The Sixty Days Of Purim

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)

 

This article will be something of a mixed-media piece. It’ll start with a “Purim Torah,” move on to more serious “Kabbalah” stuff, and conclude with an inspiring Chassidic teaching.

(A “Purim Torah” is what Torah scholars do for fun on Purim: a short exposition that sounds and feels like a typical piece of Talmud, yet is either patently absurd or just skewered enough to be taken seriously on Purim.)

First, the Purim Torah:

Question: We read in the Book of Esther how Hamandesired “to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews, from young to old, infants and woman, in a single day — on the 13th of the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar” (Esther 3:13). But why was it so important to Haman that his evil decree be carried out “in a single day”? Would such a thing even have been logistically possible? Indeed, Haman initially cast lots to determine which month should be chosen as the time for the genocide of the Jews.1 Our sages tell us that when the lot fell on the month of Adar, Haman rejoiced: this was the month in which Moses had died (on Adar 7), surely a month that bodes ill for the Jews.2 Having hit on an apparently auspicious month for his plans, why did Haman continue with his lot-throwing to pinpoint a particular day?

Answer: Haman was a keen student of Jewish history. He knew that the Jewish calendar is dotted with festivals celebrating the Jewish people’s salvation from an enemy who sought to destroy them. What if — Haman worried — their G‑d saves them again? If I designate the month of Adar for their destruction, they’ll celebrate all month long!

Finale: In this, too, Haman’s plan was foiled. When Mordechai and Esther institutionalized the celebration of the Purim miracle, they ordained not only the Purim observances of Adar 14 and 15, but also the commemoration of “the month that was transformed for them from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity” (Esther 9:22). Hence the Talmudic ruling, “when the month of Adar enters, increase in joy” (Talmud, Taanit 26b).

Now for the Kabbalah:

There are two ways in which the Jewish Calendar, and the nature of Jewish time, can be understood:

a) The “Special Days” Approach: The annual cycle consists of hundreds of days, most of which are of the ordinary, run-of-the-mill variety. Thankfully, these are punctuated by a number of special days — festivals and holy days imbued with special spiritual qualities. We trudge through the ordinary days, inspired and encouraged by the fact that we’re never more than a few weeks away from a Passover or Purim, or — at the very least — a Lag BaOmer or a “New Year for Trees.”

b) The “Quality of the Month” Approach: Jewish time is comprised not of days but of months, each possessing a distinct spiritual essence. The “special” days of the year are simply days on which the particular month’s quality is more pronounced and actualized. Thus, Nissan is the “Month of Liberation,” while Passover (observed on Nissan 15 to 22) is a week-long period in Nissan during which the month’s freedom-quality is more accessible. Similarly, Sivan is the month of Wisdom, Shevat is the month of Growth and Fruitfulness, Elul is the month of Compassion, and so on. Each month has days in which the month’s quality rises to the surface and manifests itself more than on the month’s “ordinary” days; but these are differences of expression rather than of essence — essentially, each day of the month equally possesses the month’s unique spiritual properties. This is why many of the festivals and special dates of the Jewish calendar occur on the 15th of the month — the night of the full moon, representing the point at which the month’s essence is in its most revealed and luminous state.3

Adar is the month of Transformation. Adar transforms sorrow into joy, doubt into supra-knowledge, oblivion into exuberant being. Adar transforms a “scattered people” into a unified nation, and a moment of national weakness (when the Jewish people participated in Achashverosh‘s feast in the belief that allegiance to a mortal king will ensure their survival) into the greatest statement of Jewish commitment of all time (when for an entire year every single Jew remained faithful to his/her people and G‑d, even as a decree of annihilation hung over the head of every Jew in the world). Adar transforms the most physical of activities — eating and drinking — into an affirmation of our bond with G‑d.

So while two days in Adar — the 14th and the 15th of the month — are observed as “Purim,” these represent the apex of an entire month of joyous transformation and transformative joy.

