Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again! Winter will soon be losing its icy grip on the world as the days grow longer and the warmth of spring begins to cautiously emerge. Even the most stubborn snowdrifts will soon be melted away, forgotten by gleeful children whose parents (to their great relief) have given up nagging them to put on a coat before heading out to play. In the Holy Land, hopeful trees have begun to blossom, joyously bearing their bountiful new year’s blessing to a thawing world. Channeling the deepest spiritual energies, nature is beginning to waken from her deep and tortured slumber. It’s Adar! A month of joy and celebration. Adar! A month of new beginnings.
The character of Adar and its crowning glory, the chag of Purim, is absolutely unique. The tzaddikim teach that during these precious days, an enormous and unparalleled spiritual light is shining in the world, a light which has the ability to turn the darkest of situations around when accessed by the conscious soul. In this essay, I would like to explore one of the underlying themes activated during this exalted time period so we may channel its special energy into our lives.
In the deeper texts, Purim is related to the concept of Netzach, victory and endurance. On the simplest level, Purim represented a mighty victory over Haman, the embodiment of our nation’s historical archenemy, Amalek. But because, like the tzaddikim so strongly stressed, our chagim are not merely commemorations of past miracles but rather the re-experiencing of miraculous energies which become revealed again, year after year, in the same measure manifest in the original miracle we are celebrating, Purim must contain within it the theological strategy for defeating Amalek in our times as well. In order to understand this strategy for the purpose of allowing it to affect our outlook, we must first understand the scourge of Amalek and the role it plays in embittering our lives even today, so many centuries removed from the setting of the Purim story.
In the definitive characterization of Amalek as the enemy of Hashem and the Jewish nation, the Torah states, “Ki yad al keis Kah, milchemes Hashem b’Amalek m’dor dor”, Hashem swears that He will battle against Amalek in each and every generation. (Shemos 17:16) Chazal note that the words “keis Kah”, the throne of Hashem, are truncated. Instead of “Keis”, the word should be spelled “Kisei”. Instead of “Kah”, the first two letters of Hashem’s name, all four letters of Hashem’s Name should be spelled out, Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei. Chazal see a message hinted in the three missing letters, aleph of “Kisei”, and Vav and Hei of the Shem Havaya: All the while that Amalek is in the world, the Throne and Name of Hashem are incomplete. (Tanchumah, Ki Seitzei 11) In order to understand this awesome blemish, we must first discover the concept alluded to by both the Throne and Name of Hashem.
One of the foundational teachings of the Kabbalah is that the primary Name of Hashem, the Shem Havaya, encapsulates the entire structure and developmental chain of creation, from the very loftiest point of utter Godliness down to the most corporeal levels of dross and physicality. Each of the four letters – in descending order – corresponds to another of the spiritual “worlds” which serve as links in the creative chain of constriction through which Hashem reveals Himself within the physical creation. Generally speaking, the first two letters, “Yud” and “Hei”, relate to the transcendent realms of spirituality (Atzilus and Beriyah); creation in its earliest stages of formless and embryonic matter. The final two letters, “Vav” and “Hei”, relate to the lower realms (Yetzirah and Asiyah) in which creation takes on a definitive form and ultimately manifests in our physical world.
A primary implication of this deep and fundamental principle is that all of existence – even the lowliest element of the physical world, is part of Hashem’s Name; enveloped in “HaMakom”, the Master of the world in Whose Infinite “Place” creation becomes possible. (Bereishis Rabbah 68:9) The lower realms are vessels for the loftiest motivating force of Hashem’s Thought; a demonstration of the capacity for limit within the Infinite, and Hashem’s desire to reveal His glory specifically in a setting which represents the furthest possible extremity from His perfect holiness, a realm of extreme darkness and concealment.
Chazal teach that the initial motivating force of creation was the existence of the Jewish nation, “Yisrael ala b’machshava techillah”, “Klal Yisrael arose first in the Divine Mind.” (Bereishis Rabbah 1) Through utilization of their free choice to embody the Torah’s ideals in thought, speech, and action, the Jewish nation was to be tasked with transforming both their lives and the physical world around them into a “dirah b’tachtonim”, a dwelling place for the divine Presence. (See Likutei Amarim, Tanya, chapter 31) “Ki bachar Hashem b’tzion, ivah l’moshav lo”, “Hashem chose Tzion, He desired it as a dwelling place for Him.” (Tehillim 112:13) From this perspective, the entirety of creation, both the upper and lower realms, are absolutely unified by their singular premise; “Sof ma’aseh b’machshavah techilah” (Lecha Dodi), the final action – our physical reality, is bound up with the first thought: Hashem’s desire for this world to be transformed into a Throne for His glory, at which point it will become clear to all that the lower realms which seem to be devoid of spirituality are in fact part and parcel of His very Name.
