PURIM – TURN UP THE HEAT
Hasach ran through the palace corridors, bearing an urgent message for Queen Esther from Mordechai HaTzaddik. The palace was abuzz with rumors that Mordechai, an officer of the King, was standing outside the gates, dressed in sackcloth. The Queen had sent him new clothing but he had refused them, sending his reason with the Queen's servant. Hasach finally reached the Queen and repeated the mysterious reply: "The descendant of ‘Karahu' has risen up against us."
This gripping story (albeit slightly dramatized) appears in the Medrash on Megillas Esther. The obvious question, which the Medrash itself deals with, is what did Mordechai mean? The answer given is that Mordechai was alluding to Haman, by referring to his ancestor Amalek. When the Torah describes how Amalek attacked B'nei Yisrael in the desert, it refers to them as, "who happened upon you (Karcha) on the way."
It was with this in mind that Mordechai called Haman, "the descendant of ‘Karahu,'" referring to Amalek (Karcha).
Now we know what Mordechai meant. The question however remains, why did Mordechai find it necessary to speak in such a cryptic way? Why didn't he just say outright that it was Haman who was planning a massive genocide against the Jewish People, and instead brought up Haman's ancestry?
Perhaps we can understand this in light of the words of the Maggid of Mezeritch (Rav Dov Ber, the foremost disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov). He said that when the Torah tells us that Amalek "happened upon" B'nei Yisrael, it is telling us a deep insight into how the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) works. Amalek represents the Yetzer Hara, which tries repeatedly to keep us from doing Mitzvos. However, if the Yetzer Hara sees that it is unsuccessful in preventing the performance of Mitzvos, it changes its tactics. Instead, it goes after the emotion, the excitement with which the Mitzvos should be done. It convinces people that its "good enough" that they're doing the Mitzvah; who cares about the passion? Amalek is therefore called "Karcha," which, in addition to meaning "happened upon you," can also be interpreted "cooled you off." The Yetzer Hara/ Amalek took our Mitzvos and turned them into lifeless, robotic actions, devoid of any feeling at all.
And this is what Mordechai was telling Queen Esther. The Jews who lived during the time of the Purim story were very observant. The Medrash says that even at the feast of King Achashverosh they made sure to eat only kosher food. What they were missing was the feeling, the passion for serving Hashem. Had they had this, the idea of attending a feast that was made to celebrate the Bais HaMikdash (The Holy Temple) lying in ruins and the Jewish People in exile (as the Medrash tells us Achashverosh's intentions were), would have been totally unthinkable. To such a people, Hashem sent a wake up call in the form of a man whose very lineage personified such an attitude: Haman the Amaleki, the "descendant of ‘Karahu/ Karcha.'"
The comparison to our generation is unavoidable. When has there ever been such a wealth of Mitzvos, and Torah learning? Yet when has there ever been more Jews listlessly going through the motions, doing Mitzvos, but not feeling anything? How many of us keep Shabbos, and how many of us love Shabbos? How many of us daven, and how many of us look forward to davening? How many of us find pleasure in helping others, and how many of us are looking for pleasure elsewhere?
If we can see from the Megillah where we need to improve, let's look in the Megillah for how to improve as well. As the miraculous salvation unfolds, the Megillah tells us that "The Jews had light and happiness, and joy and honor." The Gemara explains that each of these four expressions actually represents a certain Mitzvah: Torah, Yom Tov (Festivals), Bris Mila (circumcision), and Tefillin. The S'fas Emes (the first Rebbe of Ger) asks, if the Megillah wants to tell us that the Jews kept these Mitzvos, why not say so clearly? The answer he gives is that the Megillah is informing us of the radical makeover that the Jews undertook. Instead of seeing light as emanating from the sun, the Jews now appreciated that the true source of light in the world is the Torah.
The real source of happiness is the Yom Tov. The only true joy and honor comes from the Mitzvos. I find it intriguing that the word the Megillah uses for "honor" is the word "VaYikar." There's that word-root again, "Kar." By Amalek and Haman, it was being used to signify a cooling of excitement. Ah, but now it's been transformed. Now it's being used to show a revival of passion for living with Torah and Mitzvos. Now it's showing the complete turnover of a nation, whose antipathy invited the descendant of Amalek against themselves, into a people whose enthusiasm led to their miraculous salvation.
The world we live in is full of frightening and dangerous enemies. Jews the world over, and especially our brothers and sisters in Israel, live in fear for their very lives. The foes we face today are carrying on the animosity and hatred of their spiritual forefathers, Haman and Amalek. We must learn from the generation of Purim how to turn ourselves around, and reignite the passion of Torah and Mitzvos, and in that merit, may we too see a swift salvation from our enemies, and indeed the ultimate Redemption, with the coming of Moshiach, Amen!