THIS SHABBOS IS Parashas Shekalim (yes, already), because next Tuesday and Wednesday will be Rosh Chodesh Adar, b”H, making this also Shabbos Mevarchin. Tu BeShevat behind us, we are now in Purim mode. How time flies when you write on airplane. Just kidding. I am firmly grounded.
There might not have been too much to Parashas Shekalim except for the technical halachah had it not been for this:
Reish Lakish said: It was revealed and known to the One Who spoke and the world came into being that in the future Haman was going to weigh out shekels against the Jewish people. Therefore, He arranged for [the Jewish people’s half-]shekels to precede [Haman’s] shekels, as we learn: On the first of Adar [the court] makes an announcement about the shekels… (Megillah 13b)
This of course is not the reason for the mitzvah of Machtzis HaShekel, as commanded in the Torah (Shemos 30:11-34:35). It was a way for the Jewish nation to take responsibility for the upkeep of the Temple and to maintain purchasing of public sacrifices. It was just a very important historic side benefit that God, for some reason, decided it would be sufficient national merit to counteract Haman’s purchase of the right to destroy them. This is what the Gemora calls “the cure before the illness.”
Another example of this idea of “the cure before the illness” was Mordechai’s knowledge of 70 languages. He knew them because it was a prerequisite for being on the Sanhedrin, though he was a long way from Eretz Yisroel, and many years had passed since the Sanhedrin last sat. Yet one of those languages was Tarsian. This allowed Mordechai to listen in on Bigsan’s and Teresh’s plot to assassinate Achashveros, report them to the king, and later be paraded around town by Haman.
How many times have you said, or heard people say, “It’s a good thing I did so-and-so.” It means that when they did the act, they did not anticipate the additional future benefit that resulted. A favorite of mine is, “I don’t usually do things like that, but for some reason I did and it saved me having to do…” Or, it simply saved them, because lives sometimes “just happened” to be saved because something happened that, and the time, no one thought would make such a difference in the future.
All of this is not just a sub plot of Megillas Esther. It is the plot of Megillas Esther. It was God showing us, as 1,000 years of prophecy was coming to an end, how He conducts Jewish history. It was God giving us a peek behind the curtain of how He would be guiding Jewish history henceforth. This was so that we could remain firm in our belief in Him and Torah while He acts in a hidden manner…a very hidden manner. As, for example, when an Arab is able to drive up on a sidewalk and murder Jewish children just waiting for a bus home.
MEGILLAS ESTHER ENDS happily. Certainly the Jews who lived through it suffered not knowing their fate at the time, but when the dust settled, Haman was gone, Achashveros was humbled, and not a single Jew died. It is easy to say “all’s well that ends well” when it actually does. But countless pogroms since then have not, and then there was the Holocaust… The happy-ending narrative seemed to end with Purim.
Yes, there was still Chanukah to come, but that seemed to only be a fraction of what Purim was. The story of Purim is almost comical to read because it seems so cartoon-like, reflecting just how above nature it was. The story of Chanukah seems much more “down to earth,” so much more, well, natural…despite the miracles that occurred for the Jewish people.
It seems that the trend has been away from the obviously biblical, except in Hollywood. They have been making epic films about supernatural events and people as a break away from mundane life. This is one of the reasons why so many people have difficulty believing in Torah today. It has just become so distant from everyday life that it falls into the category of fantasy, even delusional according to many.
In a sense, it is very much like the transition from last week’s parsha to this week’s parsha. For me, it always feels like getting off a moving sidewalk, abrupt with a quick deceleration. We go from the fanfare of God talking to the people and giving Torah amidst thick clouds and smoke, with shofar blowing that gets louder with time, not weaker, to laws of slaves.
This is followed by several technical laws that make you feel more like you’re in a court room than at miraculous Mt. Sinai. And all of a sudden, and once again quite abruptly, the channel is changed and we find ourselves back at the giving and the receiving of Torah, drama and all. Why the back and forth?
Actually, it reminds me of another idea. You see that very natural and mundane world around you? How many miracles did you see today? I mean, outright biblical-like miracles, Hollywood-style but without the special effects. Yes, every aspect of life is a miracle, but if we really appreciated that we’d be a lot closer to God. I’m talking about splitting of the sea category miracles. How many have you seen like that…ever? And why not? What’s missing from the world we live in that wasn’t missing from the world of the Jews thousands of years ago back in Egypt and in the desert?
