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Rabbi Kalmar's Message Parshat Tetzaveh / Purim - Feb. 26/27, 2021

“Yes Zeresh, there is a Jewish People or  Why I love the holiday of Purim”

There is something about the holiday of Purim that has always resonated with me.  The story of the Megillah, the costumes, the celebrations, the shalach manos – the hamantaschen.  The holiday has always captivated me.   But one aspect of Purim that I came to appreciate was the Torah of Purim.  Not Purim Torah – that is something else – the spoofing of traditional Torah in a jocular fashion – which – don’t get me wrong - I appreciate as much as the next nerdy Yeshiva trained guy.  But the Torah of Purim – the ideas about the hidden nature of the world and the fact that we accepted the Torah again at the time of the Purim story and the idea of vinahafochu, that things are turned upside down, and all that goes with it I find especially fascinating and edifying.

One character in the Purim story who only barely gets two lines is Zeresh, wife of Haman.  If we examine her two lines we find something extraordinary.

Her first appearance is in the fifth chapter of the Megillah when she listens to her husband complaining about how mad Mordechai makes him and makes a suggestion.  She tells him:

"Let them make a gallows fifty cubits high, and in the morning say to the king that they should hang Mordecai on it, and go to the king and to the banquet joyfully."

Haman is happy about this idea and goes ahead with the construction of the gallows.

Based on this exchange and her vile suggestion and based on the fact that she was married to such an evil fellow, we tend to think of Zeresh very negatively.

What’s curious then, is Zeresh’s next and last statement, which we find at the end of chapter 6.  After Haman’s world is turned upside down when he is forced to lead Mordechai through the streets of Shushan, all the while declaring that Mordechai is ‘the man the king wants to honor’, he returns home to Zeresh and tells her all that he has had to endure.

Zeresh’s strange response is the following:

If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish stock, you will not prevail against him, but you will surely fall before him. 

One of the characteristics of the Megillah and the Purim story is the absence of God’s presence.  There is no mention of God in the entire story.   God is only hinted to in the story.  One hint comes from Mordechai when he tells Esther that if she doesn’t play her part in the story, someone else will – implying that God will bring His will about no matter what.    But I think that another indication of God’s presence is this statement from Zeresh.  She is basically admitting that the Jews are God’s special people, and if you have started to mess with them, God will protect them and you are finished.

This historical reality, that the Jewish people survive against all odds, is one of the great indications of God’s presence in the world.  And Zeresh knew it.  Between the time that Zeresh first suggests hanging Mordechai on a big gallows and a day later when she sees the writing on the wall, everything has changed and gone topsy turvy.  Haman goes from being on top to being on bottom and Mordechai rockets up to the top.  The fortune of the Jewish people takes a similar course.  And yet it all happens on the QT, behind the scenes, without obvious Godly intervention.

As opposed to the Pesach story where all of these grand miracles occur, the Purim story resonates with me because it encourages us to find God’s presence in this world when it seems hidden.  It is our job to search for God and to realize what is behind the mask.  This feels more like our everyday reality, like the life we live – where God’s presence is not obvious and yet it is our job to reveal Him.

              The parsha of Tetzaveh deals with the clothing of the Kohanim in the Mishkan.  Clothes, by their nature are meant to cover up and hide things.  In fact, the Midrash says that God wears the world like a garment – the world we live in hides God’s existence behind the face of nature and everyday life. 

              We are meant to see God’s presence in this world and have the same revelation that Zeresh had – God is not missing, God is right here and has been here the entire time.  I find Zeresh’s words to be comforting.  The Jews have had a lot of enemies in their history and they continue to do so.  But Zeresh tells us – if you start up with the Jews, watch out!

              And I find it to be comforting that God’s presence in this world is not obvious but that He is there, and is just waiting for us to go and find Him.  Hashem is protecting us and is there for us and it is up to us to make that reality our own.  May we successfully remove the mask – and find Hashem’s presence in our world and in our lives this Purim.

I hope your Purim is a happy one.

Wed, May 18 2022 17 Iyyar 5782