What is Purim Really? – Vayikra


דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם אָדָם כִּי יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן לַה'... (ויקרא א, ב).

Sefer Vayikra is also called Torat Kohanim as it deals mostly with the avodah of the Kohanim in the Beit HaMikdash, i.e bringing the korbanot.

Sefer Meir Panim (פרק א', עמ' א') opens by saying that the korban Lechem HaPanim is equivalent to bringing all of the other korbanot. Last week we read in parshat Pekudei when HKB"H commanded Moshe to erect the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nisan in the year 2449, the commandment to assemble the Shulchan is - וְהֵבֵאתָ אֶת הַשֻּׁלְחָן וְעָרַכְתָּ אֶת עֶרְכּוֹ (שמות מ, ד). The gematria of וְעָרַכְתָּ אֶת עֶרְכּוֹ is עוֹלָה מִנְחָה חַטָּאת אָשָׁם שְׁלָמִים, indicating this equivalence.

We also know that the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim is intricately associated with Purim. In parshat Emor (ויקרא, יג) the Torah lists all the chagim. Immediately following this, the Torah describes the oil for the Menorah and then the Lechem HaPanim. רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר מִגְּרַמְיְזָא in his sefer (רוקח, הלכות פורים, סימן רמ) asks why the Torah follows the description of the chagim מִדְּאוֹרָיְתָא with the parshiyot of the Menorah and the Shulchan? and he says that these are hints in the Torah to the chagim מִדַּרְבָּנָן, i.e Channukah and Purim. Sefer Meir Panim (פרק יד, עמ' קמח) brings additional hints in the psukkim affirming this connection. Even the chapter number and page in the sefer are themselves hints to the connection of Purim to the Lechem HaPanim.

What is the connection between Purim and the Lechem HaPanim? The Rokeach says that there are numerous references to feasts מִשְׁתֶּה in the Megillah (20 in all), that of Achashveirosh at the beginning of the Megillah and the commandment to have ימֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה to celebrate Purim, etc. Bread is an integral part of any feast, hence the connection between Lechem HaPanim and Purim. Sefer Meir Panim brings deeper ties to Purim that relate to the essence of the Lechem HaPanim.

The subject of this shiur is Purim, the essence of Purim, what Purim really is.

In a previous shiur (Tetzaveh 2023) we discussed why we wear costumes on Purim, because all the characters in the story are really in "disguise". They are really gilgulim of Adam, Chava, the נחש, Kayin, Hevel, etc. and that the story of Purim is a tikkun for חֵטְא עֵץ הַדַּעַת.

In this shiur we are going to show how Purim is also a reenactment of Matan Torah on Har Sinai.

The Gemara (Shabbat 88a) says –

״וַיִּתְיַצְּבוּ בְּתַחְתִּית הָהָר״, אָמַר רַב אַבְדִּימִי בַּר חָמָא בַּר חַסָּא: מְלַמֵּד שֶׁכָּפָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת הָהָר כְּגִיגִית,  וְאָמַר לָהֶם: אִם אַתֶּם מְקַבְּלִים הַתּוֹרָה מוּטָב, וְאִם לָאו שָׁם תְּהֵא קְבוּרַתְכֶם.  אָמַר רַב אַחָא בַּר יַעֲקֹב: מִכָּאן מוֹדָעָא רַבָּה לְאוֹרָיְיתָא.  אָמַר רָבָא: אַף עַל פִּי כֵן הֲדוּר קַבְּלוּהָ בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, דִּכְתִיב: ״קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים״, קִיְּימוּ מַה שֶּׁקִּיבְּלוּ כְּבָר. 

Chazal ask why, if Am Yisrael unequivocally said נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, was it necessary to threateningly dangle the mountain over their heads to make them accept the Torah? And the answer is that at Har Sinai we willingly accepted the תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב, however, to get us to also accept the תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה, HKB"H had to threaten us. Only many generations later, in Shushan, did Am Yisrael willingly accept the תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה.

