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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Supernal Light of Megillas Esther

The Rambam (2 Megilla 18) quotes a Tosefta in Megilla and the Gemara in the first perek, as follows:
All books in the Canon of Prophets and Holy Writings are destined to become naught when the Mashiach comes, other than Megilas Esther.  It will stand like the Five Books of the Torah and like the Oral Law of the Torah which never will be nullified.  Even though all the memory of suffering will be extirpated, as it says "for the old suffering will be forgotten and hidden away from my eyes,"  the days of Purim will never come to an end, as it says "and these days of Purim will never pass from among the Jews and their memory will never end among their descendants."
כל ספרי הנביאים וכל הכתובים עתידין ליבטל לימות המשיח חוץ ממגילת אסתר והרי היא קיימת כחמשה חומשי תורה וכהלכות של תורה שבעל פה שאינן בטלין לעולם. ואע"פ שכל זכרון הצרות יבטל שנאמר כי נשכחו הצרות הראשונות וכי נסתרו מעיני. ימי הפורים לא יבטלו שנאמר וימי הפורים האלה לא יעברו מתוך היהודים וזכרם לא יסוף מזרעם:

In fact, there is a word-association of the Megilla to the Torah.  Regarding the Torah from Sinai, it says קול גדול ולא יסף , and regarding the Megilla, as the Rambam notes, it says   לא יסוף מזרעם.  Both are eternal, only these two share the word Lo Yasuf, never ending.

The Ra'avad there says 
א"א לא יבטל דבר מכל הספרים שאין ספר שאין בו למוד. אבל כך אמרו אפילו יבטלו שאר ספרים מלקרות בהם מגילה לא תבטל מלקרותה בצבור
Nothing from the Canon will be nullified, for every Book has a lesson.  All the Gemara means is that only the Megilla and the Torah will be publicly read.

The Ra'avad has a point, especially since the Gemara also says that all the other holidays will be as naught, but Purim will be celebrated forever.  How can this be?  Are the laws of the Torah limited to only certain epochs?  The Rambam was not, after all, antinomian.

The Chasam Sofer brings from a Sefer M'nos Levi (thanks to, we have that sefer, too.  It's here and go to page 405 in their numbering system) that when the Gemara says that the other holidays will be "Bateil" it doesn't mean deconsecrated, it means bateil like bittul b'rov, we won't celebrate them as joyously, because the events they commemorate will be trivial compared to the great events of the days of the Mashiach.  But, the Chasam Sofer asks, the Raavad's question deserves an answer.  How can we say that the other books of Nevi'im will be null?

The Chasam Sofer explains that the days of Mashiach will bring deep and widespread spiritual wisdom, and the lessons about the Will of G-d in the books of the Nevi'im will be self-evident and universally known.  

But the Megilla, he says, is different.

And the words that follow in the Chasam Sofer are so amazing, so awesome, that it's hard to believe he wrote them.  Or, put it this way: if I didn't see it myself, I would have thought it was written by someone whose theology was suspect, chas veshalom.  But it's there.

The Chasam Sofer is in Drashos Chasam Sofer, Volume I, page164, (page 368 at Hebrewbooks), beginning of second column, and this is what he says:

דקבלת תורה בימי משה רבינו עליו השלום היה באונס והדר קיבלוהו בימי אחשורוש באופן שאור קדוש הכלול במגילה הוא ממש יותר גדול ונכבד  מתורתנו הקדושה בעצמה
The acceptance of the Torah in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu was under duress (Shabbos 88a).  They later accepted it willingly in the days of Achashveirosh, in a manner that the holy light that inheres in the Megilla is literally greater and more splendid than that of our holy Torah itself.

For may years, I scoffed at people who bought the Megillos written on Klaf.  You fulfill the mitzva by hearing it from the baal korei, for goodness sakes.  You like having a holy megilla?  They buy a Megillas Rus, or, if you're a Litvak, buy a Megillas Eicha.  Why waste so much money?  Is it just another geegaw to put in your breakfront and flaunt in shul?

