandated that the Torah shel Ba’al Peh would have to be passed orally from one generation to the next, in essence taking on a human experience that now made Bnei Yisrael the “parchment” of the Torah in the stead of physical parchment.

We know that the second luchos were given over on Yom Kippurim (Taanis 30b). The Zohar (Tikunei Zohar 57b) famously says that within the word Kippurim lies the word Purim, indicating a connection between the two holidays. Rav Leib Eger explains that the connection between Yom Kippur and Purim is that the second luchos were given over on Yom Kippur, obviously connecting Purim to this Oral transmission.

But why is Purim representative of the Oral law

The Gemara (Chulin 139b) derives that Esther is alluded to in the Torah by the verse (Deuteronomy 31:18) ““v” Anochi hastir astir Panai bayom hahu, And I will surely hide My Face from them on that day.”

God chose to orchestrate the miracle of Purim through nature, in hidden fashion, but why and why at this point in history?

It may be argued that the Jews were just coming off the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara (Nedarim 81a) says that the first Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because the Jews didn’t say Birkot-ha-Torah. In essence God knew the mesorah was on the line and a risk existed that the Oral Law was in great danger of being lost. The Jews were abandoning their emotional connection to the Oral Law replacing it instead with rote and uninspired service.

God had to hide in nature and draw his creatures in through a subtle and nuanced manner that could give them the opportunity to relate to God on a more human level. We were now given time to internalize God’s greatness without thunderous miracles scaring us into submission. God wanted our hearts to love and carry on the Oral Law and hiddenness was the only way to secure it.

We can now get a better understanding into the nusach of the Birkot-ha-Torah that were instituted by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah (Brachot 33a).

The order and wording chosen by them is very telling in terms of what was at stake in post destruction times. The first bracha chosen is “Baruch Atah Hashem… VeTzivanu LaAsok BeDivrei Torah.” The Rav zt”l when discussing Inyanei Chanukah points out that while “lilmod has limited semantics, referring to the intellectual gesture exclusively, la’asok means to be involved, to be dedicated.”

This further explains a midrash (Shochor Tov 35:1) where God says to David HaMelech “Asok betorah veani elchom milchamtecha –devote yourself to Torah study and I will wage your battles.” And we know David Hamelech dedicated his heart to God as he attests “I attained fear of God through my rejoicing and I rejoiced through fear; but my love for God surpassed them all (Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah 3).

Only after saying the bracha of the heart do we move to the bracha of our high nation status – “Baruch Atah Hashem… Asher Bachar Banu Mikol HaAmim VeNatan Lanu Et Torato. Baruch Atah… Noten HaTorah.”

God’s new “hidden and patient” interaction with us was in fact the new template for eternity. We know it says Purim will never be Batel as the verse (Esther 9:28) says “And these days are remembered and observed in every generation” (See Rambam Hilchos Megillah 5:18)

This can explain why the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 12:2) says the only difference after Mashiach will be Shibud Malchiot, because nature and God’s relation to us will remain in place so that we can exercise our love of Torah in an upward fashion.

The converse of this equation (that God has given us the time and ability to reflect upon his wonders and open our hearts to Him) is that He may demand fervor and passion from us in return. As the Gemara (Sanhedrin 106b) says, “God wants our hearts,” and the Gemara (Yoma 72b) says any Torah scholar who is not “tocho kebaro, identical inside and out,” is no Torah scholar.

And not only is that what God desires but we are judged on it every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the prayer begins “Le-keil orech din – to God who prepares man for judgment” to which we follow with “levochen levavot be yom din, to the One who tests hearts on the Day of Judgment.”

This gives an opening to understand how Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 Talmidim could be wiped out and the reality of losing a second Beis Hamikdash because of sinat chinam. The heart was now in play and its thoughts, passions and ways were critical in how we served God.

The story is told about Rav Elchanan Wasserman zt”l and the Griz zt”l that when they were discussing Torah she bal pe, Rav Elchanan mentioned to the Griz that perhaps they should look inside to get reward for otiot machkimos (the letters bring wisdom). The Griz responded that such a notion only applies to Torah Shebichtav and not Torah shel Ba’al Peh for in regards to Torah shel Ba’al Peh, it’s the understanding of the sugya that brings fulfillment of Talmud Torah, not the reading of the letters.

This story illustrates that man must reach the depths of the Oral Law with his full capacities. He must apply his heart to reach maximum understanding as it’s the closest vehicle to come close to God. The Oral Law is our mission and from Purim and on we must use our hidden heart just as God agreed to hide himself within nature.

The verse (Proverbs 7:3) states, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.” There’s no question that the edifice of the tablets exist, but it’s for us now to fill them in with our heart

Now we can return to the original question as to why the Megillah reserves the “heart” for our archenemy Haman. The answer is not so difficult.

The Chafetz Chaim comments on the episode where Yaakov sent messengers to Eisav and instructed them to tell him that he had dwelled until this point with Lavan (Genesis 32:4). What was Yaakov’s purpose in sharing this seemingly irrelevant information? Rashi explains that the numerical value of the word “garti, I dwelled” – is 613, the number of mitzvos in the Torah. In other words, Yaakov was telling Eisav that although I dwelled in the house of the wicked Lavan, I still observed the 613 commandments, and I also didn’t learn from his evil ways. The Chafetz Chaim asks on the end of Rashi that there seems to be a few extraneous words, “and I didn’t learn from his evil ways.” The Chafetz Chaim questions that if Yaakov held the 613 commandments than obviously he didn’t learn from Lavan’s ways. The Chafetz Chaim answers that Yaakov was giving himself mussar, that though he held the commandments in principle he didn’t learn from the passion and hatred with which Lavancarried out his maneuvers. Lavan did it with pure, unadulterated hate, to such a level that Yaakov felt inferior in his love.

Haman is from Amalek, our symbolic archenemy, It must be that our love for God is not as strong as Amalek’s hate for us. The heart still belongs to Haman and until we match his extreme hate to our extreme love we will not win this battle. These are matters of extremities, of emotion not habitual exercise of commandments. From Purim and on our heart is an open book and must be faithfully, correctly and entirely devoted to God.


About the Author
Steven Genack is the founder of Aish Haolam
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