Friday, March 18, 2011

Identifying Amaleq

Today is the 12th day of Adar II, 5771

On the Shabbat that precedes Purim, two Torah scrolls are taken from the ark, one for the regular Parasha and one for a special Maftir from Debarim 25: 'Remember what Amaleq did to you when you were leaving Egypt... he attacked all those defenseless...and he would not fear God".
This text describes our obligation to never forget what Amaleq did to us during our departure from Egypt. Amaleq attacked the Jews without a reason and without a purpose.
Amaleq and his ideological descendants, which are called "Zekher Amaleq" can be identified by the following key factors:
1. Amaleq's hatred toward the Jews is not motivated by greed, territorial claims or revenge. It is pure disinterested hatred. The reasons will always change. Greed, territorial claims are revenge, are often used as the cynical excuse, to disguise Amaleq's true's intention, which is to destroy the Jewish people.
2. Amaleq will attack defenseless Jews, civilians, women and children.
3. Amaleq is driven by a blind irrational subhuman hatred. He won't show compassion even for infants of babies.
4. Amaleq might hate other people temporarily, but his relentless obsession is against the Jews.
5. It is not possible to negotiate with Amaleq. Amaleq will not be satisfied if we surrender or even if we change our religion. Amaleq just wants us to disappear.
6. Amaleq, unfortunately, won't go away.
It is very difficult for non-Jews --and for many Jews with deficient Jewish memory- to understand, admit and acknowledge the real nature of Amaleq's intention. Because Amaleq's behavior is beyond rationality and this kind of existential hatred exists only toward the nation of Israel .
The Torah urges us not to forget --also in the sense of forgiving-- Amaleq because our survival depends on that. If we forget the 'nature' of Amaleq's war against us, we put ourselves at risk of extinction.
Our Chakhamim prescribed the public reading of our first encounter with Amaleq, once every year, on the Shabbat which precedes Purim, when Haman, a loyal descendant of Amaleq sought the destruction of Am Israel.
This Parasha has the special status of being the only Biblical text which reading is a direct Torah commandment. The other Parashiot are of rabbinical status.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

NO-NOs of Purim

Today is the 11th day of Adar II, 5771 (Ta'anit -the fast of- Esther)

1. Cross-dressing

In our days, it became common to wear customs in Purim. Obviously there is no Mitzva or Minhag involved in this. It is just a folklore --of dubious origin though-- that became accepted in Jewish communities all over the world, especially for children.

We must be careful, however, to avoid (and warn against) cross-dressing. It is an explicit prohibition in the Torah, Debarim 22,5: "A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for haShem your God detests anyone who does this". If man dresses to look as a woman, wearing a skirt, or a wig, or using make up, etc... or if a girl dresses to look as a man, they are transgressing a serious Biblical prohibition. This prohibition applies even when one dresses to look as the other gender 'for fun' (R Obadia Yosef and others) .

2. Alcohol-consumption

In Purim, this coming Sunday March 20th in the afternoon, we participate in a Seuda, a festive meal of Purim. It is customary to serve alcohol, but it is NOT permitted to drink in excess. Purim should not be used as an excuse for drunkenness."In these days," declares Rabbi Weinreb from NCSY, a leading Orthodox Organization in America "when so many of our young people are prone to experimentation with dangerous substances, it behooves us to warn against the dangers of alcohol, especially on Purim". Quoting from Mishna Berura (sec. 695) on the laws governing the Purim SEUDA, the festive meal, Rabbi Weinreb emphasized that we are not commanded to become drunk, to look foolish and to lose self-control; rather, he said, we are commanded to become joyous" in a manner that results in love of God and thankfulness for God's miracles."


See the letter that our own Rabbi Avraham Nissanian wrote about alcohol consumption on Purim.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Fast of Esther

Today is the 10th day of Adar II, 5771

Tomorrow, Thursday March 17th, we commemorate Ta'anit Esther, the "Fast of Esther".

When Queen Esther was informed of Haman's plan to eliminate the Jewish people, she decided to appeal to King Achashverosh, who did not know about Haman's plan. This desperate move was very risky, because anybody who would come near the King without being called by the King, was immediately executed for security reasons. But there was virtually nothing anyone else could have done to persuade the King from stopping Haman to carry out the 'final solution'. So, Esther decided to risk her life and she approached the King.

Before Esther approached the King she asked every Jew to fast. Fasting -together with prayer- is what our Torah and Chakhamim instructed us to do in difficult circumstances.
At the request of Esther, every Jew in the Empire fasted for 3 days and prayed for Esther's success. In remembrance of that event we do today the fast of Esther.

Usually Taanit Esther takes place one day before Purim, on the 13th of Adar. However, when Purim falls on Sunday, like this year, the fast day is moved to the previous Thursday.

Ta'anit Esther is technically a minor fast. Pregnant or nursing women do not do the fast. Also children, elders or anyone with even a minor medical condition is exempted from the Taanit, especially this year when it is moved to Thursday.

The fast of Esther takes place from dawn until dusk. The fast ends at 7.35 PM.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mitzvot of Purim

Today is the 9th day of Adar II, 5771


During the day of Purim --Sunday March 20th-- we send two presents to one or more friends. These presents consist of food --ideally food to be used during the Purim banquet. It is customary to include at least two different types of foods. For example, a drink and some baked product. The intention of this Mitzvah is to promote harmony (shalom) and friendship and strengthen our unity. In certain circumstances, Mishloach Manot could be a very discreet way to send food to those who need it, but would feel very uncomfortable to ask or receive charity from others.


"Presents to needy people". Originally, these presents consisted of food, given to those who could not afford otherwise, to celebrate and enjoy a nice Purim banquet. The custom is to give two gifts, or as it is usually done today, its monetary equivalent to two or more poor people. If our means are limited, our Rabbis indicated that we should be more generous in giving to the poor and needy than in spending for our own Purim banquet. They said: "There is no greater happiness than to lift up the hearts and spirits of the poor, orphans and widows".


Sunday March 20th in the afternoon, we participate in a festival meal, Seudat Purim. In this banquet we sing songs and express our happiness and thanks to HaShem Almighty for our deliverance.

Purim and your unique role in life, by Aish:

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reading the Scroll of Esther (Megilat Esther)

Today is the 8th day of Adar II, 5771

During Purim we read Megilat Esther --the book that relates the story of Purim-- twice, the first time at night (Saturday, March 19th) and the second time during the day (Sunday, March 20th).

Women are normally exempted from Mitzvot triggered by time, like Sukka, but Purim is an exception. Because, 1. Women were also saved from the danger and 2. A woman, Queen Esther, had the most critical role in saving the Jews from extermination.

Children, technically are not obligated to listen to Megilat Esther, but they are expected to attend Synagogue during Purim. Parents should make sure that their small children do not misbehave, perturbing the public reading of the Megila.

There is no Halakhic objection to use a microphone when reading the Megilah in public, provided one could otherwise hear the Megillah without the microphone. Listening by media (TV, radio, phone) is not acceptable for fulfilling the Mitzvah of Megila.

When the Baal Kore reads the Megila everybody should listen and follow his reading silently from a scroll or from a printed Megila.

It is a popular custom to make noise, as a sign of disapproval and condemnation, when the name of Haman is mentioned in the Megila. The Gabbaim and other Synagogue officers must make sure that the noise is discreet and does not perturb the normal reading of the Megila.

For the exact times of Megila Readings in our community see:

Sephardic Reading of Megilat Esther (Moroccan style)

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Story of Purim

Today is the 7th day of Adar II, 5771

This year, 2011, we celebrate the festival of Purim on Saturday March19th at night and on Sunday March 20th.

The Story of Purim

Approximately 2400 years ago, the Persian Empire was ruled by King Achashverosh. It extended from India to Ethiopia. It was one of the largest empires in ancient history. Approximately one million Jews lived in the empire, including 40,000 living in the land of Israel, trying to rebuild the Bet haMikdash, under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia.

In the capital of the empire, Shushan haBira, King Achashverosh appointed a very tough prime minister: Haman and gave him full authority to do as he pleased over the entire empire. Haman not only demanded respect but he also expected people to revere him as a god: everyone had to bow down (fully bow down to the floor!) upon seeing Haman.

Mordekhai was a leader among the Jews in Shushan. His niece, Esther, was taken to the palace and recently designated as the new Queen. Mordekhai respected the King and even thwarted a plot against the King's life, but he refused to bow-down to Haman because he considered it an act of idol-worshiping. The prime minister was furious and decided to take revenge from Mordekhai. He thought that just killing Mordekhai will not do justice to that 'great' personal offense.

He decided then to exterminate all of Mordekhai's people, who happened to be the Jews. Haman's final solution included the murder of all the Jews living in the Persian Empire, who were indeed all the Jews in the world!!!

Had Haman succeeded, it would have been the end of the Jewish people....

But how did Haman intend to kill a million people, spread all over a huge empire? Haman had a perfect genius evil plan. He issued an edict, which was immediately sent all over the empire, announcing that at the 13th of the month of Adar (few months from the issuing of the edict) every citizen of the Empire will have the lawful right to kill a Jew and take possession of his properties and assets…. By the laws of the empire, the Jews will not be allowed to defend themselves! That was Haman’s master plan: motivating every person in the Empire to kill his Jewish neighbors and take all their assets... legally!!! . A perfect plan... had Haman succeeded, no Jew would have ever escaped alive…

The Midrash tells that some gentile neighbors were fighting among themselves to determine who would kill this or that Jew on the 13th of Adar and take possession of his properties.

The only thing left to do for the Jews, was to talk directly with King Achashverosh, bypassing the evil Haman… but who was going to do it?

Mordekhai approached Esther and asked her to beg Achashverosh for her people. But there were very strict rules in the Persian Kingdom. For security reasons, no one was allowed to get closer to the King. If any person, even the Queen, came close to the King, he or she could be killed on the spot...
But Esther, risked her life and approached the King. Esther invited Achashverosh and Haman to a private party. Achashverosh ignored the nature of the edict and Haman did not know that Esther was Jewish,
Once at the private dinner, Esther announced to Achashverosh that ‘somebody’ wanted her, her family and her people killed. The King, taken by surprise, asked with indignation WHO was behind this evil plot. Esther, pointed to Haman, risking once again her life... At that critical moment, and still unsure if he would align himself with Haman or with Esther, the King leaves for his garden and when he comes back he sees Haman begging Esther for his life, allowing himself to get too close to her…The King saw this as an act of irreverence and ordered Haman to be immediately executed.

The edict was then reversed: the Jews now could legally defend themselves with the help of the Persian Empire’s enforcers and could get rid of their enemies.

Beyond the story with human protagonists, our rabbis taught us, the invisible "hand" of God Almighty was moving the strings in the right direction. God’s providence and miracles were performed in the small details, which ended up with the deliverance of our people from extermination.

Dear readers.

After 4 weeks, HOTD is back.

B'H this week we will focus on Purim, and from March 22nd, we will write about Pesach.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024