Special Holiday Edition Purim – The Secret to Happiness – Learning to Say I Don’t Know – A Powerful Parable about a Pen that Writes Itself – A Great Story Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein and Peace in Your Home – Having a Happy Purim
The Torah Podcast Transcript
093 The Torah Podcast – The Secret of Happiness – Learning to Say I don’t Know
Special Holiday Edition – Purim
Rav Yitzhak Hutner has an unbelievable piece on Purim. He brings a verse from Tehillim, the verse says, “And all the nations of the earth will witness the salvation brought by our God.” That’s Tehillim 98:3. And the Gemara Megilla explains, when was that? When did this take place? This was during the days of Mordechai and Esther. So, he brings down that Hashem Himself does mitzvos. Which mitzvah does Hashem do? He does the mitzvah of tefillin. It says in example in Gemara Brochas that Hashem wears tefillin. What’s written inside the tefillin of Hashem? What’s written is, “Who could compare to my people, Yisroel? Who are one unique united nation on earth?” In other words, the mitzvah that He does gives praise to the Jewish people. Just like we do mitzvos to give praise to Hashem, Hashem does mitzvos in order to bring praise to God. But he extends this even further. He says an unbelievable idea. He says, “Just like we also have mitzvos which are not defined,” those mitzvos are called a reshus. And the possuk in Mishlei says, “Be chal darkei dachu, in all your ways you should know Hashem.” In other words, everything we do has to be a mitzvah. It’s not just a lulav and a sukkah, and Rosh Hashana, blowing the shofar. Those mitzvas are defined by the Torah, they’re very clear. But everything else that we’re doing is also supposed to be a mitzvah. So, he wants to extend it. “Just like Hashem does mitzvas which are defined, He also does mitzvas which are non-defined.”
Now, what’s the difference between a defined mitzvah and a non-defined mitzvah, which we’re calling the reshus, which means optional? In other words, you can choose. You can choose who you marry. You can choose what kind of job you want to do. You have a lot of details in your life, and you can choose. But they’re not defined. You choose it, it’s called a reshus. So, what’s the difference between that type of mitzvah and the defined mitzvah? The difference is, when you see a person doing a mitzvah, shaking a lulav, or blowing a shofar on Rosh Hashana, it’s quite clear what that person is doing. He’s doing a mitzvah. Everybody sees that he’s giving praise to God. Everybody sees that that person is doing that thing for the sake of God. But on the other hand, if you do mitzvos that are reshus, who you marry, and where you work, it’s not so clear whether the guy’s really doing it for Hashem or not. It only comes out in the long run. If you see a guy doing certain acts, over time you can little by little understand what the guy is doing, and you can see that he’s also doing it to praise God. He’s also doing it for God’s sake. So, the same thing with Hashem. Hashem also has these two types of mitzvos. Which types of mitzvos for example, are defined? For example, kriyas Yam Suf, when God took us out of Mitzrayim, Egypt, and He split the Red Sea, you see clearly there everybody sees right away, “Wow, what did Hashem do for the Jewish people?” He’s giving praise to the Jewish people, He’s giving value to the Jewish people.
On the other hand, when Hashem does other things for the Jewish people which are not so clearly defined, so those things are called a reshus in the world of mitzvos you can’t see clearly what’s going on. So, he wants to explain, that’s the story of Purim. That’s the story of the Megillas Esther. It takes a long time, and only at the end do you figure out that God was there in every move. You can’t see it from moment to moment. You only see it over time, all the different things that happened. The fact that Esther got taken in to the King’s palace, and the fact that the King woke up in the middle of the night, and he wanted somebody to read to him, and he happened to read to him that Mordechai saved his life, and all the other small events which appeared to be according to nature nature, so those things you can’t see clearly where’s God in these things. All the things that God does over time, we can’t see them. The miracles, those are like the defined mitzvos, where the non-miracles, teva, that’s considered like the reshus, optional. And each thing that Hashem is doing is for the sake of the Jewish people. He’s helping the Jewish people. And in the end of the story, we saw the tremendous kiddush Hashem.
