SHABBAT ZACHOR 5773
Y’all know about the Torah, its 5 books, its 613 commandments and its coded messages. But do you know what Purim Torah is? Purim in many ways is the counterbalance of Yom Kippur, so much so, that the sages note that Yom Kippur is called by the Torah, Yom Kippurim, which can be understood as Yom, “the day,” k, “like,” “Purim!” It conveys similar messages to Yom Kippur like the fragility of life and the search for meaning, yet in opposite ways—Yom Kippur with solemnity and Purim with gayety. And since underneath the gayety of Purim there is a deep solemn message, Purim Torah will contain both the gayety and the solemnity.
Let me give you some examples of both. Let’s do 1st the gayety, spoofing the day and its Torah connection. I begin with a piece by Rabbi David Auerbach who asks, “Why On This Night Do We Drink Only Crown Royal?”
It is generally assumed that Vashti (King Achashveyros’ 1st spouse) refused to appear at the King's party that is recounted in the 1st chapter of the Megillah because the King wanted her to show off her beauty by parading before his friends without any clothes. However, a careful reading of the text will show that (a) this was not what he expected and (b) this is not why she refused.
Achashveyros evidently liked to party. In the 3rd year of his reign, he threw a lavish affair for all his princes and servants that lasted 180 days…followed by a feast for the residents of Shushan (the capital) that lasted 7 days…Achashveyros hosted the men; Vashti hosted the women.
Evidently, the main feature at these affairs was the drinking. “Royal wine was served in abundance,” the text tells us…On the 7th day, when Achashveyros was good and drunk, he summoned Vashti. The question is why, since in all probability there were plenty of pretty, unclad women at the men’s feast.
My contention is that after 7 days of hard drinking, the supply of liquor was running low at the men’s party. So, as any husband would do, Achashveyros summoned his wife to bring some more liquor. The text is very specific on this point. It recounts that Achashveyros commanded his 7 attending eunuchs “to bring Vashti, the queen, before the king, b’cheter malchut, with the Crown Royal.” (Esther 1:11)
Naturally, since Crown Royal is one of the best whiskeys around, Vashti refused. She wanted to save the good stuff for herself and her lady friends. Understandably, the king was enraged.
What’s the proof? To this very day Crown Royal comes in a distinctive purple sack, which, I am convinced, is none other than t’cheylet Mordecai (the royal purple robe Mordecai wore after being named Prime Minister in Haman’s place).
Having now properly elucidated the misunderstandings prompted by the incorrect interpretation of the Vashti incident, we can proceed to observe Purim correctly by drinking only Crown Royal.
This comes from my friend Rabbi Jeffrey Miller:
After kriat yam soof (the crossing of the Red Sea), the bnai yisrael (the Children of Israel) wanted to give Moses a testimonial dinner. They raised a tremendous amount of money and sent Joshua out to buy an appropriate gift. Alas, they were in the midbar and all of the stores were closed for Pesach.
Came the night of the dinner, the MC explained that all of the stores were closed. He said that instead of a gift, they would just give Moses the bag of money. As he handed the sack of money to Moses, the MC said, “Here, Mo, take the dough.” Moses replied, “No, no, keep your dough, twas the yeast I could do.”
Sometimes Purim Torah turns political, like this story that made the rounds a few years ago:
Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, (today’s king of Persia/Iran) called President Bush and said, “George, I had a wonderful dream last night. I could see America, the whole country, and on each house I saw a banner.”
“What did it say on the banners?” Mr. Bush asked.
Mahmoud replied, “Allah is god, Allah is great,” as if he could taste victory.
Mr. Bush responded, “You know, Mahmoud, I am really happy you called. Last night I had a similar dream. I could see all of Teheran, and it was more beautiful than ever. It was all brand new; it had been rebuilt completely and on each house flew an enormous banner.”
“What did the banners say?” Mahmoud asked.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Bush said, “I can’t read Hebrew!”
Sometimes Purim Torah turns serious. If you analyze carefully the text of the Megillah you would see that, from start to finish, the story probably took about 13 years. If we each sat down and wrote out the story of our lives over the past 13 years or any such group of years, the result would be our own Megillah, our personal story of God’s small miracles. Rav Chaim Schmuelewitz says that this is the meaning behind the opinion that did not want Megillah to be included in the Bible. By labeling this a miracle story, that includes Gd’s name only between the lines, people might miss the message that all of our lives are slow cooker miracle stories!
