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And so, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month -
That is, the month of adar -
When the king's command and decree were to be executed,
The very day on which the enmeies of the jews
Had expected to get them in their power,
The oppoisite happened,
And the jews got their enemies in their power.
"...if any person, man or woman, enters the king's presence in the inner court without having been summoned..." But could she [Esther] have not entered the outer court, as did Haman!? However, this an intimation that Purim is p'nimiyut (internal-ness), and this is the meaning of the inner court, as related in the name of the Elder Rabbi of Kotsk z"l, the megilla is so called because in it the p'nimiyut opened and revealed [the Hebrew word for scroll, 'megillah' and the Hebrew for revelation, "histgalut" share the same word root]. It is [cited] that Amalek covers the countenance, and it is written "And it shall be when the Lord your God gives you rest from all your surrounding enemies, etc." then the p'nimiyut will be revealed. When the "and the opposite happened" is realized, everything will be open. It is written [in a Mishnah] that Petahia was in charge of the 'nests' - the couples of sacrificial birds [a matter which only experts dealt with]; Petahia was Mordecai, and why was he called Petahia? Because he would open subjects and homiletically expound upon them ['Petahia', 'Yiftach' and 'open' share a common Hebrew root], he would even open secret matters. It is stated that "Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation", and in the name of the Hiddushei HaRim, z"l, it is said that whoever opens an opening is called 'Yiftach', therefore Mordecai was called Petahia.
(Rabbi Avraham Mordecai Alter of Gur; Imrei Emmet - Shushan Purim, 5688)
The Worshippers of The Calf
This Shabbat our synagogue readings - in the Torah parashah and the haphtarah - are focused upon two confrontations with idolatry: the Torah reading, which deals with the incident of the Golden Calf and Moses' struggle against it; and the confrontation between the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel read in the haphtarah, taken from 1 Kings 18 (a haphtarah which is not read every year, as Shabbat Ki Tisa frequently coincides with Parshat Parah). While the Torah portion and the haphtarah usually bear upon related subjects, they are often a study in contrasts as well, offering different perspectives on the subject at hand. I would like to reflect upon these two passages, both in terms of their obvious similarities as well as what I see as a striking difference between them.
The incident of the Golden Calf is a familiar
one. The people, confused and frightened when Moses "tarries" on
Several years ago I suggested in this forum (Shabbat Shalom, Ki Tisa 5762), that this chapter ought to be read as offering a new understanding of the covenant, based upon mercy, compassion and understanding of human weakness, as against the original Sinai covenant, which was based upon unconditional obedience to the Law. I referred to these as the "Covenant of Sinai" and the "Covenant of the Cleft of the Rock," or as the "revelation of Shavuot" and the "revelation of Yom Kippur." My original inspiration for this idea came from the late biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom who, in an Appendix to his JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, observed that, if one analyzes the structure of the Hextateuch - that is to say, the six books consisting of the Torah plus the Book of Joshua - one finds a pattern of symmetry at whose center one finds Exodus 34: that is to say, the revelation to Moses in the Cleft of the Rock. Thus, the very structure of these biblical books alludes to the centrality of the quality of Divine mercy.
The chapter concerning the confrontation between
Elijah and the priests of Baal presents us with a very different sort of story.
Elijah sees himself as virtually alone in confronting the wicked King Ahab and
the priests of Baal and Asherah, whose cult enjoys a
privileged position under Ahab's rule. Elijah is persecuted by the king for his
loyalty to the God of Israel and his outspoken criticism of the latter's
support of idolatry. In a dramatic confrontation on Mount Carmel, Elijah
proposes a test to demonstrate to the people, who " hop
between the two branches," the identity of the true god: Baal or the Lord
What is the difference between these two
stories? Why in the end do both God and Moses have mercy upon the people of
Moses, for his part, served a dual role here (as he did throughout his life as a leader): he was the teacher par excellence of Torah, the prophet who brought God's word to the people, and was as such passionately opposed to this incursion of paganism into the life of the people. But he was also the leader of the people, a kind of loving father who sought, in whatever way possible, to reconcile them to their Heavenly Father so that they might continue on their path towards their destiny - with all the stumbling blocks and backsliding they might encounter on the way.
Elijah, by contrast, was a zealot - indeed, the
very archetype of the zealot in
Moreover, unlike those who worshipped the Calf, the priests of Baal were deeply rooted in their idolatry, and enjoyed a privileged status within Ahab's kingdom. They were, so to speak, a classic example of people who acted out of zadon, deliberate choice; and the only way to deal with this, at least so Elijah believed, was through frontal confrontation, aimed not so much at them as at the public who were vacillating between the two positions as to which was true. And this is what he did.
To summarize: the selections from the Torah and the haphtarah illustrate two models of leadership. The one, the zealot, is needed in certain special situations, when there is a great danger to the moral and religious integrity of the people, which can be combated in no other way. But the path of zealotry is fraught with dangers which there is no need to elaborate, as we unfortunately see in our own day. The second path, that of Moses, is the high road that on occasion incorporates momentary anger and zealotry against an overall, long-lasting paternal love. "His anger is but a moment; He favors life." May we always merit to have wise leaders of this type.
