Purim 5775: Shabbos, the Tree and the Spoils

Shalom Friends;

Our Purim vort is being sponsored by Dov & Lauren Greenberg and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of their daughter Shayna’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah on the 28th of Adar. To the Greenberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Purim 5775: Shabbos, the Tree and the Spoils

by Moshe Burt

A few years ago, in a Purim 5773 shiur to be exact, Rebbetzin Shira Smiles cited a Gemarrah which asks:

“From where in the Torah can we deduce Haman’s existence?” Our Sages point to a verse at the very beginning of human existence. At Adam’s installation in Gan Eden, he was given permission to eat of all the fruit of the garden with the singular exception of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This was the only tree whose fruit he was prohibited from eating at this tine. Adam and Chava ate of the forbidden fruit, and in the dialogue that follows we find the allusion to Haman. The verse states: “Hamin haetz … achalta? Did you eat … of the tree?” By changing the vocalization of the consonants (there are no vowels in a Torah scroll), we can read the words as Haman haetz.

Rabbi Tatz… asks for closer examination of what both the tree and Haman represent so that we may deduce many connections between the two, especially since the Torah seems to be making the connection at the very beginning of human existence.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab drives this point further by pointing out the conspicuousness of “tree” in the texts of Purim, not only in the Megillah, but also in the al Hanissim prayer of Purim and the Maoz Tzur of Chanukah when we dedicate a stanza to the Purim redemption.

Eating this forbidden fruit was the beginning of sin, continues Rabbi Schwab. It was the first instance of Man trying not to emulate God but to be God and follow his own desires rather than those of the Creator. Once that pattern existed, Man could descend into the abyss of sin that would culminate with the most heinous sin of all, genocide, and genocide was Haman’s plan.

Rebbetzin Smiles then cited Rabbi Pinchas Freedman when asking where Haman got the audacity to try to annihilate Bnei Yisroel.

Rabbi Pinchas Freedman writes:

Haman used that original sin of inappropriately eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil as his model. If Adam and Chava could be faulted for eating inappropriately from the King’s bounty, from the fruit of that tree, so could Bnei Yisroel be faulted for eating inappropriately and enjoying the food and drink at the mortal king’s table. Just as the fate of all humankind had been sealed by inappropriate eating, so too would the fate of this nation be sealed by inappropriate eating.

But something happened on the seventh day, when the king’s heart was glad with wine. The seventh day was Shabbat, and the King’s heart was gladdened with the wine that His people were sanctifying with the Shabbat Kiddush, says the Shvilei Pinchas. Haman had initially succeeded in dooming Bnei Yisroel, for they had come and enjoyed the feast Achashveirosh made to celebrate the conclusion of seventy years from the Babylonian exile without Hashem redeeming them. Perhaps they had lost faith and turned away from Hashem. If so, then Hashem would not only hide His face, but would permanently distance Himself from Bnei Yisroel. But the Kiddush wine saved us and inaugurated the process that would end in our redemption and in the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdosh.

The Shvilei Pinchas explains the connection. According to many commentators, the prohibited fruit was the grape. Had Adam waited just a few short hours, he would have used the grapes for Kiddush on the very first Shabbat. But the snake enticed that first pair of human beings with inflated visions of their own grandeur. They would be like God, knowing good and evil. Instead of obeying God’s command, they succumbed to the allure of their own egos, ate of the grapes before Hashem gave them permission, and caused the glow of that primal light to be hidden. Every week when the Jews recite the Kiddush and use the wine as Hashem wanted it used, we are rectifying the sin of Adam who did not wait for Shabbat.

Says the Shvilei Pinchas, eating the fruit of this tree would mingle good and evil so that everything now became shades of gray, and the element of certainty of Hashem and His word would now be unclear. This was what the serpent wanted at the beginning of creation, this is what Amalek wanted to sow into the hearts of Bnei Yisroel as they left Egypt, and this was what Haman wanted Bnei Yisroel to feel. But when Bnei Yisroel made Kiddush even though they were enjoying a party that seemed to validate their severance from Hakodosh Boruch Hu, they were at the same time validating the holiness that still existed within themselves and proved they were still connected to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. That confusion that the sin of Adam and Chava brought was now at the root of these two contradictory behaviors.

