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October 26, 2014 / 2 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘ESTHER’

The Capacity to Change

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Fundamental to the idea of the korban, which we begin reading about this week, is the power to change oneself. After all the term korban comes from the word karov, meaning coming closer to God. Yet change is not easily accomplished. On its most basic level, the process involves a belief that one has the capacity to transform.

This capacity is implicit in the Purim story. Note how Queen Esther undergoes a fundamental metamorphosis in chapter four of the megillah.

When told that Mordechai was in sackcloth, she wonders why. At this point, Esther does not even know the Jewish people had been threatened. She had become so insulated in the palace of the king that she did not feel the plight of her fellow Jew. Furthermore, when asked by Mordechai to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people, she refuses, claiming that the rules of the palace did not allow her to come before the king.

Yet when Mordechai rebukes her, declaring that she too would not be able to escape the evil decree, perhaps the most powerful moment of the megillah takes place. Esther courageously declares that she would come before the king, even if it meant she would perish.

Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah. Once she becomes queen, she adopts the Persian name Esther. This name, which means “hidden,” reminds us that at the outset of her rulership she abides by Mordechai’s request that she hide her Jewish identity. But as the narrative in chapter four reveals, she returns to her roots. At a key moment she is ready to speak out powerfully on behalf of her people. Esther provides an important example of how change is possible.

Rabbi David Silber notes that one of the smallest words found in the megillah, dat, is used often and teaches an important lesson about Purim. Dat means law. In Persia, the law was immutable, it could never change. And so when Vashti refused to come before the king, Achashveirosh asks, “according to the law (dat) what shall be done to Queen Vashti?” And when it is decided that a new queen would be selected, the megillah once again uses the term dat – the law of selection. And when Haman accuses the Jews of not keeping the king’s laws, again the word dat is used. Indeed, the decree that the Jews be killed is also referred to as dat.

Even when told of Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, Achashveirosh declares that he cannot change the prior decree that the Jews be killed. The law must remain. All Achashveirosh can do is allow the introduction of a new dat, a new law that stands in contradiction to but cannot take the place of the first.

Rabbi Silber points out that not coincidentally, when Esther agreed to come before Achashveirosh, she declares, “I will go to the king contrary to the law. Esther had been so transformed that she is prepared to defy the immutable law of Persia.

Pollard’s Wife: Peres’ Comments ‘a Knife in my Heart’

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard’s wife, Esther, wrote to President Shimon Peres that he disregarded America’s refusal to free her husband when he recently said, “There is no Israeli request that President [Barack] Obama has not responded to [favorably].”

“Just a week before my husband enters his 29th year in prison, your words, Mr. President, were like a knife in my heart,” Esther wrote. “You sent the message that, as far as you are concerned, my husband does not exist.”

Jonathan Pollard, 59, is the only person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for spying for an American ally.

President Peres, who spoke at the Ben Gurion Award ceremony in Tel Aviv, was trying to add a calming voice to the growing strife between Israel and the Obama Administration last week, insulted not only Pollard, but also Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he addressed in a condescending manner: “If we have comments we should voice them, but I wouldn’t say that only we know everything,” he said, referring to the disputed between Secretary of State John Kerry and Netanyahu, over how much of the detail of the Geneva negotiations with Iran Netanyahu knew.

At that point, Peres announced that there hasn’t been a request Israel had made which the Obama Administration didn’t respond to, including, as Peres put it, unreasonable requests.

Thirty years after the beginning of his saga, Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard continues to provide fodder for major headlines, at least in Israel and in Jewish publications abroad. Last week intelligence veteran Raffi Eitan, who was Pollard’s contact man on behalf of the Bureau of Scientific Relations (Lakam), revealed that the U.S. had reneged on an agreement it had with the Israeli government, according to which Pollard would only serve ten years.

Eitan told Army radio that the Israeli government had instructed him at the time to cooperate fully with the Americans and turn over incriminating information against Pollard – in return for the American concession in the form of a ten year limit.

But the prosecution broke that deal during the trial, when they asked for a life sentence.

JNS contributed to this report.

Philip Berg (86), the Kabbalah Centre Rabbi

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Rabbi Philip Berg (born Shraga Feivel Gruberger in Brooklyn, in 1927 or 1929), founder of the controversial Los Angeles based Kabbalah Centre, that attracted many movie celebrities to join its ranks, died on Monday at age 86 (or 84).

