How can we use Purim to fight cynicism and skepticism to create a solid connection with our Creator.
The Torah Podcast Transcript
009 The Torah Podcast – The Fight For Meaning – Purim
A Powerful Parable
We’re going to start out with the famous parable of the Nasi on Purim. Where to hide the king’s crown? One time there was a very, very valuable crown with all kinds of diamonds, silver gold, and they had to move it from one town to the next. But they were very concerned how are we going to move this crown because they know that there’s thieves along the way, and the thieves are surely going to steal it. So, they came with this genius plan to hide the crown in the back of a simple wagon covered with tattered rags. This way, no one would even think it was there. They put the crown in the back of the wagon and they threw rags on top of it. That was the parable, and here’s what it’s really talking about. It’s talking about Purim being similar to Yom Kippur. We know there’s a drosha that says that Yom Kippur is only like Purim, ke Purim. Ke Purim, Yom Kippur is like Purim. What does that mean? It means that the light on Purim itself is even greater than the light that’s revealed to us on Yom Kippur. Purim is even a holier day than Yom Kippur and you can reach even higher levels on Purim. It’s such a high day. So, since the forces of evil, the Satan, wants us to not elevate ourselves on Purim and to waste the day and to lose it, they had to figure out a way to hide it from him. The way we hide it from him is we dress up. We drink, we do bizarre things, and the Satan cannot figure out what’s going on on Purim. Really, what’s going on on Purim is it’s the highest day of all the year.
Great Stories – Rav Yerucham Leibowitz
This is a story about Rav Yerucham Leibowitz, the Mir mashgiach. It says he was considered the Rav Chaim Brisker of the Mussar world. We know that Rav Chaim Brisk was one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived. He was from the last century. It says that he would learn a Ketzos, who was also one of the greatest geniuses from centuries before, in such a way that even though everyone else studied that same Ketzos, they didn’t even believe it was the same Ketzos. He saw so deeply into it that it was worlds beyond what everybody else could see. So too, it says that when Rav Yerucham would learn the Path of the Just, Mesillas Yesharim, he would have such unbelievable insight and clarity and depth, that the people couldn’t believe it. They called him the Rav Chaim Brisker of the Mussar world. How is it possible in this same text that we can see deeper and deeper? We know it’s a fact. The fact is, the same Chumash that a five year old learns, a 90 year old man learns. It’s the same text. The same text that a 15 year old learns in yeshivas, learning Gemara, people spend their entire lives and even at 80 they’re learning the same text a 15 year old is learning. The Vilna Gaon said – the Vilna Gaon, you know who the Vilna Gaon was? The Vilna Gaon was saying brochas, blessings on his mother’s milk at one year old, already. He knew everything inside out and he said he would walk across Europe by foot if Rav Moshe Chaim Luzatto was alive, the author of the Mesillas Yesharim, just to learn something from him; just to be able to learn from him, to get even more depth. The Torah has endless depth. Which means the bigger the person is, so the more depth he can bring out. This is what they said about Rav Yerucham.
The story goes a little bit further. It says that Rav Yerucham was considered the magician. In what sense? He was able to influence even people who were very, very far away from Torah and from learning and from holiness. He was able to influence them in a good way, so they called him the magician. It says by him that he used to interview every boy that used to come to the Mir. Within a couple of minutes he knew the boy’s strengths and his weaknesses. Even within a minute or two he would say to the boy which town he was from, because he saw the influence that the town had on the boy. This is a person who had tremendous insight in to the human personality. You’re talking about a very developed human being. He was able to see into the soul of another.
