Posted by: R Jonathan Gewirtz | March 8, 2009

Topsy Turvy – A Purim Thought

On Rosh Chodesh Adar, I was at shul and heard the familiar refrain at the end of Shemona Esrai going into Hallel – “HaMevarech es amo Yisrae-e-e-el, baSha – a- MEIN.” Yes, the tzibbur began to sing in the Amein at the end of the bracha, effectively asking HaShem to bless the Jews with fat (or maybe oil if you want to stretch it.) Instead of saying Amein to asking for peace, many people cut in early and try to grab the Amein. In halacha, this is called an Amein chatufa and is prohibited. I know, it’s what everyone does, and that’s how the tune goes. But it doesn’t make it right.
I pointed out to one fellow there that you’re supposed to wait for the end of the bracha before answering Amein and he raised his hands and rolled his eyes as if to imply I was “too frum” and some kind of a nut. This is actually a common response when people are corrected in some matter of halacha because the people being critiqued have it backwards.
If I were in a shul where the people spent all davening talking, and used the shul as a social club, even leaving during davening for a drink or two, I wouldn’t bother mentioning anything. They obviously don’t feel a strong need to do the right thing so this is just one more thing they can ignore.
But, when I approach someone I know for some time, and whom I believe wants to keep all the mitzvos properly, I am trying to help him further his own goal, not putting him down. On the contrary, I’m putting him up! I am stating that I believe him to be a devout Jew who would like to continue to rise in his Avodas HaShem. Or when I put my arm around a fellow in shul and say gently, “You know, G-d doesn’t schmooze in YOUR living room,” I’m complimenting him that I know he is the type of person who wants to be reminded of his higher self. But he sees it backwards.
Sometimes it’s the opposite. A person will plan for a job interview or to meet a prospective shidduch. They will do everything to make the best impression possible. They will buy new clothes and clean the house or go to great lengths to make everything perfect. What does that say about their feelings about the other person? Does it mean that they think the best of the other person or that they’re afraid the other person is so demanding that if it’s not perfect they will walk away? Instead of complimentary, I think it’s quite the opposite. Again, what we would think at face value is far from the truth.
This is nothing new. The Gemara in Bava Basra (10b) discusses a boy who “died” then came back a few moments later. His father asked what he saw and he replied he had seen an “olam hafuch,” an upside-down world, where the elyonim (high people) were low and the tachtonim (low people) were high. His father told him he had seen a world of clarity.
In this world, people are perceived to be great because of their wealth or power, but unless they do the right things with what they have been given, their status is quite low in the Olam Ha’Emes, the world of Truth. Likewise, people who are looked down upon here but are doing the will of HaShem (and that might even be why they’re looked down upon) are considered in Heaven to be persons of great stature.
I recall hearing that those we consider friends here, with whom we partied or had fun, will become our greatest adversaries above, when they testify to our sins, while those who drove us to do the proper things, such as a chavrusa, rebbi or teacher (and yes, perhaps, even a parent) whom we viewed as a burden or enemy, will be our greatest ally because they saved us from ourselves.
So, when someone tells you that you are doing something wrong, you should stop and think whether they should go in the friends column or the foes column.
Let’s look at Purim. Mordechai told the Jews not to go to Achashveirosh’s party. They ignored him. They felt it was political suicide not to go and be represented. He may have been a great Rabbi but he did not understand politics and diplomacy. They were proven “right” when they enjoyed a time of relative prosperity for the next nine years. But they were wrong. Their “political savvy” proved to be the work of the Yetzer Hara. Mordechai was correct, and when the shoe finally dropped as Haman ascended to power, they still didn’t see it. This time, they blamed Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman for their problems. Again, it was quite the opposite but to their credit, they eventually came to see things his way, their Teshuva was accepted, and we were saved from annihilation.
Purim is a time to reflect on the topsy-turvy nature of this world and our existence in it. We are to take stock of our physical nature, and that may be one reason we have a Purim Seudah. On Chanuka, when Jews were clearly understood to be spiritual beings, and that is what the enemy wanted to destroy, there is no need to have a meal. On Purim, however, when the enemy saw the Jews as just another physical nation, we have to take a physical meal and elevate it by making it a mitzvah. We have to speak words of Torah at the meal, and drink wine as a means of raising us toward our higher selves, not dragging us down to the depths of drunkenness.
In recent weeks, we saw a politician do a complete about-face. While she once supported Israel’s “right to defend her people,” she now condemns these acts of self-defense as atrocities and genocide against the helpless terrorists who shoot rockets at Jews. Why isn’t this surprising?
R’ Yakov Kaminetsky explained a Gemara which says that Moshiach will not come until the Jews despair of salvation. It doesn’t mean that we give up on HaShem’s redemption, chas v’shalom, but rather that a prerequisite for Geulah is no longer putting our faith in the Gentiles of the world to save us and “allow” us to exist. We have to realize that we cannot hold out hope for them to be the salvation we are looking for. This is getting easier to do today, as the political tide and world opinion seem to be turning against us, despite all our lobbying and “savvy.”
So how do we protect ourselves now? By listening to our Chachomim, the Mordechais of our day. By paying more attention to not speaking lashon hara, to being careful of the honor of others, and to being kovei’a itim la’Torah, setting aside time every day to learn Torah. We must make these and other efforts to turn ourselves right-side up, so that we see things with clarity and will be able to witness the ultimate miracle of the arrival of Moshiach.

Originally published in my column “The Observant Jew” in The Front Page Magazine, March 4, 2009.

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