Rabbi Berg was ordained in 1951, from Yeshiva Torah voDaas

Berg’s Kabbalah Centre introduced a New Age version of Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, made famous for it promotion of its version of Kabbalah to non-Jewish celebrities. The Kabbalah Center’s assets are believed to be in the many millions of dollars, acquired from donations, selling red bendels (strings), and pocket Zohars.

Primarily based in Los Angeles, the group has centers in 40 countries.

A few years ago, Rabbi Berg suffered a stroke, and his wife Karen Berg, and their two children began to take over running the business.

Rabbi Berg will be buried in Tzfat, Israel.

‘It Can Be Done’: the Rosh Hashana 1943 Escape of Danish Jews

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

As the final minutes of Rosh Hashanah ticked away, 13-year-old Leo Goldberger was hiding, along with his parents and three brothers, in the thick brush along the shore of Dragor, a small fishing village south of Copenhagen. The year was 1943, and the Goldbergers, like thousands of other Danish Jews, were desperately trying to escape an imminent Nazi roundup.

“Finally, after what seemed like an excruciatingly long wait, we saw our signal offshore,” Goldberger later recalled. His family “strode straight into the ocean and waded through three or four feet of icy water until we were hauled aboard a fishing boat” and covered themselves “with smelly canvases.” Shivering and frightened, but grateful, the Goldberger family soon found itself in the safety and freedom of neighboring Sweden.

For years, Allied leaders had insisted that nothing could be done to rescue Jews from the Nazis except to win the war. But in one extraordinary night, seventy years ago next month, the Danish people exploded that myth and changed history.

When the Nazis occupied Denmark during the Holocaust in 1940, the Danes put up little resistance. As a result, the German authorities agreed to let the Danish government continue functioning with greater autonomy than other occupied countries. They also postponed taking steps against Denmark’s 8,000 Jewish citizens.

In the late summer of 1943, amid rising tensions between the occupation regime and the Danish government, the Nazis declared martial law and decided the time had come to deport Danish Jews to the death camps. But Georg Duckwitz, a German diplomat in Denmark, leaked the information to Danish friends. Duckwitz was later honored by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. As word of the Germans’ plans spread, the Danish public responded with a spontaneous nationwide grassroots effort to help the Jews.

The Danes’ remarkable response gave rise to the legend that King Christian X himself rode through the streets of Copenhagen on horseback, wearing a yellow Star of David, and that the citizens of the city likewise donned the star in solidarity with the Jews.

The story may have had its origins in a political cartoon that appeared in a Swedish newspaper in 1942. It showed King Christian pointing to a Star of David and declaring that if the Nazis imposed it upon the Jews of Demark, “then we must all wear the star.” Leon Uris’s novel Exodus, and the movie based on that book, helped spread the legend. But subsequent investigations by historians have concluded that the story is a myth.

On Rosh Hashanah – which fell on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in 1943 – and the days that followed, numerous Danish Christian families hid Jews in their homes or farms, and then smuggled them to the seashore late at night. From there, fishermen took them across the Kattegat Straits to neighboring Sweden.

The three-week operation had the strong support of Danish church leaders, who used their pulpits to urge aid to the Jews, as well as Danish universities, which shut down so that students could assist the smugglers. More than 7,000 Danish Jews reached Sweden and were sheltered there until the end of the war.

Esther Finkler, a young newlywed, was hidden, together with her husband and their mothers, in a greenhouse.

“At night, we saw the [German] searchlights sweeping back and forth throughout the neighborhood” as the Nazis hunted for Jews, Esther later recalled. One evening, a member of the Danish Underground arrived and drove the four “through streets saturated with Nazi stormtroopers” to a point near the shore.

There they hid in an underground shelter, and then in the attic of a bakery, until finally they were brought to a beach, where they boarded a small fishing vessel together with other Jewish refugees.

“There were nine of us, lying down on the deck or the floor,” Esther said. “The captain covered us with fishing nets. When everyone had been properly concealed, the fishermen started the boat, and as the motor started to run, so did my pent-up tears.”

Then, suddenly, trouble. “The captain began to sing and whistle nonchalantly, which puzzled us. Soon we heard him shouting in German toward a passing Nazi patrol boat: ‘Wollen sie einen beer haben?’ (Would you like a beer?) – a clever gimmick designed to avoid the Germans’ suspicions. After three tense hours at sea, we heard shouting: ‘Get up! Get up! And welcome to Sweden!’ It was hard to believe, but we were now safe. We cried and the Swedes cried with us as they escorted as ashore. The nightmare was over,” Esther recalled.

