Monday, March 14, 2011

Light on Purim - 1986

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I have always been bemused and amused at the delightful sight of gentiles attending Jewish religious affairs and being asked to don yarmulkas, there not being the slightest reason in the world for imposing headgear on a goy.  (Fortunately for the Pope and the Jews of Rome, there will be no need for such a thing on his historic, exciting, breathtaking, joyful, spine-tingling visit to the Great Rome Synagogue since, as opposed to Alexander Schindler, the Pope always wears a yarmulke)  nevertheless, the yarmulking of the goy, for me, has always been an apt symbol of American Judaism itself, especially on the part of the Moderdox. I refer to the taking, not of the gentile, but of the gentilization, and the yarmulking of it, i.e., taking gentile concepts, gentile values and turning them into “Judaism.”

One stands in sheer awe at the perversion of Judaism and Jewish values by the Hellenists, the gentilized and the Moderdox, in their desperate efforts to prove to the gentile and, of course, to themselves, that western civilization with all its secularized gentilized values, is Judaism.

They whip out their semi-verses, these semi-learned, and “prove” that evil is good and good evil, darkness light and light darkness (and is that not also a verse?).

Born into Western gentilization and denizens of the fleshpots of those values, they join to decry such “non-Jewish” concepts as vengeance, joy over the destruction of the enemy, basic difference in status between Jews and gentile, and the claim that democracy and Judaism are at opposite polls.

And so, what better time than Purim to shed a little light on the fog and dark ages of the Hellenists and Moderdox alike, for few holidays more clearly emphasize all the authentic Jewish values that the yarmulkasizers of the Jewish earth so desperately attempt to bury and forget.

So, if on Purim for the Jews there was “light and gladness and joy and honor,” let us indeed shed a little light on real Judaism as seen from the holiday itself.

Lesson One:  We must never seek vengeance or be happy at the fall of our enemy.
(Megillah 16a) [When Haman came to lead Mordechai on the king’s horse] “He said to him: Get up and ride.  Said Mordechai: I am weak from fasting.  Haman thereupon bent down [to allow Mordechai to climb on him].  When he bent down, Mordechai kicked him.  Haman then said: does it not say in your books ‘when your enemy falls, be not glad’?] (Proverbs 24:17)/  Said Mordechai:  That concerns Jews [when a Jew has an enemy who is a Jew], but with you [gentiles] it is written, ‘And you shall trample on their high places’(Deuteronomy 33:29).”

What is the Talmud saying?  One, joy over the fall of a gentile enemy of the Jewish people is permitted, more, it is a mitzvah. Indeed, the whole nature of Purim, the rejoicing over the death of Haman, the stamping of the feet at the mention of his name, is rejoicing over the fall of the enemy of the Jewish people.  And that is because of the next lesson: that vengeance against the enemy of the Jewish people – an enemy that is per se, the enemy of the G-d of the Jewish people – is a joy and commandment because only through vengeance, through the fall of the enemy, is G-d vindicated.  For the same enemy who crowed when success smiled upon him, “There is no G-d in Israel”, by his fall proves that there is indeed One!  And what does King David say?  “The righteous one shall rejoice when he sees vengeance, he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.  And men shall say:  There, indeed, is a G-d that judges in the earth!” (Psalms 58:11-12).

But what does that do to the Hellenist-Moderdox lesson?  Answer: It destroys it.  And at the Purim feast, as we rejoice in the vengeance against Haman, let us drink a toast to the demise, too, of this gentilized nonsense with the yarmulka perched on its empty head.

Lesson Two:  Since all people are made in G-d’s image, they must be totally equal and treated with mercy.
(Megillah 11a): “Rabbi Levi would begin [his introduction to the Megillah] with the verse: “And if you shall not drive out the inhabitants of the Land [of Israel] from before you, they will be as thorns in your eyes’ (Numbers 33:55).”

To the obvious question, what does this verse have to do with Purim, Rashi says: “So were these Jews of Persia punished because Saul had pity on Amalek [and allowed their king Agag to live].”

What is the Talmud saying?  It is emphasizing that the mitzvah to drive out the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael was a Divine, Jewish commandment and that failure to observe it would lead to punishment. It teaches that a similar injunction to wipe out Amalak, also brought down Divine wrath in the era of Purim, because it was not followed.  In short, in the struggle against the enemy it is a mitzvah to fight without mercy, for as the Rabbis say: “When you go out to battle against your enemy, know that they are the enemy and not your allies.  As they would have no mercy on you, have not mercy upon them” (Tanchuma, Shoftim 15).

But you say, does this not contradict the teaching of the three L’s that we must always have mercy on all people?  On our enemies?  The answer is, yes, it does contradict it. Because there was never such a teaching in Judaism.  Mercy and pity are reserved for people who are not our enemies.  For those who are, Purim teaches us something very different.

And a final less from Purim:
The Rabbis ask (Hullin 139b): “Haman min haTorah minayin?” (“Where is there a hint as to Haman in the Torah?” And they answer from the verse (genesis 3:11): “Ha’min ha’eytz asher tziviticha l’vilti echol mimenu achalta?”(Have you eaten from the tree from which I forbade you to eat?”)

The obvious question is: Why in the world must there be a hint of Haman in the Torah when Haman’s story occurred long after the Torah was written?  And more – because the word “Haman” and the word “ha’min” sound alike, what is the connection between them?

The answer is, what the Rabbis are really asking is:  Where in the Torah is the lesson of Haman hinted at?  And the answer is that G-d, in His totality of wisdom, placed a word that sounds like “Haman” into a Torah passage that carries with it that central lesson.  The passage is G-d speaking to Adam and chastising him because he disobeyed the one law that G-d gave him. He followed the dictates of his own heart and cast off the yoke of Heaven.  And this, indeed, is the central lesson of Purim: The whole rise of Haman, his threat to wipe out the Jews, the near-Holocaust, came about because the Jews refused to obey G-d’s law – the wiping out of Amalak.  

And of course, they disobeyed it because of ethical and moral reasons!  Of course, it was because they could not believe that Judaism would ever countenance such a thing!  And so, the Rabbis tell us that all that night Saul fought with himself, saying:  “If the men, why the women; and if the women, why the children; and if the children, why the animals?”  (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 43).  Saul, a Jew who had his own ethical sense of values and concerning whom the Bible thunders: “Do not be overly righteous” (Ecclesiastes 7:16) – “Do not be more righteous than your Maker …” (Kohelet Rabbah 7).  The yoke of heaven!  Whether we “agree” with a mitzvah or concept or not.  This is the central lesson on Purim.  This is where Saul failed.

How many Sauls are there today!  The Sauls of the world still live, good people, righteous people, more so than their Maker. And they too will bring down on us Divine tragedy.
Written April 11, 1986

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