Well, according to the Chasam Sofer, I was wrong.  Not about what the buyers' conscious motivation, but about the unique spiritual resplendence of Megillas Esther.  The Megilla somehow comprises אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר   I don't know in what sense Megillas Esther holds this numinous light.  Is it a source? A lens? An amplifier?  Is it in the written word or in the reading?  Whatever it is, it is unique.  Once again, our subconscious, our race-memory, our inherent spiritual sensitivity, shepherds us and guides our hands to do sublime things.

A reader in New Hampshire sent in a comment about what aspect of the Megilla involves the Chasam Sofer's light, which belongs here:
Suggestion: reading the megilla with the proper appreciation and simcha regarding the narrative and the nes creates a bond to torah sheba'al peh greater than can be attained from the Torah itself.

This is, after all, the light of kiy'mu v'kiblu.

Also, on the most basic level, it is the only torah shebiksav that is torah sheba'al peh.

And on that note, I direct your attention to an analogous if not identical concept in the Netziv, in an addendum on Purim at the end of Shemos (after Megillas Esther).

When I read it, I immediately checked if my katana was sufficiently sharp.
(note: great unknown's latter line refers to the part of the Netziv that explains that the Torah is symbolized by the sword; Torah She'bichsav by the gloriously bejeweled scabbard, and Torah She'Baal Peh by the sharp and dangerous blade.)

(For interested parties: The Chasam Sofer echoes Reb Chaim Vital in his Shaar Hakavanos - Drush le'Purim on the Ha'ara of the Ataras Ha'yesod.   But irrespective of other layers of meaning, the Chasam Sofer always wrote to be understood literally.)

Two good things that add to this discussion:
I     At a kiddush, we were discussing the difference between Sinai and Purim.  One individual put it nicely.  He said "There's a big difference between Kabalas Hatorah under a mountain and Kabalas Hatorah on top of a  mountain."

II    As for the Chasam Sofer, I realized later that there is a very interesting way (and with all due humility, a very, very good way) of looking at it.  When did Moshe Rabbinu's face begin to emanate rays of light?  After he received the Torah- but not after the first forty days.  Only after the second time he was taught the Torah did his face shine with that light.  Why?  Why only the second time?  The Beis Halevi and the Mabit in his introduction to the Kiryas Sefer both say that only when Torah She'Baal Peh was found only in Moshe Rabbeinu's mind, and not written on the Luchos, and only after Moshe Rabbeinu achieved his Torah knowledge through hard work, was he considered a living sefer torah.  Though they don't mention it, it is obvious that this also explains why only after the second luchos did his face shine.
With this in mind, the Chasam Sofer's idea becomes very reasonable.  Klal Yisrael came to the Ribono shel Olam, not the other way around.  They discerned Hashem's presence and made the unilateral decision to revisit the idea of Torah She'Baal Peh and to accept it with desire and enthusiasm.  For this, Karan Ohr Pnei'hem.  That is the light in Megillas Esther.

The next part is just the Rambam in the previous halacha.  It's worded very strongly, and it's good to be reminded of how he puts it as we prepare for Purim.

מוטב לאדם להרבות במתנות אביונים מלהרבות בסעודתו ובשלוח מנות לרעיו. שאין שם שמחה גדולה ומפוארה אלא לשמח לב עניים ויתומים ואלמנות וגרים. שהמשמח לב האמללים האלו דומה לשכינה שנאמר להחיות רוח שפלים ולהחיות לב נדכאים

Better that a person augment his gifts to the poor rather than make a big feast or fancy Shalach Manos to his friends.  There is no greater or more splendid joy than gladdening the hearts of the poor and the orphans and widows and strangers.  One who gladdens these poor people's hearts is likened to the Holy Shechina, about which it says "To revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the downtrodden."

