[Please scroll down for Purim Readings]
FROM THE TORAH
Two weeks ago, in Sedra Yitro, God spoke the Ten Commandments in Israel’s presence at Mount Sinai. Hearing God’s voice amid extraordinary phenomena, the people were terrified and asked Moses to deliver God’s message, instead of God Himself. Moses then approached the heavy cloud of the Eternal’s presence. The Eternal delivered to Moses some general ritual criteria. Then, last week, in Sedra Mishpatim, the Eternal continued the message with a wide range of mostly non-ritual laws. After hearing these, the people ratified the covenant with the now-famous words, “All that the Eternal has spoken, we shall do and we shall hear!” (Exodus 24:7) The Eternal has invited Moses, alone out of all the leaders, to come up to Him on the mountain. Moses ascends and remains on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
The Sanctuary and Its Components
The Eternal tells Moses to instruct the Children of Israel to “take for Me, everyone whose heart is willing, a dedicated gift (Terumah).” (Exodus 25:2) These offerings may be of gold, silver, copper; yarns of blue, purple and crimson; fine linen and goats’ hair; various skins; acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; shoham stones and other gems for the ephod and for the breastplate. “Let them make for Me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I may be present in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8) Make the tabernacle (mishkan) and its implements in accordance with the patterns that I show you.
Let them make an ark (aron) of acacia wood, two-and-a-half cubits long, one-and-a-half cubits wide, one-and-a-half cubits high. Overlay it, inside and out, with pure gold, and make around it, at its top, a border of gold. Cast for it four gold rings, which you shall place on its four feet, two rings on each of its sides. Make rods of acacia wood overlaid with gold, and insert one through the rings on each side of the ark, to be used for carrying the ark and otherwise to remain inserted. Into the ark place the testimony (edut) which I shall give to you.
You shall make a propitiatory (kaporet) of pure gold, two-and-a-half cubits long, one-and-a-half cubits wide, and from the gold of the propitiatory make, as one with it, two cherubs at opposite ends. Make them of hammered work. They should face each other but looking toward the propitiatory, wings spread out above, shielding the propitiatory. Place the propitiatory upon the ark, and into the ark place the testimony which I shall give to you. There shall I meet with you and speak with you—above the propitiatory from between the two cherubs that are on top of the ark of the testimony—all that I command you concerning the Children of Israel.
You shall make a table (shulchan) of acacia wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, one-and-a-half cubits high. Overlay it with pure gold, and make around it a border of gold. Make a rim of a hand’s breadth around it, and make a border of gold around its rim. Make for it four gold rings, and attach the rings to the four corners of its four legs, close by the rim. The rings shall be the housing of rods to lift the table. Make the rods of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. Make its libation dishes, pans, jars, and bowls, of pure gold. On the table you shall place before Me showbread (lechem panim) regularly.
You shall make a lamp (menorah) of pure gold, of hammered work: its base, shaft, cups, knobs, and buds, all shall be of one piece with it. Out of each of the two sides shall come three branches. On each of the total of six branches there shall be three cups shaped like almond blossoms, each with a knob and a bud. On the menorah itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond blossoms with its knobs and buds. Of one piece with it there shall be a knob under each of the three pairs of branches. All of it shall be a single hammered piece of pure gold. Light the seven lamps so as to cast light on its front side.
Its tongs and its fire pans shall be of pure gold. From a talent of pure gold shall it and all of these implements be made. See and follow the pattern for them which you are being shown upon the mountain.
You shall make the tabernacle (mishkan) of 10 sheets of twisted fine linen and of blue and purple and crimson yarns. Make them to show cherubs as the creation of a designer. The length of each sheet shall be 28 cubits, and the width 4 cubits. Five of them shall be joined to each other, and the other five shall be joined to each other. Make 50 loops of blue thread on the edge of the outermost sheet of each of the two sets. The loops of the two sets should be arranged opposite each other. Make 50 gold clasps and attach the outermost sheets of the two sets one to the other with the clasps so that the tabernacle becomes one.
You shall make 11 sheets of goats’ hair for a tent (ohel) over the tabernacle. The length of each sheet shall be 30 cubits, and the width 4 cubits. Join five of the sheets as a set, join the other six as a separate set, and fold the sixth sheet in the second set at the front of the tent. Make 50 loops on the edge of the one outermost sheet of the one set and 50 loops on the edge of the sheet of the other set. Make 50 copper clasps and insert them into the loops, then connect the two parts of the tent into one. The excess half-sheet shall extend over the back of the tabernacle. The extra cubit at both ends of the length of the sheets of the tent shall be extended over both sides of the tabernacle to cover it.
You shall make a covering (michseh) for the tent of reddened ram skins and tachash skins from above.
You shall make for the tabernacle vertical boards (kerashim) of acacia wood. The length of each board shall be 10 cubits, and the width a cubit-and-a-half. Each board shall have two parallel tenons. Make for both the south side and the north side of the tabernacle, each, 20 such boards, and make 40 silver sockets for the 20 boards of each side, two silver sockets for the two tenons of each board.
For the rear of the tabernacle, on the west, make 6 boards and another 2 boards for the two corners. They shall remain flush with each other from bottom to top, where every two contiguous boards are joined by a ring connector, and this applies as well to the additional 2 boards for the two corners, which are similarly connected to the westernmost boards of the southern and northern sides of the tabernacle, respectively. So, at the western end there shall be 8 boards in all and 16 silver sockets, two sockets under each board.
Make 5 bars of acacia wood for each of the two side walls of the tabernacle and its rear wall to the west. The middle bar of each of the three walls will pass through the boards from end to end. Overlay the boards with gold. Their rings, which shall serve as housing for the bars, you shall make of gold, and overlay the bars with gold.
Then set up the tabernacle in accordance with its warrant that you have been shown on the mountain.
THE DIVIDING CURTAIN
You shall make a dividing curtain (parochet) of blue, purple and crimson yarns, twisted fine linen, with a designer’s work rendering cherubs, and hang it upon four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold, their hooks of gold upon four sockets of silver. Hang the dividing curtain under the clasps. Bring the ark of the testimony behind the dividing curtain so that the dividing curtain makes a separation for you between the holy space (kodesh) and the most holy space (kodesh hakodashim). Place the propitiatory upon the ark of the testimony (cf. Exodus 25:21) in the most holy space. Locate both the table and the menorah outside of the dividing curtain, the table on the north side and the menorah opposite the table on the south side of the tabernacle.
You shall make a screen (masach) for the entrance of the tent, of blue, purple and crimson yarns, twisted fine linen, the work of a weaver. Make for the screen five posts of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold, their hooks of gold, and cast for them five sockets of copper.
You shall make the altar (mizbeach) from acacia wood 5 cubits square and 3 cubits high, its horns of one piece with it at its four corners, and overlay it with copper. Make its pots to clear away the fat ashes, its shovels, basins, forks, and fire-holders, all of them copper. Make for it a grating, network of copper, and put upon its four corners four copper rings. Place it under the border of the altar extending below as far as the halfway point of its height. Make poles for the altar, of acacia wood, and overlay them with copper. Its poles shall be inserted through the rings on two sides of the altar and used for carrying it. Make it of boards so that it is hollow. As was shown you on the mountain, thus shall they do.
You shall make the court (chatzer) of the tabernacle. The length of its south and north sides shall be 100 cubits. Its width, at both the west and the east ends, shall be 50 cubits. Its height shall be 5 cubits. Along the south side and along the north side, each, there shall be 100 cubits of curtains of twisted fine linen with 20 posts and their 20 copper sockets and their silver hooks and bands. For the width of the court on the western end, 50 cubits, there shall be curtains for its full width and 10 of their posts and 10 of their copper sockets and their silver hooks and bands. For the width of the court on the eastern end, on both sides of the space for the gate there shall be 15 cubits of curtains with their 3 posts and their 3 copper sockets and their silver hooks and bands. For the gate itself there shall be a screen of 20 cubits: blue, purple and crimson yarns, twisted fine linen, the work of a weaver, with their 4 posts and their 4 copper sockets and their silver hooks and bands. All of the utensils of the tabernacle for all of its service and all of its pegs, including the pegs of the court, shall be copper.
