Bringing Torah to Life: Teaching our Children the Meaning of Purim

8 03 2012
Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller  

Explore the four mitzvot of the day with your children. Memory games are fun, so are Guess Who games. Mention something in the Midrash such as “I did ___” and then describe an occurrence and have the children figure out who it was.

Involve your kids in the mitzva of matanot la’evyonim directly. Discuss the tzedaka stories with them. Help them visualize what would it be like to be poor. Would this person have thought he would be in such a situation five years before? Could this happen to anyone? What is the nisayon of a poor person and a rich person? What is the best way to give charity? What’s the worst way? If you are giving away significant sums on Purim, you can set aside a small amount for your children to decide where it should go. If they have their own allowance money let them give some of it away with joy and empathy. Make the mitzva as endearing and fulfilling as possible.

At this age, shalach manot has a lot of social value. Whatever you can still say to little kids you can’t say to kids this age. If they need to show off a bit and express themselves creatively, let them. You can try to make them think who needs to receive also. If the social pressure at this age is that you have to give to all of the girls in the class then your child has to conform. In most schools, everyone comes to school with one nice shalach manot and then the teacher randomly picks out names. In other schools, there’s a cash limit on how much a student is allowed to spend. You should not make your kids be different because at this age it’s so important for them to feel accepted and normal.

Be organized and do the shopping a week or two before Purim so you have time to do craft activities with your children. Help them be creative. You may want to look at crafts books or how-to articles. Have their shalach manot ready in a box early so they can decorate it in a relaxed atmosphere.

Going to shul for megilah is important. Try to get them to sit through the reading. Set limits on what they will do during Haman. You can’t and shouldn’t tell them not to bang. It’s part of tradition. But you should let them know that it’s important for the people in shul to hear every word and that they have to stop in time.

The drinking at the seudah won’t be frightening for kids this age. They may actually enjoy it as long as you prepare them for it. It’s a celebration of v’nahafoch hu. We’re not getting drunk on Achashveirosh’s wine, we are celebrating with Hashem. There should be happy music in the background. If the revelry causes material damage, remember it’s Purim. Don’t ruin it because of your personal frustration, regardless of what you think. You can feel distressed, but keep a grip on yourself. It’s not worth losing the joy of the holiday.

With preteens and teenagers, talk about the miracles as much as you can before Purim. Try to engage them at the table. Discuss why anyone would want to be Achashveirosh. Ask them whether Haman would have been easily recognizable before he made his decrees? Talk about what happened to Queen Esther at the end and how Daryavesh, her son, gave permission to build the second beit hamikdash. Point out Hashem‘s hidden ways and how Purim is relevant to us in exile because we constantly experience veiled miracles. Kids can understand these ideas if you simplify it.

Be sure to make it clear before Purim that doing dangerous things is really listening to the voice of Achashveirosh and the voice of arrogance. This includes drunk driving, handling anything explosive or sharp, or giving people hard liquor when they think they are drinking something soft. Boys will be going around collecting for their respective yeshivot. They should understand that their role is to bring simcha to the homes they go to. They should be making their host feel good about the charity they are giving, not terrorizing them.

With older kids you need to plan the day beforehand. Don’t let your boys wander around drunk. If there’s a rabbi in the neighborhood who is willing to make a mesibah (festive gathering) for them, that’s great. If not, give your husband the job.

Give your teenage girls a day plan too. Otherwise Purim becomes a drag for them as they watch the boys get drunk while they’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Purim is a day for prayer. In the morning, take them with you to daven. If you are in Israel, go with them to the Kotel so they feel the spiritual essence of the day. Let them deliver shalach manot to their friends. When you arrive home for the seudah, everyone should be in a good mood. Fill the empty spaces in the afternoon with reading and discussing stimulating topics about the megilah or Purim.

May the pure simcha of this special day create lasting memories for your children.

Purim: Your Chance to Win the Lottery

7 03 2012
Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shoshie Nissenbaum 

The Likute Maharan notes that there is a deep connection between Purim and Parshat Parah. Both are related to the root word pur, a lottery.

