Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Purim Lesson for 2008

Was going to do a more conventional blog tonight, but I'm a little shaken from the events of today, and thought a dvar torah would be appropriate (although not directly related to today's events), especially with Rosh Chodesh Adar II on the horizon.

The first perek of the megilla discusses the seudos that Ahasuerus made for his kingdom. The megilla doesn't just go through the significant parts of the seudah, such as the incident with Vashti and Memuchan (which at first glance, is the most critical part of the first chapter). Rather, the megilla goes on and on detailing the grandeur of the seudah. Similarly, in the second chapter, when it comes time to pick a new queen, the megilla spares no detail in telling us the various trivialities of the process - the cosmetics, the eunuchs, etc. Why?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik ZT"L explains it beautifully in "Days of Deliverance:"

"When the curtain rises on the first act, what do we see on the stage? A feasting, pleasure-loving, and pleasure-pursuing society. The Book of Esther did not spare words in portraying vividly, with refined artistry and sarcasm, the repugnant addiction of the king, princes, courtiers, ans servants to lascivious pleasures, to the incessant pursuit of an ever-fugitive satisfaction. We read of the habits of an orgiastic society that was tired and exhausted because of satiety, yet anticipated another satiety to be tried for the sheer novelty of it.

- snip-

The Scripture, which is tight-lipped about the lives of Moses, Abraham, and Isaac, becomes suddenly so loquacious in narrating the story of the king's wives, banquets, and the degenerate life at court. Why? Because only in a non-rational environment could irrational man-Satan arise. Only people who were pursuing pleasure - for whom values had no fixity, norms no ultimate validity - could tolerate man-Satan, irrational and destructive and cruel; only people addicted to the beautiful and pleasant could have stood by and watched the smoke rising from the chimneys of the crematoria climbing to heaven."


A society of Shaashgaz and Hegai must produce a Haman.
I would also like to think that maybe this is another way to understand the gemara of "mipnei she'neheneh miseudasso shel oso rasha" - because we were obsessed with the seudah and the feasting, we became so oblivious to the developments around us that nearly led to our destruction.

The first thing that came to mind after reading the Rav's pshat was something Michael Savage has often said: this country is too obsessed with celebrities, movies, sports, and other pleasures to care about the horrible forces (both from out and within our country) that threaten our very existence.

And Pinny Lipschutz, a man I almost always disagree with, made the same point a few weeks ago. He discussed how many of us read about the horrors of Sderot. Perhaps we let it affect us for a second, if at all, but often we just forget about and turn to discuss Pesach in Cancun.

-- The megilla is teaching us a very important lesson. The first step to progress, to doing our hishtadlus in making things better - is simply to give a darn. Take account of what we care about in life, what's important to us, and see what's up on the list. If we're too blinded by money, movies, clothes, celebrity gossip, and sports, we can't make a difference. We'll be too obsessed with pleasure to see things collapse around us. (And I'm not one of those hand-wringers who's anti any pleasure not involving a daf gemara. I'm a big fan of pleasure - in moderation, and without losing sight of real life.)

You look around the frum community, and it's fraught with problems - kids-at-risk, the shidduch crisis, kol koreis without due process, etc. One big reason why many problems still fester - too many people don't care. They're too worried about making the next buck, the next vacation, the next fancy car to even stop and notice the way things are going wrong.

And that's why this is one of the most important lessons of the megilla, one that remains painfully true a few thousand years later.

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Blogger Michelle said...

Nice. But i feel like it could be like "aimed at no one."
Some people were shaken by the day's events. Others pushed it out of their mind and head to Bloomies for retail therapy. They don't wanna feel it.

7:35 PM  

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