Maftir for Shabbat Zachor
Second of the Four Special Parashiyot
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt (cf. Exodus 17:8), how he struck your exhausted, at the rear of your march, while you were weary and did not fear God. When the Eternal your God has relieved you of all of your enemies who will surround you in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a possession to inherit, you should blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (cf. Exodus 17:14-16). Do not forget!
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor
I Samuel 15:2-34
Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel
by Samuel the prophet at the behest of the Eternal.
Now Samuel delivers to Saul
the Eternal’s stern message.
The Remembrance of Amalek
Thus says the Eternal of hosts: I have taken note of what Amalek did to Israel during its journey out of Egypt (cf. Exodus 17:8-13). Now you must strike Amalek and utterly destroy all of its people of all ages, and its animals must you destroy as well (cf. Exodus 17:14-16).
So Saul summons his people and takes a census of them at Telaim: 200,000 footmen and 10,000 men of Judah. Before striking Amalek, Saul removes the Kenites from among them “because you showed kindness to the Children of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” (I Samuel 15:6) Then Saul strikes Amalek from Havilah as you enter Shur, which is before Egypt. He carries out the ban on all of the people of Amalek except for Agag, the king of Amalek. Saul and his people spare Agag and also the best of the flocks and herds of Amalek. The lesser of the animals they destroy.
Then the word of the Eternal comes to Samuel: I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and My words. Samuel is distraught, and he cries out to the Eternal all that night. But Samuel rises early the next morning to meet Saul at Carmel. He is told that Saul has set up a monument and moved on to Gilgal. When Samuel catches up with Saul, Saul declares, “Blessed are You of the Eternal: I have fulfilled the word of the Eternal!” (I Samuel 15:13) Samuel replies, “But what is this sound of the flock in my ears, and the sound of the herd that I hear!” (I Samuel 15:14) Saul responds that the people has spared the best of the flock and the herd “in order to sacrifice to the Eternal your God, but to the rest we have applied the ban.” (I Samuel 15:15)
Says Samuel to Saul: Let me tell you what the Eternal said to me last night. With Saul’s permission, he continues: Though you may see yourself as small in your own eyes, the Eternal anointed you to be chief and king over the tribes of Israel. Moreover, He gave you the mission of utterly destroying sinful Amalek. So why do you not heed Him and instead grab the animals as your spoil, doing evil thereby in the sight of the Eternal? Saul protests: The people took the best of the spoil to sacrifice to the Eternal your God in Gilgal! Samuel replies: “Do you think that the Eternal prefers burnt offerings and sacrifices over heeding Him? Obeying the Eternal is better than sacrifices; attending to His word, than the fat of rams! For rebellion is as bad as the sin of sorcery, and like idolatry and idols is arrogance! Because you have spurned the word of the Eternal, He spurns you from being king!” (I Samuel 15:22-23)
Saul acknowledges that he did wrong by surrendering to the desire of the people. He begs Samuel to return with him, that he might worship the Eternal. But Samuel refuses for the finality of the Eternal’s word. As Samuel turns to leave, he tears off the corner of Saul’s robe and declares, “The Eternal has torn the kingship of Israel from you this day and has given it instead to another better than you, for the Glory of Israel does not act falsely and does not repent, as He is not a man to change His course.” (I Samuel 15:27) However, Samuel does agree to return with Saul, in sight of the Elders and of Israel, to thus maintain Saul’s honor as he bows before the Eternal.
Samuel then has Agag, in chains, brought before him. Agag realizes that the bitterness of death is at hand. “Samuel says to him, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women,’ and Samuel hews Agag in pieces before the Eternal at Gilgal.” (I Samuel 15:33)
Samuel goes to Ramah, and Saul goes up to his house at Givat Shaul. Samuel never again sees Saul to the day of his death, wherein he mourned for him, and the Eternal regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Exodus Rabbah 33:1
God remains near to His daughter Torah
The Sedra opens, succinctly, “Let them take to Me a gift…” (Exodus 25:2). It would seem that He meant to say, “Let them give to Me a gift!” But since He did say “take,” we might understand Him to be saying, “Let them take Me as a gift!” Is there an acquisition in which the giver is himself given? Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: I have conveyed to you My Torah, and it is as if I have been conveyed with it, as was said: “Let them take Me as a gift!”
This may be likened to a king who had an only daughter. Another king came and married her. Then her new husband wanted to return with her to his own land. Her father said to him: “My daughter, whom I have given to you, is my only daughter; to part with her I cannot. To ask you not to take her I cannot, as she is your wife. Instead, do me this favor: Wherever you go, make for me a small room in which I can dwell near you, for I am not able to leave my daughter.” Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: “I have given you the Torah; to part with it I cannot. To ask you not to take it I cannot. Instead, wherever you go, make Me a house in which to dwell,” as was said: “Let them make for Me a sanctuary so that I may be present in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8)
Exodus Rabbah 33:3
Israel sleeps, but God and Fathers remain awake
I sleep, but my heart is awake
to the voice of my beloved.
As he knocks, I hear him say:
Open for me—
my sister, my bride, my dove, my pure one—
as my head is full of dew,
my locks covered by the drops of night!
(Song of Songs 5:2)
Israel the bride is saying:
I have fallen asleep before the time of redemption, but the Holy One, blessed be He, remains awake!—as was said, “My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the Rock of my heart and my Portion forever!” (Psalms 73:26)
I have fallen asleep instead of observing the commandments, but “my heart” remains awake, that is, the merit of my Fathers stands me in good stead!
I have fallen asleep, as evinced by the golden calf, but my heart is awake as the Holy One, blessed be He, knocks for me, saying, “Let them take for Me a gift…” (Exodus 25:2): “Open for Me, My sister, My bride!”—how long must I go around without a house? “As My head is full of dew”: “Make for Me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8)—so that I do not have to remain outside!
Exodus Rabbah 33:4
Our gifts to the Eternal are from the Eternal
“Let them take to Me a gift…” (Exodus 25:2)
Rabbi Berechya began his discourse
with the following verse:
“Yours, Eternal One, is the greatness and the power…
for everything in the heavens and on the earth is Yours…”
(I Chronicles 29:11)
And we find that whatever the Holy One, blessed be He,
He created below.
This is reflected in the Tabernacle and the Temple:
Above, the prophet declared,“Look from heaven, and see from Your holy habitation…” (Isaiah 63:15),
“and Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18).
Below, Solomon declared,
“The Eternal determined to dwell in the thick darkness;
I have, therefore, built a house of habitation for You…” (I Kings 8:12-13)!
Above, “Seraphim were standing above Him” (Isaiah 6:2).
Below, “You shall make for the tabernacle standing boards of acacia wood” (26:15)!
Above, King Hezekiah prayed,
“O Eternal of hosts, God of Israel, who dwells among the cherubim…” (Isaiah 37:16).
Below, “There shall I meet with you and speak with you—above the propitiatory from between the two cherubim that are on top of the ark of the testimony…” (Exodus 25:22)!
Above, “The Eternal is in His holy Temple…His throne is in the heavens” (Psalms 11:4).
Below: “Eli the Priest was sitting…by the doorpost of the Temple of the Eternal” (I Samuel 1:9),
and “A grand throne of glory from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary” (Jeremiah 17:12)!
Above, “God called forth an expanse within the water,
separating water below the expanse from water above the expanse” (Genesis 1:6).
