Monthly Archives: March 2014

Shabbat HaChodesh

This Shabbat is the last of the four special Shabbatot. We read Parshat HaChodesh that relates the commandment of Rosh Chodesh and of the first Pesach, and the Haftarah is of from Yechezkel, describing the dedication of the final Temple.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat HaChodesh

There are so many interesting ideas that the Haftarah brings up in connection with Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and Rosh Chodesh Nissan itself is such an interesting date, it was hard to find just one thing to focus on. So perhaps some day in the future I will write about whether the world was created in Nissan or Tishrei and what difference it makes, and about the Gates of the East and the return to Gan Eden. This time I wrote about the 1st of Tishrei as the New Year for kings.

This is also a chance to summarize the 4 special Shabbatot that prepare us for the season of national independence and achievement:

  • Shekalim on the power and utility of money, which is one of the bases of society.
  • Zachor on the shared values that are worth standing up to protest
  • Parah on the paradoxical nature of Jewish history, and on the potential for change
  • HaChodesh on how we became a nation in the first place.

    May this season bring only good news and joy to the entire Jewish People, wherever they may be.

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Shabbat HaChodesh – New Year for Kings

Shabbat HaChodesh is the fourth and last of the special Shabbatot, the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

On Shabbat HaChodesh we read Parshat HaChodesh, the very first commandment that G-d gave to all of Israel as a nation[1]:

(א) וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר:

(ב) הַחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם רֹאשׁ חֳדָשִׁים רִאשׁוֹן הוּא לָכֶם לְחָדְשֵׁי הַשָּׁנָה:

1) Hashem said to Moshe and to Aharon, in the Land of Egypt, as follows:
2) This month will be for you the first of months, it will be the first for you among the months of the year.  (Shemot 12)

Not only was this the first commandment that Israel was given as a nation, it is this commandment that made Israel a nation in the first place. In the ancient world, what distinguished a nation from a bunch of tribes was that nations had kings. The Jewish People in exile were still just a large family, a dozen tribes. By giving us commandments, G-d made Himself our king, and made us a nation.

The 1st of Nissan is associated with kings in Halacha. When listing the various new years in our calendar, the Mishna states:

ארבעה ראשי שנים הם באחד בניסן ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים :

There are four new years: 1st of Nissan is the new year for kings and for holidays (Mishna, Rosh Hashana 1:1)

What is a “new year for kings?” In the times of the Tanach, people would date their documents based on the reign of the current king, eg: “in the 2nd year of the King Yehoshafat.” The year was incremented not on the date of the coronation of that king, but rather on the 1st of Nissan. Let’s say King Yehoshafat had been crowned during Adar; starting with the 1st of Nissan of that year, we would start dating our documents as the 2nd year to his reign, even though he had only been king for a month.

The “coronation date” of the Jewish People is not the coronation date of a particular human king, like all other nations. Instead, it is the date that we accepted G-d as our king and became a nation, the date when G-d gave us our first commandment: the 1st of Nissan.

The Haftarah of HaChodesh describes the dedication ceremony of the final Temple, which begins on the 1st of Nissan[2]. It talks about the offerings that will be made on that day, in particular, by the leader of the Jewish People, whom Yechezkel calls “nassi.”[3] Surprisingly, the Haftarah begins a few verses before the description of the dedication ceremony, and ends a few verses later. Those extra verses refer to a seemingly unrelated topic: the laws that limit the power of the leader of the Jewish People.

This “nassi” has an important role, especially in the dedication of the final Temple: he must collect the taxes, and he must represent the people in bringing their offerings. He is shown respect: certain gates are opened especially for him, and he is allowed to use certain passages that others are not. But the Haftarah states explicitly that these privileges are only given to him when he is actively representing the nation. When he comes to the Temple as a private person, as an individual, he does not get any special treatment.

The Haftarah goes out of its way to point out that the leader of Israel, whether he be called “king”, or “nassi”, is given power only to the extent that he serves the nation. He represents them, he organizes them, he leads them, but he does not truly rule them. It is not his authority that defines them as a nation. Their years are not dated from the beginning of his reign, but from the beginning of G-d’s reign – the date of the first commandment given to Israel.

The nation of Israel may have many new years, but we have only One King.

PDF for printing, 2 pages
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] Avraham’s commandment of Brit Milah was given to him as an individual and the head of a family.

[2] The Mishkan’s dedication ceremony was also on the 1st of the 1st.