We will now embark on a voyage through the Megillah and show how the process parallels Matan Torah on Har Sinai and in fact was a reenactment of that momentous event in our history.

The story of Matan Torah begins in Egypt, with יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם. What does Moshe say to Pharaoh? What is the purpose of him letting Am Yisrael go free? שַׁלַּח אֶת עַמִּי וְיָחֹגּוּ לִי בַּמִּדְבָּר (שמות ה, א) . The purpose is to celebrate Matan Torah in the desert, on Har Sinai.

The story of the Megillah begins with Achashveirosh. וַיְהִי בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ. Who is Achashveirosh? The Gemara (Megila 11a) describes how he was not descended from royalty, but seized power by virtue of his wealth. That may have been the case "historically" speaking, however it is not entirely true. Achashveirosh was descended from royalty. The gematria of פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם isאַבָּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ . Achashveirosh was a gilgul of Pharaoh, his great great… great grandfather ("spiritually" speaking). Just like Pharaoh seized power over Egypt (אבן עזרא, וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ חָדָשׁ עַל מִצְרָיִם, שמות א,א ), so too did Achashveirosh, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד כּוּשׁ, including Egypt (כּוּשׁ, or Ethiopia is on Egypt's southern border and was considered in the time of Pharaoh as one of Egypt's enemies. Re: מכת צרפדעים, בראשית רבה י, ב).

The gematria of שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה is בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים and also וַיֻּגַּד לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם כִּי בָרַח הָעָם. Just as Am Yisrael were exiled in Egypt and redeemed, so too were they exiled in Shushan and redeemed.

עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה ... שְׁמוֹנִים וּמְאַת יוֹם Achashveirosh held a feast for 180 days. Why 180 days? How much can a person eat and drink? After seven days of Sheva Brachot b"H everyone is so stuffed to the gills that they want to go on diet for the next year. 180 days? Chazal say that the reason it took 180 days is because each day Achashveirosh flaunted 30 of the 5400 כֵּלִים that were looted from the Beit HaMikdash (180 X 30 = 5400). However, that is not the only reason it was 180 days. The Vilna Gaon says that Am Yisrael in the Midbar started building the Mishkan during chag Sukkot - 180 days after יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם.

חוּר כַּרְפַּס וּתְכֵלֶת אָחוּז בְּחַבְלֵי בוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן עַל גְּלִילֵי כֶסֶף וְעַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ מִטּוֹת זָהָב וָכֶסֶף עַל רִצְפַת בַּהַט וָשֵׁשׁ וְדַר וְסֹחָרֶת – all the riches that Achashveirosh displayed at the feast, echo the riches that Am Yisrael took with them when they left Egypt וְשָׁאֲלָה אִשָּׁה מִשְּׁכֶנְתָּהּ וּמִגָּרַת בֵּיתָהּ כְּלֵי כֶסֶף וּכְלֵי זָהָב וּשְׂמָלֹת.

Mordechai warned Am Yisrael not to attend Achashveirosh's feast, but they replied "Mordechai, you are head of the Sanhedrin, the Gadol Hador, but what do you know of politics? If the king invited us to the feast, we have to go!" The result is they attended the feast and sinned. Similarly, upon leaving Egypt, Am Yisrael sinned repeatedly in food and drink related incidents – at מָרָה, at קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה. Am Yisrael said "We fondly remember the fish we ate for free in Egypt, בְּשִׁבְתֵּנוּ עַל סִיר הַבָּשָׂר בְּאָכְלֵנוּ לֶחֶם לָשֹׂבַע, the lavish food we ate while in exile under Pharaoh". As a result of these complaints, HKB"H in His mercy gave them Mann to eat in a place called אָלוּשׁ. The gematria of פּוּרִים is אָלוּשׁ.

The word מִשְׁתֶּה appears 20 times in the Megillah, reminiscent of עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה הַשֶּׁקֶל. This is one of the reasons we give a מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל prior to Purim, because two half shekels make up 20 geira. A מִשְׁתֶּה, feast, needs more than one person, so all of Am Yisrael bringing מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, together make up a full shekel, 20 geira, to atone for the sin at the מִשְׁתֶּה of Achashveirosh.

