Ta'anis Esther
(Fast of Esther)

13 Adar II, 5782
March 16, 2022

Fast begins at sunup, Wednesday Mar. 16
and ends at sundown the same day.

Purim

14 Adar II, 5782
March 17, 2022

Shushan Purim

15 Adar II, 5782
March 18, 2022

Blessings

Before Reading the Megillah (Scroll of Esther):

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding the reading of the Megillah. (Omein.)

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season. (Omein.)

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, Who has given us life, and sustained us, and brought us to reach this season. (Omein.)

After Reading the Megillah:

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, Sovereign of the Universe,
Who takes up our grievance and judges our claim and avenges our wrong;
Who brings ripe retribution to all enemies of our soul,
and exacts punishment on our behalf from our oppressors.
Blessed are You, Hashem, Who exacts punishment on behalf of His people Israel from all their oppressors, the G-d Who Saves. (Omein.)

“The Jews ordained, and accepted upon themselves, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them, so as it should not fail, that they would keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year; and that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed."

Esther 9:27–28

Purim
A Holy Day?

(part of a class taught in 2021)

Topics

  • Tetzaveh and the Priestly Vestments
  • The Value of Shadows
  • Purim and Yom Kippurim
  • Saul, David, Michal, and Esther
  • A Lesson in Humility
  • The Two Goats of Yom Kippur
  • Mordechai and Haman, Jacob and Esau
  • Relinquishing our Pretense to Know
  • The Serpent and the Tree of Knowledge
  • Cursed and Blessed: A Single Person?

Length
50 min 26 sec
Recorded
5781 / 2021

From Mourning into Gladness
The Month of Adar

The Gemara tells us, "Just as when the month of Av enters, we minimize our happiness, so too when the month of Adar enters, we increase our happiness." (Taanis 29a). The month of Adar is celebratory in mood, because it is a time when we were delivered from the threat of destruction and annihilation in ancient Persia. But even more, we celebrate because while under the threat of death, the Jewish people repented and turned back to G-d on a grand scale, recommitting themselves to the Torah and accepting the yoke of the commandments upon themselves afresh. This repentance and renewal was a spiritual deliverance from the slow 'death' of assimilation in exile, and for that we rejoice during the month of Adar.

Shabbos Zachor (March 12):

The Shabbos immediately preceding the festival of Purim is called Shabbos Zachor ('Remember'). In the Torah reading service, we read the command in Deuteronomy 25:17–19 that begins "Remember what Amalek did to you…", and ends by saying, "…you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens: you shall not forget!" In order to fulfill this commandment of remembrance, we read this passage aloud once every year, on the Shabbos before Purim, since the villain of the Purim story was Haman, who was of the offspring of Amalek. Everyone should make an effort to hear this passage being read.

Amalek's enmity toward Israel was more than just opportunism. It stemmed from a total antithesis of belief, since Israel proclaimed the sovereignty of G-d, and Amalek believed in no god but the power of random chance and the survival of the fittest. Amalek is not an ethnicity or racial group, but an ideology; and the banner of Amalek seems to have no shortage of people who wish to adopt it: the philosophy of atheistic evolutionism, materialism, and a belief that 'might makes right'. Therefore, Amalek and all those who follow its ideology are eternal foes of G-d and His Torah, and must be opposed in every generation.
"And Hashem said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book… that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. … Hashem will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." (Exodus 17:14,16)

In the haftarah (reading from the prophets) associated with this passage (I Samuel 15), King Saul was told to destroy Amalek, but he disobeyed the command of G-d, and left Agag king of Amalek alive. From this failure would eventually come Haman the Agagite, who would threaten Saul's own descendants, Mordechai and Esther.

Ta’anis Esther: Adar 13 (March 16)

The 13th of Adar was the day scheduled by royal decree for the total annihilation of the Jews. Upon hearing of the decree, Esther requested that the Jewish people fast for three days, asking G-d for mercy as Esther prepared to go before the king to beg for the life of her people. (This original fasting took place in the month of Nisan, not in Adar itself.)

Since the days of Esther, to commemorate this period of fasting and repentance, we fast for a single day, from sunup to sundown, on the anniversary of the dreaded date of extermination. Yet we do not fast out of fear; when that day finally arrived, the Jews fought back and were given victory over their enemies who assembled to destroy them. That day of fighting is another reason for fasting on this day. We do not take pleasure in shedding blood – we only rejoice in our own survival in the face of all odds.