[3] “Nassi”, which is used in modern Hebrew to mean president. It is sometimes translated as “prince”, but a prince in English connotes the child of a king. It literally means,  “one who is raised”, as in “his highness”, or in the case of the Jewish People, “first among equals”. Which is why I went with “president”.

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Shabbat Parah

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot of the spring, and the Haftarah is taken from one of the chapters of comfort of Yechezkel.

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah

For the connection between the Parsha of Parah, the Haftarah, Passover, and Purim (yes, Purim), see: Shabbat Parah – Paradox.


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Shabbat Parah – Paradox

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot between Rosh Chodesh Adar and Roch Chodesh Nissan, a time of preparation for the Passover season. At the time of the Temple, Passover included an actual sacrifice that was brought and then eaten at the Seder, and in order to participate, one had to be ritually pure.  Hence the custom to read Parshat Parah, which describes some of the laws of ritual purity, several weeks before Passover.

In addition to the connection to Passover, the date of Shabbat Parah is related also to Purim. The Gemara says,

ואי זו היא שבת שלישית – כל שסמוכה לפורים מאחריה

“Which is the third week? The one right after Purim.” (Megilla 30a).

It could just as easily have said, “the week before Shabbat Hachodesh”, which is how it actually comes out on the calendar. Phrasing it as “after Purim” implies that Shabbat Parah is connected to the events that happened after Purim, and not only to the upcoming Passover.

The Haftarah of Parshat Parah begins by describing the shame of exile:

וַיָּבוֹא אֶל הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאוּ שָׁם וַיְחַלְּלוּ אֶת שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי בֶּאֱמֹר לָהֶם עַם ה’ אֵלֶּה וּמֵאַרְצוֹ יָצָאוּ:

They came to the nations to which they had come, and they desecrated the Name of My holiness, when it was said about them, “This is the people of Hashem, and they have left His land.”  (Yechezkel 36:20)

The prophet Yechezkel says explicitly that when the Jewish People are in exile, it is a “Chillul Hashem”, a desecration of G-d’s Name. It shows that we failed in our mission to further G-d’s plan for the world, and is an embarrassment to the Jewish People and to G-d Himself.

Why do we need to read this “after Purim”?  Purim was a great miracle; the Jewish People narrowly escaped destruction. But when it was all over, they were still in exile. The Haftarah of Parah tells us that this is not good enough. We must not for a moment think that our salvation on Purim shows that living “spread out among the nations” is an acceptable state for the Nation of G-d.

On the other hand, if even Mordechai and Esther, with all the power that they wielded, were unable to end the exile, then perhaps it was just too hard. We know from the Books of Ezra and Nechemiah that life in the Land of Israel at that time was barely tolerable. The state of the economy, security, even religion itself, were all sub-par, certainly relative to the strong and vital community in Shushan.  Given the problems that they were facing, they must have wondered if G-d was actually interested in them coming back. Perhaps they did not deserve to be redeemed.

The Haftarah of Parah tells us that G-d will not tolerate the shame of exile indefinitely, regardless of the relative merit of the Jewish People:

…לֹא לְמַעַנְכֶם אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי אִם לְשֵׁם קָדְשִׁי אֲשֶׁר חִלַּלְתֶּם בַּגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר בָּאתֶם שָׁם:

…וְלָקַחְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִן הַגּוֹיִם וְקִבַּצְתִּי אֶתְכֶם מִכָּל הָאֲרָצוֹת וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל אַדְמַתְכֶם:…וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם…

… It is not for your sake that I do this, House of Israel, but for the sake of the Name of My holiness that you desecrated among the nations to which you had come.
… I will take you from the nations, and I will gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you to your land… I will sprinkle you with pure water and you will be purified  (Yechezkel 36: 22-25)

When G-d chooses to do so, He will take the Jewish People out of exile and back to the Land of Israel. Once they are there, He will take steps to “purify” them, to make sure that they deserve to live in the Holy Land.

This appears to be illogical, out of order. It would make much more sense if the Haftarah first said, “I will purify you”, and then, “I will bring you to your land.”