A lottery is something beyond understanding. Teshuva is beyond logic. In this world, if a person sins and confesses, his punishment may be lessened, but he is still penalized. But with repentance, if a person repents, not only are his sins erased, but they turn into merits. The kohen gadol’s task on Yom Kippur was to bring down the awesome power of repentance by drawing lots. The lottery determined which goat would be sacrificed and which would be thrown off the cliff.

There are fifty levels of impurity and fifty levels of purity. The fiftieth level of holiness is keter, which was never revealed, except on Yom Kippur when the kohen gadol drew lots.

During the Babylonian exile, klal Yisrael sunk to the fiftieth level of impurity. They lost their Jewish identity. Amalek, the root of all impurity, represents this lowest level of evil. Their hatred of klal Yisrael was beyond logic. When the Jews sinned, they gave power to Amalek. We see that Haman, a low advisor, soared to the highest position in the royal court. He convinced the king to decimate the entire Jewish nation. Before he would follow through with his plan he devised a test. He encouraged Achasheveirosh to make a feast. It was optional, nobody was forced to eat or drink but the Jews came anyway. This was the proof Haman was waiting for. The Jews had sunk to the lowest level.

Mordechai understood that they needed to repent. He led the people in fasting and praying. Esther too cried out to Hashem, “Keili lama azvanti,” (Hashem why have you abandoned us). Klal Yisrael were spiritually depleted. Esther beseeched Hashem, we are bereft of our Jewish identity, bring us back. Hashem accepted her heartfelt prayers and revealed to them the 50th level of kedusha. He removed us from the point of no return and helped us regain our identity.

On the 13th of Adar, the non-Jews opened the letter Achashveirosh had originally sent. They knew the Jews could defend themselves so they did not venture to fight them. Amalek, whose hatred is illogical fought anyway and the Jews defeated them. This great miracle revealed the 50th level of holiness. As soon as Klal Yisrael repented, Haman fell.

Similarly, the whole process of the para aduma (red heifer) is beyond logic. If a person became spiritually contaminated, the kohen would purify him by sprinkling the ashes of the red heifer. But the kohen would then become impure. This teaches us that there is much more beyond human comprehension. When we are meritorious, Hashem reveals it to us.

Every year on Purim the great light of keter comes down. There is an incredible level of clarity and an understanding of who we are. Purim is greater than Yom Kipppur in some ways. Hashem gives us the capability to reach awesome heights. May we merit to utilize the day to the fullest.

Hidden Miracles in the Megillah

7 03 2012
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg 

Purim is a holiday of nes nistar (hidden miracles). A nes nistar is when Hashem intervenes and helps us, within the laws of nature. Megilat Esther does not tell of any supernatural miracles. In fact, Hashem‘s name is not found even once in the text. He is hidden in between the lines to show us that even when one cannot see Him He is there.

Both the Gra and the Malbim point out the seemingly coincidental occurrences in the megilah that were really veiled miracles.

In chapter one it says, “V’hashtiya kadat ein oness (The drinking was by law without force).” A major theme of the party was full freedom. It is therefore ironic that the king commanded Vashti to do something against her will. Hashem put into Achashevirosh’s head to do this, so Esther would become the next queen.

After Vashti disobeyed the king and Achashevirosh asked his advisors what to do, Memuchan said that she should be killed and that a new royal edict should be issued. The official law of the land was that any court case involving the king had to be decided together with his advisors. Haman said to change this so the king could decide on his own. Nine years later, when Esther told Achashveirosh, “Haman wants to kill me,” the king immediately ordered Haman executed. The Gra notes that Haman helped kill himself. If the law hadn’t been changed, Achashveirosh may have calmed down after some time or Haman could have bribed the king’s advisors.

After Achashveirosh killed Vashti, he sent out letters that every man should rule in his own home. This was another hidden miracle. It made Achashveirosh look foolish. When he sent out another letter to kill the Jews, the people waited and didn’t jump to follow his order because they already knew not to take him seriously.

Haman’s lottery fell on the 13th of Adar, eleven and a half months later. This allowed the Jews time to repent and save themselves. Haman put his faith in mikreh (coincidence) but Hashem worked it out for the good of the Jews.

