By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Rav Klonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczna was locked into the Warsaw Ghetto with thousands of famished, depressed Jews. It was 1941, and when Purim arrived, nobody was in the mood for celebration.
The rebbe gathered some of the people and said to them, “The Zohar writes that Yom Kippur is a day like Purim. This means that just as on Yom Kippur, whether or not we want to, we refrain from eating and drinking because Hashem has so commanded, so too on Purim we must be joyful, whether or not we are in the mood of celebration.”
Purim is the day when we recognize that nothing is what it appears to be. It is the day when we receive the strength to carry on in the most desperate of times. As bad as everything seems, being joyful on Purim enables the Jewish people to acquire the strength necessary to survive and thrive in a troubling world.
One year, at the Purim seudah, the Chiddushei Harim asked why the megillah speaks of the tales of the kings of Modai and Poras, then about the great feasts of Achashveirosh, followed by the story of Vashti. Of what consequence is all this? Why is it recounted and recalled every year?
The rebbe answered that during the period leading up to the arrival of Moshiach, many strange and inexplicable things will transpire. People will be at a loss to understand what is going on. Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, it will all come together and Moshiach will be revealed.
With Purim ending Thursday night, and with the swift arrival of Shabbos, we will still be grasping at the sense of euphoria that was brought on by the unique inner joy of Purim. Everyone spent Purim in a state of joy, and then, when it ends, Jews everywhere struggle to bottle up the exalted emotions of the great day. They enter Shabbos straining to hear the fading echo of music and song. They try to keep alive the uplifted spirit, as well as the simchah and the ahavah that the day engenders.
The torrent of emotion of Purim encounters Shabbos and Parshas Ki Sisa. In fact, this week’s parsha is a most appropriate continuation of the avodas hachag. Let us understand the connection.
This week, we learn how Hakadosh Boruch Hu presented His beloved children with the gift of Shabbos. Ever since that fateful time, the gift of Shabbos has defined our people. The mark of a committed Jew is one who is shomer Shabbos. I recently met a couple from Panama and was trying to get a picture of that community. They were telling me about how many kosher restaurants they have (8) and how many shuls their community boasts (5), but when I pressed further, they told me how many people are shomer Shabbos. This is the universal definition of a committed Jew.
Shabbos is the pinnacle of the week for those who are lucky enough to embrace it. Shabbos, more than an escape from darkness, pressure, work and mundane activities, is an injection of strength and warmth. Shabbos is not just the day when your phone doesn’t ring. It is the day when you are able to reconnect with your inner soul and the beauty of life.
The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (10a) states, “One who gives his friend a gift should make him aware of it, as it says, ‘So that you will know that I am Hashem, who makes you holy‘ (Shemos 31:13). Hakadosh Boruch Hu said to Moshe, ‘I have a precious gift in my storehouses and its name is Shabbos. I would like to give it to Yisroel. Go and tell them.'”
The Chofetz Chaim explains the Gemara with a parable. There are various types of precious stones, such as emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Comfortable people are able to purchase some of them, but the truly wealthy can afford an entire collection of beautiful stones. Royalty, such as kings and queens, amass treasure-chests filled with jewels. The more prestigious and powerful the king is, the more valuable his collection.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that if the King of kings, who has the premium collection of treasures, singled out Shabbos as the gift worth praising, calling it a matanah tovah, then it must really be extremely precious. The message of this maamar Chazal is to appreciate the gift we have been given.
The story is told about Rav Shmelka of Nikolsburg, who gave away whatever he had to help the impoverished and the hungry. One day, a poor man appeared at his door asking for a donation, but the house was bare and the rebbe was unable to find anything to give him.
The rebbetzin wasn’t home at the time, so the rebbe began to search for something he could give the poor man. Finally, he found the rebbetzin‘s lone piece of jewelry and handed it to the man.
The beggar could hardly believe his good fortune, and as he danced away from the rebbe‘s home, he passed the rebbetzin walking up the path. The rebbetzin immediately perceived what must have happened, and she hurried in to check her hiding place. Sure enough, the jewelry was gone. “That ring is worth three hundred rubles,” she called out, “yet you gave it to a beggar who will trade it for a slice of bread!”
When the rebbe heard this, he left the house and began to chase down the beggar. The poor man saw the rebbe coming, so he quickened his own pace, worried about having to forfeit his newly-acquired ring. The rebbe eventually reached the beggar and called out, “Wait! Listen to me! The ring is worth three hundred rubles. Don’t sell it for anything less.”
That Shabbos, Rav Shmelka told the story to his chassidim, using it to explain the words of Chazal. “This is what Hashem told Moshe: ‘Go out and tell them.’ Hakadosh Boruch Hu wanted us to understand that Shabbos is precious and valuable, not just pennies, and not just a piece of kugel or a nap!”
The Abarbanel sees this message in the connection between “shamor” and “zachor.” The Aseres Hadibros are related twice in the Torah. In the first instance, in Parshas Yisro, the Torah states the admonition regarding Shabbos as “shamor,” an injunction to safeguard Shabbos. The second time, in Parshas Va’eschanon, the mandate is “zachor,” to remember Shabbos. Chazal state that when the Aseres Hadibros were delivered in Hashem’s voice, the two words were recited together, bedibbur echad, a dual expression of a single value.