This paradox is one of the lessons of Shabbat Parah. The section in the Torah that we read on this Shabbat describes the ritual of “Parah Adumah”: an unblemished red cow is slaughtered and burned, and its ashes are mixed with water to create a solution that is called “purifying water”. This solution is the only way to remove the ritual impurity caused by direct contact with death. Paradoxically, every person involved in the preparation of this “purifying water” becomes impure himself[1].  This law is not meant to be logical or understandable to human beings. To make this point, this commandment is introduced as an “חוקה”, a decree.  As Rashi puts it:

גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה

It is a decree before Me and you have no permission to second-guess it. (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:2)

According to the following Midrash,  this is not only true of decrees that G-d made in the Torah, it is also true of decrees that He has made in history:

זאת חקת התורה זש”ה מי יתן טהור מטמא לא אחד (איוב יד) כגון אברהם מתרח חזקיה מאחז יאשיה מאמון מרדכי משמעי ישראל מעכו”ם העה”ב מן העה”ז מי עשה כן מי גזר כן מי צוה כן לא אחד לא יחידו של עולם … תמן תנינן כל העוסקין בפרה מתחלה ועד סוף מטמאין בגדים היא גופה מטהרת בגדים אלא אמר הקב”ה חקה חקקתי גזרה גזרתי ואין אתה רשאי לעבור על גזרתי.

As it says, “Who makes pure from the impure, not the one” (Job 14). E.g.: Avraham from Terach, Hizkiyahu from Ahaz, Yoshiahu from Amon, Mordechai from Shimi, Israel from pagan nations, the World To Come from the World As it Is. Who makes this happen, who decreed this, who commanded this? The One and Only … as we learned, “everyone involved in the red cow from beginning to end becomes impure, and it itself purifies.”  G-d said, I wrote an edict, I decreed a decree, and you may not transgress My decree. (Bamidbar Rabba Chukat 19)

It would make a lot more sense to us humans if pure would come from pure. Avraham ought to have come directly from the righteous Noach, and not from ten generations of pagans. Israel ought to have come into being in purity and isolation in the Holy Land, not in the immoral filth of Egypt. The World To Come should have been created in the first place, not as an outcome of the World As Is.

But that is not how G-d chose to run the world. Just as the laws of Parah Adumah do not make sense to us, yet we accept is as a decree from Above, so, too, we must accept G-d’s choices in history as a decree from Above.

We might have expected the steps toward redemption to proceed in a logical order, that the Jewish People would first be purified and only then return to our land. We might have expected that the redemption would be led by the purest and holiest of the Jewish People. Yet the Haftarah of Shabbat Parah tells us otherwise. If G-d chooses, the converse can be true: first we return to our land, and only then we are purified. This might not make sense to us, it might not be how we would have done it, but it is a decree from Above, and we do not have the right to second-guess it.

On the first Shabbat between Purim and Passover, we prepare for national redemption, an end to the shame of Exile, no matter what form it takes.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

[1] At a lower level of impurity, avoiding infinite recursion

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Shabbat Zachor

Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat immediately before Purim. We read a special Maftir that talks about the commandment to remember to wipe out Amalek, and then we read a special Haftarah which talks about how King Shaul was charged with fulfilling this commandment.

The text, Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of Shabbat Zachor is not short, but it is full of drama and emotion.

While the connection between Parshat Zachor and the Haftarah is obvious – Amalek – how it connects to Purim is less so. See: The Reboot for how Mordechai, Esther, and Haman are all found in the Haftarah and why.

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Shabbat Zachor – The Reboot

On the Shabbat immediately before Purim, we read a special Maftir, which talks about the commandment to remember to wipe out Amalek. We then read a special Haftarah, the story of how King Shaul was charged with fulfilling this commandment. While we are told how he destroyed the strongholds of Amalek in Israel, the Haftarah’s mainly talks about how he lost his chance to establish a dynasty, because he allowed the people to take spoils from the war with Amalek.

We could fulfill the commandment of remembering to wipe out Amalek any Shabbat of the year, but it was established to do so on the week before Purim, due to the many connections it has to the Megilla.
Let’s start with the most familiar one:

אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה גִּדַּל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶת הָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי
After these events, the king Achashverosh promoted Haman ben Hemdata the Agagi. (Esther 3:1)

The name of the king of Amalek that Shaul conquered in the Haftarah was Agag:

וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ עֲמָלֵק חָי
He captured Agag, King of Amalek, alive (Shmuel I 15:8)

By calling Haman, “the Agagi”, the Megilla implies that he is a descendant of Amalek. He may have been literally from that nation, or only a follower of the Amaleki way of life. Either way, in Jewish lore, Haman is Amalek.