And for a final curiosity, I was looking at Reb Shlomo Alkabetz's sefer, M'nos Halevi, which the Chasam Sofer brought, as I noted above, and he says that Megillas Esther has 166 psukim, which matches the 166 letters in each of parshas Zachor and parshas Vayavo Amaleik, and there are 166 words in Hallel Hagadol (Hodu of Shabbos morning), and it is the gematria of the words יעלזו חסידים בכבוד (because on Purim it's ok to act like Chasidim).


Anonymous said...

What's the nafka mina of a megillah having "or kadosh"? what does that even mean?

b said...

It's nice to be brought back down to earth.

But the words "nafka mina" and "mean" may be inapposite when talking about a concept like this. Maybe "concept" is also not the right word.

What can I tell you? The Chasam Sofer was a giant of torah and pikchus and leadership. If he says the words "the megilla comprises a light greater and more splendid that that of the holy Torah," to me that means that it has a unique character, and maybe it helps to be mashreh a greater holiness in your home. Maybe not. But I certainly will not just shrug and say that the Chasam Sofer was just wasting my time.

I have to ask you this, though. When I read this CS, I laughed out loud with amazement and delight. Were you totally unmoved?

great unknown said...

Suggestion: reading the megilla with the proper appreciation and simcha regarding the narrative and the nes
creates a bond to torah sheba'al peh greater than can be attained from the Torah itself.

This is, after all, the light of kiy'mu v'kiblu.

Also, on the most basic level, it is the only torah shebiksav that is torah sheba'al peh.

And on that note, I direct your attention to an analogous if not identical concept in the Netziv, in an addendum on Purim at the end of Shemos.

When I read it, I immediately checked if my katana was sufficiently sharp.

Anonymous said...

At first my reaction was "wow, that's a big statement", but when i re read it i was just puzzled as to what "Or Kadosh" was. I don't think the Chasam Sofer was wasting our time either, and i wouldn't accuse him of that, so i think there has to be an explanation of "or Kadosh" beyond just "special light/holiness".

b said...

There are some things that cannot be expressed in language. But you know that the passuk in Mishlei 6:23, כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר, as explained in Sotah 21a- whether it's descriptive or allegorical- is fundamental to what the Torah is all about.

Anonymous said...

In the sefer Avraham Anochi, he brings the Manos Levi and adds that that's the p'shat in "kriyasa zu hee hillulah": The 166 pesukim of the Megillah equals the words of Hallel HaGadol, and so its a greater Hallel than the Hallel of a regular yomtov.

P.S. Why is your beisvaad blog now private? I really enjoyed the divrei Torah you wrote up there.

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Very interesting.
I made BVL private because I needed to post some private things I didn't want to have to explain. I invited most people that sent me an email asking to be invited.

Anonymous said...

A tzushtell to that amazing Chasam Sofer in drashos; he writes a big chiddush in Teshuvos O.C. 185 regarding the Rambam's explanation of "koffin oso ad sheyomar rotzeh ani".

The Rambam says that a Jew truly wants to do the will of the Torah and its just his yetzer hara that prvents him from doing so, so by forcing him to say "rotzeh ani" we are just bringing out his true inner will. The Chasam Sofer says that this is true only from the Story of Purim and on when they accepted the Torah willingly; prior to that time this halacha didn't exist!

So we see again in his writings that something even beyond the great revelations of Kabbalas HaTorah at Har Sinai happened during Purim; something that effected deep change in the national Jewish neshama.

Anonymous said...

Chasam Sofer is here:

Eliezer Eisenberg said...

Thank you. It's not as shocking as you made it sound- he just says that the din of rotzeh ani only applies after the kabbalas hatorah with full ratzon, because only then you can say they're going back to their original kabalah. But what you added is excellent- that the change of Purim was so fundamental that forever hence we can say the Rambam's svara.

I also liked his explanation as to why we don't pasken like Rabbeinu Efraim- because Rabbah is no rayah, since he was in mazal ma'adim.

Yasher koach.