Parshios Tetzaveh & Purim
Can an emotion be commanded? Can a person be told, “Love this thing
now!” or, “Hate this people now!” and be expected to do so, instantly? To
quote my Rosh HaYeshivah, Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l: “Love is the emotional
pleasure one feels upon seeing the virtue in another,” which can only
be the result of a process that allows us to notice, contemplate, and
the virtue we see in others.
Therefore, the Rosh HaYeshivah’s brother, the past Rosh HaYeshivah of
Yeshivah Ner Israel in Baltimore, Rav Ya’akov Weinberg, zt”l, explained to
us that, mitzvos, such as “Love God,” are really commandments to do that
which will result in love of God. To actually love God is the ultimate, but
we can be considered to be fulfilling the mitzvah just by doing that which
will, eventually, lead to love of God.
For example, the Rambam explains, love of God can be achieved by
simply contemplating God’s vast and awesome Creation, and the wisdom
He used to create it (Yad, Yesodei HaTorah, Ch. 2). The more appreciation
one has of the wondrousness of Creation, from the smallest of the small to
the largest of the large, the Rambam teaches, the more love of God he will
Likewise, the mitzvah to hate Amalek, if you don’t already do so, is to
develop the kind of realization that allows you to see and appreciate his
evil, which, naturally, any sane person would hate. Who was Amalek? What
did he do? Why is God specifically at war with him, and no other nation?
What danger does he still pose to Creation, if any? All of these are
that the mitzvah to hate Amalek demands that we investigate and answer.
And, if we don’t? Then what?
Then Purim. Purim came along because we forgot who Amalek is, what
he does, why God is specifically at war with him and no other nation, and
the danger he poses to Creation, even if his people no longer exist today.
The events that eventually became the Purim story occurred to re-educate us
in the importance of never losing track of Amalek, for when we do, we not
only lose our capacity to hate Amalek, but we also lose our capacity to
God as well. For, love of God and the hatred of Amalek are really just two
sides of one coin, or, to include this week’s parshah, of one kohen.
Indeed, when telling us how to develop our love for God, the Rambam
could have summed up his instructions with just one phrase: remove
Amalek from your life. If love of God is a flowing river, then Amalek is
dam that blocks it. If love of God is the air we breath, then Amalek is
pollutes it. He is, in effect, that aspect of life that has the capacity
a person to those aspects of life that ought to drive a person closer to
Once, Amalek was a specific people, just like once, Mitzrayim was a
specific location. However, just as Mitzrayim is first and foremost a
an ideology that says, “True spirituality isn’t important, and even hampers
one’s ability to enjoy the material world,” so too is Amalek first and
an attitude towards life, one that questions, “Is God really amongst us
or not?” (Shemos 17:4).
Hence, any society that promulgates the first approach to life is the
Mitzrayim of its time, even if the people themselves do not live in the
part of South Africa. For a period of time, Mitzrayim and Egypt were the
same thing, but not anymore, not for a long time now. Though Egypt may
have stayed where it has always been physically, Mitzrayim didn’t, moving
on after the exodus of the Jewish people, from continent to continent ever
Likewise, any people who question, “Is God amongst us or not?” in either
thought, speech, or deed, is the Amalek of their time, even if they live
in the heart of Western society, and often, because they do. Western
is usually synonymous with atheism, or at least, agnosticism, and the
phrase from the Torah: kochie v’otzem yadie—believing too much in our
accomplish, one of the downsides of technological achievement
After the destruction of the First Temple, and into the first exile of the
Jewish people from their land, it was not hard for Jews to wonder if God
amongst them or not. After all they had gone through, it was hard not to
that God had abandoned them, especially since they couldn’t have
blamed God for doing so. It was a question that lingered for 70 years, as
Jewish people coped with the reality of being strangers, once again, in a
hostile country, after 850 years of living in their own land.
The only question is, after a while, do you get used to it, and learn to
without God, or do you work on rebuilding the relationship? When you ask,
“Is God amongst us or not?” do you ask because you want to live as if He
isn’t, or because you want to figure out how to repair the relationship?
path we take at such a crossroad determines whether or not we return home
peacefully, or only after some kind of major confrontation with a king that
makes us pray that God is indeed amongst us:
Rebi Eliezer said: “If Israel repents, they will be redeemed; if not,
will not be redeemed.” Rebi Yehoshua said to him, “If they do not repent,
will they not be redeemed! Rather, The Holy One, Blessed is He,
will set up a king over them, whose decrees will be as difficult as
whereby the Jewish people will repent, and he will thus bring
them back to the right path.” (Sanhedrin 97b)
Hence, though there were many points at which Megillas Esther could
have begun, it begins specifically with the feast of Achashveros, which he
had made to celebrate what he had calculated to be the end of the 70 years
of Jewish exile, and the lack of redemption. In answer to the Jewish
age-old question, “Is God amongst us or not?” Achashveros answered
“See for yourself: He’s not!”