But Haman is not the only one of the protagonists of the Megilla to be found in the Haftarah:

ה) אִישׁ יְהוּדִי הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן שִׁמְעִי בֶּן קִישׁ אִישׁ יְמִינִי:
A Jewish man lived in Shushan City, whose name was Mordechai ben Yair ben Shimi ben Kish, a Man of Binyamin. (Esther 2:5)

The hero of our Haftarah, King Shaul, is introduced as:

וַיְהִי אִישׁ מִבִּנְיָמִין וּשְׁמוֹ קִישׁ בֶּן אֲבִיאֵל בֶּן צְרוֹר בֶּן בְּכוֹרַת בֶּן אֲפִיחַ בֶּן אִישׁ יְמִינִי גִּבּוֹר חָיִל:
לוֹ הָיָה בֵן וּשְׁמוֹ שָׁאוּל…
There was a man from Binyamin, whose name was Kish ben Aviel ben Tzror ben Bchorat ben Afiach, son of a Man of Binyamin, a great warrior. He had a son named Shaul… (Shmuel I 9)

The Megilla implies that Mordechai is related to Shaul. He is certainly from the same tribe, and even from the same family, and the text goes out of its way to make that point.
Now for Esther, the heroine of the Megilla. She enters the story because the king’s advisors suggest that because Vashti refused to come when called, she should be replaced:

וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה
King will give her kingdom to her fellow woman who is better than her. (Esther 1:19)

In the Haftarah, the prophet Shmuel tells King Shaul that he will lose his kingdom, and be replaced:

קָרַע ה’ אֶת מַמְלְכוּת יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵעָלֶיךָ הַיּוֹם וּנְתָנָהּ לְרֵעֲךָ הַטּוֹב מִמֶּךָּ:
“Hashem tore the kingdom of Israel from you today,
and has given it to your fellow man who is better than you. (Shmuel I 15:28)

Thus, the Megilla is a “reboot” of the story of the Haftarah, with Haman cast as Agag, and the role of Shaul divided between Mordechai and Esther.

In the Haftarah, Shaul loses his power due to his misreading of the nature of the conflict with Amalek, and due to his failure to exert his authority as king. In the Megilla, Mordechai and Esther are faced with similar challenges, and overcome them, ending up with greater positions of power.

What were Shaul’s mistakes, and how do Mordechai and Esther make up for them in the “reboot”?

First, Shaul misunderstood the nature of the battle. He treated it as any other war, against any other enemy. However, the war with Amalek is not our war, it is G-d’s war. Amalek represent an ideology and a culture that is incompatible with what G-d is trying to achieve with mankind. The Torah wants us to understand this, remember it, and act on it. That is why there is a specific commandment to hear the following verses read from the Torah, at least once a year, as the Maftir of Zachor:

זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם:
אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִים:
וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ
תִּמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח:
17) Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, when you left Egypt.
18) That he happened upon you on the road; he attacked those lagging at your rear,
when you were tired and exhausted; and did not fear G-d.
19) And it will be, when Hashem gives you respite from all your enemies all around,
in the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you as an inheritance, wipe out the memory of Amalek, from under the heavens; do not forget! (Devarim 25)

When the Torah describes what Amalek did, it says two things:

  1. He happened upon you on the road and
  2. He attacked the weak at the edge of the camp.

The first refers to Amalek’s ideology, the second, to the actions that result from that ideology. Amalek believes that our world is random; things happen, there is no rhyme nor reason, all is meaningless coincidence. Life is unpredictable and cruel; the distinction between good and evil is artificial and unnecessary. The only thing that has meaning is power; raiding the weak and taking what you can is as valid way as any to succeed in life.

Hitler, who in Jewish lore is also identified with Amalek, said it very clearly:

Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a false vision known as conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and personal independence which only a very few can bear. … Conscience is a Jewish invention; it is a blemish, like circumcision (Rauschning, Hitler Speaks, p. 222).

This is why G-d is in a state of war with Amalek.

When King Shaul allowed his people to take from the spoils of Amalek, he reduced the battle to a normal war against a normal enemy, in which, as per the laws and customs of the time, the spoils belonged to the conqueror. But this war was G-d’s war, not Shaul’s. The spoils were not theirs to take.

