By Rabbi Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff
Why is there a custom to dress up on Purim?
Chazal explain that the threat on Purim was not really a threat at all. It was only the appearance of a threat, for in the end, the Jews were not exterminated.
As a reminder of the great redemption from Egypt, the Torah begins the counting of the months from the month in which the exodus occurred (see Shemos ch. 12). Thus, each month is called after its number place in the calendar counting from the exodus (i.e., “The First Month,” “The Second Month,” etc.). However, when the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian exile to build the second Bais Hamikdosh, they brought with them the Babylonian names for the months (i.e., Nissan, Iyar, Sivan, etc.), and we use these names to this day.
The Ramban (to Shemos 12:2) explains that just as the numerical names for the months were used to remind us of the exodus from Egypt, so were the Babylonian names retained to serve as a permanent reminder of Hashem’s great redemption of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. Following through on this idea, the Persian name Purim, from the Persian word pur, meaning lottery, is used as a permanent reminder of the great miracle of Purim that Hashem wrought for us when we were in the exile of Persia-Media and serves to publicize it as well (Chasam Sofer).
Why did the miracle occur through Esther, an orphan?
The story of Purim occurred during the period following the destruction of the first Bais Hamikdosh. Exiled from Eretz Yisroel and suffering at the hands of the gentiles, the Jewish people felt as if Hashem had, chas veshalom, abandoned them, saying, “Yesomim hayinu ve’ain av - We have become orphans without a father”(Eichah 5:3). Hashem responded by bringing the salvation through an orphan to show the Jews that He is, in fact, the father of orphans and had not, and will not ever, abandon them. The message to all generations is that the Jewish people should never feel like orphans, because they always have their Father in Heaven (Esther Rabbah 6:7).
How is Mordechai a hero, when it was his actions in refusing to bow to Haman that led to Haman’s desire to annihilate the Jewish people?
In general, one is not only permitted, but required, to transgress mitzvos and Torah obligations in a situation where life is at risk (see Sanhedrin 74a). However, with the severe sins of murder, idolatry and immorality, one is required to give his life rather than transgress.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that although it might seem that Mordechai should have bowed to Haman because Haman was known to be a big anti-Semite and, as such, refusing to bow would severely threaten Jewish lives, Haman carried an idol on his person, making bowing to him equivalent to bowing to idolatry, one of the three transgressions that may not be transgressed even under threat of death. Therefore, even though Mordechai realized the danger, he could not bow in this situation. He continued to hold his ground for this same reason even when his fellow Jews begged him to appease Haman after Haman had hatched his evil plan.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that one should never, chas veshalom, think that keeping the Torah can result in suffering, because it cannot. Nothing can be more illustrative of this point than the Purim story. In the end, not only did nothing happen to Klal Yisroel, but Mordechai’s steadfast adherence to the Torah resulted in a tremendous salvation in which Haman and his sons were killed, 75,000 Amaleikim and many more of the enemies of the Jews were wiped out, and the Jews were able to live in joy and tranquility.
The Medrash teaches that when Hashem created the world, He looked into the Torah and created the world from it (Bereishis Rabbah 1:1). In other words, knowing all that would occur in the future, Hashem created the world with the Torah in mind. He considered all future scenarios, so that adherence to the Torah would not only never cause sufferingin any situation that would arise in history, big or small, but would also only cause goodness and salvation on every level, personal, national and global.
Therefore, Mordechai was in fact a very great Jewish hero. He not only brought about the destruction of our enemies and the salvation of the Jews through his unshakable commitment to the Torah, but he also effected a tremendous kiddush Hashem by demonstrating to the Jews, and making them realize, that one can never go wrong by following the Torah. This new perception on the part of the Jews resulted in tremendous simcha and prompted their voluntary reacceptance of the Torah on Purim with love (Shalmei Todah).
How does Purim incorporate the simcha of all of the yomim tovimof the year?
Each of the Yomim Tovim throughout the year has great elements of simcha. Even on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is simcha, as we are forgiven for our sins and given a fresh start.
Chazal explain that one of the reasons for the tremendous simcha of Purim is that Purim not only contains its own intrinsic simcha, but it also incorporates the simcha of all the holidays of the year.