The tree Haman built was 50 amot tall. It could be seen throughout Shushan. After Achashveirosh came in furious from the garden, Charvona appeared and pointed to the tree where Haman planned to hang Mordechai. This set Achashveirosh off even more and he immediately ordered Haman killed. Haman had prepared his own gallows.

The ultimate nes nistar was the night Achashveirosh couldn’t sleep. When the megilla says “Hamelech” it refers to Hashem, and at this point in the story it is read to the tune of the High Holidays services. Hashem wasn’t sleeping. He was actively saving the Jews. On that very evening, Haman planned to get Achashveirosh’s permission to kill Mordechai. The king’s servants read him the story of how Mordechai saved the king, which happened nine years previous. Had he been rewarded earlier, things wouldn’t have happened the way they did. The very second that Haman knocked to enter, the servants finished reading the tale.

Vayomer Charvona echad min hasarasim (And Charvona, one of the advisors said).” The hey in hasarasim is a hey hayediah. The simple translation is that he was one of the known advisors, but this seems odd because he was never mentioned before. The Gra and the Malbim explain. At the end of the sixth chapter, the megilah says that while Haman and his family were talking, the king’s advisors arrived. Charvona knew about the tree because he was one of the sarisim who barged in in in the middle of the discussion. Hashem timed it to the second so that Charvona would overhear.

The book of Nechemia tells how the king asked the prophet Nechemia why he looked sad. He replied that he was mourning for the ruins of Jerusalem. The king then gave permission for the Jews to rebuild the beit hamikdash. The Navi notes that the queen was sitting next to the king. Chazal say that the king was Daryavesh and the queen was his mother Esther. Daryavesh gave permission to rebuild the beit hamikdash because his mother advised him to.

The entire Purim story was part of Hashem’s hidden master-plan to bring the redemption closer.

How Do We Understand Esther’s Suffering?

21 03 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Questions and Answers for Today's Jewish Woman, Part 13


Every year when I listen to the Megila, I am haunted by Esther’s tragedy. How can we understand her personal suffering?



Esther’s tragic saga is a living metaphor of the Divine Presence in exile. There was no exile worse than Esther’s. She was a prophetess, righteous beyond anything we can imagine, and yet she was forced to marry the evil Achashveirosh and bear his child. Her fortitude in maintaining her identity in spite of all she had to contend with is similar to the Second Temple condition. While the Divine Presence was apparent during the First Temple, it was hidden during the Second Temple. Finding Hashem in His place of concealment is in many ways greater than finding Him in his place of revelation.

At the end of time, the light of the moon will eclipse the light of the sun. The glow of those who only absorbed reflected light will equal those who gave forth light. The women of the tents, our imahot (foremothers), will recognize that there were women who weren’t of the tent who were as great as they were. This is what Esther teaches us. Her life is an inspiration to all of us to hold on to our heritage despite the darkness and pain of exile.

A Deeper Look Into The Purim Story

18 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

A Deeper Look Into The Purim Story

The Megilah begins with a lengthy description of the wealth and opulence of Achashverosh’s palace. The Persian exile was meant to rid us of the illusion of hedonism. We were destined to discover that our true selves are our souls and not our bodies. In many ways, this was the hardest of all exiles for we only have so much emotional capacity and time and if our empty space is filled with materialism it will not be filled with meaning.

The Jewish people’s participation in Achashveirosh’s feast was disastrous. They sinned because they had taken on the mentality of the Persians, who viewed life as nothing but material pleasure. Our Sages say that when our emotions are devoted to physical desire, when materialism captures our passion, then something is terribly wrong. The Jews had become so callous that they participated in a party celebrating their own spiritual defeat.

Vashti threw a feast of her own for the women. The Maharal explains that the word ‘Vashti’ means ‘and two.’  She saw Hashem in heaven and man on earth and they were not to meet. When she refused to come to her husband, he had her killed. He woke up the next day, realized what he did, and was at a loss. The Midrash calls this stupidity. Letting your emotions rule over your intellect without considering the consequence is foolishness of the highest order. This is idealized in today’s society where self-expression, independence, and heart over mind reign supreme.