The spiritual force of Amalek (which, in addition to being embodied in a specific nation, takes many different forms – both external and internal – throughout history) has one primary objective: to render Hashem’s Name and His Throne incomplete. In light of what we have learned, this means that Amalek battles against the notion that Hashem’s light fills the lower realms. Amalek insists that Hashem’s Name is limited to the first two letters, “Yud” and “Hei” alone, scoffing at the Torah’s perspective on the world as part of Hashem’s Name and, thus, His revelation. Refusing to believe that this world may be seen as Hashem’s Throne, Amalek blemishes the “aleph” which alludes to the “Alufo Shel Olam”, Hashem, and leaves the word “Keis”, “concealment”.
But in order to facilitate the collapse of the creative-developmental chain, Amalek must first remove the common thread which holds the structure together, the “breiach hatichon hamavriach min hakatzeh el hakatzeh” (see Shemos 26:28 and Zohar, Terumah 174b): the Jewish nation. In order to counter the perspective which sees this world as “sof ma’aseh”, part and parcel of a long and glorious process of Revelation, Amalek must eradicate the “machshavah techilah”, the Primordial Love of the Jewish nation. (see Likutei Moharan 52) This is because Amalek realizes that the Jewish nation is the key to Hashem’s connection with and revelation within the physical world. Therefore, in a nefarious effort to banish Hashem from the lower realms of His creation, Amalek attempts to convince the Jewish nation that they have lost their intrinsic relationship with Hashem, that the unconditional and essential love of “Machshava techilah” has been terminated and the bond broken. By severing the rope of “Yaakov chevel nachalaso” (Devarim 32:9), Amalek hopes to unravel the entire structure of creation-as-revelation. This is why the three letters which are blemished by Amalek, Aleph, Vav, and Hei, spell “Ivah”, (אוה) the word used to describe Hashem’s desire to dwell in the lower realms via His beloved nation, “Ivah l’moshav lo.” Amalek attacks this concept of “Ivah”, claiming that we have sinned to the point of losing our status as the nation Hashem desires; that His Original Love is no longer present in the lower realms and that the lower realms, in turn, have lost their connection to the higher elements of their identity. This is the spiritual strike led by Achashveirosh, Vashti, and Haman – the three nefarious characters of the Megillah whose names, not surprisingly, begin with the very same letters that are missing from Hashem’s name and Throne, “Ivah”, aleph, vav, and hei. In fact, the Megillah reveals the underlying premise for the ensuing drama at the very outset: “Vayehi b’y’mei Achashveirosh, hu Achashveirosh” – “הוא אחשורוש”– it is all about the three letters Amalek seeks to blemish so as to sever the ties between Hashem and His Holy nation and banish His presence from the world.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that Amalek is synonymous with rational, philosophical thinking. (Likutei Moharan 19) The inner Amalek puts forth well-sourced and convincing arguments as to why it is perfectly logical to assume that the Jewish nation’s relationship with Hashem to has been terminated as a result of our many sins, both on a personal and national level r”l. He attacks the broken-hearted, “kol hanecheshalim acharecha” (Devarim 25:18), seeking to drag them into the depths of despair and spiritual hibernation. In this vein, the Gemara (Chullin 139b) teaches that Haman’s biblical source is rooted in the story of the Eitz HaDa’as Tov V’Ra, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (“Hamin ha’eitz” – Bereishis 3:11). This is because Amalek utilizes “da’as”, the power of logic and distinction, to “prove” that the Jew has forfeited his connection with the Creator because of the frequency with which he chooses evil over good. “You have lost connection with your source in goodness, in holiness,” Amalek posits in thesis after thesis. “It is preposterously illogical to assume that Hashem still has any interest in you. Hashem no longer desires your service at all.” Sadly, this strategy often succeeds in a remarkable way – particularly in our generation. Even if the affects are not overt, the Jew’s subconscious acceptance of this theory as truth causes a dimming, a cooling; “Asher karcha baderech.” (Devarim 25:18) Despair creeps in, leaving our engagement with Yiddishkeit a shell of its former self, a weak framework of rote observance plagued with a sense of hopelessness and disconnection.
But, as we know, whatever exists in the side of impurity must be balanced by an equal force in the side of holiness. In Hashem’s great kindness, there are times in our national history and in the individual life of each and every Jew where Haman-Amalek meets his match: Mordechai HaYehudi, the true tzaddik.
In the place of Amalek’s “rational” claim regarding the Jew’s hopelessness, the tzaddik maintains an elevated perspective on the deeper reality of the Jewish soul, a perspective which looks beyond the external constructs of “right” and “wrong” to the essential core of holiness, the aspect in which each and every Jew is a “cheilek Eloka m’maal mamash”, a literal portion of the Living God (Likutei Amarim, Tanya 2, Nefesh HaChaim 1:5); ever connected and unconditionally loved. The tzaddik is constantly melamed zechus on the Jewish nation, unveiling their goodness and reminding them of their elevated status.