Unlike Shaul, Mordechai and Esther understood exactly who their enemy was. When Mordechai tells Esther about Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews, he tells her:

וַיַּגֶּד לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וְאֵת פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָןלִשְׁקוֹל עַל גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִים לְאַבְּדָם:
Mordechai told [Esther’s messenger] about all that had happened to him,
and about the matter of the money, that Haman had said to weigh out to the king’s treasury to destroy the Jews. (Esther 4:7)

The Midrash explicitly connects this term to the one in Parshat Zachor:

אמר להתך לך אמור לה בן בנו של קרהו בא עליכם הה”ד (דברים כ”ה) אשר קרך בדרך
He told [Esther’s messenger], “Go tell her, the grandson of “happening” has come at us, as it says, “that happened upon you on the road”. (Midrash Esther Rabbah 8)

Mordechai realized that he was not dealing with just an ordinary enemy, he was dealing with Amalek. Haman was “the grandson” of the philosophy that power is the only value, that the weak exist to be exploited, and that a conscience is a blemish upon humanity. To save the Jewish People from Amalek, all resources must be mustered, and G-d’s war must be fought.

Esther needed more convincing. Like her ancestor Shaul, her innate humility had the potential to paralyze her. She did not believe that she had the power to make a difference, and she was highly concerned about making a bad impression on the people around her:

(יא) כָּל עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְעַם מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ יוֹדְעִים אֲשֶׁר כָּל אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית לְבַד מֵאֲשֶׁר יוֹשִׁיט לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת שַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב וְחָיָה וַאֲנִי לֹא נִקְרֵאתִי לָבוֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ זֶה שְׁלוֹשִׁים יוֹם:
All the king’s servants and all the members of all the king’s states know that any man or woman that comes to the king to the inner courtyard without having been summoned, the law is that they be put to death; unless the king stretches his scepter toward him. And I have not been called to come to the king for the past thirty days. (Esther 4:11)

She did not feel that she had any royal authority to exercise, no power at all that could be mustered. It was perhaps similar thinking on the part of Shaul that caused him to look the other way when the people took from the spoils of Amalek. Indeed, this is what the prophet Shmuel accuses him of:

וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל הֲלוֹא אִם קָטֹן אַתָּה בְּעֵינֶיךָ רֹאשׁ שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָתָּה
“Even if you are small in your own eyes, you are the head of the tribes of Israel!” (Shmuel I 15: 17)

Shaul let his humility interfere with his ability to act, and Esther was about to make the same mistake. At this point Mordechai takes on the additional role of the prophet Shmuel:

כִּי אִם הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר וְאַתְּ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹאת הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת:
If you will be silent right now, relief and salvation will come to the Jewish People from another place. But you and your father’s house will be lost. And who knows, if it were not for this moment that you became queen?” (Esther 4:14)

Mordechai understands that Esther’s nature might cause her to continue to be silent. She does not believe in her power, does not believe in herself as a queen. So Mordechai warns her of the consequences; not to the Jewish People, who will be saved some other way anyway, but to Esther herself and to “her father’s house”.

But if the Jewish People would be saved, why would Mordechai suggest that Esther and her father’s house would be lost? Would she not be included in the salvation? Why would an orphan be concerned about what will happen to “her father’s house”?
“Her father’s house” refers to Mordechai and Esther’s ultimate ancestor, Kish Ish Yemini. The loss refers to the loss of the royal dynasty, which was Shaul’s punishment for his inaction and lack of leadership. Mordechai tells Esther that she is getting a second chance. If she acts now, she can defeat Amalek. If she fails to act, the opportunity to make up for Shaul’s failure will also be lost.

Esther takes up the challenge. She has Mordechai gather the people she leads, and then:

וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת
On the third day, Esther dressed herself in royalty (Esther 5:1)

Royalty, the use of power, was not an innate part of her character. But when it was necessary, she put it on as if a costume, and wielded this power to effect the salvation of her people. The kingdom of Persia was given to Esther, “the fellow one who is better than her”. In this reboot of the story, Esther does better than Shaul, and redeems the royal house of Esther and Mordechai’s ancestor, Shaul ben Kish Ish Yemini.

PDF for printing, 4 pages A4
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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The Haftarah of VaYikra, like many other Haftarot, are taken from the Chapters of Comfort in Yeshayahu .

Linear annotated translation of the Haftarah of VaYikra

While it mentions sacrifices, which is the topic of the Parsha, what it is really about is the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People.

