Thursday, March 14, 2019



A fellow meets his elderly neighbor Bernie, one afternoon, and they begin conversing. Bernie starts telling his neighbor about a new class he and his wife were taking. “You know, how we are getting older, and sometimes we tend to forget details, events, and even names. So, we’re taking a class called memory by association. If you can’t remember something, you remember something else associated with what you are trying to remember and that helps jar your memory.”
The neighbor is impressed. “My parents are getting older and I think they could benefit from such a class. What’s the name of the instructor?”
Bernie thinks for a second. “Well now is a perfect time for me to show you what I’ve learned. What’s the name of that beautiful flower, it comes in different colors, and people like to give red ones to someone they love?” The neighbor replies, “Do you mean a rose?” Bernie nods and smiles, “Yes, that’s it!” Then Bernie screams into the kitchen, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of the instructor of the association class we’re taking?” 

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt.”[2]
What is it about Amalek and their attack that we are obligated to remember? 
In addition, why is Megillas Esther specifically named for Esther? Granted, she was a heroine in the story, but couldn’t it have been called Megillas Mordechai or Megillas Purim?

The gemara[3] relates two opinions about Esther’s physical beauty. The first opinion is the classically known view that she was very beautiful. The gemara then quotes a second opinion that Esther had a pale complexion and wasn’t all that attractive. Still, she had a certain charm and regal bearing to her that made her exceedingly attractive to Achashveirosh. 
Why does the gemara relate the second opinion which seems degrading about Esther?
The Vilna Gaon explained that originally Esther was indeed exceedingly beautiful and attractive. However, being forced to remain in the harem of Achashveirosh had a detrimental effect upon her. Esther was a person of depth and lived with higher values and aspirations. The women in the palace on the other hand, spent their days consumed in beautifying themselves, dousing themselves in oils, creams, and lotions.[4] Their conversations were all about their physical appearance and how they could make themselves even more attractive. For Esther living among such superficiality was mental torture. Being in such an environment for a prolonged amount of time had a physical effect upon her and made her appear pale.
The gemara relates that fact to demonstrate her depth and righteousness.

The gemara[5] notes that Vashti’s humiliating end was a worthy punishment for her, because she would force the Jewish girls to undress and work on Shabbos. That was why she was summoned to appear before the king undressed on Shabbos.
Vashti didn’t literally force the Jewish girls to undress. Vashti was the queen and celebrity that every girl aspired to be like. She was beautiful, powerful, and royal.[6] She was also an immodest woman who dressed provocatively to garner attention.[7] Being that all the girls looked up to her, they also imitated her mode of dress. Invariably this effected the Jewish girls as well. This is what the gemara refers to as “stripping the Jewish girls”. By dressing inappropriately, she served as a negative role model to violate the standards of modesty and decency. [8]
Esther was the antithesis of Vashti. Esther was sickened to her core by the immodesty that Vashti personified.

Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz shlita[9] explains that when one devotes themselves selflessly to a cause, it is remembered and referred to in their name. The Torah is referred to as “Toras Moshe”[10] because Moshe Rabbeinu devoted his heart and soul, and even his physical self, to teaching and transmitting Torah to Klal Yisroel.[11]
At the beginning of Mishlei, Shlomo Hamelech states: “Listen my son to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother.”[12] Why is the Torah referred to as the “Torah of your mother” when a woman isn’t even obligated to learn Torah? The most important component in conveying Torah to one’s children isn’t the actual wisdom of Torah, as much as it is the influence of Torah. That influence is instilled into the home by the woman of the home who inculcates the values and love of Torah into her family.[13]
During the unfolding of the Purim story, there was no one who devoted themselves more selflessly to the Jewish people and to their salvation than Esther. It was Esther who lived in the palace away from her loved ones, had to put her life on the line for her people, and remained married to the wicked Achashveirosh for the rest of her life, even after the miracles of Purim occurred. Therefore, the megillah is named after her.
Esther was also a worthy role model for Jewish women, personifying modesty, selflessness, devotion, and boundless love for her people. There was no one who offered herself so completely on behalf of her people. That is the meaning behind the words we sing,[14] “Blessed is Esther on my behalf”.

In the prayer Uva L’tzion we state: “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, says G-d: My spirit that is upon you, and My words that I have placed in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children, says G-d, from now for eternity.” To convey Torah values and Torah living to our children, we must invest in them the ‘spirit’ of such values. It’s not enough to fulfill the Torah and mitzvos, we must live them and convey the spirit of the law. That spirit is chiefly created by the woman of the home through her love, devotion, and emotional warmth.
It is that spirit that Amalek sought, and seeks, to destroy. Amalek is the consummate scoffer who mocks, minimizes, and degrades all that is sacred. When we emerged from the splitting of the sea, we were emotionally fired-up and felt deeply connected with G-d. Amalek’s attack may have been a military failure, but their desire to destroy our spiritual momentum and break through our aura of invincibility was a booming success.
All the miracles and the entire Sinai experience was to foster that spirit within us. In one fell swoop Amalek let the air out of the tires, causing spiritual and psychological damage that can never be fully repaired.

A tenth-grade boy who had always done well in school and had been the pride of his family, suddenly had a terrible slide. In a short time, he became involved in negative and risky behaviors and kept pushing the envelope.
One evening the boy’s father took him on a long walk for a crucial heart-to-heart conversation. During that talk the boy admitted that a few bad friends had been having a terrible influence upon him. They prevailed upon him to experiment with different things, claiming that it was no big deal, and everyone was doing it. They introduced him to places and things he knew were wrong for him to be involved in but he couldn’t face up to the peer pressure.  
The father looked his son in the eye and said, “Son, your life is in your hands. No one can stop you from these behaviors or from these friends, except for yourself. Just remember your dreams and what you want to become. Think about the path you’re on now and where it may likely end up. Recapture your dreams before it’s too late!”
Thankfully, the son hearkened to his father’s message and extricated himself from those friendships and got himself back on track.
Then, when the boy began eleventh grade, and then again at the beginning of his senior year, when he began college, and then again when he moved into his own apartment, the father gently told his son, “Remember what happened during your sophomore year. There will be others who will try to do the same, and if you forget the lesson you learned then, you may quickly find yourself back in the same predicament, and perhaps even worse.”

Remember what Amalek did to you! Remember what they robbed you of – your pride, and your indomitable and unyielding spirit and faith in G-d. Remember how they tried to deflate your inner fire and passion, to make you feel like we weren’t special and unique.
Remember - because if you forget, Amalek has many disciples and permutations and will attack again!

Purim is a celebration of reigniting of that inner fire!
Chumash Vayikra is the book of the Torah that relates the laws of offering korbanos to Hashem. Today, in exile, our heart is our sanctuary, and we offer our very souls to G-d.[15] 
On Purim we offer our very selves to G-d through joy and fiery passion. That is the greatest revenge against Amalek and that is the ultimate way to remember what they perpetrated against us.
Beyond the wonderful laughter and gaiety of the day, one is remiss if he doesn’t feel intense pride and intense joy in being part of the chosen, eternal people.

“Remember, what Amalek did to you.”
“My spirit that is upon you shall not depart for eternity”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] The following is the lecture I delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Parshas Vayikra/Zachor 5776
[2] Devorim 25:17
[3] Megilla 15a
[4] One would think that the women vying to be queen would spend their days learning about royal etiquette and expectations. But the megillah relates that their sole preoccupation was on their physical looks. That was the criteria that Achashveirosh would base his decision on. That speaks volumes about what kind of a person he was.  
[5] Megilla 12b
[6] She was the featured picture of every magazine in “Shushanawood”
[7] The gemara relates that Vashti was only too happy to appear naked before the drunken men, until she realized that she was suddenly besieged with unsightly marks all over her body.
[8] I heard this from my rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Finkelman. I was not able to ask Rabbi Finkelman who he said this over from.
[9] Tiv HaPurim
[10] Malachi 3:22 “Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant”
[11] Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 15:1
[12] Mishlei 1:8
[13] Ibn Ezra "כי האשה חכמה מורה דרך הישרה לבנה"
[14] In ‘Shoshanas Yaakov’
[15] Rabbi Elazar Azkari in Sefer Hachassidim expressed this idea very movingly: "בתוך לבי משכן אבנה לזיוו, קרבן תקריב לו נפשי היחידה" – In my heart I will build a sanctuary to His splendor; I will offer to Him the depths of my soul” .Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt’l wrote a well-known variation based on these words which was composed into a very moving song called ‘Bilvavi’


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