Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

The Mishkan: A Different Kind of Group Home

The mishkan served as the religious center during the forty years that the fledgling Jewish nation traveled in the dessert, and was the hub of spirituality in the land of Israel until David/ Shlomo built the Beis Hamikdash in Yerushalayim. The Ramban explains that just as at Sinai the entire nation camped around the mountain, similarly when they traveled from Sinai, the mishkan was at the center of the camp. The mishkan /mikdash unified the people. There is no Mitzvah for any individual to build a mikdash, rather it is incumbent upon the Jewish nation. It was to the mishkan / mikdash that they came thrice yearly to celebrate the pilgrim festivals and to bring the prescribed offerings. Once we were privileged to build a Beis HaMikdash, the Torah distinctly prohibited the offering of korbanos in any other location.

In addition, the ability to develop a close relationship with Hashem is attainable by every individual wherever in the world they might live. The individual keeping Shabbos, kashrus, and studying Torah can attain a personal closeness with Hashem. However, it is only when the nation is united in its pursuit of sanctity that there is a concept of kingship (government), sanctity of the Temple and sanctity of the community serving Hashem. This is only attainable in Eretz Yisrael.

With the above, we can now more fully understand a perplexing teaching of the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the threat of Purim. The Talmud asks: what might the Jewish people have sinned so terribly that they deserved "l'hasmid laharog l'abed es kol hayehudim" - to G-d forbid destroy the entire Jewish nation? The Talmud gives two answers, both of which are puzzling on the surface. The first answer is that they worshipped avodah zarah - idolatry. However, a more careful analysis reveals that it was not actual idolatry, but "avak" idolatry, behavior that resembled idol worship, as they bowed to the image of Nebuchadnezzer. While surely a serious offense, at first glance it doesn't warrant such a harsh punishment.

The second response is even more difficult. Rashbi teaches that they were "nehene mei'seudas Achashverosh" - they attended and participated in the party of Achashverosh. What, however, was their crime? Lest we think that they partook of a non-kosher meal, the Megillah explicitly states " hashtiyah ka'das" which the Talmud understands (Megillah 12a) to mean that the king satisfied the individual dietary needs of each person, including kosher food. Even the wine was mevushal. So wherein lies the grave offense? HaRav Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zt"l and Reb Yosef Salant zt"l in his Be'er Yosef suggest a fascinating response. They remind us of the prophecy of Yirmiyahu that the Jewish people would return to their land after seventy years. Achashverosh miscalculated and believed that the seventy years had passed and the prophecy proved to be false. The Jewish people were not returning home. He was therefore celebrating the demise and downfall of the Jewish nation. Of course, if any Jew wanted to keep Kosher they could in Persia, but the nation, the people of Israel, had lost its purpose.

Thus the Talmud understands that when we are told that he donned "bigdei malchus" - royal garb, it refers to the bigdei kehuna - priestly garments, and specifically that of the kohen gadol. Moreover, he displayed the relics of the Temple that would no longer be needed. Thus, their participation in this party was an agreement that no redemption/salvation was necessary - they could remain Jews in Persia.

Mordechai tried to persuade the nation not to attend. There is much more than individual observance of mitzvoth. Moreover, if the Jewish people forsake their sacred mission of being a holy nation, a holy people, then they lose their right to survive as a people. Their attending the party of Achashverosh had much deeper meaning. We can now appreciate Mordechai's plea not to attend, as he was advocating a difficult theological-religious perspective, the importance of the nation on their land.

We can now understand the response of Mordechai who leads the people to teshuva (repentance). Firstly, he tells Esther "lech k'nos es kol hayehudim" - "gather the entire Jewish nation". The people need to be awakened regarding their belonging to a nation. Personal participation in Torah and mitzvos is insufficient. Secondly, he awakens the desire to return home to Israel and build the Beis HaMikdash. The Medrash teaches that the Jewish nation fasted on the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of Nissan to cancel the evil decree of Haman and Achashverosh. When Haman finds Mordechai to implement the king's order of parading Mordechai throughout the city in an honorable way to express the king's appreciation, he finds Mordechai teaching the innocent Jewish children. Does it really make a difference what the subject of his lesson was? Why does the gemorah (Megillah 16a) inform us that he was expounding the laws of kemitzah and korban omer, the offering brought on the sixteenth of Nissan? HaRav Kook zt"l explained that this was to maintain their hopes and aspirations for shivas tzion, return to Zion. The korban omer was not brought by any one individual, rather one offering was brought on behalf of the entire nation. In unified the people in spirit and in practice.

The Raavad teaches that Taanis Esther is most unique, in that all other fasts have an element of sadness and tragedy, while this fast is one of simcha, happiness. Happiness that we were victorious over our enemies, and especially that we did not loose a single soldier. In addition, our fasting reminds us of their fasting for three days, which brought about the unification of the Jewish nation and ultimately our geulah. May we, through our fasting, be so privileged to bring happiness and hasten our geulah.

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