Guest Writer – Rivka Conway – The Mystique of Purim – A Miracle Unmasked

Miracle; noun a miracle is defined by the Oxford dictionary as an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and therefore attributed to a divine agency.

Most of us go about our usual business unappreciative or even unaware of the daily miracles that occur to make life easier and smooth. They are there bubbling beneath the surface, and occasionally – just occasionally something – a baby born, or just the weather; in all its glory and scenery or even just the regular function of our body, are really all being orchestrated by an Unseen Hand Up Above.

This will make us stop and think, remarking – ‘this truly is a miracle a neis’. The word neis strictly means a ‘banner’ meaning it’s a banner to the world when nissim -miracles happen.

It is through these nissim that we learn how the world functions in the most miraculous of ways. From animals to technology, it’s all proof to Heavenly Footprints that we humans could not ever duplicate. Studies of nature and other subjects establish this; bringing proof of a one and only Creator.

Close exploration and explanation of our planet and indeed the solar system leave us no room for us to doubt the existence of God, yet He chooses to hide Himself within nature. The gematria, Hebrew calculation of the Hebrew word teva meaning nature, is 86 the same number as the word elokim, God.

This proves the presence of God within nature. Indeed, Judaism has blessings for many different types of phenomena such as a rainbow or unusual people.

But how appreciative are we of daily miracles? Until something goes wrong or something out of the ordinary happens, we could just attribute it to ‘mere coincidence’.

The story of Purim is one of hidden miracles, victory over the oppressor. God, behind the scenes, brought success for the Jewish people over Haman’s evil plot to kill all the Jews. All this happens through our heroine – Esther’s self-sacrifice for her people – and her uncle Mordechai, yet God’s name isn’t mentioned once in the Megillah.

All these events were brought about by the One Above unseen ‘as a seemly mere coincidence’. As believing Jews we know of course that there are no ‘mere coincidences’- however hidden.

Now we can understand why Purim is the festive holiday of ‘hidden behind the masks’ as the miracles were hidden even though they were obviously brought about by the Almighty. Just like each and every day natural events conceal God’s presence so too the name of Hashem is totally hidden in the Megillah.

There is a famous story of someone; let us call him ‘Chaim Yankel’ who had an enlightening dream where he saw two footprints imprinted in the sand by the seashore. He then saw that the footprints faded out to one set as he carried on. It is understood that the two footprints were Hashem walking side by side with Yankel.

But what happened to the second set of footprints? There, God as if ‘invisible’ was carrying Yankel through the hardest periods of his life, a ‘hidden miracle.’

If we delve deeper into the details of this topic of ‘Divine miracles’ it seems that even the normal ‘everyday’ events are miracles even if they are hidden.  Miracles, such orchestrated in an ‘unseen’ way are still miracles even if they are less ‘open or explicit’. To expound further on this topic; the message of Purim elaborated, is that there really isn’t anything ‘natural about nature’ at all but it is simply to say merely G-d’s way of ‘concealing’ Himself in this world.

Indeed, in the Amidah that we pray three times a day, we say and thank God in Modim, the Thanksgiving tefilla, a testament to God’s faith and blessings that always envelope us. It says, ‘for Your miracles that are with us every day’. Nachmananides explains further the difference between a ’hidden’ and a ‘revealed’ miracle. Revealed miracles occur outside of nature, whilst hidden miracles happen within it. Part of our Jewish tradition is to see God not only present in signs and wonders but hidden in everyday events; to see miracles within the very universe that govern the laws of nature.

On reflection; I suppose one of the ways to appreciate the miracles in our lives hidden or otherwise is to start a miracle diary of all the major and minor miracles that happen over the course of months or even years. Try it and let me know how you get on.

My own experience and existence alone has proved miraculous from a tiny preemie to recovering from cancer a short while ago. Let’s see what you can come up with, it will certainly give you an enhanced appreciation of the miracles of life.

From a simple miracle; being in the right place at the right time to more complicated health miracle or otherwise. It’s all controlled by the One Above who enables us to make a tiny movement and even more. However ‘hidden’ or ‘revealed’ big or small it’s up to us to appreciate and thank Him for His constant kindness towards us.

Purim is a day of rejoicing where hidden miracles came to the fore, making us appreciative of the bigger or indeed any other miracles in our lives. The mitzvas of the day include, hearing every single word of the Megillah, Matanat leavyonim, Mishloach manot and Mishteh.

Some have the custom to dress up, a symbol of the hidden quality of Purim’s miracles – ‘behind masks.’

These awaken us to the miraculous nature of Purim where miracles occurred within nature bringing us to appreciate the wider picture of miracles itself.