Purim – The Fight For Meaning
The genius Rav Yitzhak Hutner has an unbelievable word on Purim. He has a whole sefer on Purim, but I just want read one of the words. He wants to talk about Amalek. Amalek we know is the arch enemy of the Jewish people for for generations. In the end they will be totally destroyed because they are totally evil. It says in Parshas Zachor, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way.” This is Parshas Zachor that we read before Purim, the Shabbos before Purim we read Parshas Zachor. It’s actually a mitzvah deoraisa, from the Torah to read and hear that reading. He says, “Remember what happened to you on the way, how Amalek killed all your weaklings and attacked you from behind, the faint and the exhausted. He did not fear God.” There’s a word in that possuk that says, “He happened upon you,” which is koreh, which can also mean to kar, to cool off. The Rabbis tell us that before this point all the nations were very scared of us because we were hauled out of Egypt, where we were given birth to. God chose us and took us out of Egypt, and separated us from all the nations.
At that point, the nations were all scared of us. What did Amalek do? He attacked us anyway. He knew he was going to get hurt. He knew he was going to get killed, but still he attacked us anyway. The parable to compares the situation like this. It’s like a pool filled with boiling water into which no person dared to jump in, because it’s boiling. But suddenly one guy decides, “I don’t care. I’m going to jump in anyway.” He succeeded to cool down the pool for everybody else, and after that nobody else was scared to jump in. After Amalek attacked us, we became weakened and the world saw that we were vulnerable. It actually entered into our psyches also, that we are also vulnerable. It says that Amalek means skepticism, suffek. We go into a state where we’re not sure of ourselves, which is exactly what this whole article is going to be about. We’re not sure about real spirituality. There’s a skepticism about the next world and about God’s existence that entered into our hearts from Amalek, and that’s his power. That’s what he’s trying to push, and he will exist to the end of days. And at the end, he will be destroyed.
What does this have to do with Purim? It happens to be that Haman was a descendent of Amalek. Amalek was the one trying to attack us. Haman was trying to kill us. It was at this point in history there was this skepticism among the Jewish people. We know that the Jewish people didn’t listen to Mordechai who commanded that they shouldn’t go to the party of Achashverosh. They went anyway. So, we see that there was a weakness, a lowering of standards among the Jewish people. At this point, Amalek was able to attack us and try to kill us. Rav Hutner explains, “What’s Amalek’s main tool? You’re not going to believe it – it’s cynicism. Cynicism makes fun of everything. When you make fun of things, that takes away the value.” He says, “Amalek whose essence is cynicism, to whom nothing ultimately matters, and for whom everything important is trivial, will be destroyed.” In other words, he takes everything that’s spiritual, anything that has some real meaning, and he destroys it by making a joke out of it. Or he just doesn’t care about it.
Example, in our society we see it all over the place. Gay marriage, so who cares? A person steals, so what? A guy cheated, the President cheated on his wife. It doesn’t matter, he’ll come back again. This politician cheated on his wife, also. He comes back again for politics. Nobody seems to care. Pornography, nobody seems to care about it. The whole society has become cynical. Cynical means that things lose their meaning. Nothing has significance. Nothing matters. Anyway, you’re only here for 120 years and then you die, who knows what happens after that. Nothing really matters. There’s no morality anymore. Morality is out the window. There’s no standards. People can do things and get away with them. People can say things publicly, on television. Nobody even cares. Nobody is even embarrassed. They’re actually proud, “What a great thief he is. What a great cheater he is.” There are no standards anymore. Nothing matters and everything goes.
Rabbeinu Yona explains, “How do you know what a person values? How can you check a person out to see what he values?” He says, “A person is judged based on what and whom he praises. You can see by a person’s praises what he really values.” He says, “This is not such a simple thing, because a lot of people claim to have values that they don’t really have. How do you really know what a person feels in terms of his values?” He gives an example like this. “You could, God-forbid, have a great Torah scholar who gives tremendous honor when the rich person comes to visit his house, and he talks about rich people all day. So, what’s going to be with his kids? The kids are not going to run after Torah, they’re going to run after the money. On the other hand, you can have an average Jew who spends most of his day working but still, he talks all day about the greatness of the Talmidei Chachamim, and the Sages and the righteous people. His kids are going to come out to be righteous, because that’s his real value. It’s not a question of what you say you value, it’s a question of what you really do value. How do you spend your time? How do you spend your money? Do you just claim to value something, or do you put your money where your mouth is? Do you really talk about that at the table. The things that you really talk about, your children know that you value. They don’t care what you claim to value. They know who you are. In terms of doing an internal accounting, you really have to check out what you actually do in reality, not who you claim to be, but who are you for real.
