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.
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.
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.
This week's haftara has a message that is so timely today, it is as if it were just written. Yirmiyahu is requested by Hashem to purchase a tract of land, and the request to purchase this land is accompanied with a prophecy of conquest of the very same land by the Kasdim. Being a devoted believer in Hashem and his messages, Yirmiyahu goes ahead and purchases the land with a very detailed purchase procedure, witnesses, a deed, public announcement of the purchase, and then for safe keeping, places the purchase proof, today called "tabu" in Israel, into an earthen vessel of clay so it can remain for a long time as proof of purchase.
When Moshe Rabeinu's appeal to enter the Land of Israel is denied he explains to the People preparing to enter the Land that G-d's decision was "for your sakes" (D'varim 3 26). The Midrash (Tanchuma Va'etchanan 6) tells us that G-d presented Moshe with a choice: he could choose to have G-d cancel the decree that he would die in the desert, but in that case the Jewish People would not survive. Moshe's reply was "better that Moshe and a thousand like him should die than that a single Jew should be lost to Israel".
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.
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.
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.
An allusion to Chanuka in Parshat Miketz may be found in Par'o's dreams, where "The poor-looking, thin cows ate the seven fine-looking, healthy cows" and "The thin ears of corn swallowed the seven healthy, wholesome ears." This parallels "You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak and the many into the hands of the few," which we recite in Al HaNisim. It is obvious from these weeks' Torah readings that Yosef, and later his brothers and father, Yaakov, had no desire to "go down" to Egypt. Hashem, however, decreed otherwise, and for reasons beyond their control, they remained in Mitzrayim until their passing. Yet their love and reverence for the Holy Land is reflected in their desire even just to be buried there. Indeed, all of them were eventually laid to rest in Eretz Yisrael. How fortunate are we, their descendants, who are able to live where they, during Yisrael's first exile, could not!
"Increase in the Land" Yaakov blesses his grandchildren Efrayim and Menashe: "Let them carry my name, along with the name of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak. May they increase in the Land like fish".