By Rav Shmuel Brazil
In the spirit of Purim, I want to begin with a short story. An individual who obviously drank too much and was irresponsibly driving his vehicle under the influence of alcohol was quickly pulled over by a police cruiser after crossing lanes many times. The police officer asked the man to get out of his car. [this was before they carried breathalyzers] and to walk a straight line on the marked divider of the two lanes. The man surprisingly happily obliged and said to the officer, “You know what? For you I will walk both lines.”
In Parshas Zachor, we mention the words “asher karcha baderech,” that the nation of Amalek “cooled” the Yidden off from their avodas Hashem. In what manner did they “chill” Klal Yisrael?
I would like to suggest that it was the same way Eliyahu admonished Klal Yisroel on Har Hakarmel: “How long will you walk on both paths? One must choose either Hashem or the Baal [avodah zara].” So too, Amalek attempts to lure the Yid into thinking that it is okay if one walks the double path and sort of hangs “in between,” noshing a little from Torah and a little from avodah zara. Two heads are better than one, as the saying goes. By joining forces and making a combination of both, it makes everyone comfortable and no one is insulted. One might even rationalize and say that the Yiddishkeit part might even improve this way. After all, wasn’t Eisav frummer than Yaakov, as he even questioned whether or not he is obligated to tithe salt and straw, a concept even Yaakov did not entertain?
We cannot even imagine the enticing strong seduction of the maskil who was very capable of delivering an incredible dazzling pilpul in a deep sugya while eating a chazir sandwich. They were able to snatch up in their cause some of the cream of the crop of outstanding bochurim from the best of yeshivos. But as history showed, nothing remained of them or their movement, because walking the double line of in between can never work.
This is one of the reasons why Eisav is compared to the chazir, who flaunts its split hoof even though it does not chew its cud. It symbolizes a synthesis of duel religions or conflicting conduct where some mitzvos he accepts and are kosher while others he simply ignores. However, Eisav and his descendent Amalek calm their prey’s conscience by telling him not to mind as long as you display your positive mitzvos with your front foot forward. For example, in the house, out of sight, we do one thing, but outwardly we are from “that” neighborhood and we don’t want to ruin shidduchim. On vacation in Yehhupitzville, out of sight, we are more lax in the halachos of…. Well, what can we do? There are no separate pools or beaches, no heimeshe groceries, etc. Hashem understands our situation, doesn’t He? Anyway, it’s only momentarily a sort of dual vacation from “that” place and Torah.
Eliyahu Hanovi clearly told the Yidden that there is no in between. You are walking on two distinct paths that lead in totally opposite directions. Stop hallucinating and allowing yourself into being in an illusion. As the saying goes in Yiddish, either you are a malach or a galach. There are no combinations and in betweens, just pure, unadulterated Torah no matter where you are or with whom.
This weapon of seduction utilized by Amalek is hinted in the words of the Torah when it describes Amalek as asher karcha baderech. The word baderech can also be read as “beis derech,” which means two paths. This is how Amalek first lures the Yid to his calling. He says that it is all right to keep some of the Torah, but make sure to import some other niceties and sprinklings from other religions and cultures so as not to estrange yourself from them and cause animosity towards us. Unfortunately, we must have collective amnesia, because we just keep on forgetting the lesson that each and every golus teaches us: in betweens do not work.
There is another level in this concept of in between through which Amalek tries to catch the Yid in his web and that is that one does not have to excel and be great, just pareve and that is fine. After all, extremism is not good. One doesn’t have to be the best, just mediocre, a sort of in between Yid. The fact that I always get an upgrade in my travels, car rentals, cell phone, computers, cameras, iPods, etc., is only because I need them to facilitate my parnassah and relieve my tensions. Otherwise, I would have no interest at all. Right!
Why do we always find ourselves after hearing of individuals who made incredible upgrades and strides in their Yiddishkeit and Torah that we say, “That is for tzadikim, talmidai chachomim, yeshiva yungelite, a masmid, a rebbishe ainekel, but not for the plain and generic Jew like me.” When will we finally understand that we are expected to be all of those in the best way we can. If we really made a sincere and deep effort and commitment, we all can eventually become tzadikim.
The truth is that we just don’t want to, because it’s much easier and less challenging to remain as we are. Haven’t we noticed that our look on excellence seems to only apply to the peripheral things that surround me, such as my house, car, dress, business and image? However, as to the question of who I am intrinsically, which really defines my only true worth, for that I will settle. It is easier to walk the double line than focus just on one and do the right thing and be the best I can be. One must begin to ask who the real “settlers” are, them or us…
Purim is the time of mechiyas Amalek, which means the time to eradicate the chilling effect with which he influences Klal Yisrael. We must get off “baderech,” the double line that he presents to us and strive for excellence and constant upgrades in our avodas Hashem.
Our Chachamim gave us the mitzvah on Purim of ad deloh yadah, to reach the level of drinking such that we no longer have the ability to differentiate between baruch Mordechai and arur Haman. Both of these are extremes. Baruch Mordecahi symbolizes the Yid who excels in Torah and avodas Hashem. The baracha of his success is evident and written all over him. Arur Haman symbolizes the polarized extreme of not keeping any mitzvos and not adhering to the dictates of the Torah.
I think that most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes. It is as if we are walking double lines: this we keep, this we don’t, and this one day I might try. With the eradication of Amalek on Purim, we must reach the level where we do not know this concept of his called “bain” – in between. The goal of our drinking on Purim is to bring ourselves to the stark realization that we do not know Bain baruch Mordechai and arur Haman that there even exists a station called bain, an in between, a double line, between these two extremes. Purim teaches us that we must excel with all our energies taking upon ourselves new commitments and horizons which are attainable within our grasp so that at the end of our mission in this world, we will have reached the fulfillment of the passuk [Yeshaya 60,21] ve’ameich koolam tzadikim.
If you remember in that story that I brought at the beginning of this article, we encountered the guy who got too inebriated and offered to walk the double line. Well, Purim, unlike that story, is the time when we must drink the kedusha of the day which parallels Yom Kippur and declare that I will walk that one and only line with a new commitment as straight as an arrow, unwavering and uncompromisingly, the line which leads straight to the greeting of Moshiach.