On a recent flight to Israel I sat next to a chassid who kept looking out the window and humming the most beautiful melody, “Shabbos Kodesh…Shabbos Kodesh” – and when he first saw the lights of Israel he started singing, “Eretz Yisrael…Eretz Yisrael!”
Who else but a Jew could thrill to these words?
We have been learning about the Mishkan in recent Torah portions. The first vessel discussed is the holy Ark. “Rav Yosef taught in a beraisa, ‘… [both] the [second] tablets and the first tablets are placed into the ark’ ” (Menachos 99a).
The Ark is the center of the universe and the source of our unity with Hashem. Its contents must therefore be incredibly significant. So why should it contain the broken tablets? Of what significance are they?
There are many possible explanations, but I would suggest that our entire relationship with Hashem depends on something being broken. Like walking through that dark cloud surrounding Har Sinai, we apparently have to break something to get close to Hashem.
We all know that Moshe Rabbeinu broke the luchos when the Children of Israel were dancing before the Golden Calf. So they remind us of our strong attachment to that which is false and impure. Even when Moshe took us out of Egypt, only one-fifth of our ancestors wanted to leave with him. Four-fifths were so attached to idolatrous Egypt – the nation that had killed our babies! – that they preferred to remain behind in that hell rather than follow Moshe Rabbeinu and meet Hashem at Har Sinai. (See Rashi on Shemos 13:18 and 10:22.)
The yetzer hara is incredibly strong, and this is the source of all our troubles, for our sages tell us that “there is not a single punishment that comes to the world that does not contain [a small amount of punishment derived from the worship of the Golden] calf…” (Sanhedrin 102a).
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Let us return to Achashveirosh’s banquet.
Kosher food was available. What was the problem?
The problem is exactly our problem today.
The Megillah is describing our own world. We live in Shushan. We are eating at the banquet. It is glatt kosher, but it is their banquet. And this, apparently, is very dangerous.
It would seem that this is the reason Megillas Esther is the Torah’s “parting word” as the Children of Israel head into Exile. Hashem is warning His children about the chief danger that lies ahead for us, down this long and dangerous road.
Jews over the centuries had been able to resist the most terrifying decrees. When it came to being killed al Kiddush Hashem, God forbid, they accepted death rather than abandoning our holy heritage. But when the nations of the world invited us to become “equal citizens,” that is when we failed. When social acceptance, wealth, comfort and fulfillment of material desires were presented to us, they became our stumbling blocks. After centuries of heroic resistance, we could not resist the “friendly hand” extended by our enemies.
My wife, Leah, and I were privileged recently to speak in the former Soviet Union. We spent Shabbos Parshas Yisro in the famous Yeshiva Toras Chaim in the village of Hripan, some forty miles outside Moscow. We left the capital several hours before Shabbos and arrived at the village where, we had been told, “anyone can direct you to the yeshiva.” In fact, no one in the village seemed to know where the yeshiva was. Finally, our driver inquired at a small store. A young man emerged and told him he could direct us.
The young man entered our van and began acting in a very strange manner. He was all smiles and wanted to shake hands with all of us. Then he offered us ice cream he had brought out of the store. It all was just too friendly. He directed us down a village street and then he got out of the van and pointed farther down the road, telling the driver he should just continue on and we would arrive at the yeshiva.
So we drove down that road, and it led…nowhere. Into a snowbank, actually. It was a trick. The young man had intentionally put us on a road to nowhere. It was a few hours before Shabbos, and we were barely able to extricate ourselves from the snowbank. Finally, after several attempts, we located someone who was able to direct us accurately and we pulled up to the yeshiva with a sense of relief and gratitude to Hashem.