It’s not what’s missing. It’s what was added. Clothing. Not physical clothing like we wear, mind you, but spiritual clothing. It’s on God’s light, ever since Adam HaRishon sinned by eating from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra. As mentioned in a previous week, that is what angels are. They are spiritual clothing over the light of God to protect it from the spiritual filth that resulted from Adam’s sin, and henceforth. Nature? That’s just what the light of God looks like when you put “clothing” on it.
MANY YEARS BACK I read a book called The Masada Plan. The book was set during the Yom Kippur War and posited that the quick stop to the war the Jews were losing, was the result of a potential Israeli nuclear strike on multiple capitals around the world. When the major countries balked, claiming that the Israel lacked the capability to deliver said bombs, the Israelis answered, “They’re already there.”
In other words, the premise was that the Israeli’s had been quietly smuggling parts of the bombs into cities around the world over decades. They had been secretly assembling them on location, and then quietly and strategically planting them for such a future crisis. There had been actual reports of some failed smuggling attempts of things like centrifuges in the past.
When the Gemora says that God makes the “cure” before He sends the “infliction,” the truth is, “They’re already there.” Inside everything in Creation, no matter how mundane and seemingly insignificant it is, is Ohr Ain Sof, the highest, most powerful, and most miraculous light in Creation. If it wasn’t there, the thing would not exist. We don’t have to have wonder how God will solve our problems. We just have to know that all solutions were already built into Creation before the problems even came into existence.
This is part of what Bris Milah says too. We remove the orlah because it is the lavush—clothing—that hides the inner light. By performing bris we remind ourselves that all of life is like this, and that we have to look deeper for the light of God in everything.
This is why bris is on the eighth day from birth, corresponding to the supernatural potential of life. If we don’t see or experience big miracles in life, it is not because they aren’t there. It’s just because they are under layers of “protection” that require Torah merit to remove. The miracles in Egypt, at the sea, and Har Sinai, etc., were just God allowing His light to dress down for an intended period of time to save the Jewish people, and to educate them in this way of life. A little less so in Mordechai’s and Esther’s time.
As history has moved on further away from Mt. Sinai and the period of prophecy, additional layers have been added to God’s light. The light never goes away, but it can become more hidden. When that happens, then nature seems more prominent, and evil seems to get away with murder, literally. The world seems more hefker—ownerless.
Appearances can be deceiving, and in the case of Jewish history, very deceiving. It is one thing to come close to genocide and be saved from it at the last moment. It is very different to actually suffer it, as we did in the Holocaust. I am afraid and uncomfortable to say the words, but they have to be said: We will be shocked to find out how such an incomprehensible tragedy as the cruel murder of six million Jews, including one million children, fits into this explanation as well.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 39
BASED UPON WHAT was just explained, Ain Od Milvado doesn’t mean that God is the only one who can save us. It means that God is the only one who has already saved us. What we need to come out on top already exists in Creation, it is just buried behind veils that block our vision of it.
A great example of this is the story of Elisha and Gechazi, one of my personal favorites.
The king of Aram was greatly disturbed about this matter, and he summoned his servants and said to them, “Will you not tell me who of ours [reveals my secrets] to the king of Israel?”
One of his servants said, “No, my master, the King, but Elisha the prophet who is in Israel tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”
He said, “Go and see where he is, and I will send and take him.”
He was told, “Behold he is in Dosan.”
He sent horses, chariots, and a great army there. They came at night and surrounded the city. The servant of the man of God arose early and went out, and behold an army with horses and chariots was surrounding the city. His attendant said to him, “My master! What shall we do?”
He said, “Have no fear, for those who are with us are more numerous than those who are with them.” Elisha prayed and said, “O God, please open his eyes and let him see.” God opened the lad’s eyes and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of fiery horses and chariots around Elisha. (II Melachim 6:11-17)
We should ask God for the same thing in general, but certainly when we’re in trouble. “Dear God, I know the solution to my problem already exists. Please open my eyes so that I can see it.” You’d be surprised how quickly you all of a sudden become aware of what you need to know to solve your crisis.