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Rav Sitruk: “The Quintessential Message of Purim!

Published on Sunday February 28th, 2021

The reading of the Megillah on Purim reminds us that Megillat Esther was the last historical event registered in the entire Tanach! Towards the end of the Megillah, we witness the beginning of a process which was, in fact, the foundation of future Judaism. Indeed, the last Hebrew Prophets lived at the time of the writing of the Megillah. Thereafter, Sages took over prophets and Mordechai became, according to our tradition, the first “Rosh”, head of a yeshiva. Mordechai established the first center of Jewish studies for the continuity and deepening of Torah study. He also relayed the last prophets of Israel.  

In this regard, the Gemara teaches that: “Chacham adif MiNavi (a sage is superior to a prophet!)”

How do we grapple with the profound meaning of this comparison?

The answer lies in some clarifications from a Talmudic text in the Tractate of Menachot (page 29b) in the Gemara. The text tells us that before his death, Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem: "What will become of the Torah after my passing? "

To answer Moshe, Hashem somehow "projected" him into the future and showed him the generation of Rabbi Akiva. Watching this teacher teach the Torah to a large crowd of students, Moshe attended the class with immense rapture. But apparently, he did not understand what was taught in the lesson. At the end of the lesson, one of Rabbi Akiva’s students asked, "But where do you know all this from, Rabbi? ". And Rabbi Akiva replied: "Halacha Lemoshe MiSinai. We heard it from Moshe Rabbeinu, who received the Torah at Sinai. The Gemara then concludes by saying: "Nacha daato shel Moshe Rabbeinu (Moshe felt reassured by this remark)".

Let us now deepen our understanding of this text: it isn’t that Moshe felt suddenly reassured when Rabbi Akiva confirmed that the Torah was handed down by him (Moshe), but simply, Moshe witnessed an approach to the Torah through "analytical understanding", as opposed to "intuitive knowledge."

Indeed, Hashem delivers His message to the prophets (Moshe being the first), who then deliver (retransmit) it to the people of their generation, faithfully and to the letter. As for the Sage (the chacham), he uses his discernment to understand teaching and explain it.

However, when Moshe Rabbeinu found out that the message he received through the gift of prophecy could be passed down through teaching, he was reassured in the understanding that the Torah would be transmissible to all generations! And that is indeed the case. Since we have no more prophets to reveal the divine message, we turn to our masters and great Torah Sages to reveal it to us.

However, it is necessary to point out what Maimonides, the Rambam, says in the second portico of his "Guide of the Perplexed": the chacham must be endowed with "ruach HaKodesh" - literally, the “holy spirit" which allows him to sense and foresee events. The Rambam gives the following example: a Sage was teaching his students. Suddenly he told them that they had to leave the house of study immediately.  He asked everyone to get up and leave. A few seconds later, the house collapsed. In fact, this story shows that the chacham had sensed the danger!

This is how the Rambam describes the gift of the Torah to one who delves in it with all his drive and energy and who approaches the Torah in total sincerity. He is enlightened by God to foresee events to come.

Even today, when we want to unravel what has transpired or what could happen in the future, we turn to our masters, our guides and our light. As the verse says: "Ve hayu einecha ro’ot et morecha" (Your eyes will look at your masters).

Engulfed by the darkness that presently prevails in the world and in men’s minds, it is very difficult to get a clear picture of what transpires in our lives. We can only gain true serenity by listening to the masters of Torah, who bestow their knowledge and inspiration upon all who agree to listen. This point deserves a special mention on Purim. The exile of the Jews, the diaspora, which began in Purim's time, was maintained by this precious tenet of looking up to our masters for guidance, and which was transmitted to us from generation to generation!

Rav Yosef-Chaim Sitruk - © Torah-Box Account

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