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For the week ending 19 March 2005 / 8 Adar II 5765

Purim: Incensed or Incense

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Lauren in Manchester, England

Dear Rabbi,

Please share a "vort" (a word/idea of Torah) with me regarding Purim.

Dear Lauren,

Regarding Hamans terrible edict, the Megilla states, "Letters were sent by the hand of the couriers to all the king's provinces, to destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, on one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and their spoils to be taken as plunder" (3:13). The Megilla then describes Mordechais reaction: "And Mordechai rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and he went out into the midst of the city and cried a loud and bitter cry" (4:1).

Shortly after this, responding to Esthers reluctance to intervene with the king on the Jews behalf, Mordechai responds, "Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king's house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father's household will perish. And who knows whether next year at this time youll still be queen" (Rashi) (4:13,14).

The question is, just prior to this Mordecai was crying bitterly in the streets on account of the edict. How is he suddenly so sure of salvation? What brought about the turnabout?

The answer is in the incense. One of the ingredients in the anointing oil and the incense used in the tabernacle and the Temple was pure myrrh: "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, take the best spices, pure myrrh etc." (Ex. 30:23). Targum Onkelus translates pure myrrh as mera dachia (which we will see is related to Mordechai). This mera dachia is also listed among the spices in the incense of which the Mishna states, "As one would grind the incense, another would say, Grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind, because the sound is beneficial for the spices" (Kereitot 6a).

Also, we find that the incense nullifies harsh decrees, specifically protecting those poised between life and death: "Moses said to Aaron, Take the censer and put fire from the altar into it. Then take it quickly to the congregation and atone for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, and the plague has begun. Aaron took it as Moses had said, and he ran into the midst of the assembly, and behold, the plague had begun among the people. He placed the incense on it and atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague ceased." (Num. 17:11-13).

Our Sages taught that the righteous are compared to pleasant smelling spices (Megilla 13a). That is why Esther was also named Hadassah which means myrtle, while Mordechai is comprised of mar dachia, pure myhrr, one of the main ingredients of the incense. We have seen in the above teaching of our Sages that sound is good for the incense. For this reason Mordechai, whose righteous deeds were pleasing to G-d as incense, cried aloud in the midst of the city. Through his intense prayer and beseeching on behalf of the Jews, Mordechai saw that, as incense offered before G-d, he was able to nullify the harsh decree against the Jewish people. In this way, he stood between the dead and the living much as Aaron used the incense to stay the plague of G-ds wrath.

Therefore, by the time Mordechai communicated with Esther, he was confident that relief and rescue would come to the Jews from somewhere. He was exhorting her not to forsake her people, not for their sake, but for hers in order that she not be lost from her people after being elevated and accepted into the palace, but that she too should partake of the redemption.

Myriads of Esthers, Jewish men and women worldwide, have been elevated to the upper echelons of Achashveroshs palace. On the other hand, we know that the redemption and salvation of the Jewish people as a whole will certainly occur. The question is whether the Esthers will forsake their people, resulting in their families' perishing as Jews, or whether they will strengthen their commitment to G-d, the Torah and their people and partake in the eventual but inevitable redemption.

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