As Bnei Yisroel elevated the wine and the food of Achashveirosh’s party to a seudat Shabbat, they rectified the sin of Adam and Chava and merited redemption. That very day, Achashveirosh ordered Vashti the Queen to come to the party hall. His command and her refusal set the stage for her death, Esther’s ascension to the throne, and the redemption.

In commemoration of the part food and drink played in the Purim saga, we use food and drink in positive ways on Purim, says Rabbi Measles in Sichot Ba’avodat Hashem. We share our food by sending shalach manot, we have a Purim seudah, we drink wine, and we teach our children that food’s purpose is not to satisfy gluttonous appetites, but to elevate them to Hashem’s service.

The sin of Adam and Chava was born of arrogance, of the inability to subjugate one’s ego to a higher power; the Purim redemption would come through Mordechai and Esther who were self effacing, who put the interest of the nation above their own interests, says Rabbi Zev Leff. Even Hashem practiced humility, as He kept His own Name out of the Megillah narrative. Indeed, Rabbi Leff continues, this sublimation of self is not only a theme of the entire Purim history, but constitutes a reason for the custom of wearing costumes and disguises on Purim.

Purim is likened to Yom Ki-Purim in part because both are not about self and ego, but about humility and self effacement, of caring for others, of sending shalach manot to many others, giving tzedakah to whoever asks and being part of the greater whole.

The Tallelei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Hakohen “Hachalban” approaches the connection of Haman to the Tree that blurs the lines of good and evil from a novel perspective…. Hashem wanted Bnei Yisroel to grow up, to accept the Torah of their own free will because they appreciated the Torah and the intimate relationship it allowed them to have with Hashem. But this goal required the stage of “sleep” and uncertainty. Enter the destruction of the Temple followed by Purim episode. Bnei Yisroel are “asleep” and unsure of Hashem’s continued protection. Hashem, the parent, steps back, hides His face, and hopes that His children will find their way back, even through experimentation at the Persian party.

Haman grasps this phase. He approaches Achashveirosh when he wants permission to kill them and says, “Yeshno am echad – there is one nation.” But one could also read that phrase as “Yoshnu am echad – one nation is asleep.” They no longer observe the mitzvot; they are no longer connected to their God. Perhaps their God is no longer connected to them. Let us grab this opportunity to destroy them. But when Bnei Yisroel returns with fasting and prayers, Hashem lovingly embraces them and saves them, and they now accept the Torah by choice. Now our relationship with Hashem is a face to face relationship. This is the ultimate “turn about” that is alluded to in the Megillah.

Haman, a descendent of Amalek, is the personification of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. His entire raison d’être is to instill doubt into Bnei Yisroel and thereby cause Bnei Yisroel to sin and damage their relationship with the Creator, just as the serpent hoped to do with Adam. Rabbi Tatz continues this discussion with further insights. What did Adam do after eating of the tree? He ran and hid. Did he think he could hide from his Creator? Doubt had now entered the picture, and God now played by man’s rules. He asked, “Where are you,” and then, “Hamin haetz … achalta – did you eat of the tree?” Certainly Hashem knew the answers, but suddenly Adam wasn’t so sure. The serpent had accomplished its mission.

Every time doubt enters the heart and mind of a Jew, the serpent is rearing its ugly head, ready to strike. That doubt is personified nationally in Amalek whose numerical equivalent is safek, doubt, and individually in Haman.

We proved that we want this intimate relationship with Hashem, and He proceeded with the steps that would enable us to rebuild the Temple. Today, without the Temple, we still have to opportunity to approach God “face to face’ through our prayers, as our Bnei Yisroel did during that other period of “the hidden face of God.” On Purim every Jew’s prayer is as powerful as those of a tzadik. Hashem is meeting us face to face.