This year, let us remember those who are fighting for their lives and homes, and fast and pray for their miraculous deliverance as well.


Purim: Adar 14 (March 17)

This day commemorates the relief and celebration after the Jews had victory over their enemies. Rejoicing and merrymaking is the order of the day. Jews everywhere gather for parties at which costumes (disguises) are worn, to remind us of the veiled and disguised acts of G-d which brought about the redemption. The Megillah (Scroll) of Esther is read publicly. Children are encouraged to make noise when Haman's full name is read in order to 'blot it out' – within the bounds of reason, and taking into account the delicate eardrums of their elders!

We make portions of food to send to one another, and charity to the poor on this day is especially unbounded and open-ended: we do not try to distinguish whether a needy person is being genuine in describing their plight, or whether we might be giving to a scam artist and professional 'beggar'. On Purim, G-d saved us with an 'irrational' generosity, regardless of whether we were worthy or pious or had done anything at all to earn it, so we should likewise refrain from asking probing questions of anyone who asks us for something on Purim, and we should simply give freely, as we have received.

Shushan Purim: Adar 15 (March 18)

Since the Jews of the capital city of Shushan fought for an additional day, they celebrated their rest and relief a day later than everywhere else. Therefore, the 15th of Adar is also kept as a second day of rejoicing, to be observed by residents of ancient walled cities (today, this second day is only observed in Jerusalem).

What About Drinking?

Judaism does not promote abstaining from consumption of alcohol, and we welcome every Shabbos and Yom Tov (holiday) with a blessing recited over a cup of wine. Nevertheless, we are expected to exercise restraint at all times and avoid drunkenness.

How then should we understand the Gemara's directive which so many people take as an instruction not only to drink, but to become intoxicated?

"It is required of a man to sweeten himself on Purim, until he does not know between 'cursed is Haman' to 'blessed is Mordechai'."

(Megilla 7b)


First, it is important to note that the passage in the Gemara does not say anything specifically about drinking or alcohol, or even intoxication. It says that a man is required to "mellow himself" (literally, to "sweeten himself"). The word is
besomei. It comes from the root besem which means "sweet" or "aromatic". Besem is also the root of besamim, spices. The literal understanding of the passage might then emphasize an enjoyment of any kind, whether in food, drink or other amusements, rather than being an instruction to get sloshed.

Second, even
if the idea of drinking is implied here, those rabbis who have commented on this passage have all taken it in a non-literal sense. R' Aryeh Winter quotes some of them:

"The Chafetz Chayim writes [that you should drink] until you cannot differentiate between the good things that Hashem has done for us - the downfall of Haman and the victory of Mordechai … The Chayei Adam writes that if one knows that he will not act properly or even not say the Grace After the Meal properly, he should not drink. The Chafetz Chayim writes that the preferred method of fulfilling the directive of the Gemora is to drink a little, and then take a short nap [since while sleeping, one cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai.]"

(from "Megillas Esther Part XI - A Celebration for Generations", published by R' Y. Prero)


Rabbi Yehudah Prero concurs, and also finds significance in the exact wording of the instruction:

"Punishments, downfalls, and failures tend to stand out in the public eye. People take note when someone who had been so successful, so politically savvy, so wealthy, fails miserably. The punishment, the "vengeance" of G-d taken against those who dare to defy Him, is noticed when it occurs.

However, when the righteous live in tranquility, when the upright succeed, it rarely makes the headlines. Those who understand how G-d works recognize that in such situations, the success is G-d's way of rewarding those who listen to Him. However, the reward is often not appreciated for what it truly is: the hand of G-d in action.

…If a person does indeed celebrate, by feasting and drinking, keeping these two events in their proper perspective, they are feasting properly, "for the sake of heaven." However, as soon as one begins to celebrate Mordechai's success more than Haman's decline, they have reached a point where they have lost the proper perspective. This rejoicing can no longer be categorized as being solely for the sake of heaven.

…“The Vilna Gaon explains this to mean 'until one can no longer tell the difference between the vengeance taken out on Haman and the rise in fortune of Mordechai.' … [However,] we should drink only
until the point where we won't be able to differentiate between the revenge exacted on Haman and the rise of Mordechai. Once we have blurred events and their corresponding significance, we are no longer acting in the true spirit of Purim. We are told we should drink "until" that point. We may drink as long as we rejoice with the proper mindset. However, we cannot cross that line. We should not reach the level where we can no longer differentiate between the significance of the two occurrences. That is the instruction, the warning of the [Gemara]."