Finally, here’s the inspiring chassidic thought we promised:

A month on the Jewish calendar includes either 29 or 30 days (reflecting the 29.5-day lunar cycle). But every two or three years — seven times in a 19-year cycle, to be exact — Adar doubles in size: on these “pregnant years,” as they’re called, there’s a 30-day “Adar I” followed by a 29-day “Adar II.” In addition, 30th of Shevat is also the first of Adar I’s Rosh Chodesh (“head of the month”) days. This makes for a total of 60 “Adar days.”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the number “60” represents the power of transformation. A rule-of-thumb in Torah law is the “nullified by sixty” principle. For example, if a piece of non-kosher food accidentally falls into a pot of kosher food, the undesirable element is “nullified” if the desirable element is sixty times greater than it.

Thus, the Rebbe concludes, in a year blessed with a double, 60-day Adar, all undesirable elements — every and any cause for pain, sadness, discouragement or dejection — are nullified and sublimated by the transformative joy of Adar.

Who Was The Prophet Malachi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CHABAD.ORG)

 

Malachi (d. 312 BCE) was a member of the Great Assembly during the beginning of the second Jewish commonwealth and was considered the last Jewish prophet.

Who Was Malachi?

Some opinions in the Talmud maintain that Malachi was Mordechai,1 the hero of the Purimstory, but referred to as Malachi because of his position as viceroy of Persia—a designation similar to that of an angel (“malach”) who is subordinate to G‑d.2 Another view, supported by many authorities,3 is that Malachi is a pseudonym for Ezra the Scribe,4 while a third perspective identifies Malachi as neither Mordechai nor Ezra, but a third prophet entirely.

Some contemporary authors suggest that the name Malachi is a reference to the final prophecy of his book which opens with the words, Hineni sholeach malachi (“Behold I send My messenger”).5

The Book of Malachi

The Book of Malachi comprises three chapters of prophecies exhorting the Jewish people to better their ways and portending future upheavals should they fail to do so. It is the last of the series of 12 prophets known collectively as Trei Asar (“twelve”) or Minor Prophets.

Some suggest that the prophecies ascribed to ChaggaiZechariah, and Malachi were actually transmitted to the prophets of preceding generations but publicized by Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi who had received them by tradition.6 In the interim, Jeremiahprophesied and was the last to do so.7 Nevertheless, the Talmud still ascribes the conclusion of the prophetic period to Malachi because his prophecies were published at a later date.8

An alternate perspective is that prophecy continued, albeit in minute measure, during the lifetime of Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Indeed, the Talmud teaches that these prophets prophesied during the second year of King Darius’ reign9 regarding the rebuilding of the Temple.10

The Withdrawal of Prophecy

The life of the prophet Malachi is an important turning point in Jewish history, as it marks the close of the glorious era of Jewish prophecy.11 The Talmud teaches, “After the last prophets Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died, the Divine Spirit of prophetic revelation departed from the Jewish people.”12

Nevertheless, the works of the Talmudic era testify to the continued presence of Divine inspiration amongst the Jewish people well after Malachi’s demise. Moreover, many medieval Jewish works point to the possibility of achieving Divine inspiration should one be worthy of it.13 Although varying in degree and intensity from that of the prophets, Divine inspiration is a subcategory of prophecy,14and the Talmud’s statement limiting prophecy to the pre-Malachi era therefore implies only a general decline in the spiritual efficacy of subsequent generations without precluding the possibility of exceptional individuals attaining prophecy.15

Read: Why Are There No More Prophets?

Love by Choice

Although small in size, the prophecies of Malachi are noted with great interest in Jewish thought, beginning with the very first line—a sententious statement that is most telling of G‑d’s unique relationship with the Jewish people:

I have shown you [Israel] love, said the L‑rd. But you ask, “How have You shown us love?” After all—declares the L‑rd—Esau is Jacob’s brother; yet I have accepted Jacob and have rejected Esau.

This declaration conveys a fundamental principle of Jewish thought: While from a human vantage point it may appear that Esau and Jacob are brothers—equals—and that Jewish identity and Jewish destiny are not guided by Divine preference, Malachi informs us that the Jewish people were singled out by G‑d to be His people. Rabbi Yosef Albo explains that the love described by G‑d in these verses is supra-rational; it cannot be justified by logic alone. It is a love of choice.16

The Chassidic masters further develop this teaching, considering the unique qualities of Divine choice. Unlike human choice, which is an exercise in decision-making based on specific advantages and characteristics of an object or experience, G‑d’s choices are made within His essence which is not contingent upon anything else.17 As such, His love of the Jewish people is unconditional and eternal; as G‑d is eternal so is His chosen people.