We saw how Hashem saved the people, and that’s what the verse said. The verse in Tehillim said, “And all the nations of the earth will witness the salvation brought by God.” All the nations of the world where Achashverosh was King over 127 provinces over the entire world, they saw the salvation of the Jews. When did they hear of the salvation of the Jews? Only at the very end. So, what does this teach us? This teaches us that we cannot see the ways of Hashem. It’s only in the end that we’ll be able to see the ways of Hashem. But everything along the way, Hashem was there. And that’s exactly what the story of Purim is about, that all the mundane things, all the things which seem to be happening naturally – you meet this person, you speak to that person, this happens, that happens – really Hashem is doing all of it, but you don’t see it. It’s only at the end that you understand, and if you look back in your life, of course you see wow, thank God I didn’t marry that girl. Or, thank God this happened. Bad things that appear to be happening are not bad at all.
That’s what he says. He says, “During the remainder of the year we anticipate and yearn for salvation that will end our suffering and reveal the concealed presence of God. But on Purim the anticipation for redemption involves hoping and anticipating that the final salvation will appear to make apparent that there was never any hiddenness and concealment.” In the end, it is revealed that God Himself did everything. That’s the story of Purim. God was there each step of the way. And this is an unbelievable lesson in happiness. How can we be happy? The only way we could be happy is we understand that every detail of our lives is occurring because Hashem is the one that’s doing it. We can’t see it now, but in the long run we can. But the Chachamim, the great Sages, the great Rabbis understood along the way. And you can see a proof from Rashi. What does Rashi say in the Megilla? He says on the verse, it says, “And every day Mordechai would walk about in the front of the quarters of the house of the women to learn of Esther’s welfare, and what would be done to her.” What happened to Mordechai? According to most opinions, Esther was his wife. They took his wife away, and they gave her to a non-Jewish King. Could you imagine? You’d be devastated. And that’s why the verse said he was outside, wondering what’s going to be with her. But Rashi explains – listen to this. Mordechai said to himself, “The only reason that this righteous woman was taken to the bed of a non-Jewish King must be that she’s destined to arise and save the Jewish people.” He therefore went around to find out what would be her fate. In other words, Mordechai understood, this crazy thing happened, they took my wife and they gave her to a non-Jewish King. Oh, what does he say to himself? It must be that she’s in there to become the Princess in order to save the Jewish people, and we’re going to need her. Listen to this perspective, it’s unbelievable. Instead of being depressed, instead of being down and finished, no. He looks at it with a positive understanding, because he understands there’s got to be a bigger picture. I don’t see the bigger picture. I only see a small sliver of time. But if I look over the long run, there must be a reason for what happened. And that was his attitude. It was unbelievable. He understood that this horrible thing that was happening must be there to save the Jewish people. And it’s such a high level, to be able to look at life that way, to see in all the details of your life when something bad happens, that God is doing it.
And Rav Dessler explains on the Rashi which is the same thing as the Yalkut Shemoni, he explains there like this. He says, “God finds it necessary to punish Yisroel. He generally provides the cure beforehand, in order to teach us that the sole purpose of the punishment is to induce us to do teshuva, that we should return to Him, so, to make the punishment unnecessary.” And Mordechai sensed this exactly when he saw that his wife went to Achashverosh. The concept is that the cure comes before the disease. A refuah lifnai ha makka, everything that Hashem’s doing is a cure. It’s to help us. What’s going on, why are we suffering? We’re only suffering because Hashem wants to help us. And if we look at it that way, we’ll see that the cure comes before the punishment. We don’t understand the bigger picture. We don’t know why Hashem’s doing what He does. He does things for reasons. Like it says in Tehillim, it says like this. There’s a famous Tehillim that we read every Shabbos, “How great are your deeds Hashem, exceedingly profound are your thoughts. A boor cannot know, and a fool cannot understand this. When the wicked bloom like grass, and all the iniquitous blossom, it is to destroy them for eternity. But you, Hashem, remain forever.” A boor cannot know and a fool cannot understand. So, the commentators explain that it says a fool cannot understand this. Do you know what they do? They say, “Listen, there’s one thing I don’t understand in this story. Since there’s one thing I don’t understand, it must be that there’s no God. There’s no good, and things are not just. Things are not fair. Where is God in the story? Because of one thing I don’t understand. No, we can’t have that attitude. The verse is explaining that evil occurs, why do bad things occur? So they should be wiped out forever. They should be gone. Really, what happened al pi kabbalah is that if Adam Ha Rishon did not sin everything would have been fine. But since he sinned, it’s like the light spilled all over the place. And since the light spilled all over the place, it’s in dark places and it now has to come back. So, all the energy that evil has only comes from good. What happens is, the evil is done and perpetrated, and then it uses up its energy and it’s gone forever. That’s exactly what the verse says. “When the wicked bloom like grass, and the iniquitous blossom, it is to destroy them for eternity.” And the Midrash in Esther Rabba says like this. “It says that the enemies of God are raised to meet their downfall.” God lifts up the enemies of the Jewish people in order that they should fall down.
