Hooray! I Am an Orphan – Discourse for Purim

Rav Achia Sandowsky • 2019

As an orphan, Esther is not bound by any rules. She gets lost, and does not only lose her father’s home, but also Mordechai. This kind of going is not a going that happens according to the rules, but only with the wisdom of the heart. This is treading the unknown path.

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In honor of the holiday of Purim, we will contemplate the matter of the mask, the cover of the face and the removal of the mask from our face.

For children, Purim is a holiday of masks, groggers and costumes. With the progression of the years and increasing maturity, Purim turns out to have the completely opposite meaning- a holiday of the removal of costumes and masks. The difference may be due to children walking around  when they are relatively more transparent and vulnerable, less and less guarded. For them, Purim is an opportunity to play, to dream- not to just be ‘like’ something, rather to truly be it. I am a policeman, princess or monster.

We, the older ones, live our lives with ‘thicker garments.’ It is harder to ‘read’ us, our thoughts and our feelings, our words are more formulated and sometimes express less. Therefore, when Purim arrives, this is an opportunity to shed some of the heaviness and respectability, of the ‘everything is okay,’ of the revealed world to which we are obligated and which we represent.

This is how you can understand the words of Rabbi Mordechai Joseph of Izhbitza: ‘Gods of masks do not make for yourself- masks are the social norm. And on this the Torah says that at the time that you have the wisdom of the heart explicitly, then you will not look at the norms and act accordingly, but with the wisdom of your heart you will know in every detail how to behave’.  The mask is the norm, the ‘usual;’ however, according to the Izhbitzer Rav, the commitment to the norms and preserving them covers the face of God. On the one hand, the Izhbitzer agrees that the preservation of the rules is necessary – as long as a person does not have ‘explicit wisdom of the heart’; on the other hand – he compares it to idol worship (as it is said about the golden calf- ‘עגל מסכה מסכה—mask).

In other places Rabbi Mordechai Joseph speaks about the confrontation between the illumination of the heart and the norms, he relates to the norms as our parents – even with regard to the Patriarchs: ‘The Patriarchs are general rules of the Torah and the commandments’,  and also in regards to the Matriarchs: ‘The Matriarchs are the general rules of the Torah.’  Why are the parents – the father and the mother – called rules? And if we walk in their ways, is it like idol worship?

A child who goes after his father and mother – whether in the service of God or in other spheres of life – is likely to have a covered face, a mask. If we ask him ‘who are you?’, he will answer ‘I am the son of…’. If we try to understand why he does a certain action, we will receive the parents’ answers - elaborate but painfully alien from himself (jokingly, you can explain the quote found in the Passover Haggadah ‘from the beginning our ancestors were idolaters’ – all who are our ancestors – he is a certain kind of idolater for us).

Esther wins blessed be she: she grew up without parents, without any rules and norms- ‘for she had neither father nor mother. The maiden was shapely and beautiful; and when her father and mother died, Mordecai adopted her as his own daughter.’ (Esther 2,7). The verse describes her firstly as having ‘neither father nor mother,’ like she was born like this already, and only after does it continue to explain that her parents died. Esther is an orphan in her essence. The Ari writes ‘יפה תואר וטובת מראה- is an acronym for orphan (יתום),’ and we will expound upon it. The orphan is not supervised, no one calls for her. Also, her clothing, speech and ‘clothing’ are not meticulous. She is exposed to the spaces of randomness and coincidence. In this kind of situation, without any parents or rules, the opportunity is given to contemplate upon the wisdom of the heart. As an orphan, Esther is not bound by any rules. She treads on new and dangerous ways that her parents never would have permitted had they been alive. She is not only orphaned from her parents, but also from God, Who even disappeared from her Megillah: ‘For the leader; on ayyeleth ha-shaḥar. A psalm of David. My God, my God, why have You abandoned me; why so far from delivering me and from my anguished roaring? My God, I cry by day—You answer not; by night and have no respite.’ (Psalms 22;1-3). ‘When Esther arrived at the idols house, the Divine Presence left her, and she said: my God, my God, why have You abandoned me.’  The king, who is Ahausuerus and also the King of the World, does not call her: ‘if any person, man or woman, enters the king’s presence in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law for him—that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live. Now I have not been summoned to visit the king for the last thirty days’ (Esther 4:11).

Specifically, Esther, as an orphan whom was not called by thre king and is in a position where nobody will search for her if she gets lost, can do an irregular action: ‘Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish’ (Esther 4:16). Rashi says on that verse: ‘and when I began to get lost, I will go and die. Midrash Aggadah: just as I was lost from my father’s house, I will be lost to you, because now that I am willing to go to the Gentile, I am forbidden to you.’ Esther gets lost, and does not only lose her father’s home, but also Mordechai. This kind of going is not a going that happens according to the rules, but only with the wisdom of the heart. This is treading the unknown path.

This is implied by ‘Let the mother go’, meaning that he should send away the rules, that he will not care for them but will only sacrifice his soul, just like we found in Daniel when he sacrificed himself over prayer, and Mordechai who sacrificed his life when he did not bow down to Haman, and Rabbi Akiva who sacrificed his life for the ritual of the washing of the hands, not according to the rules of the Torah, because they understood that this commandment belongs to their essence. Because each person has a specific mitzvah that belongs to him individually, as it has been explained in several places. And this is the meaning of ‘take the sons for yourself,’ meaning that you should only watch over the wisdom of your heart. And this is what Chaza”l said ‘If you chance upon (a bird’s nest) – but not if it was ready for you (כי יקרא - פרט למזומן),’ it is forbidden to bring himself to a place where he endangers himself, only when it happens by itself.

Esther understands that Amalek, with its coldness and coincidence, will be beaten using Amalek tools, yet at the same time ones that are entirely different. She will also get lost and will even march to the verge of despair and doubt; she too will cast off the rules of religion and intellect, sending away the mother. But Esther came warmly, shouting and roaring. Esther cries out by night and has no respite, but she does not stop, she is not silenced. She will fill the cups with wine that are capable of removing the mask and revealing the secret, will bless us with the blessing of the orphans, and will head out to the invisible road.

Whatever happens, happens.

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