What happened as a result of this rebellion against HKB"H? וַיָּבֹא עֲמָלֵק וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּרְפִידִם. When Am Yisrael rebelled against HKB"H, they were attacked by Amalek. Similarly, in Shushan, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה גִּדַּל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶת הָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי, Haman, a descendent of Agag, the king of Amalek, tried to exterminate them, once again. The gematria of בִּרְפִידִם is פּוּרִים. We know that וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָכְלוּ אֶת הַמָּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, as a result of their sins, Am Yisrael had to wander in the Midbar for 40 years. Similarly, in Shushan, as a consequence of their sins, they got הַמָּן.

When Am Yisrael sinned at מָרָה, it says וַיּוֹרֵהוּ ה' עֵץ, HKB"H showed Moshe a tree to throw into the water to sweeten it. In the Megillah, Haman's wife says to Haman יַעֲשׂוּ עֵץ גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה. The tree started off as a bitter pill, which later HKB"H sweetened by hanging Haman on it.

אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי, Mordechai parallels Moshe Rabbeinu. How do we know this? The Midrash (אסתר רבה פרשה ז, יג) says that after the evil decree of Haman was signed, Eliyahu HaNavi went to beg the Avot to intercede and save Am Yisrael. The Avot said "If they transgressed against HKB"H and their fate is sealed, what can we do?" Eliyahu went to Moshe Rabbeinu and asked him to save Am Yisrael. Moshe asked Eliyahu "Is the גְּזֵרָה signed in blood or is it signed in טִיט (mortar)?" Eliyahu replied "טִיט". Moshe's response "If that is the case then the גְּזֵרָה can be reversed. כְּלוּם יֵשׁ אָדָם כָּשֵׁר בְּאוֹתוֹ הַדּוֹר, is there a worthy man in that generation?" Eliyahu replied "Yes, and his name is Mordechai". Moshe said "Go tell him that he should stand down there and daven and I will stand up here and daven to HKB"H for mercy".

If Mordechai parallels Moshe, then Esther parallels Miriam. The gematria of אֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה is אָחוֹת מֹשֶׁה.

Esther said to Mordechai לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶת כָּל הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם. This is not something that can be repaired by a one day fast – it requires three days of preparation. In the Midbar before receiving the Torah, Moshe says to Am Yisrael הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים, to receive the Torah requires three days of purification.

Prior to receiving the Torah, HKB"H commands Moshe to ascend Har Sinai and accompanying him are Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and the Seventy Elders. Moshe alone ascends the mountain and the others remain behind וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱ-לֹקִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ, a seudah that should not have taken place. Similarly, in Shushan, וְהַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן יָשְׁבוּ לִשְׁתּוֹת.

Just prior to their redemption in Shushan, Am Yisrael were terrified at the awesome intensity of Haman's decree וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן נָבוֹכָה. Before receiving the Torah, Am Yisrael were terrified at the awesome spectacle of the lightning and thunder וַיֶּחֱרַד כָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בַּמַּחֲנֶה.

Am Yisrael declared in the Midbar נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע and HKB"H gave us the Ten Commandments on Har Sinai.

In Shushan, Mordechai, the head of the Sanhedrin, added extra mitzvot דְּרַבָּנַן

לְקַיֵּם עֲלֵיהֶם לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר וְאֵת יוֹם חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה. כַּיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאוֹיְבֵיהֶם וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה וּמִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים.

and Am Yisrael קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְעַל זַרְעָם. In Shushan Am Yisrael once again said נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, but this time it was not only for the תּוֹרָה שֶׁבִּכְתָב, it was also for תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל פֶּה, an acceptance of Divrei Chachamim, וְעָשִׂיתָ עַל פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ.

When did this take place?  וַיִּקָּרְאוּ סֹפְרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בָּעֵת הַהִיא בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי הוּא חֹדֶשׁ סִיוָן.