It may be likened to a slave who cursed the King’s son. So, then the King says, “Listen, if I kill this slave, nobody is going to notice it. Nobody’s going to learn anything from it. I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to take this slave. I’m going to promote him to be somebody famous in the government. And then I’m going to kill him, and then everybody’s going to see you can’t go against the King’s son.” You can’t go against the Jewish people. So too, the same thing with Haman. It says, “I caused Haman to prosper and succeed so he should hang, to teach the world retribution against evil.” Hashem rose up Haman to show the world that this is wrong. Don’t go against the Jewish people. What are you doing, it’s evil what you’re doing. But Hashem did the evil in order that it should be a kiddush Hashem, that people should understand the right way. And that’s why he brought evil. And meanwhile we were crying, and we didn’t know what was happening, what’s happening to me. There’s a decree against the Jewish people, we’re all going to die, oy vavoy. But Hashem was behind the scenes at every moment along the way. And He was doing it to show the world, “Watch this. Watch the salvation of the Jewish people.” He was doing it for a reason. But the chachamim understood that along the way, and that’s what Mordechai understood, he understood that Esther went with Achashverosh in order that the Jewish people should be saved.
And not only that, but the Shem Mi Shmuel explains there was another reason for it. Why? Hashem wanted that the Jewish people should unite. Because of a decree that we were about to be destroyed, and the Jews were all over the place, He wanted them to unite. Why did He want them to unite? Kiblu ve kiblu, in order that they should accept the Torah again with love. So, Hashem made a horrible situation. Hashem made a crisis in order that we should come together in order to receive the Torah. And it says, that it says by kiblu ve’kiblu, it’s kibel. It’s actually written in the Megilla singular, that the Jewish people united just like in order to receive the Torah the first time, we had to unite as one people with one lev, a lev echad, also to receive the oral tradition with ahava, with love, and with fear, we had to unite. And that was the reason why Hashem made this horrible situation where we were about to all be destroyed. Without this, we never would have received the Torah with true love. That’s what it says, on Purim we received the Torah with true love.” It would never have happened if it wasn’t for the bad decrees of Haman.
And Rav Wolbe brings Rav Yerucham who explains, there’s many reasons why Hashem brings these tremendous crises upon the Jewish people. For example, he says the kriyas Yam Suf – the main purpose of kriyas Yam Suf was not to have the miracle that the sea split. He says, no. “He wanted to show the Jewish people that there was no natural way out of the predicament. And they were compelled to come unto Hashem.” Listen to this, this is unbelievable. The purpose of the Jews having to cross the Red Sea and the Sea splitting was not to show the miracle that Hashem split the Sea. It was there to show the Jews, listen. There is no natural way out. And since there’s no natural way out, you’re going to have to change your focus. You’re going to have to come unto God, you’re going to have to pray. You have to realize that I’m here, I’m behind the scenes here. Hashem is saying, “I’m behind teva, I’m behind nature. There is no natural way out.” And that’s why Hashem made that the Jews are standing there at kriyas Yam Suf, and behind them are the Mitzrim, Egyptians, and they’re about to be killed, and there’s no way out. So, they were compelled to change their focus towards God. And that’s why Hashem made the tzar, can you imagine the emotional turmoil that the Jews had? They’re about to be wiped out, they’re like in the Holocaust. They’re about to be wiped out. So, what’s the emotional reaction? The real level that we should be on is, we have to understand that Hashem is doing it in order that we should come unto Him, that we should change our focus. And many things in our lives, all the suffering and all the hardships and all the horrible things we have to go through, are just there for us to realize that we have to come unto Hashem, and that’s why Hashem is doing it to us. There is a much higher reason.