The Megillah: How-To Manual on Defeating Anti-Semites

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Throughout the entire Scroll of ESTHER, God’s Name does not appear even once. Upon a casual reading, it would seem that Haman, Ahashverosh, Mordechai, and Esther are fully responsible for the events taking place within the narrative. Intrigue, human jealousies, and political machinations all account for the twists and turns within the Megillah as events of great significance to the Jewish Nation unfold.

After completing the story, however, it becomes clear that the juxtaposition of all the coincidences is nothing short of miraculous as God’s Hand becomes visible through the thin veil of history. It is important to note that the events described in ESTHER took place over a period spanning roughly ten years. Ahashverosh’s party took place in 3395, Haman drew the lots in 3404 and Israel won our victory in 3405 (dates according to Seder HaDorot). Living through that period, one would probably not have noticed anything extraordinary taking place as everything was unfolding according to the laws of nature. There was nothing especially supernatural about the process that we retroactively understand as having been miraculous.

Our Sages teach in the Jerusalem Talmud (Brachot 1:1) that we must look at the Purim story as a model to understand the final Redemption process. Through the epic story of mankind, HaShem weaves the Redemption of Israel. When making the effort to closely examine our own times, we can see God orchestrating the historic events – large and small – that have brought Israel back to our borders and are bringing the world ever closer to perfection.

We celebrate Purim today with great joy because we are familiar with the story’s victorious ending. The Hebrews of ancient Persia, however, had clearly found themselves in a very frightening situation. Persia’s Jews were faced with the threat of complete annihilation. And Mordechai – who Israel today praises as a national hero – may have been much less appreciated in his own generation. A superficial reading of ESTHER can even lead one to attribute Mordechai blame for placing his people in such a terrifying position.

“All the king’s servants at the king’s gate would bow down and prostrate themselves before Haman, for so had the king commanded concerning him. But Mordechai would not bow and would not prostrate himself.” (ESTHER 3:2)

The rabbinic leadership of Shushan at the time strongly condemned Mordechai’s refusal to bow before Haman. Comfortable with life outside of their homeland, they feared Mordechai might provoke Persian Jew-hatred and spoil their enjoyable Diaspora existence. But according to our commentators, Haman either engraved the image of an idol on his robes (Ibn Ezra) or attributed to himself the powers of a deity (Rashi). Because it is well known that the Torah commands one to die rather than bow before a false god, the condemnation of Mordechai seems somewhat unjustified.

The Maharal of Prague clarifies the rabbinic position in Ohr Hadash by explaining that Mordechai went out of his way to appear before Haman in order to purposefully demonstrate that he would not bow, thus creating an otherwise avoidable confrontation. The Sages record how the Jews of Persia reacted.

“They said to Mordechai, `Know that you are putting us at the mercy of that evil man’s sword!’” (Agadat Esther 3:2; Megillah 12:2, commentary of the Radvaz)

“So the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate said to Mordechai, `Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Finally, when they said this to him day after day and he did not heed them, they told Haman, to see whether Mordechai’s words would avail; for he had told them that he was a Jew.” (ESTHER 3:3-4)

A close reading of the Megillah reveals that Mordechai’s refusal to bow before Haman was not an isolated incident. Rather, he had gone out of his way several times in order to walk near the minister and publicly antagonize him. Because Mordechai could have easily avoided the situation but instead engaged in actions that were deliberately confrontational, Shushan’s Jewish leaders seem justified in their condemnation.

Even when Mordechai saw that “Haman was filled with wrath” (ESTHER 3:5), he continued to intentionally provoke the viceroy. Based on his actions and the Talmud’s teaching (Pesachim 64b) that a person is forbidden from relying on miracles, one could easily argue that Mordechai behaved irresponsibly with the lives of his people. The Maharal, however, defends Mordechai (in Ohr Hadsash), asserting that challenging Israel’s enemies ultimately leads to the sanctification of God’s Name.

The Midrash recounts that Mordechai explained to Haman that the reason he would not bow was that he was born of kings from the tribe of Binyamin. Haman countered, “But Yaakov, Binyamin’s father, bowed before Esav, my ancestor.” Mordechai answered him in turn, “Yes, but that was before Binyamin was born. He was born in Eretz Yisrael, and his soul, therefore, was an elevated soul. He would not bow down before others.” (Esther Rabbah 7:9)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/purim-a-paradigm-for-confronting-antagonists-of-the-jewish-nation/2012/03/07/

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