Esther, an orphan at birth, filled her empty spaces with the joy of building a bond with Hashem. Esther means hidden. Although she was born into a time when Hashem’s face was concealed, she made the right choices and became a prophetess. She was taken by force to the palace and Achashveirosh married her. He did not marry her because she was beautiful, but, because she radiated a spirit of goodness and he was drawn to it. All of Esther’s seven maids converted because she brought out their inherent goodness. For nine years, Esther maintained a pact of silence and would not reveal her ancestry. The Maharal notes that the more world-oriented a person is, the more he talks about himself. Esther’s rich inner life enabled her to keep her promise of secrecy to Mordechai.

Mordechai, a descendant of Binyamin and Yehuda, was a natural hero. The Sages tell us that evil will be eradicated at the end of time by an offspring of Binyamin, the only tribe who did not bow to Esav. Yehuda’s names contains Hashem’s name and comes from the root word l’hodot, to thank and to confess. Mordechai had a sense of Hashem’s presence that was so real that when he was wrong he had to confess. The Megilah tells us, “Ish yehudi haya.” The Gemara writes, “Do not read it yehudi, rather yechidi, unique.” Mordechai took a brave, lone stand and did not prostrate himself to Haman.

Infuriated by Mordechai’s refusal to bow, Haman offered the king 10,000 silver pieces to kill the Jews. This equaled the exact sum the Jews had contributed to build the Mishkan. Our Sages tell us, “Charity saves from death.” We may not necessarily see results immediately but the merit of the deed protects us. Why is tzedakah different than other mitzvot? People have an emotional attachment to money. It takes on symbolic value. If you earn a lot you are worth a lot. In fact money is really from Hashem. Donating to charity is surrendering control to Hashem which earns us enormous merit.

Haman knew a great deal about spirituality. He built a wooden gallows fifty amot high to hang Mordechai. Wood signifies the tree of knowledge. Fifty symbolizes all the possibilities of human choice making. There are seven ways in which we resemble Hashem. Seven multiplied by seven equals forty nine. When the seven middot interact as a whole they become one entity greater than themselves totaling fifty gates. Haman wanted to show Mordechai that his insistence on morality had caused his death.  In the end he was proven wrong. Haman led Mordechai on a horse as a physical expression of something spiritual. Mordechai, whose name means pure, had overcome Haman at his evil core. This was the beginning of his downfall.

The Purim story concludes with, “Layehudim hoyta orah v’simcha v’sasson v’kar.” The Jews gained a new relationship to Torah. They saw Torah as light, instead of hedonism. They saw simcha as something not attained through materialism, but through the resolution of doubt and closeness to Hashem. Sasson, joy, could be acquired not by indulging in physicality but rather uplifting it. They saw brit milah as definitive and beautiful. And they saw that what makes us a serious presence in the world is not what we own but rather our ability to bring Hashem into our lives. This is symbolized by tefilin where Hashem’s name is carved into animal skin.

On Purim, Hashem gives us an opportunity to define who we are. Purim will remain even in the Messianic era. This is because all the other yamim tovim are emanations from Hashem, while on Purim we opened ourselves to Hashem.  It is a holiday of transcendence, a day akin to Yom Kippur when we can reach unimaginable heights through simcha. May this Purim bring us true joy.

Purim: Living the Secret

13 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles

Purim: Living the Secret

The Shivelei Pinchas notes that the essence of Purim is found in one extra letter in the Megilah, “Layehudim l’abdam,” “to destroy the Jews”, which is spelled with an extra yud. Haman’s goal was to take away our “pintele Yid”-the aspect of holiness within us that is eternal. That deep spark came to the fore when Mordechai told Hasach “Parshat hakesef,”-the story of the king’s money. Kesef from the root word kisufim-yearning, hints at a Jew’s deepest longing which is to connect with Hashem. This is what Haman wanted to destroy. As a descendant of Amalek, the paragon of evil, he understood that for holiness to be decimated completely, it must be uprooted at its core.