Let us think for a moment – back to the topic of disguises and masks. There are many times in our lives where Hashem acts hiddenly as if in disguise, but it is our job to look behind the scenes – ‘the masks’ as we see God at work and recognize Divine Providence – miracles to the world. From miraculous occurrences to seemly simple events one comes to conclude that there is no such thing as coincidence, nothing is by chance, but rather a ‘miracle unmasked’!

Rivka Conway is an emerging writer that has written nationally and internationally. She is also currently writing a book “Dispelling The Clouds” about her brain tumor battle.

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Terumah – The Best Investment Tip Ever

A close friend told me of a major challenge in his business. An employee of several decades recently left his company to work for a competitor. Before leaving, this ex-employee convinced many clients of my friend’s business to transfer their accounts to the new company. My friend had helped this person in so many ways, and yet, the employee stole these clients and as a result, countless thousands of dollars were not earned. A lawsuit made sense, but the time and aggravation weren’t worth it.

I was struck by how calm my friend was as he told me this story. This was a colossal mess! He replied by quoting the advice of his rebbe, “The best challenge to have is money. Baruch Hashem, you are healthy, and your family is well. Your children are progressing nicely in yeshiva and you have a great relationship with your wife. True, the money is a challenge…but it’s only money.”

When I heard this, I was a bit incredulous. I thought, “How do you remain calm when it comes to so much money being taken away from you?”

I believe the source of my friend’s attitude is in the first Midrash Rabbah of Parshas Teruma. The pasuk says, Veyikchu li teruma—you shall take contributions of teruma [for the Mishkan]. The Midrash explains this is referring to the Torah. Rav Gedalia Schorr explains that the contributions to the Mishkan were essentially a contribution for the Torah itself, as the Ramban tells us the Mishkan’s purpose was to create a place where the revelation of Torah can continue daily in a private manner. The Kodesh Hakodashim—the inner sanctum of the Mishkan—housed the Aron, which contained the luchos (tablets). From on top of the Aron, Hashem’s voice emanated. It was a Sinai revelation happening daily in a private way. Therefore, contributions to build the Mishkan were really contributions for the revelation of Torah!

The Midrash continues: Hashem tells Klal Yisrael, “I sold you my Torah. You got a great deal, a real fire sale! The Torah contains gold, silver and bronze.” That’s strange…gold, silver and bronze?? Rav Schorr says these are all symbolic. Gold represents financial security. Indeed, the American government backs the U.S. dollar with gold bullion. Silver represents desire, as the Hebrew word kesef (money) also means desire, as is found in the words nichsof nichsafti. The word kesef in our vernacular often connotes the love of money. And copper represents brazenness, as illustrated by the covering of the mizbeach with copper, which Rashi explains gives atonement for brazenness (which in this case is negative).

Hashem is telling us that the Torah is the source for all blessings. People are always looking for lucrative investments that yield high returns with minimum risk. The Torah is it! It is true: People need ambition to achieve. Desire, stamina and brazenness (used in a positive way) propel a person forward in business and personal achievements, and can also result in accomplishment in Torah!

If we apply ourselves in Torah and utilize our natural urges and drive in our Torah learning, the chances are that material success will also follow.

I witnessed this with my own eyes as I listened to my friend. A long-time employee robbed him under his nose, yet he remained calm and relaxed. He knew with certainty that Hashem is in charge. He was able to sleep at night, have conversations and spend quality time with his kids and wife. He did not let the situation make him tense and unhappy. It was a test, but he put it in proper perspective.

We all face hurdles at times; some bigger than others. That’s when we’re put to the test. Are Torah and mitzvos just nice things to do on good days, or do they constitute a way of life no matter what the challenges?

Let’s invest in the best investment tip we will ever get: Learn Hashem’s Torah. The dividends are endless and priceless.

Guest Writer – Sara Benbassat – Purim – The Masks We Don

Purim, in contrast to a lot of the other Chagim is meant to be relatively cheap… by cheap I mean you don’t have the following conversation with your spouse, “It’s coming up to Pesach/Rosh Hashana/Sukkot…. it’s time to:

1. Re-mortgage

2. Get a new credit card

3. Sell all our non-existent silver.

I like to think that the  idea of Misha Nichas Adar Besimcha, which means the month of Adar should be celebrated with joy, is really just another way of saying ” you will be stressed today… go ahead DRINK!” driving takes on a whole new reality, getting from my home  across the street can take the most part of a day, navigating between the swarms of children thrusting buckets in my face, screaming at me ( even though I am literally a cm away from them) why, that last penny, that last crumpled up charity voucher, should be theirs is something every Jew in every Jewish community will experience on Purim.