Rav Wolbe says, “Divine providence also removes all viable options, in order for us to redirect our focus so that instead of turning to outsiders for help, we are forced to turn our gaze inward, and come to the realization that only Hashem can help us.” And he says that’s exactly what happened in Purim, because the Gemara Megilla says, “Change yourselves, purify yourselves, you have to grow. You have to move.” It didn’t help. What helped? When the ring went from Achashverosh to Haman and they saw the decree that’s it, you’re about to be wiped out…there was a decree, you’re about to be wiped out. What was it there for? It was there for the Jews to do teshuva, for them to return to Hashem. That’s why it was there. It’s not evil in the sense of pure evil. No, it was there for a reason. If we have the bigger picture, we understand that Hashem is behind the scenes, and we understand that Hashem is kulo tov, He is good, and everything that’s happening to us is hashgacha pratis. It’s details that are coming exactly from Hashem – who you meet, who you speak to, what happened, this thing and that thing, all these things that are happening to us. We have to understand that Hashem is behind the scenes. That’s what we learn from the Megilla.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says we learn from Purim to have emunah peshutah, a simple faith. He says, “The verse says, know your God and your Father and serve Him.” It’s very simple. You just serve God. Whatever is happening is not your business, in a certain sense. Hashem’s running the world. You think you’re running the world? No, Hashem’s running the world. So, in the end of the day, Purim itself teaches us the secret to being happy. It says you have to drink until you don’t know. You don’t know what? You don’t know the difference between blessed is Mordechai and cursed is Haman. What do you mean, you don’t know? That’s right, you don’t know. That is the secret to happiness. The secret to happiness is understanding that you don’t know. When you see something happen, you have to assume it’s for your good. You have to assume that Hashem did it. When Mordechai’s wife was taken away and given to a non-Jewish King, he said, “Oh, it must be Hashem has a plan.” When things happen to you, you have to be at that level. That’s what we learn from Purim. We learn that on Purim the secret to happiness is to say, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening. All I know with emunah peshutah, my simple faith, I know that Hashem is doing it. And I know Hashem is behind the scenes. I know that everything is min hashemayim, everything comes from God – every single detail. And when I understand that and I really believe it, that creates happiness. I don’t have to judge, this is happening, all these bad things are happening…all these bad things are happening. I have to be above my own emotions.
I saw a video of Rav Twerski, actually it’s on my website. You go to globalyeshiva.com . If you look there it says, “Being a Mentsch.” He speaks about if your emotions are normal, like a normal human being, that’s called being a beheima. That’s an animal. The emotions that you were given as a child are animalistic. Somebody gives you a patsch, you want to give them a patsch back. Somebody does this to you, and you get all upset about this, those are animalistic emotions. Being a mentsch, being above those emotions, that’s what a true Jew has to be – above your emotions. You have to see the world through a different set of glasses. You have to see that everything that’s happening is min hashemayim, everything, God’s doing it. I don’t understand. And you have to say, “I don’t know.” But it’s not going to upset me, why is it not going to upset me? Because I don’t know. I don’t know the big picture. And you see the same thing in your life. The longer you live, you say, “Oh, thank God. I said thank God I didn’t marry that girl, and thank God that this didn’t happen. And all the bad things that I thought were happening were really good things.” Bad things that look like bad things, a person only grows when bad things happen. In other words, the bad things are happening in order to get you to this level, in order to realize how am I going to be happy with my life? How can I possibly be happy? It’s impossible, Rabbi. It’s impossible. This is happening, my wife is not nice to me, my kids are off the derech, and that’s happening, and this is happening. Come on, what are you talking about? Avraham’s kid was off the derech, Yitzhak’s kid was off the derech, a thousand things were going wrong. Every Jewish sage. Dovid HaMelech’s son tried to kill him, and then he had the story with Tamar. It’s endless. All the sufferings that the Jews were going through, it’s endless sufferings. So, how are you supposed to be happy if all these crazy things are happening to me, all these bad things are happening to me? The answer is, “I don’t know.” And that’s why on Purim you have to drink to the point where you say, “I don’t know. I don’t know the difference between a blessing and a curse. I don’t know.” And when you say, “I don’t know,” that’s when you’re going to be happy.
A Powerful Parable
Rav Dessler brings down that a person who has real faith doesn’t question Hashem. He’s not plagued by the many questions that trouble most of the world’s population. What does he say? There’s a parable, to understand this. What’s the parable? He says, “It’s compared to a person who’s looking through a keyhole of a door, and he sees inside a pen. And the pen is writing. It’s amazing. His limited vision only allows him to see the piece of paper, and the pen writing. And then he watches the pen write word after word, and line after line, never realizing that the pen is being held by a person who’s really doing the writing. If he would just open the door, he would see that there’s a person inside doing the writing. And there’s much more to the scene than meets the eye. That was the moshul, what’s the conclusion?
