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Monday, February 22, 2010

Purim: Chances and Last Chances

A Havolim classic, updated.  Originally posted in February of 2007. 

The haftorah of Parshas Zachor tells us about Shaul Hamelech. More than most figures in Tanach, Shaul is described in an intensely personal manner, and we see many disparate stages in the development of an extremely complex, powerful, and righteous man.

The Haftorah describes Shaul's battle against Amalek, and his failure to completely destroy them when he had a chance to do so, and how Shmuel Hanavi told him that he lost the throne because of that. First we have to remember that Shaul was one of the greatest men of history, even greater than David. Hashem told David that one hundred Davids were not the equal of one Shaul, and that Shaul only lost the malchus for this one specific failing. If he were from Shevet Yehuda, perhaps he would have been forgiven. But there was this one terrible, fatal mistake. As told in the navi, Shmuel confronted Shaul for having left the Amaleiki king Agag alive overnight, and said that Hashem regretted making him king. When Shmuel turned away, Shaul, distraught, desperately grabbed at Shmuel's cloak and it tore, and Shmuel said (Shmuel I 15:28,29)
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו שְׁמוּאֵל קָרַע ה' אֶת מַמְלְכוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ הַיּוֹם; וּנְתָנָהּ לְרֵעֲךָ הַטּוֹב מִמֶּךָּ 
“Kara Hashem es mamlechus Yisrael mei’alecha hayom u'ne'sanah l’rei’acha hatov mimeka. “God has torn your kingdom from upon you and has given it to your compatriot who is better than you."
וְגַם נֵצַח יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יְשַׁקֵּר וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם  כִּי לֹא אָדָם הוּא לְהִנָּחֵם, 
V’gam neitzach Yisrael... "And the eternity of Israel will not be false or fail.”

There are some questions we need to ask.
  • Of course, ‘rei’acha' means David, as it says in perek 28 when Shmuel again told Shaul that the kingdom had been given “l’rei’acha l’david.” But doesn’t rei’acha also mean 'your friend' or your compatriot (as the Gaon notes in Shemos 11:2)? Certainly, David was no friend of Sha’ul’s.
  • And what does “hatov mimeka”, who is better than you, mean? What was the point of telling Sha’ul that his successor was better than he? Just to add insult to injury? And was it really so, that David was greater in al ways than Shaul? But Chazal say that Hashem said that Shaul was greater than David (see, e.g., Moed Kattan 16b and the Tosfos HaRosh and the Kosev in the Ein Yakov in the name of the Ra'n)!
  • Also, what was the point of “vegam neitzach,” that the eternal hope of Israel will never fail? What does that have to do with what Shmuel had just told him? Why did he have to tell him a hashkafa lesson after telling him about his loss? The meforshim there explain that Shmuel was telling him that teshuva won’t restore the malchus to him, because it has already been given to another, and Hashem will not retract a gift once given.  But we can say another pshat.

To understand the other pshat, we have to look into Megillas Esther. When Memuchan told Achashveirosh that Vashti’s sin needed to have consequences, he said, וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה. ”u'malchusah yitein hamelech l’re’usah hatovah mimenah,” the king will give her royalty to her peer who is better  than she.  Memuchan was simply giving Achashveirosh good advice, and the words he used to give that advice to the king were not unusual and had no carefully crafted hidden meaning. Replace Vashti with someone who is better than she, who won't shame the royal house.

Who did this "re’usah" turn out to be? It was Esther. We know from the Gemara (Megilla 13a) that both Esther and Mordechai were direct descendants of Shaul’s.

Now pay attention to the deep meaning in the words of the Megilla and in the words of the navi Shmuel. Shmuel told Shaul “Kara Hashem Malchuscha mei’alecha unesanah l’rei’acha hatov mimeka"-- and Memuchan told Achashveirosh to take away the malchus from Vashti and "yitein Hamelech l’re’usoh hatovoh mimenoh.” When Shmuel told Shaul that the malchus was taken away because he failed to destroy Amolek, he said that malchus would one day be given to his own great grand daughter, Esther. Esther was the “rei’achoh” to whom malchus would be given, and she was “mimeka,” she was Shaul's granddaughter, and she would be given the opportunity to do what Shaul failed to do. And when Memuchan said that the Melech should give royalty to re'usa, who do you think "Hamelech" turned out to be?

Memuchan had no idea of what he was talking about; that is the whole point of Megillas Esther, of hidden movement and manipulation, miracles that happen under our noses while we are completely unaware of what is happening-- we are even unaware of what our own words mean.

Shmuel said "Netzach Yisrael lo yeshaker!" We humans make plans for a day, for a week, for a year— but Hashem makes plans for 520 years. It is nitzchiyus, and Hashem is not a 'person' that is misnacheim. Shaul lost the malchus, but the malchus was not completely lost. There would be another chance.

