Morah Yehudis Fishman shares a teaching about Purim that weaves through generations all the way to your own soul.

Seeing the Whole Megillah

The rabbis tell us that the heroes of the Megillah, Mordechai and Esther, had to deal with unfinished business. They were both descended from King Saul who should have, according to the Torah’s command, destroyed Amalek, the nation that was the constant adversary of both the Jewish people and the A-lmighty. However, Saul kept the Amalekite king, Agag, alive and in doing so, allowed for Haman, a descendent of Agag, to be born. This is what Mordechai referred to when he told Esther, ‘If you are silent at a time like this, salvation will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.’ The word for perish here can also mean ‘lose,’ implying that you will lose the opportunity to finish what your father’s house left incomplete.

Now, let us rewind to King Saul’s ancestor, Binyamin.  The rabbis tell us that Amalek will not be defeated except through the children of Rachel. This helps us understand a strange incident in the story of Yosef and his brothers. In Parshat Vayigash, when the brothers are finally reunited, (Genesis 45:22) the Torah relates, ‘To all of them he- Yosef- gave a suit of clothing, but to Binyomin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothing.’

Anyone familiar with the broader scope of the story will find this gesture of Yosef’s generosity ironic to say the least. The man whose decades of suffering were precipitated by a gift of clothing from his father seems to be further initiating a potential response of jealousy toward Rachel’s other son, Binyomin. What could possibly have been on Yosef’s mind?

Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner, the third rebbe of Ishbitz who dedicated his life to discovering the Techeilet, the blue dye for Tzitzit, asks this question in his book, Sod Yesharim.  He quotes the Talmudic response to the above question, from Megillah page 16. “Rabbi Binyomin Ben Yefet says: ‘He (Yosef) is hinting that in the future a descendent (Mordechai) will emerge from the tribe of Binyamin, who will go out before the king wearing five royal garments, as it says in Megillat Esther, chapter nine.’ However, the Sod Yesharim asks about the obvious difficulty to this response: If the brothers might get jealous about the extra garments for Binyamin, how would that be alleviated by telling them that one of Binyamin’s descendants would also be wearing five special garments?

His answer is amazingly astute. He explains that human nature is such that jealousy is a very myopic viewpoint. Its underlying misperception is that -all things being equal, you think that you deserve what the other person has at least as much, if not more, than he or she does. The mistake lies in seeing what the other possesses as an ‘incidental’ rather than intrinsic aspect of the person’s ‘lot’ in life. The corrective attitude is that if you were to see the bigger picture of what led up to the person acquiring what you envy, you would realize that for you, the challenges would not be worth the prize.  In the case of Mordechai, which Jewish man would want to change places with him, considering the angst and the worry he went through before, and even after, he reached that ‘photo flash’ of being in the limelight. No one who knew the whole story of Mordechai’s life would think that one moment on center stage would justify all his difficulties.

So too, says the Ishbitzer, Yosef was teaching his brothers that even though they realized that he was, at least at this moment in time, in control of both the Egyptians and their own lives, they of course, would never want to be ‘in his shoes’ during the circumstances that led to his position in Egypt, especially since they put him there!

The general point that the Ishbitzer is making is one of the famous story that if everyone were to put their ‘pekalach,’ their burdens, in the middle of an exchange circle, they would all ultimately end up taking back their original knapsack. In other words, in the whole story of one’s life journey, you can’t separate the accomplishments and the achievements for the challenges and difficulties that you undergo. Indeed, suggests the Ishbitzer, from a non-linear perspective, it is the accomplishments that one is destined to attain that consciously or unconsciously allow you to have the fortitude to master the hurdles.

This destiny is, according to Chabad teachings, part of one’s lot in life. Just as the land of Israel was divided by Goral, lottery, according to the needs and abilities of each tribe, so too one’s ‘lot in life’ is delegated according to the requirements of one’s unique soul. So too, taught the Lubavitcher Rebbe, even if you are in a situation or relationship that does not seem productive, you may not be able to change or emerge from it, until you salvage the outcome that is part of your soul’s lesson. One example is that the Jews in Egypt had to stay an extra day to retrieve the sparks of holiness hidden in the valuables of the Egyptians.

Perhaps this idea is connected to the significance of the name Purim, meaning lottery-an otherwise strange choice of names to reflect a salvation or celebration.  Wasn’t it the lottery that caused the trouble rather than the deliverance?  But, based on the teaching of the Sod Yesharim, both the difficulty and the relief are a ‘package deal.’  Actually, this is the opposite perspective of the philosophy of Amalek, meaning ‘the nation that cuts off.’ Amalek, relating to doubt and coldness , tries to disconnect the significance of events from each other and from the Source of Divine Providence that we call Hashgacha. But what Amalek refers to as a random event, the Torah describes as a meeting between G-d and humanity.

Thus the Lubavitcher Rebbe constantly reminded us, as explained in Tanya, the concepts of exile and redemption are not two opposite, or even separate states; they are inherently bound with each other.  Our work and efforts during these last moments of Hester, concealment, will lead to the final burst of light into the world.

Let us put the Aleph of the word Geulah, redemption, back into the word Golah, exile, with the coming of Moshiach, bimheirah ‘b’yameinu, Amen.

About Morah Yehudis Fishman

I have been teaching Torah and Chassidic writings for over forty years to students of all ages and backgrounds, both on the East Coast and the Midwest. I have been a director of several Jewish organizations in Santa Fe and Colorado. My articles and poetry on a wide variety of Jewish topics have been printed in many publications, and also are available online.

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