Thus, not only did the king serve fine food and wine at his banquet, but
he also donned the holy clothing of the Kohen Gadol, mentioned in this
Make holy garments for Aharon, your brother, for glory and for splendor.
It is ?amazing? how the same clothes can bring one man glory and splendor,
and make a fool out of another. As Achashveros put on the bigdei Kohen
Gadol, presumably to mock the Jewish people and their relationship to
God, he in turn mocked himself. He acted like the pig that puts forth its
cloven feet, claiming to be kosher, by which he only emphasizes just how
treif he really is on the inside.
Likewise, had Achashveros left the holy clothing meant for the purest
man on earth, then he would have only been just another gentile ruler, even
though he destroyed the Temple. For, that had been his job at that point in
history, and God seemed to have forgiven him for it, evident by the success
he had in building his career since.
However, when he donned the bigdei Kohen Gadol, he brought out his
own lowliness that much more, pushing himself into a whole new category
of impurity, by comparison. And, had the Jewish people, at that moment of
extreme profanation, become spiritually reinvigorated by the offence,
for God and His holy ones, the rest of the Purim story would not have
Indeed, by remaining unmoved by the very clothing that said, “God is
definitely amongst us,” which was the source of its glory and splendor, the
Jewish people acted, instead, as if they doubted that God was amongst
them. Their despair became clear to everyone, including themselves, evident
by the fact that Achashveros’ folly had not been enough to re-ignite
their commitment to God.
What followed? The miraculous, mercurial rise in power by a
slave/barber to second-in-command over Persia, someone by the name:
Memuchan was Haman. Why was Haman called Memuchan? Because
he was set aside for punishment— muchan l’puryanos. (Megillah 12b)
However, though he was born Memuchan, he became, for the sake of
terrorizing the Jewish people of his time, Haman. As in ha-mann, “the
mann,” the miraculous bread that had fallen daily to feed the Jewish people
in the desert … just in advance of the very first attack by Amalek, back in
Moshe Rabbeinu’s time.
But, what does food from Heaven have to do with the clothing of the
Kohen Gadol, or Purim for that matter? This:
Not by bread alone does man survive, but by whatever the mouth of
God brings forth does man live. (Devarim 8:30)
In other words, both the mann and the clothing of the Kohen Gadol
“Yes, God is amongst us,” even if we fail to see Him. In fact, this
is why the parshah begins with the mitzvah to produce olive oil for the
which existed specifically to make this point as well:
“Outside the cloth partition of the [Ark of] Testimony.” (Vayikra 24:3)
God needs the light [of the Menorah]? For the entire 40-year period that
the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they did so by His light [and not
by the light of the Menorah]. Rather, [the light of the Menorah] was for a
“testimony,” so that everyone in the world would know that the Divine
Presence resided amongst the Jewish people. What was the testimony?
The western candle contained as much oil as the others, yet others were
kindled from it, and its oil never diminished. (Shabbos 22b),
The Menorah, the symbol of Chanukah, is the anti-thesis of the
Mitzrayim syndrome, which the Greeks had extended into their time, and
which the Hellenists adopted. They said, “True spirituality isn’t
and even hampers one’s ability to enjoy the material world,” and therefore,
the mitzvah is to use not just olive oil, but the purest of olive oils.
The bigdei Kohen Gadol, likewise, are a symbol of Purim. The Persian
exile said, “Listen you Jews, God is not amongst Jew anymore, so give it
up!” Achashveros added, “Watch me become your Kohen Gadol,” just to
emphasize the point.
However, he also set in motion events that would cause Memuchan to
be promoted to Haman, second-in-command over Persia, and Mordechai,
to become chief protagonist and destroyer of Amalek. By the time the story
was over, and Mordechai triumphed over Haman, it would be clear in the
minds of just about everyone living in Persia at the time: God is indeed
amongst the Jewish people after all.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.