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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Essence of Purim

When Israel Sees God at Work

Jacob could see the hand of God at work in the world, and therefore exile did not apply to him. We can reach the level of Jacob by accepting the Yoke of Heaven, and this demands being part the Jewish people, for God appears in the world via Israel.
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1. God In Hiding
2. Altruistic Love
3. Our Unity Is Our Strength

God In Hiding
In the course of life, a person confronts difficult events which put his faith to the test. The Mishnah (Berachot 9:3) defines for us the level of faith a person must reach: "A person must bless God for the bad just as he blesses Him for the good." On these words, Rabbi Ovadyah of Bertinoro comments, "[A person must bless God for the bad] with joy and gladness of heart, in the same manner he recites the 'Good and Beneficent' (Tov U-Metiv) blessing for God's goodness."

The question that naturally arises is how can a person bless "with joy and gladness of heart" while plagued by hardship?

On the verse "Jacob lived in the land of Egypt" (Genesis 47:28), the Sefat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib of Ger) explains: " '[Jacob] lived' connotes the point of vitality, like life-giving waters. 'The land of Egypt' connotes the outer shell and the concealment. Spiritual matters have no bounds, no beginning and no end. This is not the case regarding corporeal matters."

Egypt symbolizes the height of materialism, "the nakedness of the land" (Genesis 42:9). The patriarch Jacob is there in Egypt, where the light of God is eclipsed, and despite this he is located at the "point of vitality," attached to the Almighty.

The Hebrew word for "world" is "olam," and it derives from the same root as the word for "hidden." This is because God is hidden in the world, and man's task is to reveal Him. Jacob is able to see the hand of God despite the concealing nature of his environment. For Jacob there is no veil, there is no eclipse.

When Israel is sent into exile, the hand of God is concealed. The divine presence does not rest upon Israel, and the Jew must himself seek to reveal God's hand. Jacob sees God's hand and therefore wishes to reveal the nature of the End of Days, for if God's hand is at work in everything, there really is no exile at all.

This may be likened to the following: A woman arrives at the hospital with terrible abdominal pains and she believes that her end is near, for it is impossible to live with such pain. However, when she discovers that she is in fact pregnant, and the pains she is experiencing are birth pangs, she quickly becomes gladdened at the thought of bearing new life.

Jacob sought to imbue the souls of the Jewish people with the capacity to see God at work despite His incognito. However, he is not granted this. His offspring are not on the same level as he. Nonetheless, they are capable of reaching such a level via faith, via complete submission to God. Though they do not understand, they merit seeing the hand of God.

Yet this submission, which involves a wholehearted acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven, hinges upon another condition - a bond with the Jewish people. Through the verse "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" we learn how to reach God's oneness. First of all, "Hear, O Israel." The Sefat Emet explains that a person must first establish himself within the Jewish people, for God only appears in the world through the Jewish people.

Altruistic Love
Some people claim to possess love for the Jewish people, but in practice they do not concern themselves with anybody outside of their own circle. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady (Tanya, chpts. 26-32) explains how to achieve a true love of Israel:

If a person's body is not refined, he is dominated by his bestial spirit, and it follows that his love of Israel is of an insincere nature. Only a person who has sanctified himself by incorporating the Torah and its commandments in his thought, speech, and deed, and who is ruled by his divine spirit - only such a person can subordinate himself completely to the Jewish people, because he and they posses one and the same root. Therefore, such a person has no problem loving his fellow Jew, even if he belongs to a different circle and holds different opinions.

It follows, then, that in order for a person to subordinate himself to God's will and accept the Yoke of Heaven, he must immerse himself in Torah and virtuous deeds. Only after his divine spirit rules him and he becomes a part of the Jewish people does he see God's providence at work in the world. Such a person is capable of blessing God for the bad just as he blesses Him for the good, for he discerns that everything comes from God.

Of course, there are many levels of subordination to God's will. In the process of building the first level, and even after this, a person is likely to pass through countless sub-levels. The more completely one subordinates himself, the more God's presence radiates forth. However, when a person sins, he becomes separated from God and at that moment he experiences a personal exile of spirit, and it follows that his connection to the Jewish people is loosened.

Our Unity Is Our Strength
Therefore, when the Jewish people sinned at the feast of Ahasuerus, they distanced themselves from God and caused divisiveness amongst themselves, as Haman says, "There is one nation scattered and divided" (Ester 3:8). He recognized their weakness. He understood that they had become divided because of their sin, and he wished to use this in order defeat them.

Regarding Amalek it is written, "Who happened upon you in the wilderness" (Deuteronomy 25:18). I.e., he just "happened" to run into you, implying that there is no providence in the world. The story of Purim appears to be full of happenstance; in fact, God is not even mentioned in it. However, a closer look reveals that God's hand was directing the whole thing. Even as Israel was sinning at Ahasuerus' feast, the Almighty could see that they would repent. Here already the salvation began with the death of Vashti (Sefat Emet).

Amalek has the power to defeat Israel only when they suffer from divisiveness and weakness of faith. In response to the sin of the feast which caused division, it is written, "Go gather all of the Jews . . . and fast for me" (Ester 4:16). It is also written that the Jews "gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives" (ibid. 9:16). They repented - an act which has as its source the acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven - and united, and as a result they were able to defeat Amalek.

And the fall of Amalek paves the way to the Holy Temple, as Rashi says on the verse "The Hand is on God's Throne; God shall be at war with Amalek for all generations" (Exodus 17:16): "The Almighty swears that His name will not be whole nor His throne whole until the name of Amalek has been entirely blotted out." On this the Sefat Emet says, "And the Children of Israel are 'His name,' for the Children of Israel sanctify and magnify the Name of Heaven in the world" (Purim 5634). This matter is fully revealed in the construction of the Holy Temple, for there is a commandment to wipe out Amalek and build the Holy Temple upon entering the land.

In summary: Jacob could see the hand of God in reality and therefore exile did not apply to him. We can get to the level of Jacob by accepting the Yoke of Heaven. We also learned that the acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven also depends upon a person's inclusion within the Jewish people, because God appears in the world via Israel. Seeing God's hand in reality causes Amalek to be wiped out, for he has no place to take hold, and this leads to the construction of the Holy Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days, Amen.

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