Rosh Hodesh Adar bet Torah Essay - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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Rosh Hodesh Adar bet Torah Essay

Ellie Fine

One of the tensions of faith that we struggle with in our lives is whether our existence really matters; do our challenges and hardships have meaning in the end, or is life in fact, random?  This month, Adar Bet, is the month in which we read parshat Zachor on the Shabbat preceding the celebration of Purim, reminding us of the mitzvah to eradicate Amalek.  One message of Parshat Zachor and of Purim can shed light on this existential question and provide an important perspective on the month and on our lives.

A simple similarity between the holiday of Purim and the narrative of Parshat Zachor, is that in the Purim story Haman plotted to destroy the Jewish nation, just as Amalek intended in their battle plan. The defeat of Haman along with his allies was another fulfillment of “מחיית זכר עמלק” – the mitzvah of eradicating Amalek. Yet, there is another, more profound theme that connects them. One of the explanations for the corrupt nature of Amalek is rooted in the mode of their attack of Am Yisrael – “אשר קרך בדרך” – “who chanced upon you on the road” (Ki Teitzei 25:18). Their philosophy was one of mikreh, chance. They believed in the randomness of life, that there is nothing deeper going on behind the scenes. On the other hand, Am Yisrael is guided by the philosophy of hashgacha pratit, Divine Providence; Life does not occur by simple “chance”.

In the Purim story, Haman, a descendant of Amalek, exercised his belief in chance by determining when to destroy the entire Jewish nation through a lottery. Mordechai therefore divulged to Esther through Hatach the messenger – “eit kol asher karahu“(Esther 4:7) – “go tell Esther that the descendant of ‘karahu’ has risen against you!”, referring to Amalek in the Torah with the phrase, “asher kar’cha baderech”. The Midrash is connecting the “chance” outlook of Amalek with the attitude of Haman, a philosophical descendant (Esther Rabba 8:5).

It seems strange that the holiday of “Purim” should be named as a remembrance for the “lots” to destroy the Jews rather than for our salvation. Perhaps, this name says it all.  The acrostic piyut, “Shoshanat Yaakov”, recited on Purim states: “pur Haman nehepach l’pureinu”. Haman’s “random” lots turned out to be divinely devised to allow Am Yisrael the opportunity to defend themselves against Amalek both spiritually and physically. The name of the holiday, Purim (plural), is “al sheim haPur” (Esther 9:26), not only to remember Haman’s lot of randomness, but also the manifestation of Divine Providence evident through the reversal of his lot!

There is yet another layer to the relationship between chance and providence evident in the Megillah. In Esther 4:14, Mordechai addresses Esther, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will arise for the Jews from another source, and you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows if for precisely this time, you have become the queen?!”. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik analyzes this pasuk based on his famous theme of Fate vs. Destiny. He maintains that fate represents the uncontrollable parts of our lives, that which Hashem pre-arranges for us, whereas destiny is the target which we are supposed to reach with our free-willed choices. Rav Soloveitchik explains that in this pasuk, Mordechai is imploring Esther, “Hashem has arranged everything for you: the right time, the right place, the right power. Now it is up to you to convert the Fate into Destiny. Seize the moment! Risk your life to save your nation, and Hashem will reward you with the crowning glory of destiny and you will be successful”. Essentially, it is not by chance, as Amalek and Haman believe, that you are in this position! Recognize that Hashem put you here to do something specific and that He is very involved! Esther has to rise to the challenge to be willing to put her life on the line to fulfill her destiny.

This month is called Adar, which many interpret to mean “Aleph Dar” or “Hashem is living here”. Hashem is very present in our lives and when we are able to see His Divine hand in daily occurrences, our faith is fortified; we appreciate that there is a meaning to the pattern of our lives. We have a mitzvah to hear Parshat Zachor every year, to remind us that we do not live our lives by chance. A few days later we are reminded through the Purim story that we are descendants of Mordechai and Esther and their outlooks of Providence and Destiny, rather than Haman’s perspective of random fate.

May we merit to internalize this powerful message this month and for our future, to further recognize the ever-present Hand of Hashem in our individual and national story.

Ellie Fine

Ellie Fine

is a student in the Matan Bellow's Eshkolot Educators Institute and is also working in MMY as a Rakezet. She is a graduate of Stern College for Women where she completed an honors bachelor's degree in Biology and Psychology. Ellie plans to pursue a career in Social Work. She and her husband live in Jerusalem.