Now we need to discuss creating true value and seeing the value, and making it real to ourselves. We have to remove the cynicism from our hearts. Cynicism is the top destroyer of value. If we make jokes about things, it really means we don’t value those things. When are we actually allowed to use cynicism? “We are are allowed to use it,” Rav Hutner explains, “When it comes to avoda zara,” idol worship. The Gemara says that you’re supposed to make jokes about avoda zara, Idol worship you’re allowed to make jokes, because that is the opposite of value. In other words, they’re taking the highest value which is God and they’re saying that He doesn’t exist. And they’re saying this stone or this power or who knows what, anything that you put power into – anything that you rely on, becomes a kind of an avoda zara, a kind of an idol worship. The rabbis are allowed to be cynical about that, in other words to use cynicism against the ultimate lie which is that God is not running the world, and there are other forces that are running the world.
We know there’s a possuk in Mishlei that says, “Do not attempt to admonish the cynic.” You can’t give rebuke to a cynic. The Mesillas Yesharim says, “One cynical remark could push aside a hundred serious rebukes.” In other words, rebuke is going to be pushed off with cynicism. So, we have to go inside of our own hearts to remove the cynicism in order to grow. How are we going to grow? How are we going to grow in spirituality if we’re cynical? This is the force of Amalek. He wanted to cool us off. He wanted to take us away from our spirituality, from our insights, from the depth of thinking. He wanted to remove that from us, to become cynical, to become physical and take away the meaning of something. I mean, if the world is only physical, there’s no meaning to anything. Meaning comes from intellectual understanding and spirituality. That’s where meaning comes. And he wants to be cynical and take that all away. We know that Amalek was a descendent of Esav. And Esav disclaimed his birthright. Yaakov had the birthright, it was a spiritual birthright which was the next world. And Esav didn’t care about it. He gave it to Yaakov for nothing, for grushim – for a bowl of lentils. This is the battle that we’re fighting on Purim, the battle against cynicism and skepticism. We know that the Jews re-accepted the Torah completely from love, on Purim. And this is the direction we should be taking. We should be strengthening in our spirituality. The question is, how to do it?
The Shem MiShmuel explains that by Purim we have the special loshen, language. It says, “Making them days of feasting.” We don’t see that in any other context. We have to make a feast on Purim. We have to make a party on Purim. He says, “Because of the tremendous spiritual potential of Purim which is a light that can open up inside of our souls, we have to make sure it has a deep impression. We do that by feasting and by eating and by drinking and by singing, that it should have a big impression on us; that we should grow in spirituality. We use the physical that it should make an impression upon us.”
Rav Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav MeEliyahu wants to take it one step further. He wants to explain in detail, like this. We know there’s a famous possuk which says, “The Jews had light and joy and gladness and honor.” The loshen there is “Ora, simcha, ve sasson veyikar.” We know that in Megilla at 16:A that our Rabbis explain that light means Torah, joy means festival, and gladness means circumcision. Rav Dessler wants to explain what that means. “The light of Torah means the intellectual pleasure that a person gets from learning. It’s an unbelievable thing when a person actually learns Torah, he gets unbelievable pleasure. He feels closer to God. Festive joy, that’s the second loshen. Ora vesimcha, simcha is happiness. That’s the emotion of gratitude. Gratitude creates a tremendous bond to God. And sasson which means gladness, refers to circumcision which was on the body. Here you’ve got all three parts of the human being. You have his intellect, his emotions, and his body in a relationship with God.” He explains, “That’s exactly what Purim is about. Purim is about a complete attachment to God, a commitment to God, which means the removal of all cynicism; the removal of all skepticism. It means a total connection, a happiness, hakores hatov, recognizing the good, recognizing everything that God’s done for us, and connecting completely, totally to God through drinking and through eating. This is an unbelievable holiday. That’s why it’s even greater than Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is only like Purim. This is a total connection through eating and through drinking, not fasting.” Rav Dessler wants to explain, “That’s what the pshat, that’s the simple understanding of what the mitzvah.” We know there’s a mitzvah on Purim to drink, where you can’t distinguish between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai. “Blessing,” he explains, “Means expansion. It means being rich; and cursed means being poor, not having.” He says, “It has nothing to do with the physical. It’s not a question of being rich. It’s not a question of being poor. We’re going to go beyond that. Purim means going beyond that, connecting with God in a deeper way – a total connection to God, where you can’t see the difference between being rich or poor. What’s the difference if you’re rich or poor when it comes to God? Connect to God.” He says, “We have to break the restraints of this physical world. And that’s what it would mean, ‘to win the war against Amalek.’ No skepticism. No cynicism. A total connection to God.” I give everyone a blessing to have a wonderful Purim. It should be the greatest Purim you’ve ever had.
