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5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Purim: Between Mordechai and Homon

by HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg

On Purim we have an obligation to drink wine until we no longer recognize the difference between Homon who is cursed and Mordechai who is blessed. When considering this halachah, it is difficult to understand. It is so unusual and so out of character -- a need to become drunk, and drunken to the state of not knowing the difference between Mordechai who is blessed and Homon who is cursed. It does not fit into the normal spirit of Jewish life and conduct.

How are we to understand logically this mitzvah of becoming drunk? Furthermore, we must know clearly -- before the "not knowing," before the confusion of who is who -- what in fact is the difference between Mordechai who is blessed and Homon who is cursed.

@Big Let Body=The miracle of Purim was accomplished through wine. In order to commemorate the miracle, there is a requirement to drink wine until drunkenness. In this stupor, the mind ceases to function.

In life, there are two forces, construction and destruction. Many times these forces are mixed together and life becomes confusing. Both are teachers; the evil and the good. There are aspects of our lives that build and aspects of our lives that destroy. Out of success can come failure and from ruins can spring renewal and redemption.

The grandchildren of Homon learned Torah in Bnei Brak! Homon was the one who sought to destroy all the Jews. It is amazing, how his own offspring would convert and cleave to Torah. How does such a thing happen?

Chazal teach us that when Achashverosh removed his ring and gave it to Homon, this act was more effective than all the prophecies and warnings of our 48 Prophets. All 48 Prophets could not, and did not, accomplish what Homon accomplished. The transferral of the king's ring to Homon indicated that Homon now had the absolute power to do as he pleased -- particularly to the Jews. Homon was then, the epitome of wealth, glory and power. A rich man coupled with fame and power, he had everything in the world. Yet, this was the cause of his downfall.

In spite of all Homon's plans, all his resources and all of his hatred -- he failed. More than that, his offspring made an about-face, a full teshuvah.

Chazal teach us that in the generation that the Moshiach comes, governments will be swayed to heresy. They will be completely secular and devoid of all faith in G-d. At that time, will come the Redemption.

There is a halachah (Vayikra 13:12,13), that if a person is afflicted with tzora'as completely from head to toe, he is deemed to be tohor -- pure. However, if a person has an affliction of tzora'as that is the size of a gris, the size of a dime, he is judged to be tomei -- impure. How are we to understand this? When totally affected he is pure, whereas a trace amount creates impurity! Common sense can not understand this. Yet this is Torah and it is true.

Do we understand how the grandsons of Homon, coming from the stock of Amolek, reversed their natures?

Yet we are living through this today and we see it with our own eyes. The baalei teshuvah are making such a wonderful comeback, in many cases, rising out of the pits of worldly pleasures -- cleaning themselves from the dregs of the earth. They reach levels of excellence and expertise in Torah, middos and mitzvos. Levels of greatness that no one could have known or predicted. The reason is that a thoughtful individual, even in the midst of all the pleasures of the world, must come to realize that a lifestyle of hedonism is not a lifestyle. It is not living. It took a long, long time to learn this lesson.

The effect of drugs and the Aids disease on the individual, and on the society, have taught many people this lesson -- the hard way. One can not live a wild life, a life of hefkeirus. It will take its toll. Homosexuals, they thought they could get away with it. Now they are faced with Aids. It is only a matter of time. Seeking unbridled pleasure for its own sake, this is a path of destruction.

Depravity, evil has taught the world a lesson. Many years had to pass before the lesson became clear, but now we see it with our eyes. Such a lifestyle leads to destruction. The discovery took years, but now it is out in the open. Destruction is also a rebbe.

Purim is the confrontation of two personalities, both great individuals. Homon was a mastermind! His plot to destroy stemmed from great intelligence. His downfall was a result of his arrogance and pride. This is destruction. The opposite extreme is Mordechai: wisdom and a life of Torah, construction. We learn from both, what to emulate -- Boruch Mordechai -- and what to hate -- Orur Homon -- the demise of Homon and the renown of Mordechai. Wine was the catalyst that Hashem chose to teach us this lesson.

@Big Let Body=Wine has remarkable dual properties. Wine can induce euphoria. Wine can bring misery. It can raise and it can lower.

Wine is given to someone who is sad. It will cheer him up, as we know from the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech, for he wrote in Mishlei (31:6), "Give liquor to the forlorn and wine for the embittered soul." A person who is sentenced to death is given wine to lift his spirits so he can cope with the pain of death.

Simcha -- joy -- is also achieved through wine. The gemora Pesochim (109a) teaches us that today, when we do not have the Beis Hamikdash and therefore no meat of korbonos with which to rejoice on Yom Tov, wine is the substitute for giving us simcha. Wine is used for shirah, song, as the gemora (Brochos 35a) says, "There is no song except over wine." When we had the Beis Hamikdash, the Leviim sang their songs of praise in the presence of wine. The wine will intensify joy.

It all depends on how much of the wine you take. If taken in moderation it is wonderful. It gives you a lift. If you take it, Heaven forbid, freely and unchecked it causes drunkenness and ruin.

Chazal tell us that the Eitz Hadaas was, according to some opinions, grapes. The Medrash Rabba (Bereishis 19:5) states that Chava squeezed grapes and gave Odom Horishon the wine to drink. Wine was the cause of Odom Horishon's downfall. The wine brought on a drunkenness that overpowered even Odom Horishon's profound intellect, his seichel. There are both tremendous assets and liabilities contained in wine. If taken in moderation, wine can produce joy. If not, it can produce grief. Too much will bring on shame and injury. Through wine, the curse of death came to the world, while during the miracle of Purim it saved our lives.

The miracle within wine is that it depicts life in its reality; the essence of life -- drunkenness. A person can become drunk from life in this world. A whole lifetime can be spent walking around in a stupor, in love with Olom Hazeh. He loses his seichel, his sense purpose and direction. Around and around, circling from one sip of this world's pleasures to the next. Spiraling down and around and again, further down. One sensation after the next.

The whole sense of construction, that life has a noble purpose, is lost. People turn to drugs just to deaden their seichel. Unshackled from their sense of responsibility, their common sense and rational thinking become suspended. Then they feel they can do whatever they wish. They would never allow themselves to do such things without the influence of the drugs. They would be left with guilt feelings. Their excuse for doing it is the drugs.

@Big Let Body=This is the miracle of Purim: that wine produced life and simcha and it also caused intoxication, confusion and death. This is exactly the life of Homon and lehavdil of Mordechai. We must drink and feel bewildered; no longer able to know the difference between Boruch Mordechai and Orur Homon -- that is life in its essence.

The influence of the world, like wine, will prevail over the mind and create a state of confusion from what was once a state of clarity. The purpose of life will be lost. When one is drunk, there is no telling what is up or what is down; which is death and which is life. Seichel does not function; it has no influence on the person -- that is destruction.

This is the lesson of Purim, and it is to be learned especially with and through wine. We can experience the virtue of wine, when it is used in moderation, as the Torah prescribes, together with seichel. Alternatively, we can sink into chaos if it is not used properly.

@Big Let Body=In the words of the Megillah (8:16), "For the Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor," Chazal teach us, that "light" is referring to Torah. Seemingly, a reference to Torah should be more appropriately mentioned concerning Shavuos. This was the time when we accepted the Torah from Hashem and were privileged to receive the joy and radiance of clarity that comes from Torah. Where does Torah fit into Purim?

The Bach zt"l explains that there is a difference between Purim and Chanukah. The days of Purim are for feasting and festivity, a time to partake of the enjoyments of this world.

The days of Chanukah are for avodoh, spiritual devotion to Hashem. Since at the time of Chanukah there was a negligence in worship and dedication to Hashem, there were edicts directed against Torah and mitzvos. In turn, there had to be self- sacrifice to rededicate the Beis Hamikdash and the performance of mitzvos.

Purim was a decree against the physical existence of our people. This was in response to our participation in the Feast of Achashverosh. Homon came to exterminate the physical body, which received improper pleasure from this world. After repentance and prayer we were saved, and so Purim is a time for the body to celebrate its redemption from the hands of death. But how does Torah fit into all this?

The gemora Pesochim (68b) teaches that according to all opinions, since the days of Purim are for festivity and joy, one cannot fast on Purim. The cause of the adversity, the ordeal of Purim, was the enticement of all the pomp and splendor of Achashverosh. Royalty steeped in gold and riches -- all the pleasures of the world, for one hundred and eighty days straight! Then, another seven days of festivities just for the capital city of Shushan!

Chazal discuss if we actually participated in the whole party, but without a doubt, the whole atmosphere in Shushan was charged with mirth. Such a celebration, combined with the drinking of wine, was too much. Any kind and any amount of drink that they wanted -- in fact, any gratification they desired -- it was all there. This tempted them to partake of his feast and to delve into the enticements of this world. "Living it up" in this world caused the decrees of destruction and the darkness of hester ponim. We lost Hashem's favor, because we strayed from His Torah's way of life.

The light of Torah had dimmed. Instead of getting the benefits of a life of Torah, they turned to the pleasures of this world. The Ohr HaChaim Hakodosh zt"l, comments on the posuk (Devorim 26:11), "You shall rejoice with all the goodness that Hashem, your G-d has given you . . ." First and foremost this is speaking about Hashem, Who is the ultimate good and bestows goodness without limit. In addition, this goodness, which is all encompassing, refers to Hashem's Torah. He writes that if people would experience the sweetness and pleasantness of Torah, they would run and chase after it. Gold and silver would be as nothing before their eyes -- for the Torah contains all the goodness in the world. All it takes is to feel and understand the pleasure of Torah. Then, all other worldly pleasures are reduced to nil.

Torah includes everything that is good in the world. Is there anything like it? The posuk uses the expression all -- everything. Is everything that is good included in a chocolate bar, a dinner or a vacation? It cannot be. A moment's pleasure -- or an hour or a week -- and then what? A craving for the next time! Fool's gold. Fooled, time after time. The lifestyle, the frame of mind, of finding pleasure in Torah, was lacking. The world could now influence them.

@Big Let Body=The feast of Achashverosh enticed the people, day after day. It became a lifestyle and so its influence went undetected. It was so devastating that the situation required a new Kabolas Hatorah, a kiyemu vekiblu, as it is written in Megillas Esther (9:27), The Jews affirmed and accepted upon themselves . . ." This means, as the gemora (Shabbos 88a) teaches, "They affirmed what they had already accepted."

Beyond the original acceptance of Hashem's Torah, there was now an additional element in our relationship with Hashem and His Torah. There was a realization of what Torah really was, what it really means to us.

Up until the miracle of Purim, Kabolas Hatorah had been through persuasion, as this gemora explains, that Har Sinai was held above Klal Yisroel in order to convince us to accept the Torah. The original acceptance of the Torah was not with a full heart and thus there was room for worldly interests to creep into our hearts and lure us away from the life of Torah.

After the miracle of Purim, it all became clear: what Torah means for us and how much we are lacking without it. We accepted the Torah on our own, willingly and with full hearts. Tosafos, on this gemora, explains that it was possible because of our "love over the miracle of Purim." The miracle caused such gratitude and devotion to Hashem that our hearts could clearly see the light of Torah. It radiated clearly and it was obvious that the Torah is the essence and the purpose of our lives -- and nothing else!

The yetzer hora, along with the glitter of this world, confuses a person into mistakes. The Seforno zt"l (Bereishis 3:1) explains that when the snake, the Nochosh, tricked Chava it relied on the imagination as its weapon to fool her. The yetzer hora takes something which in reality has very little benefit and in essence is meaningless, and exaggerates it by means of the imagination. A picture is described of something that is wonderful, delicious -- everything that a person could want. The superficial illusion is seen clearly, since the yearning for physical desires magnifies it, while the poisonous venom is hidden amidst the fantasies of the imagination. The dangers of this world's pleasures are neither recognized nor considered.

The material lifestyle is very appealing -- a delicious steak -- but there is indigestion and in the end it can bring on an ulcer. Indulgence will lead to sickness and if not checked by reason, there will be abuse and ruination. The thought of immediate pleasure entices the mind to ignore all the harmful consequences that will follow. The satisfaction is only temporary, while the damage remains. This is life.

Purim pitted the forces of this world, Achashverosh and his royal feast, against the Torah and its way of life. Torah emerged supreme. Chazal teach that all the Yomim Tovim will become nullified except for Purim. This new Kabolas Hatorah is forever. There was light for the Jews, the light of Torah, Torah in its full reality.

One can not have a kiyemu vekiblu, if one still has a craving for this world. As long as one lusts after pleasures, one will never reach excellence in Torah. It is either this or that. The Vilna Gaon in the sefer Even Sheleimoh (2:9) is quoted as saying, "It is not possible to serve Hashem except after the elimination of worldly desires and pleasure . . . and it is impossible to sense the sweetness of Torah except through hardships and self- control." One can not have both.

The expression we say in Bircas HaTorah; that we are "commanded to engross ourselves in the words of Torah," means that the mitzvah is not simply to learn, but to be engrossed and preoccupied with the learning, to such an extent that it becomes a joy. To delve into it so completely -- with such scrutiny and analysis -- that the truth of the issue emerges. Then, the words of Torah become sweet and a delight to learn.

This is also what we ask from Hashem, in our morning prayers before reciting the Shema: "Instill in our hearts to understand and to expound upon, to listen, to learn, to teach, to safeguard, to perform and to fulfill all the words of Your Torah's teaching with love."

Then, after all this, there is a higher request for an even greater spiritual attainment, as our prayers continue, "Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah." We beseech that the Torah shall illuminate our eyes, and then that "our hearts shall cleave to Your commandments," and then finally, that "our hearts be unified to love and fear Your Name." There is a fusion, an affinity to our Creator -- a deveikus that shuts out all worldly concerns.

The nature of the person is changed and there is a different feeling towards the pleasures of this world. They are seen for what they are -- false and silly distractions. The stupidity of it all is revealed and the world's trivial distractions disappear. This is what Purim did for us -- then and forever.

@Big Let Body=Torah has the power to supersede all worldly interests and desires -- it must be this way. For if not, how are we to understand what we are taught in Pirkei Ovos (6:4), "This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground and live a life of hardship -- and exert yourself in Torah!" This is not just learning, but sacrifice and strenuous efforts. This is something that Hashem expects of us.

Further, we are taught that the person who does this is called "Fortunate in this world!" How can it be?

It can happen only through Torah, for the Torah detaches the mind from the lure of this world. Then the pleasure of learning can dispel all longings for material, fleeting enjoyments. Existence becomes life, real living. Freedom from the pursuit of pleasure.

This was Purim, Olam Hazeh against the Torah. We also, face this battle. Today's world, especially, confronts us with many challenges, for the greater the advancements so too are the greater chances of ruin.

The Chovos Halevovos wrote many years ago that whatever increases progress in the world will also increase destruction. The construction there is in this world is in fact destruction -- the destruction of ruchniyus. The demands of a materialistic lifestyle take a big toll on a person's ruchniyus. Previously, there was not such an abundance of products and services. Today we are swamped by it.

One hundred years ago, how much did the average working man have? Did he have the conveniences and luxuries, the restaurants, amusements and vacations that we have today? Not at all. They had nothing of what we have now.

Nevertheless, they did have something, for even the most common people had regard for Torah. There was no affluence to prevent them from recognizing the importance of Torah.

Very often, a yungerman will leave the kollel because luxuries appeal to him and his wife. It is a different style of living, having all sorts of foods, furnishings and gratifications. People think that it is an insufficiency not to have these things. They become necessities, and if a person is not affluent enough to have them -- there is something wrong with him. On the contrary, it is the greatest advantage not to be surrounded by all these things -- the joy of Torah and its life is not dimmed by the false glitter of this world.

Olom Hazeh with all its splendor can not give true life, true simcha. Purim is for us to enjoy, but one can become drunk, intoxicated from Olom Hazeh. Wine has the power to build and to destroy.

Living a life that is steeped in Olom Hazeh is only destruction -- nothing is created. In the end, with old age, this will be realized, but then it is too late. There is no longer the time nor energy to build.

Chazal teach us that the older talmidei chachomim get the more stability of mind they acquire. There is peace of mind from knowing that they have done what they should have done. There are no guilt feelings, and there is no confusion. They are happy with their lives.

Others, who are drunk from this world, when they get older and the physical cravings fade -- their previous excitements no longer thrill them and their bodies are no longer capable . . . then their minds become more and more confused. They realize that they lived a life of emptiness, triviality and foolishness. Sadly, it is too late.

On Purim, we drink wine . . . but to become drunk? We must be very careful. Purim becomes wild. The mitzvah is not to become crazy and out of control. Some fulfill the mitzvah by becoming intoxicated and staying in the house to go to bed and sleep it off. Others just have a sip or two of wine and sleep, because sleeping also accomplishes the "not knowing" of the difference between Mordechai and Homon.

Wine is a wonderful thing. It can make a person happy, and at the same time drunk -- and all that one ate comes spewing out. Likewise, one can partake of the life of Olom Hazeh, without limit, but in the later years, it will all be vomited out. There will be nothing left from it. Nothing will remain.

Homon had all the powers of Olom Hazeh at his disposal and he was cursed. Lehavdil, Mordechai had Torah and Hashem blessed him.

May we too, be privileged to be blessed by HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and may our mitzvos of Purim and all our Torah and mitzvos always find favor with Him. May we too be able to see the light of Torah and to rejoice with it in its full brilliance, with the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days.

This lecture of HaRav HaGaon Rabbenu Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, was given motzei Shabbos Parshas Ki Siso (in the middle of Purim Meshulosh) 5754, to Yeshivas Torah Ohr, Jerusalem.

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