A Lasting Purim Lesson


By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

Amazingly, Purim is already upon us.  And, while it is unbelievable how time flies, the responsible person makes sure to take something from Purim to improve him or herself throughout the year.  I would like to make the following suggestion of one idea that can be used for self-betterment.

On the verse, “HaMelech v’Haman yoshvu lishtos,” relating that Achashveiros and Haman sat down to drink to celebrate their agreement to annihilate the Jews, the Medrash teaches that this event was a direct result of the brothers eating a meal after they sold Yosef.  As the posuk testifies after mechiras Yosef, “Vayeishvu lechol lechem – They sat down to eat bread.”  Thus, the Medrash reveals to us that, just as at the time of Paroh we were enslaved as slaves in Egypt because we sold Yosef as a slave, so too we were handed over into the diabolical hands of the murderous Achashveiros because we handed over our brother Yosef into perpetual slavery.

Once again, we see that one of the central themes of Purim is that sinas ha-achim, hatred amongst Jewish brethren, is at the root of why we are attacked by the Jew-haters.

I would like to share with you a fascinating story that happened at the time Rav Sherira Gaon, Zt”l, Zy”a.  There was a very wealthy Jew who had the exalted privilege of possessing a sefer Torah written by the great Ezra HaSofer.  This wealthy man passed away leaving two sons without specific instructions regarding who should inherit this holy Torah scroll.  There ensued a great quarrel – each one ready to give up much of the father’s wealth in order to inherit this rarified Torah.  Finally, the question came before the Torah authorities who decided they should cast a lottery to determine which son should receive it.  They did so and thus the sefer Torah passed into one of the son’s hands.

At that time, a sinful Jew lived in this town who could not believe his eyes at the foolishness and sheer stupidity of this son who gave up such a great portion of wealth for a mere Torah.  To teach him a lesson, he snuck in to the shul and secretly caused a blemish in this sefer Torah.  He opened up the Torah to the verse, “Va-avaditem es Hashem Elokeichem u’veirach es lachmecha – You should serve Hashem your G-d and He will bless your bread (livelihood).”  With evil intent, this wicked man changed the letter ‘ayin’ in the word avaditem to an ‘aleph’ causing it to mean the blasphemous statement, ‘That you should destroy Hashem your G-d.’

Weeks later, when they got up to this Torah portion, the people of the town discovered this mistake.  It caused a great uproar for, although it is a mistake that can be corrected, it seemed to prove – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that this Sefer Torah could not have been written by Ezra HaSofer, for there is no way that this saintly sage could have made such a mistake.

This caused the son – who gave up much of his inheritance in order to gain this Torah – to become physically ill.  One night, his father visited him in a dream and told him what had really happened – that a wicked Jew had come in the middle of the night and defaced the Torah.  He told him as proof to look under a certain table in the shul, and there, he would find the scraped off ‘ayin’ from the scroll.  He then told him not to correct the Sefer Torah as Ezra himself would correct it – and so it transpired.

While this story is quite remarkable in itself, I would like to offer the following possible elaboration.  Why did Hashem allow Ezra’s holy Sefer Torah to be defaced in the first place?  We know that Hashem gives special divine protection to items of great holiness.  Why did Hashem therefore allow the wicked Jew to wreak such havoc on such a ‘davar she’b’kedusha?’

Perhaps the answer lies in the behavior of the brothers upon their father’s passing.  They engaged in a fight, each one wanting to possess this rarified treasure.  We can be sure that each one did so with religious zeal, thinking that in the process he was serving Hashem – wanting to sacrifice great wealth to possess this cherished Torah.  But what transpired?  The ‘ayin’ of, “Avaditem es Hashem Elokeichem,” in this very Torah was changed to an ‘aleph’ in order to show that in the very act which they thought was serving Hashem in reality was causing Hashem to perish from within their midst – for there is no greater way to chase Hashem from a place than to engage in machlokes.  As we all know, “Ish v’Isha shalom beineihem, Shechina shruya beineihem – Husband and wife, if there is peace between them, the Divine Presence is with them,” but if there is fighting and quarreling between them, then the Shechina is chased away.

So too, the brothers generated that the word for serving Hashem should be evilly changed and caused Hashem to, so to speak, ‘disappear’ in order to teach them and the townspeople this vital lesson:  Even under the guise of serving Hashem, one should not fall prey to the great evil of machlokes.  Stay away from being snared into shul politics – or bungalow politics – or school politics – with the excuse that you are doing it ‘L’sheim Shamayim.’  There is almost no machlokes in these areas that is condoned by Heaven.

May it be the will of Hashem that we should always be able to stay on the wonderful path of peace and, in that merit, may we be blessed with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.

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Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.


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