Parsha Vayikra Shabbos Zachor March 19, 2005/8 Adar II 5765 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
The Torah portion we read today is called "Zachor." Which means to remember. It is a commandment, a mitzvah from the Torah to remember how the evil nation of Amalek attacked us when we left Egypt. Why does the Torah command of us to participate in hearing this section, including everyone, from infants to the elderly. It is because many times throughout the history of our people, crises reoccur, in terms of survival and adversity.
If we look at the personalities of those individuals in the Haftarah, we can learn a lot, for example, King Saul, the first Jewish King was commanded by God to annihilate King Agog, a descendant of Amelek. King Saul lost his kingdom b/c he had compassion upon the Amelek women, children and livestock. We read today that the prophet Samuel approaches King Saul and why King Saul did not follow God’s instructions.
There is an old proverb that says, "You can catch more bees with honey." This is a very optimistic approach to life as we enter into the month of Adar that coincides with the Purim holiday. We learn the timeless message that joy, truth and miracles bring honor and ultimate victory. Some may ask, why should I bother to hear the Purim stories that took place 3,000 years ago? What lessons can we learn from events from so long ago? Are we finding the same problems and challenges? Is there any correlation between our lives today and the past? I would like to show you how it is relevant to study the past and that we do have the power to learn and change history. We do have the power to understand the people who came before us and we do have the power to carve our own destiny.
As we explore some key biblical personalities from the Megillah, we also learn that crime doesn’t pay. First let us look at those characters who are considered evil. Often, it is necessary to understand the root of evil in order to recognize it and eradicate it. There are many wicked personalities mentioned, such as King Achashurus, Queen Vashti, Haman, and Zeresh –the wife of Haman. Their legacy is cruelty, so let’s investigate their actions and what repercussions befell them as a result of their diabolical plans.
Zeresh, we are told by the biblical commentators, came from a background of poverty. She married Haman, the King’s chief financial and political advisor at the time, in order to climb the social ladder. Some say, it was a marriage of convenience for wealth and status.
What else do we know about Zeresh? She was the daughter of Phatanee, mentioned in the time of Ezra. Phatanee, her father, was the governor of Judea and didn’t let anyone build the Bait Hamikdash (the Holy Temple). He was an anti-Semite. Therefore, we see that Zeresh was indoctrinated with a deep hatred towards the Jewish people.
Zeresh was obsessed with hurting the Jews. Haman claimed, that not only did his friends, but his wife as well, advise him to plot against the Jews. That makes her an accessory to this crime. Zeresh told Haman, "Don’t put them in ovens, they can get out of ovens, don’t put them in a lions’ den, this too did not work." So she recommended that Haman build gallows from which to hang the Jews. Moreover, there is an incident recorded whereby Zeresh collects a pile of garbage, stands on her balcony and dumps it onto what she thought was the head of Mordechai, while he was on a horse in a procession through the town. However, by divine intervention, the man riding the horse was none other than her own husband, Haman.
In the end, after all their scheming against the Jews, it was their own family that suffered, proving, that what goes around comes around! Ironically, Haman and Zeresh’s ten sons were the ones hung on the gallows. In life, many of us have encountered difficult or wicked people. As a matter of fact, in the daily morning blessing in our prayer book, we beseech God to protect us from "insolent, impudence, wicked evil people, evil neighbors, evil occurrences, from an evil eye, from a malicious tongue, from slander, from false testimony, from people’s hate, from calumnious charges, from unnatural death, from harsh diseases and from misfortune….., from a destructive adversary, from a harsh judgment, from an implacable opponent, whether or not they are a member of the covenant, and from the retribution of Gehinom (hell)." These endless problems have continued to exist for thousands of years.
Aside from prayer, how do we protect ourselves against negative situations in the world? This is a complex problem for which there is no easy solution. However, one obvious tool is to stay away and try to avoid danger and hostility altogether. Another remedy is the use of diplomacy and or humor to deflect ill-will and animosity. And yet another approach is just to confront difficulties head-on. Don’t run away from your problems, but face them.
In fairy tales and fables, who has not heard of the evil Queen stepmother in Snow White, who tried to poison her with an apple, all because of jealousy about physical beauty and power. What about the stepsister and stepmother in Cinderella who wanted to keep her subservient as a slave to cater to their every whim? In recent times, we have Voldemort in Harry Potter and Dr. Evil, from Austin Powers, all plotting to create havoc and harm in the universe. Today’s feel-good gurus, like Dr. Phil, Dr. Ruth, Dr. Laura-- all give advice and hints on self-help techniques for maximizing life and surviving challenges.
In our tradition we too have an immense library of teachings from the Mussar Movement (self-improvement), Talmud, Oral teachings, written teachings, Midrash, fables, historical records, archaeological finds, and other valuable documents to inspire and guide us. The core principles are to love God, learn and live Torah, do good deeds and be on the lookout for danger. Protecting and guarding one’s life is key. And as the sage Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others." The concept Pekuah Nefesh (saving a life) includes protection from irritating, destructive forces whether they are environmental, or interpersonal.
Additionally, famous psychiatrist and rabbi, Dr. Abraham Twerski or Dr. Miriam Azahan, plus a slew of others deal with the theories of positive and negative reinforcement along with an emphasis on the spiritual dimension. They believed positive results could be achieved through love, happiness and deep caring. Rabbi Nachman, of Breslov taught valuable advice on how to gain happiness. His Torah thoughts and insights dealt with contentment in life. Nachman said, "Happiness is the means by which you can receive great wisdom or joy, expands the mind, it raises the consciousness, strengthens your heart and refines your senses. Happiness is the highest level that you can attain; be happy and rejoice in G-d and you will emerge from your troubles and darkness. Happiness is the source of holiness." In Psalm 32:11, we are told "Rejoice in the Lord and be happy, righteous ones., and sing all you straight-hearted."
We could certainly apply these concepts to daily life. We can strive to emulate people who stand up and do not bow down to evil. Good people, in the Purim Megillah like Esther and Mordechai make us applaud, smile and beam with pride.
In our time, there is evil all over. The Rambam said, "What is evil?" He answers, "It is the absence of good." The formula that the Megillah teaches us is that increasing good deeds by improving ourselves, we can combat and overcome adversity. Rabbi Kook used to say, Israel’s first chief rabbi, "In a room full of darkness, you cannot necessarily fight with guns or swords. Instead, by lighting a small candle, one can remove a lot of darkness."
By teaching our children and children’s children, we celebrate this Shabbat is Shabbat zachor, which means "to remember." By sharing the history of the story of our people, by fasting on Thursday, which is called Ta’anit Esther, by dressing in costumes, giving charity, sending Shaloch Manos, hearing the Purim Megillah twice, we believe we increase good deeds and bring good to the world. May God help us to brighten our ways in life and bring happiness and good to the world.
May the lessons of history become a beacon of light and spur us into a world of happily ever after where goodness and blessings will reign supreme. Wishing everybody a happy and healthy Purim.