Driving down the road, without the engine on, (there is no point turning it on as I am not getting anywhere at any pace) my daughter screams in delight or horror each time she sees a minion, monkey, bunny, fairy, dancer, police officer, Arab, Indian, nun, pope, Mr men costume, where’s wally, cowboy, cowgirl, fireman, (you get the idea) whilst we sit drumming the wheel, fixed/manic smiles on our faces, while looking at the list, seeing that we still have to get to yet another friend living the other side of town, and taking  another swig of that alcohol that YES we are actually allowed to drink that day (passengers only of course!)

My thoughts and sympathies go out to any clueless person who happens to be driving through a Jewish area on Purim, my advice to you is…. DON’T, and if you do my prayers are with you friend.

This year our theme is Orphan Annie.  I am ashamed to admit how many hours I have spent online searching for the perfect Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks and Annie costume.  Once those were found my search began for the perfect Mishloach Manot, how on earth would I beat the Harry Potter theme I did last year? Or the Where’s Wally the year before.

The costume finding and the Mishloach Manot giving are becoming more extreme as time passes.  Over the course of the last few years I have heard of people ordering Sari’s from India, Chinese gowns from China, American footballer costumes… yes you have guessed it from America. In fact, I am sure that some people hop over to the country in question for a day to ensure their kinderlach get the best costume in town.

There are many women who create beautiful MM and love doing it, going to stores such as Homesense, or thrift stores, their imaginations running wild, the joy their children experience when filling up the amazing jars, ( it’s got to be a matter of one sweet for the jar one for you) makes this Chag even more special than it already is for our kids.  Cholent themed MM with beans, rocket launcher sweets and heartburn pills were one of my favourites.

According to my 10-year-old daughter, hundreds of years ago in the olden days, when her parents were young Mishloach Manot consisted of a tin of pineapple chunks and a fruit or carton of drink. She is horrified by the thought and has threatened to disown us if we would even consider giving this.

As I scrolled through post after post I came across a picture of a little girl dressed up as Queen Esther, and it made me pause for thought.

“Am I missing the true message of Purim”? I asked myself. Taking a look at the Purim story, we read about Esther, a young beautiful girl, forced to marry after being taken from her home, trained to become a fitting wife for the king, no choices given, snatched from everything and everyone she held dear. Today those responsible would be held accountable, kidnap, child abuse and slavery would all be reported and the perpetrators held to account.

Esther had no therapy, she had no shoulder to cry on yet she knew that her duty was to protect her people, with courage and grace she took on a task which would seem to most of us daunting at the least and almost impossible, she saved a nation.

The last few chapters of the Megillah talk about the joy that was felt in the town of Shushan and beyond, how the day of Purim would be inscribed in History as a day of celebration and gift giving.

The people of the time were celebrating their survival, they had been led to the gallows and were by a miracle and the perseverance of one woman given a reprieve from a sure death.  We can understand how the happiness they felt, the pure relief and gratitude filled each of them with true simcha.

How can we in today’s generation, where, the majority of us living in democratic countries do not feel daily persecution relate to the happiness shown at the time of the Purim story? Why is it we find ourselves in such an advanced world, with anything our hearts desire at our disposal at the touch of a button, society as a whole is becoming lonelier, suicide rates are on the rise, mental health illness a common occurrence? Is there a part of Purim which could be considered a mask? A time where we have no choice but to don the face that is expected of us? No matter how we actually feel are the faces of clowns really masking something else and if you were wipe off the makeup and you would find tears?

There was a time I was a divorcee, alone, mentally unwell and vulnerable. Purim was a day I locked the door and hid under my covers, the music I could clearly hear outside my window, the dancing in the street, the joyful shrieks of children like a hammer, shattering my heart piece by piece.

Thankfully 11 years on I am remarried, but I have many friends of my age whom are either divorced or single.  Chagim are in general family orientated, children are usually heart of the Chag, the streets teeming with people, a tangible community feeling permeates the air. But what about those who do not have family? Who do not have married friends whom to join for the meals? The Baalie Teshuva, the Ger, the single, divorced or widowed? How can they too feel the happiness of the chag?

Another aspect of the Chagim is the expense, those who live with the constant dread and fear that their card will be declined whilst shopping, who through no fault of their own cry each night as they worry how they will buy those essential items, whose children compare themselves to others asking why they cannot have the shoes or clothing from the store that everyone else seems to go to. The people who live month by month, day by day with the cloud of debt hanging over their heads. How can people with such constant worry feel happiness over Purim when there is no way they can afford to lavish friends and family with Mishloach Manot?

How about those who have been married for a number of years and have not been blessed with children?  Can we begin to imagine how difficult Purim must be for them?