The Abarbanel explains that to merely desist from melachos and observe Shabbos without feeling Shabbos is to have missed out on its essence. Hashem gave us the day on which to rest, but the rest He intended was not one borne from a lack of activity, but one brought on by achieving true serenity. It is only by achieving the desired quiet of Shabbos that a person can properly reflect and ponder the seriousness of his existence and spend his time productively pursuing the truths of Torah. Through observing the “shamor” and removing all the impediments that cause an inability to concentrate and think, a person arrives at the “zachor,” remembering the miracles that Hashem performed for us at Yetizas Mitzrayim and throughout our lives.
A friend recently shared an insightful thought with me. There is no luxury, recreation or pursuit that’s unavailable in New York, he observed. Good food, upscale hotels, and thrilling entertainment – it’s all there. Why, then, do New Yorkers run to Florida to escape?
The answer is that Florida is home to two of the most basic components of creation, two simple expressions of the Ribbono Shel Olam’s bounty: sunshine and water. The human need to recharge is so strong, and the necessity to simply soak in peacefulness and tranquility is so powerful, that all the lures of New York are left behind. Nothing that man has created comes close to the gifts that have been available since the time of creation.
Shabbos is our water and sunshine. It is our rays of peace and serenity, and it’s here for the taking. Shamor vezachor bedibbur echod ne’emru.
Additionally, we can add that on Shabbos, we refrain from 39 activities. Known as the 39 melachos of Shabbos, they are the actions that were employed for the Mishkon in the desert. Because these 39 melachos were used to erect a dirah batachtonim, a home for Hashem and His Presence in our world, they are considered primary actions.
Therefore, on Shabbos when we break from work and activities that ruin our concentration and ability to focus on the cerebral components of life and Torah, we abstain from those 39 melachos.
By abstaining from the 39 melachos, we create for ourselves a day that is on a higher plane when we are unencumbered by the melachos we must engage in on the other six days of the week. During the week, we work and engage in 39 melachos to bring us to the peace and serenity of Shabbos. Then, on Shabbos, we do nothing but appreciate the silence and use it to increase our connection with Torah and Hashem. Shabbos affords us the ability to recharge, reconnect and remember what life is really all about. Shabbos is for the neshomah what Miami is for the guf.
Imagine what our lives would be like without Shabbos. Our days would run into weeks and then into months in an uninterrupted race of futility and exhaustion. Imagine forever running without taking a break, never getting unchained from all that confronts us during the week. Imagine if we could never shut off our phone and ignore mail, bills, the bank, the news and everything else that distracts us. Imagine if we had to run on overdrive, without ever being able to ratchet down. Imagine not having time every week to learn quietly, to sit with our families, and to recharge and reconnect.
Instead, we are given the gift of being able to step back and return to a glorified state of holiness, where purity reigns and we are reminded about what is really important and why we are here.
Purim is a day like Shabbos. We study the story of the megillah and are reminded that even in a time of “haster astir Ponai,” Hashem guides our lives and the world. We reexamine the reality that is life. On Purim, we step back and, with the clarity of vision afforded by nichnas yayin yotza sod, we echo the call of hodor kibluha. We realize how fortunate we are and how good we have it. Perhaps we were able to appreciate the greatness of those around us or the favor of our own opportunities. Maybe this was the year when we were mekabel to do more and to live on a higher plane.
Purim is meant to reevaluate, to take a step back and recharge, and to plan a way out of the morass and darkness. Purim is the day when the Yidden appreciated that orah zu Torah and the joy inherent in performing mitzvos, and they finally proclaimed, “Na’aseh venishma,” with a full heart. This day commemorates heightened awareness and deeper thinking.
Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein points out that the mitzvah of mishloach manos, seemingly instituted to engender goodwill and feelings of friendship, is specifically to “rei’im,” friends. We would imagine that it would make more sense to send gifts to those with whom we are not yet friends, such as mere acquaintances or, even better, those with whom we may have argued. Perhaps the mishloach manos should be used as a tool to create achdus and relationships with more people.
Rav Shmuel Yaakov explains that Purim, as the Yom Tov of reacceptance, is a time to inject existing relationships with new chiyus. We are to look at the friends we are already privileged to have and say, “Thank you. I appreciate you.” It’s a time, mei’ahavah, to joyfully recommit to avodas Hashem.
Purim is a time to reflect and realize what we have. These thoughts are to lead to the intensification of our relationship with Hashem and with each other. It is a day of growth and realization of our inner strength.
And then, when Purim is over, we clean up and prepare to welcome Shabbos, the eternal day of serenity, when, at the end of every week, we take advantage of the time and space to learn, to think and to reengage with our essence. The Rama closes his haga’os on Hilchos Megillah with the posuk, “Vetov lev mishteh tomid.” For one who has a good heart, the festivities never end.
One who has the attitude, inclination and optimism to see and perceive blessings never parts from the mishteh of Purim.
May Purim and Shabbos carry us to the exalted level of mishteh somid, so that we merit to always be content, serene and joyful.