Between Chanuka and Purim

Standing, as we are, between the Yomim Tovim of Chanuka and Purim, perhaps we should take out some time to analyze these days, and to examine some ways in which these Holidays are similar, and some in which they are different.

Both of these Yomim Tovim originated after the giving of the written Torah, and on both we celebrate our salvation from certain threats. Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim points out, the reaction of our forefathers to each of these threats was very different. In the story of Chanuka, when the ancient Greeks made certain decrees against the Jews with the intention of having them abandon their religion, the Chashmonaim (the righteous Jews who led the rebellion against the Greek Oppressors) actually risked their lives and went to do battle against the oppressors. The Jews in the days of Purim, however, when threatened with total annihilation at the hands of Haman, felt it sufficient to rely on G-D, and they limited their reaction to fast, prayer and repentance.

Why this distinction?

By taking a closer look at this juxtaposition, we find evidence of a beautiful and reciprocal relationship that exists between G-D and the Jewish people. The Pasuk in Shir Hashirim says, regarding this relationship, “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li” – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me! We take up each other’s cause! When the Greeks attempted our spiritual destruction, it was essentially the honor of Hashem that they sought to undermine. In such a circumstance we don’t have the right to simply pray and rely on G-D to take care of it. We have a responsibility to defend the honor of Heaven by actually sacrificing our lives to overcome this threat. (Not, of course that G-D needs our help, rather, it is we who need to demonstrate publicly the awesome regard in which we hold Him and His Torah). In the story of Purim, however, where it was only our physical lives that were at stake, we then view it as a threat to us, and – in traditional Jewish style – we react with prayer and repentance, and we leave the fighting to Hashem.

There are other places where we notice this special relationship. At the beginning of Parshas Yisro the Torah tells us the following: “VaYishma Yisro Kohen Midyon Chosen Moshe…Vayovo Yisro Chosen Moshe…” etc.

Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard something, and as a result of that which he heard, he came to join the Jewish people as their first convert. Rashi asks the question:

What was this thing that he heard which made him give up a life of luxury for a life in the desert with a foreign nation? Rashi answers: “Krias Yam Suf U’Milchemes Amalek”.

Yisro heard about the splitting of the Red Sea and about the war that the Jews fought (and miraculously won) against the nation of Amalek. It was these two miracles, which convinced him to come and convert.

Many commentators ask the following question. While both of the above mentioned miracles were certainly great and wondrous, they were by no means the only miracles that G-D performed for the Jews when He took them out of Egypt! How, then, did Rashi know that it was specifically these two miracles which made Yisro come and join them? (The question becomes even more puzzling when we take a look at the rest of the Rashi’s on the very same Pasuk and we see that Rashi himself enumerates many of these other miracles in connection with the conversion of Yisro!)
The answer may be that, in fact, it was not these two miracles per se which made him come. Rather, it was the juxtaposition in the response of the B’nai Yisroel to these two
situations, which intrigued Yisro. Just before the splitting of the Red Sea, when the Jewish people saw the huge Egyptian army, (a total of nine hundred million people! –
Rabbeinu Bachya) running toward them, they came to Moshe to express their fear. Moshe responded saying: “Al Tirau…Hashem Yilochem Lochem V’Atem Tacharishun”. You need not fear! Hashem will fight for you, and you can be still”!

Yet a relatively short time later, when the Jewish people were attacked by the nation of Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua: “B’Char Lonu Anoshim V’Tzei Hilochem BaAmolek”. Go put together an army and do battle against Amalek!

Why the discrepancy?

The same concept, which we introduced to differentiate between the reaction to the threat of Chanuka and that of Purim, can be applied here as well. The Egyptians came running after the Jews in an attempt to regain the free labor, which they lost as a result of the Exodus from Egypt. As such, their battle was against us, not against G-D, and as such we leave our defense to Hashem. Amalek, on the other hand, came to attack us in order to diminish the great honor that was being given to G-D by all the nations of the world, as a result of the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. When G-D’s honor is at stake, we go to war!

When Yisro heard about the different responses to these two miracles, he became aware of this beautiful relationship, which exists between G-D and the Jewish people, and he was thus duly inspired to come and be a part of this tremendous experience.

May our awareness of the great love that Hashem has for us, inspire us to embrace the same feelings towards Him!

Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer

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Thoughts on Sefiras HaOmer

  1. Normally, when one counts in excitement toward an anticipated day, he tends to count downward. Why did Chazal institute that the days leading up to Matan Torah be counted in ascending order?Perhaps the message is as follows. A “countdown” implies that the time before the anticipated date is merely a “waiting game”. Nothing practical is being done in preparation. Conversely, when one prepares efficiently for an upcoming event, each day represents one more floor of a well-structured building. The idea of Sefirah is not towait for Shavuos, but to actively prepare for it. Thus, counting upward is entirely appropriate.
  2. When the Jewish People left Mitzrayim they were on spiritual level # – 49. By the time of Matan Torah, they had reached level # + 49. As the difference between – 49 and + 49 is 98, they should have required 98 days to prepare for Shavuos! How did they do it in half the time?I forget from whom, but I once heard the following answer. There are two ways to destroy one’s evil inclination. One can fight it or one can channel it. If one fights it, he must then replace it with something positive, and the job takes twice as long. The Bnei Yisrael, on the other hand, took the impurities of Miztrayim and transformed them into forces of Kedusha. On each day they managed to simultaneously exit one level of Tumah, as well as to enter its corresponding level of Kedusha.

Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer

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Studying Torah and Enslavement in Egypt

Rav Chaim Brim Zatza”l, a Yerushalmi Tzadik, met a friend on the first day of Pesach. They asked each other how the Seder went the night before, and the friend revealed to Rav Chaim that he had a dream after the Seder, in which he was told that the Gematria of (“anyone who discusses the Exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy”) is the same as “Zeraim Moed Nashim Nezikin Kedoshim Teharos” (The names of the six orders of Mishna and Talmud, which effectively comprise all of Torah).

Although at first glance there does not seem to be any connection between these two phrases, perhaps, with the help of a comment from the Zohar, we can make sense of this dream.

The Zohar writes:

“And they embittered their lives with hard work” this refers to Kushyos, “with mortar” this refers to Kal Vachomer, “with bricks” this refers to clarification of Halacha, etc.
Obviously, the Egyptians did not actually force the Jews to study Torah in-depth. Rather, the Zohar is telling us, the back-breaking labor forced upon the Jews in Mitzrayim, was intended to “condition” them for the exhausting toil that is required for the study of Torah. Each type of labor enforced upon them by the Egyptians prepared them for a new method, with which to understand the Torah.

“Anyone who understands the aforementioned reason for “Enslavement in Egypt” and the subsequent Exodus, will understand the need to immediately channel our labor
skills toward in-depth study of Torah. Such a person will, no doubt, be inspired to fulfill the daunting task of learning and mastering: Zeraim, Moed, Nashim, Nezikin, Kedoshim, Teharos.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach,

Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer
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