Rabbi Jonathan Chipman is by profession a translator, specializing in Jewish Studies. He writes a weekly bulletin called "Arrows of Jonathan" on the weekly Torah reading (in English). Readers interested in receiving this bulletin should email to email@example.com.
"Face to face"
And god would speak to moshe face to face, as a man speaks to his neighbor. Now when he would return to the camp, his attendant, the lad yehoshua, would not depart from within.
"Face to face" meaning: Present, without intermediary, as is written, "Let us confront each other", and this is elsewhere explained, saying, "You heard the sound of words but perceived no shape - nothing but a voice." Thus, "and God would speak to Moshe face to face" is an expression describing the kind of speech - "And he heard the voice speaking to him." Thus it has been explained to you that the hearing of the voice without the intercession of an angel is called "face to face".
(Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed, I, 37)
[Another explanation, this one]
in the style of the Midrash: "Face to face"
- an expression of anger. Said The Holy One, Blessed Be
He, to Moshe: Moshe, I did not tell you [to punish the people] when I was angry
and you were conciliatory, nor when you were angry and I was conciliatory. But
now I am angry and you are angry; "return to the camp"; read not
"v'shav el hamachaneh" [and
he - Moshe - returned to the camp], but read it "v'shuv el
hamachaneh" ["return to the
camp"], if we are both angry who will bring
(Rabeinu Bahaye, Shemot 33:11)
The First and Second Tablets
The first tablets were shattered because they
were given with noise. However, regarding the second tablets, of which it was
said 'and no man shall ascend with you,' endured. Even
(Yalkut Shimoni Bereishit 42, from the middle of section148)
"Two tablets of stone as the first" - the similar and the different
"And i shall write on the tablets the words": …On the first tablets were inscribed only the ten statements, and now that you have expressed sorrow, I give you midrash halachot v'agadot [halachic explications]… the meaning behind all this is that the first set of tablets did not include the authority to create new laws, only that which Moshe received, close readings and fine distinctions and those laws inherent in them; they did not authorize creation of new laws through the 13 rules and Talmudic exposition. The oral law consisted only of those things received from Moshe's mouth; and those not directly received were extracted by comparison of like things. The second set of tablets, however, authorized every distinguished scholar to create laws according to the 13 rules and the Talmud… And for this reason, the Holy One ordered that the second set be engraved by Moshe, not because they were not worthy of Divine inscription, but in order to teach that new legislation authorized by these tablets are with the partnership of human endeavor with the help of Heaven, just as the tablets themselves were the work of Moshe and the script of God… the writing was also with Moshe's participation. And this is what was meant by Chazal's statement that even that which authorized scholars will in the future innovate was already on the tablets, the meaning being that everything existed potentially in the second tablets… and because of this the Holy One [adding on to "the first tablets" the words ] "Asher shibarta ["which you have broken" ] and Chazal expounded [emending the text with word play] "Yasher kochacha sheshibarta" ["Good for you that you broke them" [an rewriting based on the similarity between asher and yasher], because this [breaking of the tablets] strengthened the authority of the oral law which is the essential part of the second covenant made after the golden calf, because after the first set was smashed and the second set was written in a version which was initially received orally, they then knew that even the tablets, which were the beginning of the written law, included matters of received tradition which already existed in the beginning. From this we can understand the power of received traditions which came down and were passed on, and all are the words of the Living God.
("Haamek Davar", Shemot 34:1)
Everything which a distinguished
scholar is destined to innovate is included in the Oral Law down until the
arrival of the Messiah, for then the earth will become full with knowledge, and
men will no longer learn war, etc,. and there will be
no more new laws… The Oral Law derives from the heart of
LaZaddik by Rabbi Zadok HaCohen of
The first tablets, whose giving
was accompanied by powerful noises, were broken. But the latter
tablets, with regard to which it was written "And no man shall ascend with
you", survived. And even
(Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit Chap 42, continuation of Article 148)
It was taught in a Barayta of Rabbi Eliezer: The Scroll of Esther was composed with the Holy Spirit, as is written (Esther 6): "And Haman said in his heart."
Rabbi Akiva said: Esther was composed with the Holy Sprit, as is written (Esther 2) "And the matter became known to Mordecai".
Rabbi Yossi ben Dormaskis said: Esther was composed with the Holy Sprit, as is written (Esther 9) "And they did not partake of the spoils."
Shmuel said: If I were present [among the above Tannaim] I would have said something superior to all their proofs. It is said "kiymu v'kiblu" - "they fulfilled and accepted" - they fulfilled above that which they accepted below.
Considerations of Ethical Sensitivity in the Editing of the Holy Scriptures
Said Rav Shmuel bar Yehudah: Sent Esther to the Sages, saying
: "Commemorate me for future generations." They replied, "You
will incite the ill will of the nations against us". She sent back reply: "I
am already recorded in the chronicles of the kings of Media and
"You will incite the ill will of the nations against us": The nations will say that we are happy to recall their downfall.
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