Below, “Bring the ark of the testimony behind the dividing curtain so that the dividing curtain makes a separation for you between the holy space and the most holy space” (Exodus 26:33).
Above, “The man clothed with linen…reports the matter, saying:
‘I have done all that You have commanded me’” (Ezekiel 9:11).
Below, “In this way shall Aaron come to the holy place…
and be dressed with a sacred linen tunic…” (Leviticus 16:3-4)!
Above, “The angel (malach) of the Eternal encamps around those who fear Him,
and He saves them” (Psalms 34:8).
Below, “The lips of a priest shall guard knowledge, and they shall seek Torah from his mouth, for he is a messenger (malach) of the Eternal of hosts” (Malachi 2:7)!
Above, “One of the seraphim…took a burning coal with tongs
from off of the altar” (Isaiah 6:6).
Below, “An altar of earth shall you make for Me…” (Exodus 20:21)!
Above, “O Eternal my God, You are very great…
You stretch out the heavens like a curtain” (Psalms 104:1-2).
Below, “The tabernacle shall you make with ten curtains…” (Exodus 26:1)!
Above, “Light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22).
Below, “Command the Children of Israel to take to you
pure beaten olive oil for the light…” (Exodus 27:20)!
Not only that,
but more beloved to Him
than all that is above
is all that is below,
and this you know
because He took leave of what is above
and went down to what is below,
as was said:
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary
so that I may dwell in their midst!” (Exodus 25:8) –
further proof that
whatever the Holy One, blessed be He,
He created below.
So it is that:
“Everything in the heavens and on the earth is Yours…” (I Chronicles 29:11),
and “’Mine is the silver and Mine is the gold,’
declares the Eternal of hosts” (Haggai 2:8),
so that any gift they would provide for the Eternal
would not be given from them
but taken from Him!
Exodus Rabbah 33:7
What Moses commanded is ever our possession
“Moses commanded us the Torah,
an inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob.”
Rabbi Simlai interpreted: Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, for that is the numerical value of the letters of the word, “Torah.” But if you recognize it is only 611 (tav=400 + cholam=6 + resh=200 + hey=5), where are the missing two? The Rabbis teach: “I am the Eternal your God” (Exodus 20:2) and “You shall not have other gods besides Me” (Exodus 20:3) were the two heard from the mouth of God Himself. Moses, then, taught them 611, so indeed, “Moses commanded us the ‘Torah’ (611)” (Deuteronomy 33:4)!
Do not read it “inheritance of the Congregation of Jacob” (as if they had inherited it from others) but “possession,” a possession of Israel (going forward) forever! This may be likened to a prince who was captured as a child and taken to a faraway land. Even after many years, he is not discouraged. For he believes, “To the possession of my fathers I shall return!” (Although he was cut off from the inheritance of his fathers, he viewed his father’s possession as his for the future.) Similarly, a scholar who separates from the Torah to engage in other affairs: even after many years he may seek to return and not be discouraged, because he believes, “To the possession of my fathers I shall return!”
Exodus Rabbah 34:1
“But will God really dwell on earth?”
“The Almighty, who cannot be conceived
for the magnitude of His power…”
When the Holy One, blessed be He, instructed Moses, “Make Me a tabernacle that I may dwell in their midst” (Exodus25:8), Moses exclaimed in astonishment, “The glory of the Holy One, blessed be He, is the fullness of the high places and of the low places, and He says, ‘Make Me a tabernacle?!’” But then he looked into the future and saw Solomon building the Temple, which was larger than the Tabernacle, even though Solomon wondered (rhetorically) before the Holy One, blessed be He, “But will God really dwell on earth?” (I Kings 8:27) So Moses reasoned: If, in the case of the Temple, which is much larger than the Tabernacle, Solomon questions but concludes “Yes!” then in the case of the (smaller) Tabernacle, how much the more so!
Exodus Rabbah 34:1
The Eternal considers the limits of each individual
“These (your) words
describe only a small part of His ways,
for we can hear of Him
only a whisper of a word,
while the thunder of His power
who can understand?”
Our great Rabbi (Judah Hanasi) explained these words of Job as a response to the shortsighted consolations of his friends: Do you think that you have uttered all that can be said of the Holy One, blessed be He? Furthermore, this was the meaning of Elihu’s words, “The Almighty, who cannot be conceived for the magnitude of His power…” (Job 37:23): We do not find the full power of the Holy One, blessed be He, burdening His creations; rather He interacts with man only to the extent of man’s strength to bear it.
Thus you find that when He gave the Torah to Israel, if He had delivered it to them in the fullness of His power, they would not have been able to endure it, as was said, “If we continue to hear (directly) the voice of the Eternal our God, we shall die!” (Deuteronomy 5:22) Instead He comes upon them only to the extent of their strength, as was said, “The voice of the Eternal is in (accordance with) strength” (Psalms 29:4), not “in accordance with His strength,” as we might have expected, therefore implying: in accordance with the limited and varying strength of each individual person!
Dependence and Interdependence
Yom Kippur Machzor
For we are Your people, and You are our God.
We are Your children, and You are our Father.
We are Your flock, and You are our Shepherd.
We are Your vineyard, and You are our Watcher.
Song of Songs Rabbah 2:16
“My beloved is mine, and I am his…”
(Song of Songs 2:16)
He is my God, and I am His nation,
as was said:
“Attend to Me, My people,
and listen to Me, My nation!”
He is my Father, and I am His child,
as was said:
“For You are our Father…” (Isaiah 63:16),
“I am Israel’s Father…” (Jeremiah 31:8);
“…Israel is My firstborn son” (Exodus4:22),
“You are children of the Eternal your God!” (Deuteronomy 14:1)
He is my Shepherd—
“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…” (Psalms 80:2)—
and I am His flock—
“And you, O My flock, the flock of My pasture,
you are man, and I am your God…” (Ezekiel 34:31).
He is my Watcher—
“He neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the Watcher of Israel” (Psalms 121:4)—
and I am His vineyard—
“For the vineyard of the Eternal of hosts
is the house of Israel…” (Isaiah 5:7).
When I needed help,
it was to Him alone that I turned—
“…When Pharaoh drew near (at the Red Sea)…,
the Children of Israel cried out to the Eternal” (Exodus12:10)—
and when He needed help,
it was to me alone that He turned—
“Speak to the Children of Israel:
Let them take for Me a dedicated gift!” (Exodus25:2)
When I was afflicted by Jabin, king of Canaan,
to the Eternal alone did I appeal—
“The Children of Israel cried out to the Eternal
because of the 900 chariots of iron (of Jabin)
and the 20 years of oppression (by Jabin)!” (Judges 4:3)—
and when He needed help,
it was to me alone that He turned—
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary…!” (Exodus25:8)
Exodus Rabbah 34:3
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary…!”
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel:
You are My flock—
“And you, O My flock, the flock of My pasture,
you are man, and I am your God…” (Ezekiel 34:31)—
and I am the Shepherd—
“Give ear to the Shepherd of Israel…” (Psalms 80:2)—
make a shed for the Shepherd,
so that He can come and shepherd you!
Therefore was it said:
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary
so that I may be present in their midst.”
You are a vineyard—
“For the vineyard of the Eternal of hosts
is the house of Israel…” (Isaiah 5:7)—
and I am the Watcher—
“He neither slumbers nor sleeps,
the Watcher of Israel” (Psalms 121:4)—
Make a sukkah for the Watcher
so that He can watch over you!
You are My children—
“You are children of the Eternal your God!” (Deuteronomy 14:1)—
and I am your Father—
“I am Israel’s Father…” (Jeremiah 31:8)—
It is an honor for the children to be close to their father,
and it is an honor for the father to be close to his children,
as was taught:
“The crown of the old is their children’s children,
and the glory of children is their father” (Proverbs 17:6),
so make a house for the Father
that He may come and be present near His children!