Peace in Your Home
I want to tell you over the second commandment of marriage of Rav Avigdor Miller. He has the 10 commandments of marriage, and here’s the second one. The second one is, “Do not disrupt the routine of marriage.” In other words, keep to your routine. If you don’t keep to your routine, it means you’re starting a war. And in a war, there are casualties. You have to keep to your routine. You want to stay married, you have to keep to the routine. What’s that for example? He says, “The wife should continue to prepare meals,” or whoever is preparing the meals, the husband or the wife, “But you have to prepare meals. You have to continue to prepare those meals. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting. The family needs food. You still have to prepare meals.” He says like this – an unbelievable thing. “Just like a Cohen stands at the mizbeiach, altar and offers a korban tamid at the morning and evening no matter what, even if he’s angry at the Cohen Gadol, in the Temple the Cohanim they had to serve. So, they had to bring the korbanos, the sacrifices in the morning. It didn’t matter if they were angry at their boss, or not angry at their boss, the Cohen Gadol. They still had to do it. You have to continue to bring food into the house, that things continue as normal.”
Not only that, the husband should also always come to the meal, or the wife. They also have to come to their meal. You have to sit down in your regular place and eat supper. Ah, you’re having a fight? So, don’t talk to each other. You don’t have to talk to each other. But you have to continue in your routine. And God-forbid that a wife should not go to the mikveh. Don’t say, “I’m not going to go to the mikveh.” Mikveh means that you can’t be together with your husband. Don’t say you’re not going to go to the mikveh, you’re asking for trouble. It’s going to start a war. You’re breaking the routine of marriage.
Or the husband should never refuse to give his wife money. That’s not normal. He shouldn’t say, “This week you’re not getting money.” Everything has to continue according to routine. This is assuming that you want to stay married. If you don’t want to stay married, you could do all these things and you could end your marriage quite quickly. But if you want to stay married and you’re just having a fight, so you have to keep to the routine. And a man should never leave home. Don’t sleep out and say, “I’m leaving. I’m going to my friend.” He says, “Even if you went to the airport already, you should still come back. Many men were at the airport and they changed their mind. Once you take an airplane, who knows what’s going to happen?” That’s what he says. So, keep normal. You have to come back. You have to sleep in your bed every night, even if you’re having a fight. It’s not a war, it’s just a fight.
And the opposite, a man should not drive his wife out of the house and say, “Go back to your mother’s house.” You know how many marriages ended because of that? Because, what happened is the wife goes back to the parents’ house. The parents start to take the side of their wife. In the end, it ends up with a divorce. They don’t want a divorce, we’re trying to prevent divorces. So, the second command of marriage is, do not disrupt the routine of marriage. If you want peace in your home, don’t disrupt the routine. Do everything normal. You could have a fight. Don’t make the fight into a war. In a war, people get killed.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. I hope everyone enjoyed it. Everyone should have a freiliche Purim. Please leave commends on the podcast, and please tell your friends about the podcast so they can also enjoy it.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff