Sunday, March 23, 2008

Purim Afterthoughts, Part II

For the first time, I have made extensive use of Hebrew in this post. Don't worry, I don't intend to make a habit of it. My apologies to all readers who feel left out, but Hebrew makes it is easier to keep things brief and I'm pressed for time. Special thanks to my father, Rabbi Noam Gordon of Jerusalem, for encouraging me to put my Purim thoughts in writing. There is much here that is neither new nor mine, but I believe there is enough that warrents a post. To fully appreciate this post, I recommend reading part-one first.

Right before Amalek attacks, we read:
וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה. עַל-רִיב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל נַסֹּתָם אֶת-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, הֲיֵשׁ יְהוָה בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ, אִם-אָיִן. וַיָּבֹא עֲמָלֵק
Amalek is not a tribe; it is a way of thinking. It is the force in the universe that refuses to recognize the Hand of God and the Chosenness of Israel. After the Exodus the Jews were hot and untouchable, but then they doubted God's presence. It was this doubt that introduces an Amalek who smashes the aura of reverence and cools things down. Ever since, Hashem's Throne and Name are damaged, and so they will remain until the day that Amalek is annihilated.

That day is tomorrow. Moshe told Yehoshua, בחר לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר. King David overtook Amalek, ויכם דוד מהנשף ועד הערב למחרתם. And Esther told Achashveirosh, ינתן גם מחר ליהודים. Why is it always tomorrow? Because the destruction of Amalek is not merely the physical destruction of an evil race. It is the destruction of our own lack of clarity about who is the One running the show. And that can only come when we get to the end of the story and can go back and read it again from the beginning. Tomorrow.

Chanukah is in the past. רבת את רבם, דנת את דינם, נקמת את נקמתם (Al Ha'Nissim for Chanukah). But the Megillah is today. הרב את רבינו, הדן את דנינו, הנוקם את נקמתינו (Asher Heini). Purim is happening now because in every generation Amalek rises up to destroy us. מלחמה ליהוה בעמלק מדור דור - בכל דור ודור עומדים עלינו לכלותינו. This is why we say in Shoshanas Yaakov that the Megillah is a source of hope in every generation: "ותקותם בכל דור ודור" (R. Dovid Cohen, "ימי פורים"). The Megillah gives us hope because we are always in the middle of it!

We live in the Megillah today and Purim is tomorrow. For the destruction of Amalek only comes after Amalek is already gone.
והיה בהניח יהוה אלוהיך לך מכל איביך מסביב... תמחה את זכר עמלק
"זכר עמלק" - the residue of Amalek. This זכר can be erased only when Amalek and all of his cohorts are gone - בהניח יהוה אלוהיך לך מכל איביך - because to erase the זכר of Amalek we need מנוחה. We need מנוחה to reread the story slowly and see Hashem's Hand guiding things from the get go. We need מנוחה to recognize the רפואה before the מכה. This is why והיה בהניח must happen first.

When we are in the midst of things, we are בדרך. And Amalek always gets us on the דרך. When we are on the road, attempting to navigate through the darkness of our story, we suffer from the anxiety of frightening events and Hashem's apparent absence. We lack מנוחה, and עמלק & ספק (same gematria) enter our lives. אשר קרך בדרך. Our job is to destroy this זכר of Amalek, and that can be done only with the מנוחה that comes after Amalek is gone. That is why Purim is celebrated not on the 13th when we killed Amalek, but on the 14th when we had מנוחה. As the פסוק states, "ונוח בארבעה עשר בו". Purim is always on the morrow.

And now we come to Yerushalayim. Even when Yerushalayimites read the Megillah at night they are not fasting. Yerushalayim has that extra clarity. And Yerushalayim, Hashem's throne, always celebrates Purim tomorrow. On the fifteenth, when יום טוב is supposed to be.

This is why פורים משולש is celebrated on Sunday. The day after. Shabbos requires none of the מצות היום of Purim, for the מנוחה of Shabbos itself destroys Amalek (Zohar, עי' שפת אמת). With the help of the מנוחה and clarity of Shabbos, Purim is pushed beyond Purim into an ordinary day of the year, the 16th, bringing the tomorrow we are all waiting for ever closer into our world.

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