S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 6 March 2004 / 13 Adar I 5764

Purim Symbols and Cymbals

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

"Its Purim and we have nothing to give for shalach manot!"

This was the anguished cry of one of the most famous survivors of the Holocaust, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandel of blessed memory. Here he was in the bunker together with other Jews hiding from the Nazi murderers whom he had succeeded in outwitting until then. When he boarded the cattle cars headed for Auschwitz he carried with him some emery wire which he later used to cut a hole in the wall of the train through which he leaped to safety. The desperate messages which he subsequently sent to the free world alerted his fellow Jews to the tragedy which was taking place in occupied Europe.

Rabbi Weismandel would eventually reach the U.S. and establish the great Neitra Yeshiva in Mt. Kisco, New York. But at this point in his odyssey of escape he was faced with the dilemma of how to fulfill the mitzvah of sending gifts of food to a friend mentioned in Megillat Esther. He solved his problem as well as possible by presenting a fellow fugitive with two cubes of sugar. But what about the group of young women at the other end of the bunker who did not even possess that resource for a token gift? This great spiritual mentor had been disturbed that these girls had, out of boredom, resorted to reading some indecent magazines which had found their way into the bunker. He turned to them and said:

"I am certain that every one of you is anxious to fulfill the mitzvah of shalach manot but has nothing to give. My suggestion to you is to give shalach manot to the "Friend" in Heaven Who is keeping you alive while so many of your brothers and sisters are dying. But what can you give to such a friend? Make a commitment to stop polluting your precious souls with the stuff you are reading and that will be the ideal gift."

A touching story indeed. But since when do we refer to G-d as a friend?

The source for this is a passage in the Proverbs of King Solomon (Mishlei 27:10) which advises "Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father." No one is more deserving of this title than the Creator whose friendship to man in every generation is expressed in innumerable ways.

When a gentile asked the Sage Hillel to convert him to Judaism but agreed to undergo this transformation only if he could be taught the entire Torah during the time he was able to stand on one leg, Hillel encapsulated the entire Torah for him by cautioning him: "What is hateful to you, dont do to your friend." (Mesechta Shabbat 31a)

The explanation of this enigmatic condensation offered by the great Talmudic commentator Rashi is that the friend to whom Hillel referred is the same One mentioned by King Solomon. Just as you would find it extremely hateful for your friend to ignore your wishes, Hillel told the conversion candidate, so must you, on becoming a Jew, avoid ignoring the wishes of your Friend in Heaven.

As we clash the cymbals of rejoicing on Purim for the miracle of our Friend in Heaven saving our ancestors from the Holocaust planned by Haman, let us pay attention to the symbols of salvation implicit in our mitzvot of the day. When we send our shalach manot to our earthly friends in the grand fashion which Providence has enabled us to do, let us imagine that we are thus symbolically sending a gift to our Heavenly Friend, not only in appreciation for what He did for us thousands of years ago, but for what He is doing for us today. When we hear the blessing before the morning reading of the Megillah praising G-d as the "One Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days in this season", we are supposed to bear in mind that this blessing applies to the mitzvah of shalach manot as well. The Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, suggests that the inner meaning of the term "in this season" is that the revelation of G-ds friendship to His people that was experienced by our ancestors "in those days" surfaces again in our own time during the Purim season.

As we go shopping and do our baking and cooking in preparation for shalach manot, let us listen to our cymbals of celebration reverberating throughout the generations and direct our gift to our Friend above in the form of a commitment to avoid ignoring His wishes.

At a time when Jews in Israel are daily faced with the threat of terror bombings and Jews throughout the world face growing anti-Semitism, we are in desperate need of making this gift and praying that our Friend above will reciprocate with the gift of another Purim miracle in our own day.

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