Purim is about focusing in on our inner souls. “Nichnas yayin yatza sod.”-When wine goes in, secrets are revealed. In this state, our externals are stripped and we can see what really matters to us. Is our essential being one of wanting to do Hashem’s will or do we find our enjoyment in the outside world?  What brings us happiness? What is our focus? What speaks to us? The sin of the Jews was that they took pleasure in the feast. They found joy in a realm outside Torah. Purim is tapping into the Oneness of Hashem, it is rededicating ourselves to Torah and to becoming ovdei Hashem.  The Pachad Yitzchak points out that Purim is like Yom Kippur. However while Yom Kippur is connected with remorse, Purim is not. On Yom Kippur we tell Hashem, “Sin is not my true essence, I will repent. On Purim we proclaim, “This is me, under all the outer trappings I am one with Hashem.”


Happiness is a critical factor in Judaism. Therefore it is prominently highlighted on Purim. People who look for happiness from an external source, will find their simcha limited. Happiness needs to be connected to something internal. Love leads to simcha. Knowledge and understanding enhances love. Therefore to acquire self-love, we must know clearly who we are. In this way we can come to love Hashem.  Ahavat Hashem will then lead to profound happiness. There is no greater simcha than recognizing that we are children of the King. Each of us has a unique relationship with Hashem made up of our individual life situation, trials, and challenges. Purim is the climax when we ask ourselves, “Do I feel a personal bond with Hashem?” Purim is experiencing the joy of kabalat haTorah, the marriage with Hashem, the fact that He tailor designs everything in our lives to help us reach our purpose.  Our challenge on Purim is to experience a day of tremendous physical enjoyment and direct that joy to the most essential joy of  Kiymu v’kiblu. There is no greater happiness than being a Jew.


The Netivot Sholom notes that when the king asks Esther, Mah bakashaseich, “What is your request”, it is really Hashem questioning us, “What is it you need to be more successful in serving Me?” Purim is a day when the heavenly vaults are open. We can ask Hashem for the gift to be a better eved Hashem. Taanit Esther is a time to introspect, a time to focus on what is really important in our lives. Once we have that perspective, we can then proceed to the simcha of Purim with the realization that we are the beloved children of Hashem. May all our prayers be answered l’tova.

Purim Inspiration: Esther’s Role

6 03 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

Purim Inspiration: Esther's Role

Esther, the hero of the Purim story, is a fascinating study in contrasts. If we examine the beginning chapters of the Megilah she appears passive and even somewhat apathetic.  Yet suddenly in the second half of the Megilah, she takes on an entirely different persona. Esther assertively directs Mordechai to gather the Jews and have them fast for three days.  In fact, the Midrash describes a halachic debate which took place between them. While Mordechai protested that the Jews could not fast on Pesach, Esther argued that if all the Jews would be killed there would be no Pesach. And indeed she won out. The Megilah notes further, “Va’yas Mordechai k’chol asher zivsa Esther…”-Mordechai did all that Esther commanded. This is in striking contrast to the beginning of the Megilah where it says, “Es mamar Mordechai Esther asa,”-Esther followed all of Mordechai’s wishes. The formerly passive Esther creatively comes up with twelve different reasons as enumerated in Mesechta Megilah, for inviting Haman and Achashveirosh to a double feast. Later on in the Purim story, she convinces Achasheivrosh to give her Haman’s house, and then places Mordechai in charge. While at the beginning of the Megilah, Mordechai raised Esther, here Esther elevates Mordechai. After Haman was killed, it is Esther who again approaches the king to have the death sentence on the Jews rescinded.  The Megilah continues to emphasize Esther’s active role in writing down the Megilah and establishing Purim as a holiday.


Rav Lichtenstein asks the obvious question, what happened to Esther? How does she suddenly take on the role of an entirely different character? When Mordechai sent Hasach with a message for her to go to the king, she initially refused. Mordechai sent back a message, “Mi yodea im le’s k’zos higat l’malchus”-Who knows whether it was just for a time like this that Hashem selected you to become the queen. Mordechai gave her mussar and she took it to heart and was aroused to action. She resolved to drop her formerly passive behavior and use all her abilities to save Klal Yisrael.  This is a lesson for all of us. Every Jew gifted with a unique ability, quality, or special power has a responsibility to use it in a productive way to help the Jewish people.  This is what Mordechai told Esther and this is what we need to learn for our own lives, whether in our professional, personal, or general interactions with people. Mordechai’s forthright words catalyzed Esther into action. It transformed her from a passive follower into a valiant hero who played a paramount role in saving the Jewish people.