And finally, here’s some deep Purim Torah with an amazing prophecy encoded in the Megillah itself. In the Megillah (9:14) text, after the Jews defend themselves and killed the 10 sons of Haman, Esther asks the King: “If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews…to do tomorrow also as this day, and have the bodies of Haman’s 10 sons hanged in public display on the gallows.”
Esther’s request seems somewhat strange. The 10 sons of Haman had already been killed, why did the Esther request the King to hang them? The simple approach suggests she made this request so that everyone would know the consequences that would befall them—just in case anyone else might think of harming the Jews. However, rabbinic commentaries offer a different spin. Commenting on the word “tomorrow” in Esther’s request, the Midrash (Tanchuma Bo 13) comments: “There is a tomorrow that is now, and a tomorrow which is later,” indicating a prophecy for the future. Esther unconsciously prophesied a time when the Jewish people would reenact the hanging of Haman’s 10 sons!
And now—as Paul Harvey used to say—you’re going to hear the rest of the story. After World War II, the surviving Nazi leaders were tried at Nuremberg for their war crimes. On October 1, 1946, 12 of the German defendants were sentenced to death by hanging for their part in the atrocities committed against the Jews and others. One of those convicted was Martin Bormann, who was sentenced in absentia. A 2nd was Hermann Goering, who committed suicide in his cell just hours before the executions. The remaining 10 Germans were hanged to death on October 16, 1946. The date is significant as you will see.
In listing the names of the 10 sons of Haman, our tradition has always required that 3 letters in the name of Haman’s sons be written in a smaller font—a taf, a shin and a zayin, which has the gematria numerical equivalent of 707 (shin = 300, taf = 400, zayin = 7). It was not known why we needed to write these letters in a smaller font for millennium, but now we know. When in Hebrew we speak of the calendar year, we do not use the thousand number. This year, for example, 5773, in Hebrew is called shin-taf-ayin-gimmel or 773. It is assumed that everyone knows what millennium they are in. So based on the word “tomorrow” in Esther’s request as clearly being some future event—these smaller 3 letters were a future prophecy for the killing of Haman’s 10 sons in a future year 707. It could have been 4707 or 5707.
October 1946, when the 10 Nazi criminals were executed, was the Jewish year 5707, or in Hebrew, taf-shin-zayin, 707—the exact same letters and numbers. Coincidence? Of the 23 Nazi war criminals on trial in Nuremberg, 11 were in fact sentenced to execution by hanging. 2 hours before the sentence was due to be carried out, as we’ve said, Goering committed suicide so that leaves only 10 descendents of Amalek. Amalek is the hated enemy of the Jews that attacked them upon the Exodus from Egypt for no reason. Haman was, according to tradition a descendant of Amalek while the Nazis were, at least, spiritual descendents. The 10 remaining Nazis thus fulfilled the request of Esther: “tomorrow…let Haman’s 10 sons be hanged.”
Furthermore, since the trial was conducted by a military tribunal, the sentence handed down should have been death by firing squad, or by electric chair as practiced in America. However, the court specifically prescribed hanging, exactly as per Esther’s request. The New York Herald Tribune of October 16, 1946 reported: “With burning hatred in his eyes, Julius Streicher [one of the Nuremberg 10] looked down at the witnesses and shouted [as he was about to be hung]: “Purim Fest 1946!” What did Streicher know about Purim? The date of the execution, October 16, fell on Hoshana Rabba, the end of Sukkot—the day when Gd’s verdicts are sealed.
If that doesn’t help you appreciate how truly deep the Megillah’s Torah is, let me add one more detail from Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel. The Megillah records that, per Esther’s instructions, the 10 had been hanged on a tree. The Hebrew word for tree in Hebrew is eytz, which also means, “wood.” The hangman at Nuremberg was an American army officer named, John C. Woods.
So here we have some Purim Torah—some with gaiety and some with solemnity—but all with great meaning. May we all have a festive and meaningful Purim. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis