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Parshas Purim (5771)

Purim in Four Parts

In the Book of Esther we read:

“Letters were sent by courier to all the King’s provinces, to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women, in a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions” (3:13).

This verse is very difficult to understand - Haman wanted to destroy the Jews and also to slay them and also to exterminate them? How many times can you kill someone already?!

The Vilna Gaon, in his commentary to the Book of Esther, offers a fantastic explanation which touches on the basic themes of the holiday of Purim.

He writes that each and every one of us has four different parts that make up our essence:
(1) our Neshamah, or Higher Soul, the seat of our spiritual drives,
(2) our Ruach, or Middle Spirit, the seat of our emotional drives,
(3) our Nefesh, or Lower Soul/Body, the seat of our physical drives, and
(4) our Kinyan, all our possessions and money.

Haman, who descended from the nation of Amalek - the Jewish people’s sworn enemy - wanted to get rid of all four components of each and every Jew, as represented by the four expressions used by Haman in the verse above:

(1) “To destroy” – this refers to the destruction of the Jew’s Neshamah by ridding him of all his mitzvos (commandments) and his spiritual connection to G-d. We can see this from the Hebrew word l’hashmid used in the verse, which comes from the root word shmad and which always signifies spiritual destruction.
(2) “To slay” – this refers to the actual killing of the Jew until his Ruach, or life spirit, leaves him.
(3) “To exterminate” – this refers to the destruction and burning of the Jew’s Nefesh/body, as Haman wanted that there be no remnant of the Jewish people, not even as dead bodies in a cemetery (much like the Nazis’ crematoria during the Holocaust).
(4) “And to plunder their possessions” - this refers to the removal of each Jew’s Kinyan, so that there be no more Jewish money or possessions in the world by which they could be remembered.

Such was the hatred of Haman and his nation Amalek towards the Jewish people. Of course, G-d had other plans, and the Jews were saved through the efforts of Mordechai and Esther.

To celebrate this victory of the Jews over Haman, and to show Amalek that with G-d on our side we cannot be destroyed, Mordechai and Esther decreed for the Jewish people four special mitzvos on Purim, corresponding to the four parts of each Jew that Haman sought to destroy:

(1) Kerias HaMegillah, the obligatory public reading of the Book of Esther on both Purim night and day. Haman wanted to destroy the Jewish Neshamah by ridding us of our mitzvos, so we add a new mitzvah of reading the Megillah.
(2) Simchas Purim, the mitzvah to be happy on Purim, which is fulfilled through Seudas Purim, the festive meal on Purim day. On Purim, we express our joy that we are alive and that Haman could not vanquish our Ruach and spirit.
(3) Mishteh, the mitzvah of drinking on Purim. Drinking wine is a very physical act that the Nefesh and physical body – which Haman sought to exterminate - very much enjoys.
(4) Mishloach Manos, sending portions of food to each other, and Matanos L’Evyonim, giving gifts to the poor. Through these mitzvos we ensure that each and every Jew will have some Kinyan and possessions - to spite the wicked Haman and his evil plan.

Our Sages teach us that “the days of Purim will not be nullified, as it is written: ‘And these days of Purim shall never be removed from the midst of the Jews, and their remembrance will never end’ (Esther 9:28)” - meaning that Purim and its lessons will forever be relevant to the Jewish people.

In our own times, and especially this past week when the Jewish world collectively suffered the tragic massacre of five members of the Fogel family by Palestinian terrorists in the Israeli settlement of Itamar, we remind ourselves of the many “Hamans” out there who still seek to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate the Jewish people, and to plunder our possessions.

Let the holiday of Purim remind them and us that good always triumphs over evil, and that our loving Father in Heaven will never let these “Haman wannabees” destroy His people.

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