This deep contrast is hinted to by Chazal in a remarkable way. Commenting on the words “La’asos k’rtzon ish v’ish”, Chazal (Megillah 12a) comment that “Ish” refers to Mordechai (“Ish Yehudi”) and “V’Ish” refers to Haman (“Ish tzar v’oyeiv”). The depth here is simply awesome. Haman, the embodiment of Amalek’s theological assault, is associated with “V’Ish”, (ואיש) whose letters also spell “Yei’ush”, (יאוש) despair. Mordechai HaTzaddik, who counters this assault by constantly reminding the Jew of the essential holiness buried deep within his being and his unconditional relationship with Hashem, is associated with the word “Ish”, (איש) which may be seen as an acronym for “Ein shum yei’ush” (אין שום יאוש), Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s famous declaration of hope: “There is no despair in the world at all.”
Chazal teach that the source for Mordechai’s name in the Torah is the verse “Besamim rosh”, “choice spices”, which the Targum renders as “Mari dachi”, “Mordechai”. (Chullin 139b) The Berditchover Rav explains that this verse contains Mordechai’s spiritual essence: “Besamim”: The tzaddik looks beyond what the external senses perceive, using his sense of “smell”, a deeper sense which is related to spirituality, to discern the deeper reality of “rosh”, the ever-abiding Primordial Thought of “Yisrael ala b’machshava techilah” which continuously communicates Hashem’s desire of our nation’s service despite all failure and misdirection. (Kedushos L’Purim 2:5) Mordechai, the true tzaddik, fights for the aspect of “Yehudi”, the essential Jewishness which, despite its obscurity behind piles of spiritual rot, remains ever shining.
The story of Purim is all about discovering a deeper reality , a level of being which lies beyond the shallow surface. On a simple level, the miracle celebrated on this exalted day came about in the most mysterious, hidden manner; Hashem’s Name is not even mentioned in the Megillah. Indeed, the very title of the book which records this miracle is “Megillas Esther”, which may be read as “The revelation (giluy) of the hidden (hester).” But on a deeper level, the light of Purim emerges from the deep darkness of the void to eradicate the “rational” heresy of Amalek. On Purim, the light of Netzach is revealed, the deepest reality of our enduring bond with the Master of the world, “netzach Yisrael lo yeshakeir”. (Shmuel I, 16:29) When we drink “ad d’lo yada”, (Megillah 7b) we reach far beyond the Eitz HaDa’as Tov V’Ra with which Amalek is so obsessed, to touch the Eitz HaChayim, the message of Hashem’s incomprehensible love for each and every member of our holy nation. Purim is beyond explanation, beyond conception. It is the revelation of the aspect in which we are Hashem’s “am segulah”, (Shemos 19:5) a nation whose being chosen – much like a segulah – cannot be rationally explained. (See Likutei Moharan 21:9 and Mei HaShiloach Vol 1. Yisro)
On this exalted day, the grace which our nation’s collective soul finds in the eyes of Hashem is shining from one end of the world to the other; “Vayehi k’ros HaMelech es Esther… nas’ah chein b’einav”. (Esther 5:2) This chein is beyond comprehension, far too deep to be explained. It simply is, rooted in the deepest, unfathomable desire of our Father in heaven. When this awesome light of penimiyus is revealed throughout the day of Purim, it becomes clear to us that our many sins and mistakes, all of our failings in the area of “tov v’ra”, was merely the expression of an external, fleeting yetzer hara. In our super-consciousness of “ad d’lo yada”, we are able to attach ourselves to the Eitz HaChayim of our lives – a place where it is abundantly clear that our truest, deepest desire is to foster a conscious relationship with our Father in heaven. The tzaddik gently guides us to the understanding that “heim lo asu elah l’fnim” (Megillah 12a); all of our failures and baggage are external garments which can never do anything to extinguish our flame of holiness and yearning to live a life of closeness with our Creator. In this awesome moment of “nichnas yayin yatzah sod”, (Sanhedrin 38a) we can whisper “Baruch Haman”, certain that behind the mask of our wickedness lies a fountain of blessing and essential, untouchable, goodness.
This Purim, may we merit to eradicate the spirit of Amalek in all its various forms – that voice of poisonous cynicism which champions the shallowest and most external view of the world and the Jewish soul. May we merit to open our hearts to the sweet declaration of “Ish Yehudi”, the true tzaddik who calls to us even as we feast from the table of Achashveirosh: “There is no despair in the world at all! If you believe you can break, believe that you can fix! Look deeper, friends! Look deeper!” May we be able to rise to the place of “lo yada”, where all “rational understanding” fades away and we are able to bask in the infinite chein shining forth from our souls, banishing the darkness with its eternal brilliance. Finally, may we merit to transform our lives into a Throne for Hashem to dwell in the lower realms, recognizing every particle of physicality as part and parcel of His exalted Name.