But Mordechai told Esther that for her and her part of the family, this was their chance to do what their ancestor Shaul had failed to do; but this was their last chance. Her family’s burden through the generations was to remedy that failure. If Hashem could just as well bring about His plan through someone else (as Mordechai told her,) why did Esther have to suffer the disgrace and emotional trauma of being Achashveirosh’s odalisque, his concubine? Why couldn’t someone else have been the catalyst of this event without having to be disgraced and shamed? The answer is that it was for her own family’s sake that Hashem was granting her the opportunity to be the one who brings about the yeshua, and for Esther, the only way to get it done was by becoming Queen; here, the Queen was the pawn. It was a great opportunity for her; but everything hung in the balance. If she wouldn’t seize the opportunity, then “aht uveis ovich toveidu...,” her family would lose forever the opportunity to fulfil their tafkid, forever stigmatized by the chet of Shaul. It was not only she that was on the edge of disaster-- it was "veis avich" as well; the entire family, the legacy, the history of five hundred years of missed opportunity, that stood on the brink.

And when Esther made the decision to risk her life to destroy Haman, the Megillah says "Vatilbash Esther Malchus...." When Esther made her decision, she put on the levush malchus, the royal garb that Shmuel had said had been torn away from her grandfather Shaul--"Kora Hashem malchuscha mei'alecha...." The Melech who had torn away Shaul's royal garb rewarded Esther's courage and allowed her to put it on and do what her grandfather had failed to do.

It is possible that during the intervening centuries there were other opportunities that were not taken advantage of, protagonists we never heard of--because they failed. It may also be that“netzach Yisroel” means that the malchus that Shaul was given did remain in his family and was not completely erased; a balance may tip in one direction or another, but the elements remain in place. Netzach Yisroel, although a God-given gift might submerge for a generation, or two, or even five hundred years, it is still there, and will express itself eventually. “Lo adom Hu l’hinacheim;” Hashem gave you malchus, and you will have malchus, in a different form and a different time.

Perhaps this gives a special insight into the purpose of Shalach Manos Ish L’Rei’eihu. Use this opportunity to give someone who has offended you a second chance, just as Hashem gave Shaul’s family a second chance.

This ORIGINAL INTERPRETATION is based on a dvar torah said by Habochur Hayokor Moshe Eisenberg of Yeshiva of Staten Island, Telz Chicago, and Yeshivas Kodshim of Harav Tzvi Kaplan, Yerushalayim.

This idea is alluded to in the Medrash Rabbah 4:9 on Esther in the name of R’ Chaninah brei d’rav Avohu.
 בלשון שנטלה המלכות מזקנה שאמר לו ונתנה לרעך
הטוב ממך בו בלשק חזר לה המלוכה.
הה״ד וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה

Please note, however, that the Gemara in Zevachim 102a seems to have a very different point of view. 

An interesting commonality is mentioned in another Medrash, both in Breishis 67:4 and in Esther Rabba 8:

אמר רבי חנין: כל מי שאומר שהקב"ה וותרן (ומוותר לצדיקים), יקרעו בני מעיו, אלא הקב"ה מאריך אפו, אבל גובה את חובו, תדע שהרי זעקה אחת הזעיק יעקב לעשו, דכתיב (בראשית כ"ו) 'ויצעק צעקה גדולה ומרה' והיכן נפרע לו? בשושן, שנאמר: ויזעק זעקה גדולה ומרה 
but I'm not sure what this Medrash means to highlight with this connection.  Harav Dr. Eli E suggests that this is the price of subterfuge as opposed to direct confrontation; but I don't know that any alternative existed for Yaakov or for Mordechai.

A comment that I like from the original posting:

Chosid said...
Interesting vort. I have always wondered about people who speak of yeshuas Hashem Kheref Ayin as meaning immediately. The lesson of your article implies that the RBSHA idea of kheref ayin can mean 520 years or more. How warped our sense of time is compared to the RBSHA! The other interesting thought is that it is never too late for redemption both for ourselves and our offspring even if it spans five centuries.

Agreeing with Chosid, I point out the Gemara in Sanhedrin 38a:
א״ר אחא בר יעקב שמע מינה מהרה דמרי עלמא תמני מאה וחמשין ותרתין הוו
"Fast, for Hashem, is eight hundred and fifty two years."  So five hundred and twenty is, indeed, the blink of an eye.


N said...

"the Queen was the pawn"


"ay also be that“netzach Yisroel” means that the malchus that Shaul was given did remain in his family and was not completely erased"

Mordechai was the leader of the community, so this is more apparent than you make out.

This is top quality.

Eli said...

[this really belongs to your other post on costumes...]
I just saw the Netziv in this week's parsha (Ki-Tisa),
referring to ויצעק צעקה גדולה ומרה.

This certainly is a very high standard. I am certain the jews of Shushan got satisfaction seeing the ten gangsters on the tree, are we to pay for that too?

Barzilai said...

Thank you, Eli. I copied your comment and put it there too.