Thursday, February 21, 2013

Purim-It's in the Name

The name of Purim expresses the essence of this special day.

At first glance, it may seem that there is nothing more random than casting lots-putting a pile of papers in a hat, mixing them together and taking out one piece. It's easy to say that the outcome of this selection is totally random and that the one whose name was chosen must have come out by chance.

However, we see from the Torah that the opposite is true-a goral is the ultimate expression of Hashem's instruction and explicit direction to us. It is as if Hashem is talking directly to His people.

When it came time to distribute the land of Eretz Yisroel to the shvatim, it was done by means of casting lots. Each shevet had his own preference of where they wanted to be situated (for example, near the water). One of the shevatim got up and said, I want this to be done with Hashem's announcement. And what was Hashem's announcement? Through a goral-by casting lots and letting Hashem do the talking for them.

The same is true with the two goats on Yom Kippur. One was Se'ir LaHashem-as a korban to Hashem and the other was sent la'azazel,it was thrown down a mountain and stoned as a kapparah for Klal Yisroel. How did they know which goat would be used for what part of the avoda? Through a goral-by Hashem expressing it directly to them.

We find the same in sefer yehoshua. When there was one man who took from the spoils of a war, Yehoshua did a goral to see who the guilty party was. When it revealed that it was Achan, he complained by saying that someone's name had to be chosen, but that didn't prove that he was the guilty one! Yehoshua said "sim na kavod laHashem elokei yisroel". Yes, you have a point but let's face the facts, a goral is the word of Hashem revealed to us!

We see from all of this that the expression of Hashem amidst the teva is specifically through a goral.

This is the essence of Purim-named because of the pur, because of the goral.What seems like natural or random is really an expression of Hashem's will.

By reading the megillah on Purim and seeing Hashem so clearly through the details of this seemingly regular story, we can develop a deeper connection to Him-by looking out for and noticing Him in the natural everyday events that happen to us. He is right here with us, and we can come to this realization specifically on Purim-by internalizing the message of the megillah within our hearts!

R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l continues with the following incredible thought.

On Purim a person can come to a point of being so drunk that he says Baruch Haman and Arur Mordechai.

What does this mean?

After a person reads the megillah, they see how Hashem is so there, so revealed within this ordinary story. They see how involved He was in every part of it and they can even see how the things that seemed like they were not good-like Esther's entrance into the king's palace-were really for the good. This is what saved the entire Jewish Nation.

And so...they can then say Baruch Haman. Haman represents the bad, the negative, the things that we thought were so painful and hard. A person can say-everything that seemed bad, really was good. Hashem, I now see you so clearly and I can now KNOW that whatever you do is for the good, even the things that don't seem so good.

So what does Arur Mordechai mean?

When a person davens for something and they feel that they need something more, they will go to a tzaddik and ask him to pray on his behalf. They feel that their own zechusim may not be enough to tip the scales but when someone greater than them is in the picture...they feel more confident in those tefillos making some change for them.

But on Purim, what do we say? We say Arur Mordechai. We don't need the tzaddikim to daven for us today! Purim is such a special day of connection to Hashem that we don't need anyone else-we break all the barriers that separate us from Hashem and He listens directly to us!

Today, Ta'anis Esther, many people take out their tehillims and say Perek Chaf Beis that starts with Keili keili lama azavtani. As we approach this special time of connection to Hashem, when He listens directly to us, to our cry of pain when things are hard and to our expression of thanks when things are good, let us internalize these messages and come into Purim--the day of the pur, the goral that is an expression of Hashem's hashgacha pratis towards us--on the lookout for the megillah and in our own lives! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Purim-Finding Hashem

When you listen to a speech, the speaker may never know how his words impacted you. When you read a book or article, the author may never know how his writing touched you. However, R' Shimshon Pincus zt"l can see exactly how his powerful and inspiring words gave me such a tremendous amount of chizuk. I don't need to track him down, try to find a phone number or email address to thank him and let him know how his seforim are changing my perspective, are changing me. He can see it himself from his lofty place in the olam ha'emes. And that gives me great comfort.

I want to share some of the inspiration I gained from his words with you.

One point we emphasize on Purim is v'nahapoch hu. This concept requires some understanding and clarification.

Rabban Gamliel, R' Elazar ben Azarya and R' Yehoshua came into Rome and started to cry when they heard the loud, happy voices of the Romans there. R' Akiva's response to that was...laughter.

They asked R' Akiva, "How could you laugh?"

"Why are you crying?"

"The goyim who are ovdei avoda zara, idol worshippers, are sitting comfortably while our beis hamikdosh was destroyed! How could we NOT cry?"

Said R' Akiva, "Im kein l'macheesav, kal vachomer l'osei retzono, if this is what happens to those who anger Hashem, how much more will the reward be for those who do His will!"

In another instance, they were walking together and when they reached Har Habayis, they saw a fox coming out of the place of the Kodesh Hakadashim. They began crying and once again, R' Akiva started to laugh.

A similar exchange followed.

"How could you laugh at such a sight?"

"Why are you crying?"

"The same place that it says v'hazor hakareiv yumas, if a stranger approaches it he must be put to death, is now free with roaming fox...just like it says al har tzion sheshameim shualim hilchu ba-the fox will walk on the desolation of the mountain of tzion. How could we NOT cry?

R' Akiva said, "For this reason I laugh. If Hashem fulfilled the prophecies of punishment and destruction, I am confident that He will also fulfill the prophecies of reward and ultimate geulah."

To which they replied, "Akiva, nichamtanu, you have comforted us."

There are two ways to relate to the things we have.

Imagine you are a guest at someone's home. You come in to the kitchen and you see a plate with ten slices of delicious looking cake. You can look at this in two ways.

Either you can think, the host set up the cake on the tray and it happens to be that one slice is for me to take. 

Or you can think, wow...this host loves me so much! Look at how he set up all these slices of cake for me! Really, he meant to give me a personal gift-delicious cake to eat. He could have just put one slice on the tray...because that would be enough for me to eat. But he put another nine slices so that it should be pleasant and comfortable for me and I shouldn't feel like I'm lacking anything!

Every moment that a person is alive, he receives an incredible gift-fresh air. And with that air a person is able to breathe from minute to minute. How does a person view this? How should a person view this?

Either a person can say, look Hashem gives everyone air so that they can breathe and it happens to be that He gives me air too.

Or...a person can say, look at how much Hashem loves me! He gives me this air personally, specifically for me. But just so that I should feel like I'm not lacking anything, He gives air to everyone else around me...

This is how Hashem hides Himself within nature, within our world. Everything He gives you is an expression of the love He has for you. 

Imagine you go to the grocery store to pick up a bottle of milk. When you get to the refrigerator section, you see 500 bottles of milk on the shelf. 

Either you can think, there is enough milk in this store for me and all the people in my neighborhood who need milk to drink. can think, wow, Hashem wants me to have everything I need. So instead of me finding just the one bottle of milk that I need for my family, there are another 499 bottles of milk in the refigerator...just so I should feel like I'm not lacking anything! Hashem is hiding Himself in the teva of this world. He hides Himself among the rest of the bottles of milk on the shelf. But really, that one bottle of milk is a personal gift from Hashem to me.

A person can find Hashem in every single thing that happens, in every single moment of His life. Hashem hides himself in nature. But...He's really there. We just have to learn to look out for Him and notice all the good that He gives the regular, daily things that we experience.

The word megillah comes from the lashon of l'galos, to reveal. All the other yomim tovim are meant to help us rise above nature to a more elevated, lofty level. We do this through the mitzvos of the day-shofar on Rosh Hashana, matzah on Pesach...

But Purim is different.

On Purim we learn that Hashem is right here with us, within the teva. If we take notice, we can see that Hashem is really there-hiding in nature itself. When we internalize this message, we can strengthen our connection to Hashem and increase the love we have for Him, realizing how much He does for us and how involved He is in every detail of our personal lives-all because He loves us! 

We can take this message from Megillas Esther.

In the beginning of the megillah, we read about Achashveirosh and how he sat on his new throne in Shushan, the new capital. Why did He set up his kingdom in Shushan if the kings before him were established in Bavel?

Achashveirosh wanted to sit on the throne of Shlomo Hamelech. It was beautiful, majestic and had animals on each step that would lift Shlomo up to the next step. However, any king before him who tried to sit on it got hurt from the animals. So he had carpenters make one for him that was exactly like the throne of Shlomo Hamelech. But once it was completed, it was too heavy to move anywhere. So Achashveirosh decided to move his entire capital over to Shushan, the place where his throne was. Who moves his entire kingdom, all his ministers and advisors just like that? And why did he do this? Because Mordechai Hatzaddik lived in Shushan. So Hashem made Achashveirosh move everything around just so that one tzaddik should be able to say in his place. This is but one example of how Hashem and His hashgacha is revealed through the story outlined in the megillah.

This is also why Hashem's name is not mentioned once in the megillah. If Hashem's name was spelled out, it would be removing Him from teva and saying how He performed a miracle above nature. However, by Hashem being "hidden" in every step of the Purim story, we learn to look out for him in this seemingly "regular" story. In the story that doesn't mention him. And we can take this message to heart. We must realize that Hashem is with us at every point. He is here with us-in the natural, in the regular, in the routine.  

The message of v'nahapoch hu is that everything you see in the teva, everything that seems like it is natural really is not. Each of these things are an expression of Hashem's love for us! Yes, it may seem like nature, but if you look just a teeny bit deeper, you can find Hashem in the regular things that happen. The air you breathe from is a personal gift from Hashem. He is pumping blood through your veins and through your body every second of the day-because He wants you in His world.

And this is why R' Akiva was able to laugh when all the others cried. He was able to find Hashem in the places where they couldn't. He was able to see the upside-down. How things weren't the way they seemed. He was able to explain with clarity when the others were confused. And that's how he was able to comfort them. By seeing things with an eye that looks out for the v'nahapoch hu. He was able to turns those things around and explain that Hashem really IS here with us.

And this is what v'nahapoch hu means. 

May you be able to realize what precious gifts you are given from Hashem, because He loves you and because He wants you to FEEL His love for you personally. May you be able to internalize the messages of the megillah by seeing how just like Hashem is revealed through the regular happenings in the Purim story, He can be revealed to you in your own life. You just have to look out for him.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rosh Chodesh Adar

Today is Rosh Chodesh Adar

It is the first day of the month when we increase the happiness and joy we feel in our hearts. It is a month where our nation experienced a miracle and we go into the month hoping for personal miracles in our own lives and the lives of those around us. 

We can learn many lessons this month, if we just delve into some of the details of the story of Purim. We see so clearly the incredible power of sincere tefillah-how at a time of uncertainty and despair, Mordechai gathered the little children together and they poured out their hearts to the Only One who could help them...and they merited to see the yeshuah in a way they never would have imagined.

We see how the ways of Hashem are mysterious and there is so much we cannot understand...until we take a step back and look at the whole picture.

The story of Purim took nine years to play out. Of course it's easy for us to see the Yad Hashem in all of it! We are reading the whole book, the whole megillah, so when we read the part of Esther HaMalka being chosen as the new queen, it all makes sense to us. We know how it will end...we know how she was the catalyst, the one to bring the ultimate yeshuah in the Purim story to all of Klal Yisroel. But did she know it? Did she have any idea why she was the one chosen, of all the beautiful women and girls, to be the one to marry Achashveirosh?

This was the refuah lifnei hamakah.This was Hashem's way of setting up the positive outcome of the Purim story. Esther entering the palace of Achashveirosh as his new queen seemed like the most terrible thing that could have happened to her. Yet, this turned out to be a great bracha-because through her, so much good came to the entire nation. It was only because she was the queen that she was able to save the Jews from Haman's evil plans.

Hashem wanted to bring Klal Yisroel to do teshuva for their sins. And this is how they got the message-so strongly and so clearly. They united in tefillah, pouring out their hearts and praying for their lives to be spared...somehow. And Hashem brought about the miracle of Purim. 

The message of refuah lifnei hamakah-of the good being set up before the strong blow has many dimensions. From the Purim story we see that it is not always that simple. It wasn't clear-at all-that Esther's entrance to the king's palace and subsequent position as queen was the refuah. In fact, it seemed that this was the greatest makah, the greatest blow that ever could have happened! But that was not the case. The exact thing that looked like it was so terrible, so clearly bad...the very thing that seemed like it was the worst thing that could have happened...was the catalyst for Klal Yisroel's yeshuah!

May this month be one in which you are able to see the yad Hashem clearly in your life and where you FEEL Him meitzitz min hacharakim, peeking through the cracks of the blinds of your windows. May you experience your own v'nahapoch Hu...where things change for the good in a way that is so totally upside down...from despair to hope, from sadness to happiness, from pain to comfort and joy and simcha!

May this month be a truly happy one for you and all those close to you!

Friday, February 1, 2013


Someone sent me a text message last night asking the following:

“Why are you frum?”

I wasn’t sure if this was a trick question or if she was seriously asking me this. But she wasn’t joking around.

I’m not going to give you my own answer here (maybe I’ll save that for another post…maybe not :) ) but I want to pose that question to you.

Did you ever think about why you are frum?

In this weeks parsha, Parshas Yisro, the entire Jewish Nation stood at Har Sinai and received the Torah. K’ish Echad B’lev Echad-like one man with one heart. Each and every person wanted to receive the Torah, wanted to be a part of our special nation.

Are you keeping the Torah because it is what you want?

*  *  *

My son came home with a project yesterday. It showed Hillel laying on the roof of a beis medrash with shimmering pieces of snow. He told me all about it, how Hillel wanted to learn Torah but he didn’t have money to pay so he climbed onto the roof of the beis medrash so he could listen to everyone learning Torah…and it was so cold and there was snow…

It got me thinking.


What was it about the teachings of the Torah that someone would lay on the roof of a building to listen to others learning? And stay there no matter how cold it got?

Do you know?

What does the Torah mean to you?

What does being frum mean to you?

This shabbos, think about those questions. See if you can come up with some answers.

Have a wonderful and uplifting shabbos!