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Purim: Crushing Haman with Joy

by Chaya Rivka Zwolinski
Purim: Crushing Haman with Joy

Adar is a month about which the Talmud says: When Adar enters, we increase our joy. This year, 5779, is a Jewish leap year and in a leap year, we have two months of Adar. We literally have double the opportunity to increase our joy as we prepare for Purim, the happiest day on the calendar.

Purim is a time when we feast, party, sing, dance, and spend time with family and friends. It’s an auspicious time for powerful prayer. Purim is also a time when we give.

We give mishloach manot, gifts of food and drink to friends, family, acquaintances, business colleagues. We give mishloach manot to people to show our appreciation. We can even give them to people we’re at odds with in order to “make peace”

Purim is also a time where we give matanot l’evyonim, special gifts of charity to the poor. These gifts are given to anyone we think might need the money. On Purim, we also give charity to anyone who asks, without any restraint. We give above and beyond our natural feelings of generosity or even common-sense. This is the time to cut loose and give with joy. All this generous giving, getting together with friends, and feasting, naturally increases our joy. The amazing thing about this joy is that with it, we fulfill an important Torah commandment: To crush and destroy Amalek (who is Haman, too.)

Today we understand Haman-Amalek is not just a person or a nation, but a negative spiritual energy. It is a klipah (a “husk”) that is more often expressed internally than externally.