As my life has progressed, my journey through mental illness, neonatal loss and trauma has taught me many lessons. Working for a mental health charity and spending time on a daily basis with  clients whom have many hardships and challenges I see what true happiness is, I see how those who are the most vulnerable revel in friendship, appreciate others, see the good in those around them and are genuinely concerned for the welfare and health of those around them.  Spreading happiness, true happiness does not depend on the size of your Mishloach Manot, it does not depend on the amount of Matanat Levyonim we give, what it does depend on however is how it is given.

A plate given with that bygone tradition of a juice and fruit, handed over with true simcha, given to the person whom perhaps no one else would think to give to, to the singles of our community, the divorced or widowed,  the people who would give anything for someone to smile at them on Purim, to acknowledge their existence, a hand stretched out, pulling them in, including and celebrating the survival of the Jewish nation with them. This, I believe is true happiness.

Sara Benbassat is a prolific writer and resides in London, England. Visit her blog at https://sarastakeonit.com/

 

Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim – Associate Rosh Yeshiva – PTI – Passaic Torah Institute – Parsha Yitro – Modeling the Character Of Hashem’s People

My busy schedule doesn’t allow much leisure reading, but each week I take a few minutes to peruse Rabbi Yoel Gold’s column in Ami Magazine. He relates inspiring stories of divine providence. A few years ago, he told the story of a Jewish man (we’ll call him “Isaac”) who was staying in a hotel in the West Coast for business. When placing his valuables in the hotel room safe, he was surprised to find a pouch full of expensive jewelry. Logically, the owners probably gave up hope on getting it back, so according to Jewish law, he might be able to keep the jewelry. What a find!

But then, Isaac remembered reading about Rabbi Noah Muroff from Connecticut who found $98,000 hidden in a $150 desk he purchased on Craigslist. Here too, Rabbi Muroff could have kept the money, but he called the lady who sold him the desk and returned the cash. Rabbi Muroff was featured in countless news articles nationwide. In one interview, he explained, “To me, the need to return money was clear. I am Jewish and I want to spread the message of honesty and integrity.” Isaac went down to the front desk and said in a loud voice, “I found this pouch of jewelry in my room. I am Jewish and I want to return it to its rightful owner. The hotel staff was stunned by this display of honesty.

Isaac was scheduled to be in the West Coast for Shabbos but didn’t know anyone. A contact helped set him up with a local family. Now it was Isaac’s turn to be stunned: his host was none other than Rabbi Noah Muroff, who had moved there earlier. Isaac realized Hashem was sending him a clear message that he did the right thing and was proud of him.

Parshas Mishpatim is replete with hundreds of laws: personal injury, property damage, returning lost articles, marriage, divorce, and interpersonal and monetary obligations. Each of these laws is discussed at length in various gemaras and the Shulchan Aruch. However, even cases where a course of action that might benefit oneself are technically permitted under the letter of the law, are subject to a higher code of ethics. This is referred to as lifnim m’shuras hadin—beyond the letter of the law. When finding a lost object that one might be able to keep, one should nevertheless try to locate the rightful owner. According to many opinions, this extra step is actually mandated.

The Beer Hagolah writes that it is praiseworthy to return even money that may be kept if there is an element of Kiddush Hashem in returning it. I have seen many people become wealthy from other people’s errors, he said, but then lose their wealth and have nothing left. Those who sanctified Hashem’s name by returning gains made by the errors of others became wealthy and left their wealth for their heirs.

Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l was very careful about his honesty in money matters. He was once audited by the IRS. Rav Schwab handed in all the requested papers with every cent accounted for. When he finished, the IRS agent told Rav Schwab “I have never met anyone so honest in my life.”

Rav Schwab would lament that too often we see Jewish people on the cover of the newspaper for illegal actions. We need instead to try to make a public display of how honest a Jew behaves.

And even though acting honestly and ethically doesn’t always gain the limelight, it is still incumbent upon us, as a reflection of our Creator, to do so.

The civil laws in Parshas Mishpatim are placed right after the Ten Commandments to teach us that all areas of mitzvos are important and need to be followed. In the same way we are diligent in keeping Shabbos and buying a beautiful esrog, so too we must be diligent in monetary matters and interpersonal relationships.

This Shabbos is also called Parshas Shekalim. Each person was obligated to give a half shekel of shekel hakodesh (holy shekel) to the Mishkan. What does “holy shekel” mean? Rav Schwab explains that it means every cent of that shekel needs to be acquired honestly, without any duplicity or cheating. The funds from the collection of the shekalim were used to create the sockets, the foundation of the Mishkan. They were also collected yearly to purchase the animals that were sacrificed daily on behalf of the Jewish nation. Using “honest money” was a must!

Let us be a shining example of a Torah Jew each day at work, at the store, with our neighbors—everywhere! This will bring blessing both in our business matters and in our homes, which are a mini Mishkan—a place where Hashem dwells. And with that, may we merit to rebuild the third Beis Hamikdash speedily in our days.