Read: Who Is a Jew? Solving the Mystery of Jewish Identity

No Changes

Another of Malachi’s noteworthy prophecies speaks to the heart of Jewish theology:

For I am the L‑rd—I have not changed; and you are the children of Jacob—you have not ceased to be.18

The prelude to the daily prayers includes the following declaration of Malachi’s:

You were the same before the world was created; You are the same since the world has been created.19

G‑d’s enduring and unchanging existence is the fundamental principle of faith upon which the entire edifice of Judaism stands. More specifically, it involves the recognition that the act of creation does not redefine G‑d in any way.

Maimonides writes:

He who is everlasting, constant, and in no way subject to change; immutable in His Essence, and as He consists of naught but His Essence, He is mutable in no way whatever; not mutable in His relation to other things: for there is no relation whatever existing between Him and any other being . . and therefore no change as regard; such relations can take place in Him. Hence He is immutable in every respect, as He expressly declares,” I, the L‑rd, do not change”20: i.e., in Me there is not any change whatever.21

Chassidic teachings expound upon this and explain that since the world is truly nullified in its entirety in relation to G‑d, and is wholly united with Him, He remains one after the world was created as He was prior to its creation.22

Malachi also implies that G‑d’s immutability is what drives the eternal nature of the Jewish people (“And you are the children of Jacob—you have not ceased to be”). Even if worldly affairs seem to indicate that G‑d has abandoned His people, we are reminded by Malachi that G‑d does not change and His love for His people always remains intact. And just as it is impossible for Him to cease to exist, so will the Jewish people eternally endure.23

The eternality of the Jewish people leads us directly to the final lines of Malachi’s prophecy, which tell of the Messianic redemption:

Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers…24

FOOTNOTES
1.

Megillah 15a.

2.

Maharsha, ibid.

3.

See Targum Yonatan, Malachi 1:1; Rabbeinu Chananel, Megillah ibid. Rashi, Malachi 2:11. Tosafot, Ketubot 16a, Bosar d’Kansinu; Yevamot 86b., Mipnei Mah. Kuzari, 3:65. Meiri, Avot 1:1. Cf. Radak, Malachi, ibid.

4.

Megillah 15a.

5.

See Otzar Yisrael (Eisenstein), Malachi (vol. VI p. 209). Encyclopedia l’Toarei kavod b’Yisrael, p. 1550.

6.

This is in line with the teaching of the Midrash that all prophecies were initially transmitted at Sinai and were later revealed by the prophets when the time was ripe (See Rashi, Malachi 1:1).

7.

Midrash Aggadah, Bamidbar 30:15. Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, p. 116a.

8.

See Midrash Aggadah ibid. stating, “The prophecies were deposited with them [for safekeeping].”

9.

Megillah 15a.

10.

See Chaggai 1:1. Radak, ibid.

11.

Bava Batra 14b.

12.

Yoma 9b. Sotah 48b. Tosefta ibid, 13:4; Sanhedrin 11:1.

13.

See Pirkei Giluyim, introduction to She’elot uteshuvot Min Ha-Shamayim (Margolis), pp. 25-41.

14.

Likutei Sichot, vol. XIV, p. 73, note 20.

15.

See Likutei Sichot ibid. where the language of the Talmud is demonstrated to be most precise in that the word chosen for the removal of prophecy is nistalkah, meaning withdrawn, as opposed to batlah (“annulled”), or paskah(“curtailed”). Cf. Griz Ha-Levy, Malachi ibid.

16.

Sefer Ha-Ikarim 3:37.

17.

See Torah Ohr p. 120c, Likutei Torah (Gimel Parshiyos) 37a, Ohr Ha-Torah Bereishit vol. III, pp. 565a, and Likutei Sichot vol. IV p. 1341, vol. VII p. 25, vol. XXXVI p. 50.

19.

See Yalkut Shimoni, Va-Etchanan sec. 836.

21.

Guide to the Perplexed I:XI.

22.

See Sha’ar Ha-Yichud Ve-Ha-Emunah ch. VII.

23.

Rambam, Igeret Teiman, sec. U’kvar hivti’ach.

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