On Pesach we were redeemed from bondage to freedom, and on Purim we were redeemed from death to life.
On Shavuos we accepted the Torah, and on Purim we accepted the Torah anew (see Shabbos 88a).
On Rosh Hashanah we are judged for life and death, and on Purim we were judged as to whether Haman’s decree would stand and we would die, or whether we would be saved.
On Yom Kippur, Hashem forgives our sins, and on Purim Hashem forgave the sins the Jews committed by bowing to Nevuchadnetzar’s idol and eating at Achashveirosh’s feast, both of which caused the evil decree (see Megillah 12a).
On Sukkos, we were protected by the Kanfei HaShechinah in the desert under the Ananei Hakavod, and on Purim the miracle was so great that many non-Jews entered under the Kanfei HaShechinah by converting to Judaism (see Rashi on Esther 8:17).
Furthermore, the letters of the word Purim demonstrate that all the Yomim Tovim are contained within it: P - Pesach, U - v’Sukkos (as Sukkos is an extension of Pesach), R - Rosh Hashanah, Y - Yom Kippur, M - Matan Torah (i.e., Shavuos) (Bnei Yissoschor).
Why was it impossible for Achashveirosh to fully enjoy his party on Shabbos?
The Megillah says, “Bayom hashevii ketov leiv hamelech bayoyin - On the seventh day [of the party], when the king’s heart was feeling somewhat good from the wine, [he called to bring Vashti]”(Esther 1:10). It is interesting to note that the Megillah does not say “tov leiv hamelech - the king’s heart was feeling good,” but instead says that he was feeling “ketov - somewhat good.” The reason for this is because this took place “bayom hashevii - on the seventh day,” meaning Shabbos, and only the Jewish people can find full contentment on Shabbos, as it says in the Amidah of Shacharis of Shabbos, “vegam bimnuchaso lo yishkinu areilim ki l’Yisroel amcha nesato be’ahava - and the uncircumcised will not find contentment in [Shabbos], because it was given to Yisroel, Your people, with love” (Hagaos HaChidah).
Why do the cantillation marks under the phrase “Uvehagi’a tor Esther bas Avichayil dod Mordechai - When the turn of Esther, the daughter of Avichayil, the uncle of Mordechai, arrived [to go to the king]” (Esther 2:15) require the baal kriah to stretch the reading of those words?
The secrets of the Torah are hidden in many different ways and in many different places (see the Ramban’s introduction to Sefer Bereishis). The Vilna Gaon reveals that secrets are even hidden in the trop, cantillation marks, used by the baal kriah to read the Torah (see the Gra on Bereishis 44:18 for a well-known example). In this vein, the Vilna Gaon teaches that the trop on this posuk reveals something special about Esther. Under every word of the phrase “Uvehagi’a tor Esther bas Avichayil dod Mordechai,” describing how Esther’s turn to be brought to the king had arrived, a “munach” trop mark appears, directing the baal kriah to drag out each of these words. The Vilna Gaon explains that the drag comes to point out the tzidkus, righteousness, of Esther. Although Esther had been called to the king, she went with extreme reluctance, effectively dragging her feet every step of the way.
In contrast, when the Megillah describes the rest of the women who went to the king, the posuk reads, “Uvehagi’a tor naarah venaarah lavo el hamelech - When the turn of each woman came to go to the king” (Esther 2:12) and employs “kadma ve’azla” trop marks. The actual words kadma ve’azla mean “got up and went,” implying a sense of haste and enthusiasm, which indicates that the rest of the women jumped with great haste and excitement when their turn arrived, because they yearned for the power and prestige of the palace and the king (the Vilna Gaon).
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By the author of the popular “Inside Chanukah” (2012), these are excerpts from the sefer “Inside Purim,” which contains additional answers to the above questions and much more. With haskamos from Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rav Shlomo Eliyahu Miller, Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum and Rav Yisroel Reisman, “Inside Purim” explores every aspect of Purim - the miracles, the Megillah, the mitzvos and the minhagim - in a collection of over 200 fascinating divrei Torah in a short, quick, pick-up and easy to read and remember format. Back by popular demand, “Inside Purim” is in its second printing, re-released for Purim 2013 by Feldheim Publishers, and is available at Jewish bookstore everywhere and at www.feldheim.com.