What do we learn from that? It’s the same thing. We don’t see God behind the scenes. We’re just looking through a little peephole. We have a small section of reality that we see. We don’t see the entire reality that God’s behind everything. But if we would just open up a door, we would see that God is really there.
Great Stories – Rav Yitzhak Silberstein
This is a story about Rav Yitzhak Silberstein. One time he was invited to a wedding, and the bride was there, sitting on the bridal chair in the hall, waiting for the groom to arrive. And the clock keeps ticking and ticking, they’re waiting for the groom. What’s going on? Finally, he gets a telephone call, the groom has decided to call off the wedding. Everybody’s there…I don’t know, a couple of hundred people are there at the wedding. Could you imagine the feelings of the girl? She’s devastated, humiliated. It’s indescribable. And all the relatives, and everybody, what a scene. Could you imagine such a scene? So, the father came and asked him to speak to the bride. What is he going to say to the bride? So he says, “I told her the following story. There’s a Gemara in Kesubos that says that Rebbe wanted to marry off his son to a daughter of Rav Chiel.’ The daughters of Rav Chiel were very praised inside the Talmud for being on a very high level. So, what happened? The wedding came, and at the chuppah, canopy, the bride passed away. So then Rebbe said, ‘Is there Heaven-forbid a disqualification in one of our families?’ He also saw, he saw, why did this happen? There must be a reason for this. If we see Hashem caused this tragedy to happen, there must be a reason for it. Perhaps the families weren’t suited to join in marriage. So, they checked out the lineage and it was true. Rebbe came from royal blood, and Rav Chiel was not from royal blood.”
So, Rav Silberstein talked to the bride. He said like this. “There are times that people think that a shidduch, match is a wonderful thing, and the groom and the bride are perfectly suited for each other. But heaven knows otherwise. Their shidduchim weren’t appropriate, and they should be dropped even at the last moment, and even if its embarrassment is overwhelming, Hashem knows what’s the best for a person. And if you would have got married, it probably would have turned out much worse than what you’re going through right now.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Avigdor Miller speaks about peace in the home, and he speaks about Purim. He says, “A lot of people who are not that religious, they skip Purim. In America, they have Purim. By the non-religious, they don’t have Purim.” He says, “This is a major mistake, because what do they have instead? They have Thanksgiving.” So he says, “Listen, if your friends want to come over on Thanksgiving, you tell them you’re busy. And you’ll tell them instead, ‘Come over on Purim.’” Why? Because these holidays that we have creates unity in the family because he says, “A joyous Purim gives the merry heart which is a continual feast.” It’s a possuk in Mishlei – all year. That’s what it says, he quotes the Orach Chayim. So, if you’re happy on Purim, you can get happiness for the entire year. He says, “Adorning the home with many holy festivals and Torah celebrations as possible – Pesach, Shavuos, Sukkos, Purim, Chanukah, Lag B’Omer, even issru chag and rosh chodesh, all these things if you serve Hashem with simcha, if you have these holidays in your house, it brings beauty into the house. It brings happiness into the house. It brings peace into your house. The home is regarded as a place of happiness and Torah idealism.”
He says, “Even people who are not religious, famous poets and painters, Jews who are the most distant from Judaism, they still have as their themes the Pesach seder, you have painters, non-religious Jews, painting the Pesach seder. And poets and singers, singing about the Pesach seder. Why was that? Because when they were kids, and they were at their grandparents’ Pesach seder, it gave them a feeling of belonging, a feeling of happiness, a feeling of unity, a feeling that you’re taken care of, a feeling of love. The holidays bring love into the house. I remember as a little kid, five years old, singing Ma Nishtana under the table of my grandparents during the seder. There was a feeling there, there was a feeling of happiness, a feeling of love, that people cared about you. “It’s so important,” he says, “The true Jewish home possesses a powerful attraction. It’s our duty to enhance with the best of our ability, the Jewish home, to make the mitzvos beautiful, that everyone in the house should feel the beauty of the Torah.” He says, “Especially in view of the unending campaign that the nations try to knock Jews and Judaism, and even the disloyal Jews are trying to knock out Judaism, we have to hold our banner high of true Judaism, and demonstrate its genuine beauty and the joy of living a Torah life. The holidays themselves bring peace into our homes.”
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff