Purim throughout Jewish history has been regarded as one of the most joyful holidays of the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated with wearing costumes, lavish Purim seudot and general merry making. However, there are other aspects of Purim which teach us important lessons concerning the Jewish people, their past, present and future.
Jacob's Ladder is one of the greatest spiritual visions in the Tanach. No wonder it has become a central theme for artists and poets throughout history. One can forget many Biblical passages but this image remains indelible in our memory.
You may have noticed that Parshat Bamidbar (literally, in the desert) always precedes the holiday of Shavuot, when we received the Torah at Sinai. Many reasons have been offered to explain why HaShem gave us the Torah in the wilderness. Some commentators have pointed out that God chose the wilderness to teach us that Torah can be learned and practiced everywhere, even in the darkest times and places throughout Jewish history. Others have pointed out that to accept and understand the Torah, we need to rid ourselves of arrogance and hubris, and be as simple and open as the stark desert landscape.
When Yaakov beholds the royal chariots that Yosef had sent to bring him to Egypt, he was overcome with fear as a result of the realization that the protracted Egyptian Exile would now begin. Yaakov is afraid of what will happen to his descendants in the coming years. The Almighty appears to Yaakov and tells him not to be afraid to descend to Egypt. The Almighty says "I will make you into a great nation." How does this ease Yaakov's fears? The Sforno explains as follows: Were they to stay in Canaan the Jews would not multiply; rather, they would assimilate and intermarry with the Canaanite peoples. In Egypt, however, as a result of the fact that the Egyptians would not eat the bread of slaves, nor would they interact with them, the Jews could continue to grow maintaining their distinct national identity. (From this perspective, Jewish spiritual life in Muslim countries was perhaps better than that which we can witness today in modern Western countries where the rate of intermarriage is so high). G-d then says to Yaakov (B'reishit 46:4): "I will descend with you into Egypt and I will surely bring you back up".
The parsha opens with the words "Tzav et Aharon v'et banav..." "Command Aharon and his sons-" concerning the Olah sacrifice. Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, asks: Why does the Torah use the the term "tzav" (command) rather than "daber" (speak) or "emor" (say)? He answers that "tzav" demands alacrity ("zerizut") in the performance of a mitzva and it implies 1) immediacy, 2) future applicability, and 3) according to Rabbi Shimon, the additional element of financial loss. Since all mitzvot do, in fact, require alacrity, it is particularly urged in the case of this mitzva because of the potential financial loss that it involves.
Avraham's journey towards the Akeida takes 3 long days. During this time he is deliberating, debating, experiencing an extended inner struggle as depicted in the Midrash describing his meeting with an old man (his conscience) who makes him confront that which he is about to do. Where are you going? the man asks. Why do you carry a knife? The nature of Avraham's internal dilemma has been described as the "teleological suspension of the ethical", meaning that Avraham's understanding of G-d as being all good, is not compatible with Avraham's being commanded to sacrifice his beloved son. Alternatively, Avraham must confront the total contradiction between having been promised "Ki v'Yitzchak Yikarei L'cha Zera" (in Isaac shall thy seed be called - B'reishit 21:12) and being told to bring Isaac to the Akeida (Rashi on 22:12).
Our Parsha is most relevant and important, especially now, when the world questions our rights to Eretz Yisrael. In Shmot 6:8, Hashem promises to bring us to the land He promised to our forefathers, V'heiveiti etchem el haaretz asher nasati et yadi lateit ota l'Avraham, l'Yitzhak ulYaakov v'natati ota lachem morasha ani Hashem. "I will bring you to the land which I promised to give to Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov and I will give it to you as an inheritance, I am Hashem." There seems to be a contradiction between "V'Natati" and "Morasha". Natati implies a gift, while Morasha implies an inheritance. A gift is something you give to one who is worthy and who has earned it. An inheritance is something which one receives automatically handed down from generation to generation. There was much discussion in Talmud Bavli (BB117) and Yerushalmi (BB8:2), as to whom and how the land was divided. (TorahTemima Bamidbar 26:53). In any case, all agree that Eretz Yisrael was given to Am Yisrael as a Morasha, an inheritance. Why then is the term V'Natati (given) implying a deserved gift in the same pasuk.
At times I hear it said or I read that Israel should pay no attention to what other nations think of us. A verse from our parsha is cited as "proof": HEN AM L'VADAD YISHKON UVAGOYIM LO YITCHASHAV, interpreted to mean that we should isolate ourselves from world-opinion and not take other nations into consideration. This interpretation cannot claim to be anything like the "official" view of Judaism. The main- stream interpretation of this verse has it referring to the continued existence of the Jewish people, while other nations can be destroyed.
People who have not made aliya tend to focus on how many difficulties they will face. They see family pressure, financial pressure, cultural pressure, pressure, pressure and more pressure
I take this to mean that no matter how far away, geographically, spiritually or generationally, a Jew may have wandered, he will ultimately experience stirrings of Jewish identity and Jewish nationalism, so that in spite of all the distance and alienation, a sense of basic Jewish unity can take root.