Therefore was it said:
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary
so that I may be present in their midst.”
Exodus Rabbah 35:1
“Let them make an ark (aron) of acacia wood…”
“You shall make a propitiatory (kaporet) of pure gold…”
“You shall make a table (shulchan) of acacia wood…”
“You shall make a lamp (menorah) of pure gold…”
“You shall make the tabernacle (mishkan) of 10 sheets…
make 50 gold clasps…”
“You shall make for the tabernacle vertical boards (kerashim) of acacia wood…
overlay the boards with gold.
Their rings, which shall serve as housing for the bars,
you shall make of gold, and overlay the bars with gold.”
“You shall make a dividing curtain (parochet)…
and hang it upon four posts of acacia wood
overlaid with gold, their hooks of gold…”
(Exodus 26: 31-32)
“Make for the screen (masach) five posts of acacia wood,
and overlay them with gold, their hooks of gold…”
“You shall make the altar (mizbeach) from acacia wood…
make poles for the altar, of acacia wood…”
The Holy One, blessed be He, created certain things in His world which the world was not worthy of using. One of these is the light that was created on the First Day: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light!” (Genesis 1:3) in contradistinction to the luminaries He created on the Fourth Day (cf. Genesis 1:14-19).
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simone taught: With the light that the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the First Day, Adam could see from one end of the world to the other. But when the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that in the time of Enosh “to call upon the name of the Eternal would become profaned (by idolatry)” (Genesis 4:26), that in the time of Noah “the earth would become corrupt before God” (Genesis 6:11), and that in the time of Babel they would seek to “make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4), He determined to hide the light from them, as was said, “Their light was withheld from the wicked” (Job 38:15)! It was hidden for the righteous in time to come, as was said, “And God saw that the light was good” (Genesis 1:4): It would be good for the world and not harmful like the light of the sun. In the meantime, where did He hide it? In the Garden of Eden, as was said, “Light was planted for the righteous” (Psalms 97:11)!
Similarly, among the things that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world which the world was not worthy of using and therefore should have been hidden was gold. Said Rabbi Abahu: The Holy One, blessed be He, bestowed a great benefit upon man with gold, as was said, “The gold of that land is good” (Genesis 2:12). With a small amount of gold one can meet many obligations, whether at home or on a journey. Nonetheless, says Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, the only reason why gold, which is “good” (cf. Genesis 2:12), was created was for the sake of the Tabernacle and for the sake of the Temple, which Moses called, “That Good Mountain” (Deuteronomy 3:25)!
Rabbi Chaninah taught: The world was not worthy of using cedar, but cedars were created for the purpose of the Tabernacle and for the purpose of the Temple:
“Eternal my God, You are very great,
You are clothed in glory and majesty,
wearing light like a garment,
spreading out the heavens like a curtain…
The trees of the Eternal are duly employed,
the cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
where the birds make their nests
and the stork its home in the cypress…”
“The cedars of Lebanon” are the cedars of the Temple,
as Moses said:
“Let me cross over and behold the good Land which is on the other side of the Jordan
and The Good Mountain, which is This Lebanon!”
Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman taught in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: There are twenty-four different kinds of cedars, and these seven are highly praised: “I shall plant cedars in the wilderness: acacias, myrtles, oil-trees, cypresses, box trees, and elms, together” (Isaiah 41:19).
Unlike the light, the cedars were not hidden because the Holy One, blessed be He, foresaw that they would be used for the construction of the Tabernacle in the place where the Divine Presence would reside in the future, “where the birds make their nests…” (Psalms 104:17), that is to say, where the Kohen would slaughter birds as offerings in the Temple, “…and where the stork [chasidah] makes its home in the cypress (Temple)” (ibid.), that is, the High Priest, as was said, “Your Tummim and Urim, instruments of the High Priest, belong to Your faithful [chasidecha] man” (Deuteronomy 33:8).
Exodus Rabbah 35:2
Ecological lesson of acacia wood
Why were the tabernacle vertical boards (and other implements) of acacia wood? The Holy One, blessed be He, was teaching good behavior for the future. If a person sought to build his house from a fruit-producing tree, he would be told: If the King of the kings of kings, the Owner of all, when intending to make the tabernacle, says, “Bring only from a tree that does not produce fruit!” then you, how much the more so!
Healing for the golden calf
Tanchuma Terumah 8
“Let them make for Me a sanctuary (mikdash)
so that I may be present in their midst.” (Exodus 25:8)
When was this portion of the Torah regarding a tabernacle said to Moses? On the very Day of Atonement (when Israel atoned for the sin of the calf)—although this portion regarding the tabernacle precedes the incident of the calf (cf. Exodus 32:1 ff.)! Said Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Shalom: There is no early or late in the Torah, as was said, “Its ways wander beyond your understanding” (Proverbs 5:6): perplexing are the paths of Torah and (the order of) its portions.
So let us grant that “Let them make for Me a sanctuary” was said to Moses on the Day of Atonement. Then whence do we derive from the Torah that Moses went up on the Sixth of Sivan (Shavuot) and stayed forty days and forty nights (after which Israel worshipped the calf) and then another forty and then another forty for a total of 120 and you find that on the Day of Atonement their sin was expiated and on that very day the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Let them make for Me a sanctuary (mikdash) so that I may be present in their midst,” in order that all the nations shall know that the incident of the calf was atoned for by them? The answer is found in why it was called “the tabernacle of testimony” (Numbers 1:53): Because it served as testimony to all inhabitants of the world that the Holy One, blessed be He, is present in your sanctuary.
Said the Holy One, blessed be He: Let the gold that is in the tabernacle atone for the gold that was used to make the calf, about which is written, “All the people took off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.” (Exodus 32:3) Therefore they atoned through gold: “And this is the offering (terumah) that you shall take from them: gold…” (Exodus 25:3). Said the Holy One, blessed be He: “Indeed I will bring healing to you, and by means of that which wounds you (the offerings of gold)I shall cure you” (Jeremiah 30:17)!
Commentary on Midrash Tanchuma
by Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef
The verse (Exodus 25:3) mentions “gold” as the first of the offerings to allude to the time of their having been pardoned for the sin of the calf, which was made of gold. That is why Moses was commanded at this point regarding the offerings of the tabernacle even though the commandment itself was carried out (months later) (cf. Exodus 35-38) on the day after Yom Kippur and the incident of the calf (cf. Exodus 32) was in the (earlier) month of Tammuz. We see from this that the Torah, “whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all of whose paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17), put the matter of the tabernacle, which is atonement, before mentioning the sin itself of the calf, for such is the way of the Holy One, blessed be He, who puts healing before the wound. (Rabbenu Bachya)
Exodus Rabbah 35:6
Why did God refer Moses to the pattern
shown to him upon the mountain?
“See and follow the pattern for them
which you are being shown upon the mountain.
You shall make the tabernacle of 10 sheets of twisted fine linen
and of blue and purple and crimson yarns.”
Rabbi Avin taught: This may be compared to a strikingly-handsome king who ordered his courtier to create a faithful image of him. But the courtier protested: My lord, the king, how can I make it true to yourself?! Said the king: If you apply your materials faithfully, I shall be seen in my glory. Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses: “See and follow!” But Moses protested: Master of the universe, am I God that I should be able to create the likenesses of these?! God explained to him: “See and follow their pattern, which you are being shown upon the mountain,” using your materials of “blue and purple and crimson yarns!”
“You shall make for the tabernacle
vertical (“standing”) boards of acacia wood.”
Consider what you see above and create a faithful image of it below. Make for the tabernacle “standing boards of acacia wood” as are found among the divine hosts above, and if you create them faithfully below, I will leave the assembly above and settle My presence among you below. Just as above are “standing seraphim” (Isaiah 6:2), so below shall be “standing boards of acacia wood!”