We see from this that the story of Purim is a reenactment of Matan Torah on Har Sinai. The gematria of הַר סִינַי is פּוּרִים.

We also said that there is an intricate connection between the Lechem HaPanim and Purim. Sefer Meir Panim brings numerous associations, too lengthy to mention here in this shiur, we will just bring one, as it pertains to the last few lines of the Megillah.

One of the main מוּסָרֵי הַשְׂכֵּל of sefer Meir Panim is the concept אֵיזֶהוּ עָשִׁיר הַשָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ. The last chapter in the Megillah describes how Achashveirosh placed a tax on everyone in the kingdom וַיָּשֶׂם הַמֶּלֶךְ אחשרש [קרי: אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ] מַס עַל הָאָרֶץ. Although we read it "Achashveirosh", in the Megillah, his name is written חָסֵר. The Midrash (פסיקתא זוטרתא) says the reason it is חָסֵר is because although Achashveirosh was already exceedingly wealthy, someone who is not שָּׂמֵחַ בְּחֶלְקוֹ will always be חָסֵר (we find a similar situation with עֶפְרֹן who sold Me'arat HaMachpeila to Avraham). Most people "boo" when this is read. Now you understand what you are really booing.

The story of Purim is a prototype illustration of what happens to Am Yisrael when there is a נֶתֶק, a short circuit, between the political leadership and the spiritual leadership.

Mordechai was the spiritual leader, the Gadol HaDor, however his influence over the Jews in Shushan was nonetheless limited, initially at least. The fact is that although he gave a psak to boycott Achashveirosh's feast, too many did not heed his word. It was a leadership dysfunction. It is the age-old issue of "mixing religion and state" that is so taboo in today's world.

The secular leaders want the Charedim to enlist in the army, but G-d forbid that they should put on, or even talk about putting on tefillin. Keep religion out of "our" army! The army is a "religion free" zone. If a well-known singer scheduled to perform for the soldiers happens to mention tefillin, they deny him access to the military base and cancel his performance.

Similarly, in the courts, similarly in the political arena. If you try to mix religion and politics, you are called a "Messianic".

This was the same dynamic in Shushan. "Mordechai, don't tell us how to formulate foreign policy. Torah is for the Yeshivas, not for the Knesset, not for the war cabinet, we know better!"

This dynamic led to Amalek targeting us back then and it has happened all over again in our own generation, a mere 5 months ago.

The correct dynamic is that the king, the legislative and judicial body has a healthy cooperative and symbiotic relationship with the Kohen, the spiritual body. When formulating policy, the king or the head of the Sanhedrin consults with the Urim ve'Tumim via the Kohen (see shiur on Tetzaveh 2024). This is the correct relationship between the various parts of government.

In Am Yisrael, you cannot separate religion and state. HKB"H will not allow us to do so and if we rebel and forcibly try, we will get repeated, unpleasant wakeup calls.

To solve the quandary there has to be convergence from both sides. The legislative/judicial side has to take steps and make concessions towards the spiritual side and vice versa, until they both meet in the middle.

World Jewry has to learn to meet in the middle.

A Jewish state cannot function without industry and it also cannot function without soul. Only when the two operate symbiotically does the system work. This is the lesson of Purim

With so much hate within Am Israel, which even October 7 has not been able to fully dissipate, the only solution unfortunately seems to be - to have that internal hate dwarfed by the external hate. When we come to the realization that the differences between us are miniscule compared to the hate from those who seek to destroy us, then we will begin to move forward.

As we approach Purim this year with mixed emotions of sorrow, grief, frustration and uncertainty and wonder how we will be able to rejoice at all, we need to preserve the hope, the glimmer that all is not as it seems. There is something larger taking place, by the guiding hand of HKB"H, that when viewed in retrospect will be clear and understandable.

All we have to do is to lower our arrogance, say נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע and b"H up in שָׁמַיִם, Moshe Rabbeinu will once again complement our prayers and help rescind any evil decrees hanging over our heads, so that we get to Purim and have a modern day נַהֲפֹךְ הוּא.

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