(from "Knowing Why and When To Say When", adapted from Sefer Kimu V'Kiblu)


In other words, Rabbi Prero sees the Gemara's instruction as a warning against over-imbibing, not as license to do so. A man may think he can take a certain amount and remain 'relatively' sober, but the rabbinic injunction forbids a man to allow enjoyment of the day to cloud his thought processes.

But even if this is the case, why does the Gemara choose to use such an extreme example as a boundary line that may not be crossed? Surely it would make more sense to forbid intoxication to a much lesser degree than a failure to distinguish between the rise of the Purim hero and the fall of the villain!

The Joy of Not Knowing

The roots of the conflict between Haman and Mordechai reach far back before either of them were born; even before Amalek and Israel were formed as nations. The fundamental question underlying the whole struggle is this: who decides how the world runs?

Amalek believed that random chance governed the world, dominating all other powers that might exist in the heavens or earth. The methodology of Amalek was therefore to try to determine the tides and eddies of 'fortune' in advance, in order to master the current and ride it to victory and success – even in the face of opposition from Heavenly or earthly forces. Amalek attempted to discern the patterns in chaos, to know the unknowable. So Haman cast lots to determine the best time for his scheme.

On the other hand, Israel proclaimed that G-d governs the world and rules it through all the physical laws He has set up, and also through the apparently 'random' events which He ordains at all times.
"The lot falls into the lap, but its every decision is from Hashem." (Proverbs 16:33) For that very reason, it is impossible to know His reasons or discern His methods in advance. "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33)

This argument, over whether mankind can take control of the slack reins of an aimless world, or whether the decrees of the King are irresistible, and His thoughts as high above our own as
"the heavens are higher than the earth" (Isaiah 55:9), stretches back even to the Garden of Eden.

The sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge was not in desiring knowledge as such, but in desiring knowledge independent from G-d and in rivalry to G-d. The serpent tried to convince man to take control of his own destiny, to "know / determine" (Hebrew:
yada) for himself what is good and what is evil, by choosing to take the fruit of the tree which G-d had forbidden. G-d had declared the tree's fruit to be "bad"; would man countermand this and declare it "good" by taking and eating it?

It is in this very passage that our sages first find a veiled reference to the villain Haman in the Torah. After man sins, G-d calls to him and asks him,
"Is it from the tree which I commanded you not to eat, that you ate?" (Genesis 3:11). The Hebrew text of that question begins "Hamin ha-eitz…" (Is it from the tree…?)

In that same passage, G-d ordains eternal enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, saying that the serpent will strike at the "heel" (
akev) of the woman's seed. Our sages see the mention of the 'akev' as a reference to the serpent attacking Ya'akov (Jacob, Israel), and the promised enmity between the two is echoed by G-d's later declaration of eternal war against Amalek: the seed (offspring) of the serpent's philosophy.

The metaphorical 'seed of the serpent' who appears in the Book of Esther, the evil Haman, sought to destroy the 'seed of the woman' (the Jewish people), and especially Mordechai. He even sought to use the same means as the serpent did: a tree. The word for 'gallows' is actually
eitz (tree). But it was the tree itself which was his ultimate downfall.

“The persecutor of all the Jews schemed against the Jews to confuse them and make them perish… ‘His wicked scheme which he had schemed against the Jews shall return upon his own head’; and they hanged him and his sons upon the tree.” (Esther 9:24-25)

So what is our remedy for the temptations of the serpent and the machinations of Amalek? We do not attempt to meet knowledge with knowledge. Instead, we are instructed by our sages to relinquish our own efforts at “knowledge” on Purim, to take upon ourselves a spirit of humility, to renounce the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and to realize that G-d runs the world in complicated and unseen ways which we cannot fathom nor even see until it’s all over.

This then is an alternative way of understanding the directive:
"A man must infuse himself with [the spirit of] Purim, until he does not [assume] knowledge [Hebrew: "ad d'lo yada"] whether of the cursing of Haman or of the blessing of Mordechai." (Megilla 7b)

How, in the course of the Divine plan, will the wicked ultimately fall and the righteous ultimately be exalted? The answer is simple: '
Who' knows?
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