Just as above are stars, so below—Rabbi Chiya bar Abba explained this as teaching that the “gold clasps” (Exodus 26:6) appeared in the tabernacle as the stars that are seen in the heavens.
Pesikta Rabbati Zachor 12
Remember the Wicked for their Evil
When the Holy One, blessed be He, mentions Moses, He remembers him for good: “Then He remembered the days of old, of Moses, and His people, saying, ‘Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His holy spirit in him?’” (Isaiah 63:11)
But when He comes to mention the wicked, He remembers him for evil. And who was this? This was Amalek, for at the time when he came to make war on Israel, what did the Holy One, blessed be He, say to Moses? “Write this as a remembrance in the record, and present it in the hearing of Joshua, that I shall surely blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven!” (Exodus 17:14) But Moses protested: Master of the universe, it should be the righteous, not the wicked, that are remembered! The Holy One, blessed be He, answered him: By your life, remembrance of the righteous to provide their reward in the world to come, and remembrance of the wicked to extract their punishment and to blot out their name, as is found in this portion: “Remember what Amalek did to you…” so that “you should blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)
Pesikta Rabbati Zachor 12
Amalek compared to a Dog
“Remember what Amalek did to you…”
Said Rabbi Berechya of the School of Rabbi: To what may this be compared? To a king who owned an orchard and kept a dog who sat and guarded it. The son of one of the king’s friends tried to steal from the king’s orchard and was bitten by the dog. The king did not want to let it be known that his friend’s son had tried to steal from him, so he enlisted his own son not to mention it to the would-be thief. The king’s son came up with the following code to avoid mentioning the crime directly: “Remember what that dog did to you!”
Thus Israel sinned at Rephidim, in complaining about the lack of water, by saying, “Is the Eternal in our midst or not?” (Exodus 17:7) Immediately thereafter, the “dog” came and bit them. That was Amalek, as was said, “And Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (ibid. 8). So when the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to remind Israel of the sin that they committed at Rephidim, He would say, “Remember what Amalek did to you…” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
Talmud Yoma 22b
Measure of Man and Thing
“Saul summons his people and takes a census of them at Telaim…”
(I Samuel 15:4)
“I shall make your offspring
as numerous and uncountable
as the sands of the sea.”
“The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,
which cannot be measured or counted…”
According to Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani, Rabbi Jonathan found the prophetic verse to suggest a contradiction: If “the number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,” then they would still be numerable, as numerable as the grains of sand of the sea, however many they may be; therefore, it does not follow that “they cannot be measured or counted!” But there is no contradiction: As long as Israel does the will of God, they “cannot be measured or counted,” but “the number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,” that is, countable by a finite number, when they fail to do the will of God!
Rabbi taught in the name of Abba Yosi ben Dostai: The reason why there is no contradiction within the verse is that the first part, “The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…,” that is, countable, applies to the unlimited capacity of divine counting, whereas the second part, “…which cannot be measured or counted,” that is, as it were, innumerable, refers to the limitation of human counting!
Rabbi Elazar inferred from the prophetic verse a commandment: Whoever counts Israel transgresses a negative commandment, as the prophet said, “The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which should not be measured…” (Hosea 2:1). Rav Nachman bar Isaac said: He actually transgresses two negative commandments, as was said (more fully), “…which should not be measured and which should not be counted” (ibid.)!
“David commanded that a census be taken of the people…
The Eternal sent a pestilence upon Israel…”
(II Samuel 24:1ff.)
“The Eternal instructs Moses:
When you take the sum of the Children of Israel,
let each one tender a kofer (expiation) for himself to the Eternal for being counted,
so that no harm will result for counting them…”
Thus did Saul to prepare for war against Nachash the Ammonite:
“He counted the Children of Israel at Bezek…”
(I Samuel 11:8)
And thus did Saul to prepare for war against Amalek:
“He counted the people at Telaim…”
(I Samuel 15:4)
Rav Nehilai bar Idi reported that Samuel explained: These countings by Saul reflect a progression, such that when one becomes leader over the congregation, he grows wealthy. Thus we learn first, before Saul became king, “he counted the Children of Israel with bezek” (I Samuel 11:8): Instead of the place-name “Bezek,” the common noun bezek denotes a common shard or pebble which Saul took from each man as his kofer, which he would count instead of counting the man. Then, when Saul had become king, we learn that “he counted the people with telaim” (I Samuel 15:4): Instead of the place-name “Telaim,” the common noun telaim denotes lambs which Saul provided to each man from his own royal flock for the same purpose, to count the lambs instead of counting the men directly. Thus the progression of verses reflects the enriching of Saul when he became leader over the congregation.
But how do I know that the lambs Saul used for kofer to count the men here were not the men’s own lambs, not provided by Saul, and therefore no indication of the leader’s wealth? Then why would Scripture make a point of disclosing the particular instruments of kofer and especially the contrast between common pebbles before he became king and precious lambs when he was king?
Talmud Bava Metziah 42a: When one measures his store of grain, he should pray, “May it be Your will, O Eternal our God, to send blessing upon the work of our hands.” If he has already commenced the measuring of his grain, then in that case he should pray, “Praised be the One who sends blessing upon this much grain.” If he has already completed the measuring of his grain and then says the blessing, he has prayed a blessing in vain, because blessing is not found in something weighed, in something measured, or in something counted, but only in something that is hidden from the eye, as was said: “May the Eternal command blessing upon you in your storehouses…” (Deuteronomy 28:8). (Rashi: This is a midrash on the word “storehouses,” which can be construed as something which is hidden from your eyes.)
THE MEGILLAH OF ESTHER
Ahashuerus reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. His throne was in the fortress of Shushan. In the third year of his reign he invited his officers and servants, the forces of Persia and Media, his nobles and administrators, to a banquet. For 180 days he showed off his riches and his greatness. Then the king made a banquet in the palace garden over seven days for all of the people in Shushan, of all estates. There were displayed white and blue hangings, cords of purple, rods of silver, and couches of gold upon pavements of marble. Royal wine was offered in abundance, without limit. Vashti the queen also provided a banquet in the king’s palace for the women.
AHASHUERUS V. VASHTI
On the seventh day, the king, merrily affected by his wine, ordered seven of his eunuchs to fetch Queen Vashti to appear before him with the royal crown on her head. He would show everyone her beauty! When the queen sent back the eunuchs with her refusal to appear, the king was incensed. He consulted with his seven closest Persian and Median advisors as to what should be done to Queen Vashti, under the law, for her failure to obey the king’s command as delivered by the eunuchs.
One of his advisors, Memuchan, opined before the king and the other advisors, that Queen Vashti has sinned not only against the king but against all of the other men in his provinces. For when all of their wives learn of the queen’s refusal to obey the king, they will feel free to despise their own husbands as well! So, if it please the king, let a royal edict be recorded in the laws of Persia and Media that Vashti shall indeed no more come before the king and that another, better than she, be made queen in her place, and that all wives throughout his vast realm be ordered to show respect to their husbands!
The king and his ministers approved the recommendation of Memuchan. So was it ordered by writ, throughout all of the king’s provinces, in all of the peoples’ languages, that every man should rule his own roost, and be privileged to do so in his own language.
REPLACEMENT OF THE QUEEN
In the course of time, as the wrath of King Ahashuerus was assuaged, he did not forget what Vashti had done and the decree upon her. The king’s servants recommended to the king that he appoint officers throughout his provinces to gather every beautiful virgin to Shushan. There Hege, the king’s eunuch in charge of women, would provide them with cosmetics, and the king would choose the one whom he prefers to replace Queen Vashti. So did the king.