And then, there is the matter of the money and spoils. Sefer Shem Mishmuel, by Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, the Rebbe of Sochaczev (translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, pages 183-186) relates to the ten thousand silver talents offered by Haman to Achashveirosh in order for Haman to decree the extermination of the Jews, and the spoils resulting from the Jews’ war of protection after Haman’s execution.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel relates that when Haman offered Achashveirosh the silver, the king responded:

“The silver is given to you and also the people, to with them as you please.” (Esther, Perek 3, posuk 11)

Shem Mishmuel then records:

It would seem to make very little difference to us as to whether or not Achashveirosh accepted the money. Chazal, however, have something profound to say on the matter:

When the wicked man [Haman] came with the money, the king said to him, “The silver is given to you.” Hashem said, “That sale is really Mine for Mine, since Yisrael are Mine and all money is Mine.” And so it was that day King Achashveirosh gave the property of Haman… to Queen Esther. (Esther Perek 8, posuk 1)

The implication of this midrash is that had the money gone to the king’s treasury, it would not afterwards have fallen to Esther. Divine Providence thus insured that Achasveirosh would refuse the money, and since all of Haman’s property went to Esther after his death, she became beneficiary of this vast sum. This was… of crucial interest to the future of Yisrael, as Chazal tell us that part of the estate of Haman was later used to construct the Beit HaMikdash. (Midrash Tehillim Perek 22, posuk 32)

Shem Mishmuel now cites the issue of spoils — the money and property rights resulting from the Jews’ war of protection after Haman’s execution:

After Haman was executed, the Jews were given permission to attack their enemies in order to protect themselves from the planned massacre. However, after defeating their foes, they did not take their property as the following verse indicates:

“But they did not lay hands on the plunder.” (Esther Perek 9, posuk 15)

…The significance of this is as follows: As related in Shmuel 1, chapter 15, Sha’ul HaMelech was required to wage war against Amalek and utterly annihilate them and everything that they owned. However,Sha’ul erred and allowed his people to take livestock from the enemy, and he himself save Agag, the king of Amalek. As a result, Agag was able to perpetrate his line, thus enabling Haman, his descendent, to rise against Yisrael. At the time of the Purim story, Yisrael rectified their error by desisting from plundering their Amalekite enemies.

Shem Mishmuel now explains the distinction between the Jews’ desisting from plundering of their enemies and Esther and Mordechai taking possession of Haman’s property:

Amnon and Mo’av were purified by Sichon. (Gittin 38a)

Once Sichon had overrun the lands of Amnon and Mo’av, they were no longer property of their original owners. When Yisrael conquered these areas, it was as if they had always been in the hands of Sichon. So too, when Haman was discredited and executed by Achashveirosh, the rights to his estate fell to the crown. Thus, when Achashveirosh granted Haman’s wealth to Esther, it was then as if it had been “purified” by him (Achashveirosh) and no longer had any association with Haman. As ex-property of the king, it was fit to be used for kedushah, to build the Beit Hamikdash.

So it seems that just as the Jews elevated the wine and the food of Achashveirosh’s party to the kedushah of seudat Shabbat, thus rectifying the error of Adam and Chava in partaking in the Tree of Knowledge, the Jews atoned for Sha’ul HaMelech’s wrong in his war with Amalek and elevated their war of self-defense to the level of kedushah with their disciplined restraint in desisting from seizing Amalekite property.

This author has never seen this written anywhere, not to say that it isn’t, but; Could the Jews’ restraint in not seizing Amalekite property in their war of self-defense also be seen as a tikkun, a rectification of Achan’s sin of partaking in the spoils in Jews’ war for Yericho when they entered Eretz Yisrael after forty years in Bamidbar?

And so reads the beginning of the second paragraph of Aleinu, the paragraph we tend to blow through at the speed of light, or blow off altogether:

“Therefore we put our hope in YOU, Hashem, our G’d…”

Something for Am Yisrael and our governance to think about this Purim. And for good measure, the first letter of each of the first three words of that second paragraph: “Ayin, Chaf, Nun” — the spelling of Achan’s name for we learn that the second paragraph of Aleinu was written by Achan as an expression of his teshuvah for taking the spoils.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Purim Some’ach

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.