In particular, it shows us what the relationship is not.

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VaYikra – Mincha

The Haftara of VaYikra begins with the claim that G-d does not burden us with sacrifices:

לֹא הֶעֱבַדְתִּיךָ בְּמִנְחָה וְלֹא הוֹגַעְתִּיךָ בִּלְבוֹנָה לֹא קָנִיתָ לִּי בַכֶּסֶף קָנֶה

I did not burden you with mincha, and did not weary you with incense offerings. You did not buy Me spice sticks with money (Yeshayahu 43:23-4)

To us, the word mincha  refers to the afternoon prayer, the shortest of the three daily prayer services. But what does the word mean in the Tanach? Let us see where else it is used:

  • When Yaakov was about to meet Esav on his way back to the Land of Israel. Recalling Esav’s vow to kill him, Yaakov attempts to appease him by sending him gifts – hundreds of goats and rams, dozens of camels and donkeys. The Text calls this gift “mincha“.
  • When Yosef’s brothers need to go back to the “ruler of Egypt” with their brother Binyamin. The brothers take along a “mincha” to give the ruler. It is not much – spices, honey, and nuts – but they dare not approach this powerful man empty-handed.
  • At the beginning of the time of the Judges. Israel was subjugated by the king of Moav, and the judge Ehud ben Gera was sent as the head of the delegation bringing the “mincha” to the king. It doesn’t list quantities there, but it does say that it took many people to bring it, and that delivering it entailed a long and involved ceremony.

Now it should be clear what type of gift a “mincha” is. It is a tribute, a way to appease and show deference to a powerful ruler.

We do not live in a world where people give tributes to their rulers, so it may be hard for us to visualize what giving a tribute might be like. Fortunately, we do have a shared cultural experience that will serve just as well: the 1998 Disney/Pixar movie, A Bug’s Life. The ants slave all summer to gather food as a tribute for their rulers, the grasshoppers. An accident destroys the entire tribute, the grasshoppers threaten their lives, and the plot of the movie is about finding someone to save them from their wrath.

That is “mincha“.

The subjects with their ruler, as they have to admit that they failed to offer the "mincha".

The subjects failed to offer the “mincha” to their ruler.

The ruler, when he finds out that he is not getting the “mincha”

So when the Haftarah says, “I did not burden you with mincha,” it means that the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People is not like the relationship between the grasshoppers and the ants.

In fact, it is in the Parsha of Vayikra, which details the various sacrifices that can be offered to G-d that we find out what the content of a mincha is:

וְנֶפֶשׁ כִּי תַקְרִיב קָרְבַּן מִנְחָה לַה’  סֹלֶת יִהְיֶה קָרְבָּנוֹ וְיָצַק עָלֶיהָ שֶׁמֶן  וְנָתַן עָלֶיהָ לְבֹנָה:

If a soul would bring a mincha to Hashem, his sacrifice shall be of flour, oil shall be poured over it, and frankincense shall be put on it. (VaYikra 2:1)

The Midrash expounds on the verse in the Haftarah:

לא העבדתיך במנחה זה קומץ מנחה. ולא הוגעתיך בלבונה זה קומץ לבונה. לא קנית לי בכסף קנה- ר’ הונא בשם ר’ יוסי אמר קינמון היה גדל בא”י והיו עזים וצבאים אוכלין ממנו

“I did not burden you with mincha“: that is the handful of the mincha; “and did not weary you with incense offerings”, that is the handful of frankincense; “you did not buy Me spice sticks with money”: R’ Huna in the name of R’ Yossi said: cinnamon grew in Israel; goats and deer used to eat them. (Midrash Eicha Rabba 3)

The mincha that G-d commanded us to bring is a handful of flour, and the incense is a handful of locally grown spice. You bring some flour and oil and some spices; when the Cohen offers it up on the altar, he uses only a handful of that mix. Essentially, we give G-d a very small pancake.

It is a very strange tribute that the King of Kings, Creator of the Universe, asks of us.

It is more like the kind of gift that one gives to someone very close to you, someone that you don’t need to impress, someone who is genuinely pleased that you thought of them, where it is the giving that counts and not the value of the gift. That is the type of relationship that G-d wants us to have with Him.

Perhaps that is why, with the altar gone, and prayers replacing the sacrifices of VaYikra, the shortest of those prayer services is Mincha. We interrupt our day to offer a little bit of our time to our Creator – a pancake’s worth.

Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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