Now there lived in Shushan a Jewish man by the name of Mordechai son of Yair. He was the grandson of Shimei and the great-grandson of Kish, a Benjaminite, who was exiled from Jerusalem with Jeconiah, king of Judah, by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Mordechai had adopted Hadassah, known as Esther, as his daughter, when her father, Mordechai’s uncle, and her mother died. Esther was gathered together with the other beautiful young women to Shushan. There she was favored by Hege, who expedited her maquillage and provided her with an entourage of seven maidens in the best location within the women’s hermitage.
It was the practice for every one of the women who visited the king to stay first in the house of the women for twelve months. For the first six months they were subjected to the oil of myrrh, and for the remaining six months to sweet-smelling spices and other cosmetic applications. When it was a woman’s turn to visit the king, she could receive anything else that she might request. Then, in the evening, she would go to the king’s house, and in the morning she would return to a different house of women under the supervision of the king’s eunuch Sha’ashgaz, custodian of the concubines, and she would not return to the king unless he explicitly called her back.
Throughout, Esther concealed her background, mentioning neither her people nor her family. Mordechai had so instructed her. For his part Mordechai located himself every day before the court of the house of women to learn how Esther was faring. When it was the turn of Esther daughter of Avichayil to appear before the king, she requested nothing more than what Hege, keeper of the women, provided. Indeed she found favor in the eyes of all who beheld her. It was in the tenth month, the month of Teveth, in the seventh year of the reign of Ahashuerus, that Esther was taken to his palace.
The king loved Esther above all the other women and crowned her queen in place of Vashti. He made a great feast in her honor for all of his officers and servants, and he celebrated the occasion with a release to his provinces and with gifts. There was a second gathering of virgins, and Esther continued to obey Mordechai’s stricture against disclosing her family or her people. Mordechai had stationed himself in the king’s gate.
MORDECHAI AND ESTHER SAVE THE KING
When the eunuchs Bigthan and Teresh, two sentries, turned certain of their grievances into a plot to harm the king, Mordechai was informed and told Esther, now queen. Esther promptly informed the king in Mordechai’s name. There was an investigation, and when the accusation was found to be true, the two plotters were impaled. The entire incident was recorded in the royal book of chronicles.
HAMAN SEEKS TO DESTROY THE JEWS
After these events King Ahashuerus promoted Haman son of Hamdatha the Agagite to a chair above all of his other officers. All of the king’s servants in the king’s gate bowed and prostrated themselves before Haman in accordance with the king’s command, but Mordechai did not. Every day, servants questioned Mordechai for his violation of the king’s command, but Mordechai paid them no heed. The servants reported Mordechai’s disobedience to Haman, and, also, seeing it for himself, Haman was filled with anger. But instead of punishing Mordechai alone, Haman determined to destroy all of the Jews in the kingdom of Ahashuerus, as he had learned that they were Mordechai’s people.
So, beginning with the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahashuerus, Haman cast a lot for each day of every month, until the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Then he said to King Ahashuerus: There is a people scattered yet distinct within the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are different from those of other peoples and who do not follow the laws of the king, so it is not wise for the king to tolerate them. If it please the king, let their destruction be decreed and I shall have delivered to the royal treasury 10,000 talents of silver. The king removed the ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hamdatha, the Agagite (cf. I Samuel 15:8), persecutor of the Jews. Said the king to Haman: “The silver is yours, and the people, to do with as you wish!”
The kings’ scribes were called upon on the thirteenth day of the first month to issue an edict which Haman would authorize to all of the king’s satraps and governors in all of his provinces and to the princes of every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahashuerus and sealed with his ring. The letters were delivered rapidly by hand, ordering the despoliation and destruction of all of the Jews, young and old, including women and children, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Moreover, copies of the decree were displayed for all to see, in order for them to be ready for the day. Thus, as the decree went forth from Shushan, the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was in turmoil.
MORDECHAI PERSUADES ESTHER TO INTERVENE
In response, Mordechai tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried loudly and bitterly in the midst of the city. He approached the king’s gate but did not enter it because he was wearing sackcloth. In every province where the king’s word and command reached, there was much mourning among the Jews, fasting, weeping, lamenting, and many wore sackcloth and ashes. When Esther was told all of this, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent normal clothes to Mordechai to replace his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. She enlisted Hatach, a eunuch the king had assigned to serve her, to visit Mordechai in order to learn what was going on and why. Hatach met Mordechai at the plaza before the king’s gate. Mordechai told Hatach what had happened between Haman and him (cf. Esther 3:5-7) and how much money Haman had paid into the royal treasury to destroy the Jews (ibid. 9). He also gave Hatach a copy of the decree that was released in Shushan (ibid. 15) to show to Esther so that she might go to the king and entreat him on behalf of her people.
But when Hatach brought Mordechai’s plea to Esther,Esther sent this message back with Hatach to Mordechai: “All of the king’s court know that death is the penalty for any man or woman who enters the king’s inner court without being called, unless the king holds out the golden scepter to him, and I have not been called to the king for thirty days!” Mordechai responded, “Do not imagine that a Jew in the palace, anymore than Jews elsewhere, will be spared. Yet, if you keep silent at this time, relief and rescue will come to the Jews from another quarter, only you and your father’s house will be lost. Who knows? Maybe it is for a time like this that you have acceded to royalty!”
Then Esther sent word to Mordechai: “Have all of the Jews who dwell in Shushan fast for me, not to eat or to drink, for three days, night and day. I and my maidens shall fast as well, and thus will I go to the king, without legal permission, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordechai proceeded to follow Esther’s order to him.
ESTHER INVITES THE KING AND HAMAN
On the third day, Esther, adorned as queen, stood in the king’s inner court. When the king saw Queen Esther standing there, he showed his favor by extending to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. She drew near and touched the top of the scepter. Said the king to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted to you!” Esther responded, “If it seems good to the king, let the king and Haman come this day to the feast that I have prepared for him.” The king ordered Haman to comply quickly with the word of Esther, and they both came to the feast that Esther prepared.
There, in the midst of wine, the king repeated to Esther, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted!” Esther answered the king and said: “My wish, my request, if I have found favor in the eyes of the king, if it seems good to the king to grant my wish and my request—let the king and Haman come to the feast that I shall prepare for them, and tomorrow I shall act in accordance with the word of the king!”
As Haman emerged, he could not be happier—until he saw Mordechai in the king’s gate neither rising nor moving for him, whereupon Haman was filled with anger because of Mordechai. But he held it in and went home, where he gathered his entourage and Zeresh his wife. To them he recounted his great wealth, the multitude of his progeny, and how the king had promoted him and raised him above all of the other officers and servants of the king. “And Esther the queen,” he boasted, “invited no one to accompany the king to the feast that she prepared but me! And tomorrow also I have been invited with the king” (Esther 5:12)!
HAMAN BUILDS A GALLOWS FOR MORDECHAI
Yet none of this pleases me,” brooded Haman, “as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate!”
“No problem!” said his company: Have a gallows built, 50 cubits high, and in the morning arrange with the king to have Mordechai hanged thereon. Then go happily with the king to the feast! Their suggestion pleased Haman, and he had the gallows built.
HAMAN’S PLOT IS THWARTED
That night the king could not sleep, so he had the book of chronicles brought and read before him. In it there was the report that Mordechai had exposed the king’s eunuchs Bigthana and Teresh, two of the sentries, for their plot to harm King Ahashuerus (cf. Esther 2:22). “How has Mordechai been honored?” asked the king. “Nothing has been done for him,” answered his servants.