Let's look into this week's parsha, as well as the story of Purim. Don't get over-excited about the latest fashion and the newest fads. First, let's understand the connotations of the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, and let's uncover the secret behind the verse in the Megillah: “Mordecai left the King’s presence dressed in royal attire… And the city of Shushan was full of joy and jubilation!” Wake up: Purim is upon us! This week’s parsha is “Tetzaveh.” This year Shabbat and Purim come out on the same day in Jerusalem. In most cities, Purim will take place on Friday, the 14th of Adar. But in Jerusalem, which is a walled city from the days of Yehoshua Ben Nun, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, which this year comes out on Shabbat. This is an unusual happening, known as “Purim Meshulash” (from the word “shalosh” which means three) because the mitzvot of Purim are divided among three days. The reading of the Megillah and gifts to the poor take place on Friday; the blessing of “al hanisim” and the special Purim Torah reading take place on Shabbat in addition to the regular Shabbat Torah reading; and the mishloach manot, food gifts to friends, and the festive meal and rejoicing, take place on Sunday. A Purim Meshulash is quite rare and only occurs every several years. The next Purim Meshulash will be in 5785 (4 years from now) and after that only in the next (Hebrew) century, in 5800. In honor of the joyous and holy holiday of Purim, let us consider the connections between the parsha and Purim. First of all, Purim: In the Megillah (the Book of Esther), we read about Achashverosh, the King of Persia and Media, who in the third year of his reign as King held a feast fit for a King. The Talmud (Megillah 11b) tells of Belshatzar, who was the King of Babylon before Achashverosh. He knew of G-d’s promise to bring back the Nation of Israel to Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the destruction of the First Temple and to build them a Second Temple. At the end of what he had calculated to be the end of the 70 years of exile, Belshatzar prepared a special meal to commemorate the event. He took out the Temple’s holy vessels and used them during the meal. That night he was punished and killed. But Achashverosh said: “Belshatzar made in error in his calculation. I will make the calculation correctly.” But Achashverosh also made a mistake. He calculated that the third year of his reign would be at the end of the 70th year. When he saw that Israel had not been redeemed, Achashverosh said to himself: “That’s it! Now it’s final. G-d no longer wants to redeem the Jewish Nation.” This was one of the reasons for his holding a celebratory banquet. Achashverosh adorned his feast with the Temple’s vessels, and he wore the wondrous and precious clothing of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest)! He was punished by having a quarrel with his wife Vashti, which culminated in his killing her in his drunkenness, which not what he wanted to do at all. In order to understand the significance of the Kohen Gadol’s clothes, we can look into our parsha. The Torah commands us to make expensive and special clothing for the Kohen Gadol from turquoise and purple wool and the most expensive fabric. The Kohen Gadol also wore an ephod (long vest) with the most expensive and rare onyx stones. In addition, he wore the breastplate which had many precious stones on it. Why would the Kohen Gadol wear such expensive clothing? There are many sources that say that a principal expression of arrogance is in one’s clothing. In addition, the aspect of clothing in general has its source in a very lofty place, as it is written, “G-d began His reign; He clothed himself with majesty” (Psalms 93:1). Majesty is the clothing of the Creator. But when a person prides himself on something that is not his, he may become trapped in arrogance, pride, and materialistic honor. By wearing the clothing of the priesthood, the Kohen Gadol would rectify the trait of arrogance. He would nullify the urge to waste money on needless shopping sprees and for ostentatious clothing, and he would transform the wealth and material beauty of clothing into purified holiness. Therefore, it was specifically necessary for the Kohen Gadol to wear expensive clothing which would be for G-d’s Honor rather than his own, thereby reducing the desire for this materialistic honor which is so often expressed in wearing more expensive clothing than a person can afford. As our sages taught, “A person should always eat and drink less than his means. Nevertheless, he should wear clothing and cover himself according to his means” (Gemara Chullin 84b). By wearing the clothing of the priesthood, the Kohen Gadol would rectify the trait of arrogance. He would nullify the urge to waste money on needless shopping sprees and for ostentatious clothing, and he would transform the wealth and material beauty of clothing into purified holiness. Haman was the exact opposite of this. His pride and his lust for material wealth and greatness was without limit. It was only because of his pride that he recommended killing Vashti. Later he completely lost his head as a result of his personal advancement and meteoric success, and he no longer realized how exaggerated it was for him to ask Achashverosh to “Bring a royal garment that the King has worn and a horse that the King has ridden on” (Book of Esther 6:8). At the feast of Achashverosh, the Nation of Israel was at a spiritual low point which is almost impossible to describe. This was the generation after the destruction of the First Temple. Their parents had physically experienced the horror and pain of the destruction of the Temple and being expelled from their homeland. And their children, instead of hoping for and awaiting their return, sat at Achashverosh’s banquet and enjoyed it. Moreover, one of the reasons for Achashverosh’s feast was that he thought that the Nation of Israel should have been redeemed already and yet it was not. He was sure that G-d no longer desired the Nation of Israel and had abandoned them to their fate. At this feast, which was held for such bitter reasons, the Nation of Israel sat and enjoyed themselves. This was a total disgrace! Haman completely lost his head as a result of his personal advancement and meteoric success… As mentioned, at the great feast, Achashverosh used the Temple’s vessels to celebrate his success and the fact that the Jews had lost hope of returning to their country. Another thought entered his mind: without a Kohen Gadol, there would be no one to nullify the passion for making and accumulating money. Achashverosh wore the Kohen Gadol’s expensive and beautiful clothing with the specific intention of increasing the desire for money, investment in fashion, style, jewelry, extravagant clothing, etc. and anything to do with the “latest craze.” But he didn’t know about…Mordechai! “But Mordechai would not bow down or prostrate himself” (Esther 3:2). Mordechai was like a thorn in Haman’s side. Mordecai was unimpressed by the shining lights of the Champs-Elysees Boulevard in Paris. Try to remember how eye-popping such a sight was before the coronavirus. He was unimpressed with riches, beauty, and external appearances—anything from the world of glitter which was all horribly artificial and empty. “And Mordechai learned of all that had been done; and Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the midst of the city and cried loudly and bitterly” (Esther 4:1). Mordechai was not afraid of spoiling the show and ruining the senseless celebration. Everybody was celebrating—what did he care? Why did he have to ruin the fun? Because Mordecai knew...He knew that this was not the purpose of life. They were like children playing in the mud and getting dirty, sure that it’s good for them (until their mothers see what’s going on). And worse than this, it’s like children playing with fire, sure they are doing something good… Haman embodied all fifty gates of impurity, so he built a gallows which was fifty amot (unit of measurement; between 45 and 58 cm. each amah) high on which to hang Mordechai. Haman made a lottery to decide in which month to carry out his plot, and the month of Adar was drawn. Haman was very happy because it was in the month of Adar that Moshe Rabbenu had died. He concluded that after Moshe Rabbenu's death, there was no one who had the power to stand up to the forces of impurity he wielded. As we are now aware, he was wrong! Despite the fact that Moshe Rabbenu had passed away, Mordechai had the power in his generation to change the Torah’s letter combinations and renew them for positive use. He had the power to fix the situation and thus awaken every Jew in every generation, including those that had fallen into the depths of sin, to find the path of truth and draw close to the Creator. Suddenly, everyone was wearing sackcloth and ashes and shunned the air of permissiveness which had prevailed in the world, and they returned whole-heartedly to G-d, behaving modestly, being happy with what they had, behaving morally, and searching for the Divine Light. Thus, the decree was annulled, and all the wealth returned to the Jewish nation and to Mordechai the Jew—just like the High Priest, as it is written, “Mordecai left the King’s presence dressed in royal attire… And the city of Shushan was full of joy and elation!” (Esther 8:15). And Haman? His pride destroyed him, and he was hung from the tree he had prepared for Mordechai. May Hashem's name be praised! Now we understand why children dress on Purim as “Mordechai the Jew” and the “Kohen Gadol.” Beauty, wealth, and the beautiful clothing belong to holiness. Go ahead, children, dress up as Mordechai the Jew and the Kohen Gadol—all the Hamans will be so jealous! Happy Purim! (based on Likutei Halachot, Orlah 5:10-14)

Reb Noson tells us that this klipah of Haman-Amalek is actually the negative imagination, the confusing fantasies that we all have. With these fantasies we can talk ourselves into feeling depressed, feeling bitter, feeling angry or jealous. The negative imagination convinces us that temporal pleasures are the only things worth living for. We can even imagine that we might as well “give up” and live as if we don’t have souls, God forbid.

The good news is that the Haman-Amalek imagination can be crushed, especially during Adar and Purim. By giving generously, by strengthening friendships, by praying with sincerity, we increase our joy and we crush Haman-Amalek. Haman-Amalek hates nothing more than Jewish joy and holy delight. And our joy obliterates Haman-Amalek, this in turn triggers an internal increase in joy, in a healing cycle of happiness.

When we’re able to overpower and destroy the kelipah of Haman-Amalek inside us, we are able to reach levels of holiness we don’t have access to any time of year. Because true joy is holiness.

If you haven’t already started to increase your joy, why not start now?

*Haman was a descendent of Agag, the King of the Amalekites, the cruelest enemy of the Children of Israel.

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