Now Haman had entered the outer court of the king’s residence to speak with the king about hanging Mordechai on the gallows that he had prepared for that purpose. The king inquired as to who was in the court, and his servants told him that Haman was there. The king bid him enter, and when he did, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” The king was thinking of Mordechai, but Haman imagined, “Whom but me could the king wish to honor?” So he answered the king, “Let the king’s raiment and the king’s horse be delivered to one of the king’s noble princes, and let him attire therewith the man whom the king wishes to honor and place the honoree upon a royal steed. Let the king’s prince then lead the honored man through the city plaza and proclaim before him, ‘Thus shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” So the king said to Haman, “Well have you spoken, now do those very things for Mordechai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate; fail not to perform any detail of what you have recommended!” So did Haman: He clothed Mordechai with the king’s raiment and put him upon the king’s horse and led him around the city plaza, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!”
When it was over, Mordechai returned to the king’s gate, but Haman retreated in great alarm to his own home, humiliated and mournful. There he recounted to Zeresh his wife and to all of his supporters what had befallen him. They warned Haman that if Mordechai was of Jewish seed, Haman’s current fall before him was the harbinger of his ultimate defeat. They had not finished speaking with him before the king’s eunuchs arrived to rush Haman off to the feast that Esther had prepared.
HAMAN’S MALICE IS TURNED AGAINST HIMSELF
So the king and Haman came to drink with Queen Esther. Again the king asked, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted!” Queen Esther responded, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it seems good to the king, let my life be given me, as my wish, and my people, as my request! For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed! If we had been sold only into bondage, then I would have remained silent, as the adversary is not worth any trouble that might come to the king.”
King Ahashuerus faced Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do such a thing?” “A vexatious harasser, a malignant foe,” the queen pointed: “This wicked Haman!!” Haman recoiled in fear before the king and queen. The king arose to vent his anger in the palace garden, while Haman stood up to plead for his life before Queen Esther. Then, as the king came in from the garden, Haman, in his pleading, was bent down upon Esther’s couch, and the king burst out, “Will he even force the queen before me in the palace?!” No sooner had the words emerged from the king’s mouth than Haman’s face was covered in mourning.
Then Harbonah, one of the king’s eunuchs, let the king know that Haman had caused a gallows, fifty cubits high, to be built in his house for the purpose of hanging Mordechai, who had saved the king’s life by revealing the plot of Bigthan and Teresh (cf. Esther 2:21-23; 6:1-3). “Well, then,” said the king, “hang Haman thereupon!” So they hanged Haman upon the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai, and the king’s wrath was assuaged.
THE KING RECOGNIZES THE AUTHORITY OF ESTHER AND MORDECHAI
King Ahashuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, persecutor of the Jews, and, by her word, Mordechai appeared before the king. The king presented Mordechai with the ring that the king had taken from Haman. Esther also set Mordechai over the house of Haman.
Then Esther fell at the king’s feet and entreated him to rescind the evil which Haman the Agagite had set in motion against the Jews. As the king held out the golden scepter, Esther arose and stood before the king. She requested a reversal of the orders which Haman son of Hamdatha the Agagite had issued for the destruction of the Jews in all of the provinces of the king. “For how can I endure seeing the evil that will befall my people, my kin?”
King Ahashuerus reminded Queen Esther and Mordechai the Jew that the king had given Esther the house of Haman and caused Haman to be hanged for his aggression against the Jews. Therefore they should issue orders to protect the Jews as they see fit, seal them with the king’s ring, and know thereby that the orders cannot be reversed. Accordingly, the king’s scribes were called at that time, on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan, to record all that Mordechai ordered with respect to the Jews, to be distributed among the officers of all of the king’s 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia in their respective languages, including that of the Jews.
The scribes wrote letters in the name of King Ahashuerus, sealed them with the king’s seal, and dispatched them with runners on royal steeds. The king granted the Jews of every city permission to assemble and defend their lives and the lives of their children and women against the forces that were prepared to despoil and destroy them. Their defense would take place on the same single day throughout all of the provinces of King Ahashuerus: on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar (cf. Esther 3:13). Thus was issued the king’s decree in maximum haste from the fortress of Shushan.
Mordechai left the king’s presence clothed in royal apparel of blue and white, a great golden crown, a robe of linen and purple, “and the city of Shushan cheered.” (Esther 8:15) “For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor!” (Esther 8:16) In every place where the Jews resided and the king’s decree reached there was feast and festival, and many were those of the peoples of the land who joined with the Jews in appreciation of what they had feared.
DAYS OF DEFEAT TURNED INTO VICTORY
The day on which the enemies of the Jews hoped to rule over them, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, was overturned to the day on which the Jews ruled over their enemies! In their cities throughout the provinces of King Ahashuerus, the Jews assembled to attack those who sought their harm. No one stood against the Jews, out of fear of them, and the king’s officers, satraps and governors, helped the Jews, out of fear of Mordechai. For Mordechai was powerful in the royal court, and his reputation was growing.
The Jews struck their enemies with the sword and otherwise did with them as they pleased. In the fortress of Shushan they killed 500 men. They killed the ten sons of Haman son of Hamdatha, persecutor of the Jews—Parshandatha, Dalfone, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalya, Aridatha, Parmashtha, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha—but they did not touch their spoil.
When the king learned of the death toll in the fortress of Shushan, he shuddered before Esther to think of the toll in his other provinces: “Whatever you wish, Queen Esther, it shall be yours! Whatever else you request, it shall be done!” Esther asked only that the Jews of Shushan be allowed to act the next day also as was decreed for them on the present day and that the ten sons of Haman be impaled.
Thus was it ordered by the king: the ten sons of Haman were impaled, and the Jews of Shushan acted in concert again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar to kill 300 men, without touching their spoil. Thus the Jews who were in Shushan assembled on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth day to defend themselves and rested on the fifteenth day, making it a day of feasting and celebration.
The other Jews, located throughout the provinces of the king, also gathered together and relieved themselves of their enemies, by killing 75,000 of their abominators on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, without touching their spoil, so that they could rest from their defense on the next day, the fourteenth day of Adar, and make it a day of feasting and celebration. Therefore the Jews dwelling in provincial towns mark the fourteenth day of Adar with festivity and feasting, as a holiday, with the sending of portions one to another.
PURIM DAYS OF FESTIVITY AND FEASTING, ALSO FASTING AND MOURNING
Mordechai confirmed in written communications to all the Jews in all of the provinces of King Ahashuerus, both near and far, to observe the fourteenth day of Adar and the fifteenth day of Adar, every year, as days on which the Jews were relieved of their enemies, and the month that was turned for them from sorrow into joy and from mourning into a holiday, and to make them days of feasting and rejoicing and of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor.
The Jews had already begun to observe these days thusly and continued their practice in accordance with the orders of Mordechai. They called these days Purim, plural of ”pur,” which means “lot,” as Haman had cast a lot for each day of every month, until the twelfth month, the month of Adar, ultimately determining that the Jews would be destroyed by Haman’s allies on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar (cf. Esther 3:7,12)! The Jews took upon themselves, their offspring, and all who might join with them, the obligation to observe these days accordingly in all times and places, in every generation, family, province, and city, so that the days of Purim should never be forgotten or neglected among the Jews.
There followed a second letter, written by Queen Esther daughter of Avichayil and Mordechai the Jew, to all of the Jews throughout the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahashuerus, containing words of peace and truth. This letter confirmed the observance of the days of Purim, as Mordechai and Esther had established them, for themselves and for their offspring, and also made mention of the fasting (cf. Esther 4:15-17) and the mournful cries (cf. Esther 4:1).
MORDECHAI SECOND TO THE KING AND SEEKING GOOD FOR HIS PEOPLE
King Ahashuerus imposed a service of labor upon all of the land and upon the islands far out. This, his power, and the rise of Mordechai, whom the king promoted, are to be found recorded in the book of chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. Indeed Mordechai the Jew was second only to King Ahashuerus. He was great among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his people, and showing care to all of his offspring.
FROM THE TORAH
Amalek attacks Israel
ISRAEL RESPONDS TO AMALEK’S ATTACK
At Rephidim, Amalek attacks Israel. Moses appoints Joshua to assemble a contingent of men who will go out and fight against Amalek. “On the morrow,” says Moses, “I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” Joshua carries out the instructions of Moses to fight against Amalek. In the meantime, Moses, Aaron and Hur, go up to the top of the hill.
MOSES’S RAISED HANDS ALLOW ISRAEL TO PREVAIL
It then occurs that when Moses raises his hand, Israel prevails, but when Moses lowers his hand, Amalek prevails. Eventually the hands of Moses become tired. So they set up a stone on which he can sit while Aaron and Hur hold up his hands, one on each side. Thus his hands remain steady until the setting of the sun, allowing Joshua to defeat Amalek and his people by the sword.
ERASING THE MEMORY OF AMALEK
The Eternal instructs Moses to record this account in writing and to recite in the hearing of Joshua that “I will surely erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” (Exodus 17:14) Moses builds an altar and names it Adonai-Nissi (“The Eternal is My Banner”), explaining that it is a memorial upon the throne of the Eternal; war for the Eternal against Amalek in every generation.
FROM THE MIDRASH
Esther Rabbah 3:13-14
“On the seventh day, the king, merrily affected by his wine,
ordered seven of his eunuchs to fetch Queen Vashti
to appear before him with the royal crown on her head.
He would show everyone her beauty!”
Said Rabbi Ayvu: Israel’s atonement is found in the fact that when Israel eats, drinks and is merry, they then bless, praise and extol the Holy One, blessed be He, while the other nations, upon eating and drinking, engage in obscenity. So here, one man argued, “Median women are the most beautiful!” while another countered, “No, Persian women are the most beautiful!” Whereupon the foolish king said to them, “My vessel is neither Median nor Persian but Chaldean: Would you like to see it?” “Yes,” they replied, “but only if she is naked.” “As you wish,” he confirmed, “naked!”
Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Chama bar Guria said in the name of Rav: She asked if she could come with scanty covering like a harlot, but they would not agree to it. “As you wish,” he confirmed, “naked!”
She agreed that she would come but without the crown. They objected, “Then she would be taken for a maidservant.” Then, she suggested, let a real maidservant come in wearing royal apparel, and they will see how much more beautiful I am without royal apparel than she! Said Rabbi Huna: They refused on the grounds that commoners may not dress like royalty.
“When the queen sent back the eunuchs
with her refusal to appear,
the king was incensed.”
Her response contained words that were intended to gently pierce the king’s heart. First she said, “If they see my beauty, they will set about to use me for their pleasure and eliminate you! On the other hand, if they find me unattractive, you will be shamed because of me.” But no amount of hinting or directness seemed to make an impression on him.
Then she became even more piercing. “When you were a stable boy in my father’s house (see next paragraph), you were in the habit of consorting with harlots; now that you have entered into royalty, you have not abandoned your crude ways!” But still, no amount of hinting or directness seemed to make an impression on him.
“Even defendants on trial in my father’s house were not subjected to judgment while naked!” Her words were consistent with the verse, “Then Nebuchadnezzar became angry…and ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to be thrown into the fiery furnace bound in their cloaks, tunics, robes, and other garments…” (Daniel 3:19-21).
Rabbi Shimon bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, judges the wicked in Gehinnom only naked—and what is the proof? “Such are the wicked…You set them in slippery places, You hurl them down into destruction…as awakening from a dream, O Lord, when You are stirred up, You despise their (naked) image” (Psalms 73:12-20)!
Said Rabbi Nathan: The Egyptians also were judged naked when they went down into the Sea—and what is the proof? The verse, “With the blast of Your nostrils, waters were heaped up [ne’ermu mayim]…” (Exodus 15:8) can be read, “With the blast of Your nostrils, they were made naked [ne’ermu] from the Sea [miyam]…!”
Esther Rabbah 8:7
Esther humbles herself before the Eternal
Then Esther sent word to Mordechai: “Have all of the Jews who dwell in Shushan fast for me, not to eat or to drink, for three days, night and day. I and my maidens shall fast as well, and thus will I go to the king, without legal permission, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
At that time Esther was very frightened because of the evil that had broken out against Israel, so she put aside her royal garments and adornments in favor of sackcloth. She loosened her hair and covered it with dust and ashes and afflicted herself with a fast. She fell upon her face before the Eternal and prayed: “O Eternal, God of Israel, who has ruled from earliest time and created the world, send help, I pray, to Your maidservant, an impoverished orphan without father or mother, forced to beg from house to house, as I now beg Your mercy from every window in the house of Ahashuerus. Now, O Eternal, grant success to this Your impoverished maidservant and rescue the flock that You shepherd from the foes who have risen up against us, for no power can prevent You from saving, whether with much or with little. You, O Father of orphans, stand by the right hand of this orphan who trusts in Your lovingkindness, and grant me mercy before this man whom I fear, and humble him before me as You humble the proud!”
Esther Rabbah 9:1
God supports Esther before the angry king
On the third day, Esther, adorned as queen, stood in the king’s inner court. When the king saw Queen Esther standing there, he showed his favor by extending to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. She drew near and touched the top of the scepter. Said the king to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted to you!” (Esther 8:1-3)
On the third day Esther put on her most beautiful garments and adornments. She took with her two of her handmaidens, placing her right hand upon one of them and leaning upon her in the royal manner. The other handmaiden followed behind her mistress supporting her jewels so that the gold would not touch the floor upon which she walked. Esther’s face was cheerful, concealing the anxiety that was in her heart.
As she entered the inner court facing the king and standing before him, the king was sitting upon his royal throne, dressed in gold and jewels. When he looked up and saw Esther standing directly before him, he became very angry because she had violated his law by appearing before him without being summoned. Esther looked up and saw his face, his eyes burning like fire from the abundance of anger that was in his heart! The queen recognized the king’s fury. She could not breathe! So upset was she that she put her head upon the maiden who was supporting her right hand.
But God saw and had compassion for His people. He attended to the pain of the orphan who trusted in Him. He placed her favor before the king: He added beauty upon her beauty, He made her even more attractive to him than she was before! Overcome, the king stepped down from his throne and ran to Esther, embracing her and kissing her. He threw his arms around her and said to her, “Why are you afraid? The decree against the Jews falls not upon you, as you are my beloved wife! Why did you not speak out to me when I saw you?” Esther answered him, “My lord, the king, when I saw you, I was overcome by the dignity of your honor.”
Esther Rabbah 10:12
Mordechai, king of the Jews
Mordechai left the king’s presence clothed in royal apparel of blue and white,
a great golden crown, a robe of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan cheered.
No one stood against the Jews, out of fear of them, and the king’s officers, satraps
and governors, helped the Jews, as fear of Mordechai had fallen upon them.
For Mordechai was powerful in the royal court, and his reputation was growing.
Indeed Mordechai the Jew was second only to King Ahashuerus. He was great
among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his
people, and showing care to all of his offspring.
Rabbi Pinchas says: Mordechai became king of the Jews. Just as a king wears purple, so Mordechai wore “a robe of linen and purple.” Just as a king wears a crown around his head, so Mordechai wore “a great golden crown.” Just as fear of the king is over all of the land, “fear of Mordechai had fallen upon them.”
Just as the king’s coinage circulates throughout the land, so did the coinage of Mordechai. What was his coinage? Mordechai was on one side, and Esther was on the other. Why? Because he was a good man, a caring man, seeking peace, as was said, “He was great among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his people, and showing care to all of his offspring” (Esther 10:3). This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, “Observe the upright, recognize the honest, as there is a future for the man of peace!” (Psalms 37:37)
Genesis Rabbah 39:11: What was the coinage of Mordechai? Sackcloth and ashes on one side, and a crown of gold upon the other!
SHABBAT SHALOM AND HAPPY PURIM!
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman