Toras Purim 5771

Toras Purim 5771[i] (with footnotes!)


The Late Edition of Toras Purim 5771, set to expire before Sunset of the New Day which occurred yesterday, and which may never occur again. Haman hung from the gallows, so why shouldn’t we hang out together a little longer, until the story ends that never began? Ok, if you can answer that question and enigma, you surely drank too much and nothing I say or do is going to change your mind. Anyway, on to more productive matters, such as writing Purim Torah that will not be misconstrued as Toras Purim, except for the title, which definitely doesn’t have anything to do with the price of beer in Shushan Habira. Ok, I admit that line is old and worn out and has no place in a  Purim page, especially as we are taking seriously any threats of alcoholism  and the like, unless the need arises to inspire the world to great things. So, continuing on to infinity, wherever that is (actually you can get there with such a car brand, but let’s leave the auto industry out of this one, or they’re also going to come running to collect Purim Gelt) we need to delve into the topic of the day, which is Pitum Haketores, פטום הקטרת, the formulation of the Incense Mixture used in the Bais HaMikdash. You are already wondering if this may be bordering on Purim Torah, which would be considered an infringement of someone’s rights, and a possible lawsuit as well. Oh, well. We will cease and desist, as the lawyers will once again desire to press grapes, I  mean charges, and our firm has no end to litigation in Achashveirosh’s court, as our readers are well aware when they are sober.

New paragraph, for those who have  trouble reading in a straight line.

One of the spices used for the Ketores was called the חלבנה (Ok I’m not transliterating that one as it smells awful). What was חלבנה? Cassia. Uh huh! You say, now that helps me. Ok, without entering another possible lawsuit, sometimes translators of Hebrew words should have used Rabbi Shimon Haamsuni’s רבי שמעון העמסוני)) rule where he stated: כשם שקבלתי שכר על הדרישה כך אקבל שכר על הפרישה. Now I am going to contradict my own rule and translate that one for you: just like I received reward for my elucidation (fancy word for explanation) I will also receive reward for my abstaining to explain. Anyway, the point is that not everything has to be explained. Does that make any sense? Of course everything requires an explanation. Like why is the knife Kosher? Because! What’s the rationale? Because. All right, if you knew as much as they did you would also say that. Resuming our train of thought, we are gathering steam here and whistling our way through Pitum Haketores. So the word חלבנה, or as you say, cassia, is the same gematria as………… you’re not going to believe this……………….. HAMAN. Please hold off on the snaps and caps and firecrackers for a few moments while we explain this phenomenon. See, Haman was against the building of the Bais HaMikdash so he made sure to get his foul smelling body (in case you haven’t realized by now, חלבנה smelled pretty bad.) into this Ketores mixture. Now you may ask, what right did he have to do that? Ok, you’re going to need some patience. Now here’s a question for you. Please don’t be offended by this, especially if you daven נוסח אשכנז, but do you ever say Pitum Haketores? Do you say it from an expensive leather bound parchment that costs over $200.00? I hope you do, because if you do that, then you’ll be rich. Ok, maybe not as rich as Haman, but rich by being satisfied with what you have. Ah, the true rich person is one who is happy with what he has. Some people even use one leather parchment Pitum Haketores for Shacharis and one for Mincha. I have yet to see anyone who uses one for Maariv (ok, even you know that no one says Pitum Haketores by Maariv. I was just trying to keep you on your toes, if you aren’t already out cold on the floor from all that wine.) So here’s Haman sticking his nose into this fine incense mixture. The reason why he could get away with that is because the Gemara (Kerisus 6b) states that we include the חלבנה, a foul smelling spice, in the mixture, to teach us that even the wicked have some good contained in them. For this reason we include the wicked and wanton (Huh?) ones in our prayers, to show HaShem that we are tolerant of every Jew, and Hashem should tolerate our failings and deficiencies. Now, you may be wondering (start twirling your thumb), that’s good for Jews, but Haman, last I can recall, was not descended from Jews! Now, before you dismantle our hypothesis here, it is worth noting that there is one opinion in the Gemara (Kiddushin 18a) that opines (Oh I love that word) that Esav was a Jew, so it would follow that his grandson Amalek (son of Eliphaz and Timna) would be considered a Jew. However, we don’t really follow that opinion, and for all practical purposes, Amalek was not Jewish, or whatever was deemed to be Jewish in those times prior to the Giving of the Torah. Assuming the majority opinion that opines (J) that Haman was not a Jew, how did he end up in the Ketores mix? The simple answer to this question is that the Gemara (Gittin 57b) states that the descendants of Haman studied Torah in Binei Brak. Now this is definitely worth going off on a tangent. Last check in Yeshivas Ponovezhe did not reveal anyone with a three-cornered hat studying Gemara diligently, so who could the Gemara be referring to? I have a sneaking suspicion that they were alluding to Rabbi Akiva, as the Rambam writes that Rabbi Akiva was a descendant of converts, and we know that Rabbi Akiva resided in Binei Brak. I can’t say that this is historically true, and I certainly don’t intend that the next Jewish best-seller should be titled “and Haman was his grandfather,” but think about it for a second: Everyone says that the reason Haman merited descendants studying Torah in Binei Brak was because he accomplished what the greatest of prophets could not achieve. Haman, in decreeing annihilation of the Jewish People, caused the Jews to repent in a way that they had never previously repented (See Gemara Megillah 14a). Well, if Haman was so accomplished in his methods of Jewish outreach, it would follow that a great Sage like Rabbi Akiva who taught twenty-four thousand students at one time should be one of his descendants. Furthermore, Rabbi Akiva himself was unlearned until he was forty years old, and it was only after witnessing dripping water making an impression on a rock that he decided that the Holy Torah could make an impression on his hardened brain. [ii] So it makes sense that Rabbi Akiva followed in the footsteps of his infamous forebear and brought himself closer to HaShem and His Torah. Ok, coming back from a major “sidetrack,” I will proceed to explain the significance of Haman being mixed around in the Ketores.

Did you ever notice that in the Ketores we say the following words: תנו רבנן, פטום הקטרת כיצד? שלש מאות וששים ושמונה מנים היו בה. שלש מאות וששים וחמשה כמנין ימות החמה מנה לכל יום, פרס בשחרית ופרס בין הערבים: ושלשה מנים יתרים, שמהם מכניס כהן גדול מלא חפניו ביום הכפרים. ומחזירן למכתשת בערב יום הכפרים, ושוחקן יפה יפה כדי שתהא דקה מן הדקה. The Rabbis taught:” How is the incense mixture formulated? Three hundred sixty-eight maneh were in it: three hundred sixty-five corresponding to the days of the solar year – a maneh for each day, half in the morning and half in the afternoon; and three extra maneh, from which the Kohen Gadol would bring both his handfuls [into the Holy of Holies] on Yom Kippur. He would return them to the mortar on the day before Yom Kippur, and grind them very thoroughly so that it would be exceptionally fine. Without getting into the depths of the meaning of this passage, suffice it to say that the Arizal writes that Yom Kippur is יום כפורים, a day like Purim, so we can already begin to understand the association between Haman and the Ketores. The word מנים is similar to the word מנות, portions, a reference to משלוח מנות, the portions of food that we distribute to our friends on Purim. When we rearrange the letters of the word מנה we have המן. Ok, it gets better. The Kohen Gadol would grind them very thoroughly. The word for thoroughly is יפה, which, you guessed it, is the same gematria as המן! Now the word יפה is said twice. Why? Well, if you really want to know, I will share something interesting with you. It is said (Shemos 7:16-17) ואמרת אליו ה’ אלקי העברים שלחני אליך לאמר, שלח את עמי ויעבדני במדבר והנה לא שמעת עד כה, כה אמר ה’ בזאת תדע כי אני ה’ הנה אנכי מכה במטה אשר בידי על המים אשר ביאר ונהפכו לדם. You shall say to him, ‘Hashem, the G-d of the Hebrews, has sent me to you, saying: Send out My people that they may serve Me in the Wilderness – but behold, you have not heeded up to now.’ So says HaShem, ‘Through this shall you know that I am HaShem; behold, with the staff that is in my hand I shall strike the waters that are in the River, and they shall change to blood.’ The Baal HaTurim notes that the word כה appears twice here, once at the end of verse 16 and once at the beginning of verse 17. He writes that the word כה, when using the formula of א”ת ב”ש, (where the letter א equals the letter ת and the letter ב equals the letter ש) equals the word לץ, which means a scoffer. The word לץ, when multiplied by 2, equals 240, and that is the number of plagues that HaShem inflicted on the Egyptians. The Egyptians were afflicted with forty plagues in Egypt and another two hundred plagues on the Sea. Thus, Moshe was alluding to Pharaoh that he would not listen until he was stricken (another great word, no?) with plagues that equaled the words כה כה. Oh wow, Pharaoh even knew א”ת ב”ש, which actually is difficult to understand, but we will leave that for another time.[iii] The Baal HaTurim continues and writes that that this is what is said (Mishlei 19:25) לץ תכה ופתי יערים, strike the scoffer and the simpleton grows clever. So, those who study Baal HaTurim know that he always revealed a tefach and concealed two thousand tefachim. What important piece of information did the Baal HaTurim leave out here? The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 27:6) expounds on this verse from Mishlei as follows: It is said (Shemos 18:1) וישמע יתרו, and Yisro heard, that is what it is said: לץ תכה ופתי יערים, strike the scoffer and the simpleton grows clever, and similarly it is said (Mishlei 21:11) בענש לץ יחכם פתי, when the scoffer is punished, the simpleton gains wisdom. Amalek and Yisro were together with Pharaoh in the counsel against the Jews. When Yisro observed that HaShem had obliterated Amalek from this world and the next world he was astonished and he repented. From this Medrash we see that the verse לץ תכה ופתי יערים also applies to Amalek. By extension, this verse also applies to Haman, a descendant of Amalek. Also, the word לץ multiplied by two equals, guess who? Amalek! So going back to the question (scroll up a bit to see what I’m referring to) as to why Haman is alluded to as יפה, it’s fairly obvious what the answer is.  Well, in truth, Haman was anything but pretty, especially after his daughter dumped all that garbage on him, but we know why it says ושוחקן יפה יפה, and grind them very thoroughly, as the Baal HaTurim writes that Pharaoh was stricken with plagues that equal in gematria כה כה, which in א”ת ב”ש is לץ לץ. The verse in Mishlei states לץ תכה and the Medrash cited above states that this refers to Amalek, so we now know that we have to strike and grind Amalek thoroughly. Do you get it? It’s complicated, so here’s the short version. יפה is gematria המן, and it says יפה יפה and Pharaoh was hit twice, and Amalek and subsequently Haman also got hit twice. Ok, we‘re running out of time (and room on the page) here, so I wish to skip down to the Baraisa of Rabbi Nassan. Hang on for the ride. It is said:  
תניא, רבי נתן אומר: כשהוא שוחק, אומר הדק היטב, היטב הדק, מפני שהקול יפה לבשמים, it is taught, Rabbi Nassan says: As one would grind [the incense] another would say, ‘Grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind,’ because the sound is beneficial for the spices. It is said (Esther 4:1) ומרדכי ידע את־כל־אשר נעשה ויקרע מרדכי את־בגדיו וילבש שק ואפר ויצא בתוך העיר ויזעק זעקה גדלה ומרה, Mordechai learned of all that had been done; and Mordechai tore his clothes and donned sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the midst of the city, and cried a loud and bitter cry. The Vilna Gaon writes that this passage from Rabbi Nassan alludes to Mordechai, as Mordechai cried out and the Gemara states that Mordechai was compared to choice spices. It follows, then, that this passage of Rabbi Nassan alludes to other aspects of the Megillah. The word הדק equals in gematria 109. The word המן in א”ת ב”ש (you remember what that is, right? Scroll up J) equals, guess how much? 109. Geniuses, you and I. And the best part of this is that the word הדק is mentioned twice, alluding to the idea I mentioned earlier that Amalek and Haman get “klep” twice. (Allright, you can allow me one Yiddish word, no?) Also, just for fun, the words הדק היטב, היטב הדק equal in gematria the word לעמלק, for Amalek. (By the way, the words דקה that I talked about earlier is also mentioned twice, so apply the idea of הדק to דקה.

This just in: saw this while saying Ketores by Mincha today (hint hint): We recite the wordsואם חסר אחת מכל סמניה חייב מיתה, but if he left out any one of its spices, he is liable to the death penalty. The word סמניה  contains the word המן and the remaining letters are ס and י, which equals in gematria 70. So what does this have to do with Purim? Easy answer. Haman was killed at the end of the seventy year Babylonian exile. There’s much more to say about פטום הקטרת and Purim, but let’s wait until next Purim, may it soon come along, speedily, and drunkenly, in our days and not in the days of Amalek and Haman and his gang.

OK, to wrap this up, and to wrap up all the Amalekim once and for all, I would like to thank all of our sponsors, and co-sponsors, and the people hanging from the tree (that’s right, we must be eternally grateful to Haman and his sons for this wonderful holiday of Purim) and let’s face it, HaShem is the Greatest, Purim is great, and the Jewish People live forever. So get Shiker, on wine or liquor, say Torah, light the Menorah (whoops, wrong holiday) and now sit back and enjoy some great tantalizing Purim stories from way back when. Until next year, so long, zei meshuge, zei freilech, and zei gezuent.


כל טוב נצח סלה ועד לעולם ולעלמי עלמיא אמן


Purim Stories

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Reads His Mother the Megillah Out Of Respect

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach held L’Halacha that hearing by Krias Megillas Esther through a hearing aid one could not be Yotzei. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s mother Tzivya was hard of hearing and wore a hearing aid (see story). When Rav Shlomo Zalman became Bar Mitzva he learned how to read the Megillah so that he can read it for his hearing impaired mother.

On Purim his mother would remove her hearing aid and Rav Shlomo Zalman would read the Megillah with all his might close to her ear so that she could be Yotzei. He continued this for many decades.

After many years of practicing this minhag one of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s children mentioned to him that he doesn’t think his mother can really hear all the words despite his best efforts. Rav Shlomo Zalman answered him, know my son that I never imagined that she hears the Megillah K’Halacha. All that I do for my mother is only to make her feel good and to honor her. (Halichos Shlomo Orchos Halacha 2:29:1)


The Brisker Rav Mulls Over the Mishloach Manos

It was close to sunset on Purim, and someone entered the house of R’ Velvel of Brisk with shalach manos.  The Rav ran out of the house to see whether the sun had set yet.  When the Rav came back into the house, someone asked him the reason for his puzzling behavior.

The Rav explained that he did not wish to accept presents under any circumstances due to the dictum, “One who despises presents will live” which is not a light matter.  However, on Purim accepting presents stems from the din of shalach manos.  Now that Purim was almost over, he wanted to check whether the sun had set, which would cause the shalach manos to become a mere present – which he was not willing to accept. (Chayim Sheyash Bahem) (

The Throne Room

Four men approached the Great Palace of Shushan in the early morning light. A glowering guard questioned them briefly and then let them pass. Although they had seen the palace many times before, they stopped for a moment to marvel at the massive, flower-shaped structure. (1) Then they walked past the main entrance, with its immense brass-studded, elaborately carved portals, and came to a modest service door around the side of the building. A caretaker showed them in.

“We’ve come to work on the throne,” said one of the men, an older fellow with a tangled gray beard. “My men will need buckets of soapy water, clean rags and plenty of fragrant oils.”

“I know,” said the caretaker. “They are waiting for you in the throne room. You know the way, so go straight through. I must be running along. There is no end of work to do.” Without another word, he hurried off.

The gray-bearded man beckoned to his men and set off at a brisk pace. They walked through endless rooms and corridors adorned with colorful paintings and tapestries. Everywhere, servants were removing golden vessels and precious jewels from royal treasure chests and arranging them for public display.

Finally, they reached a small, unobtrusive door. “Here we are,” the gray-bearded man said. “The throne room.”

“This simple door?” asked one of the men, an apple-cheeked youngster.

“That’s right, young fellow,” replied another of the men, an extremely thin fellow with a serious look on his face. “The main door is for guests. This one is for Jews like us who come to polish the throne.”

“One day, I’ll come in through the front door like everyone else,” grumbled the fourth man, a rotund redhead. “Just because I’m a Jew doesn’t mean I can’t get some respect.” (2)

“Enough,” said the gray-bearded foreman. “Let’s get to work.”

He opened the door and led them into a dim hallway. One door stood slightly ajar, sunlight streaming through the opening. The youngster reached for the doorknob.

“Wrong door,” said the foreman. “Come this way.”

“But what’s in here?” asked the youngster. He flung open the door and immediately cried out. The others rushed to his side.

For a long moment, they all stood gaping in astonishment.

“I don’t believe it,” the rotund redhead said at last. “What is this thing?”

The foreman stepped forward for a closer look. “I believe it’s King Solomon’s throne,” he said reverently. “He supposedly received it as a gift from his father-in-law Sheishak, the Egyptian Pharaoh. Look at this thing! It can’t be anything else. Let’s get out of here. We have work to do.”

“What’s the hurry, uncle?” said the thin man with the serious face. “It’s early. We have plenty of time. I want to get a good look at this thing. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I will never will again. It is huge!”

The throne indeed towered above them, a structure of majestic beauty decorated with innumerable jewels, pearls and gold inlay. Tall, slender potted date palms on both sides cast soft shadows on the royal seat. Six steps led up to the throne. On the first, a golden ox and a golden lion crouched menacingly; on the second, a bear and a sheep; on the third, a leopard and a camel; on the fourth, an eagle and a peacock; on the fifth, a cat and a chicken; and on the sixth a young falcon and a dove. Seventy-two golden lions and eagles surrounded the throne…

A loud shout interrupted him. “What’s going on here?” It was the caretaker. His face was livid. “What are you Jews doing in here? This room is off limits. Get out!”

“We’re sorry, sir,” said the foreman. “We just took a wrong turn.”

“Well, take another turn and get right to work or I’ll throw all of you into the dungeon.”

The men slipped out silently and went down the dim hallway until they reached the throne room. Achashveirosh’s new throne stood in the center. It was also incredibly beautiful, but it paled in comparison to Shlomo’s throne. Achashveirosh had brought the finest artisans in Alexandria and elsewhere and commissioned them to duplicate Shlomo’s throne, but try as they might, they could not achieve the same level of beauty and perfection. Still, the new throne was a spectacle to behold in its own right.

As the caretaker had promised, pails of soapy water, rags and oils awaited them. They set to work scrubbing the newly completed throne one section at a time. They wiped away every speck of dust and grime until it gleamed, and then they rubbed in rich oils to give it an opulent luster.

“This is going to be some party,” said the youngster. “I wonder what King Achashveirosh will be thinking, sitting on this magnificent throne and receiving the delegates from the 127 lands of his empire. (3) All these treasures will surely make them feel like ants in front of the mighty king”…

[The man explained:] “Let’s backtrack a few years. While the kings ruled their empire in Babylon, two new powers were rising in the east. One was Persia, the great land in which we live, the other was Medea. What I’m about to tell you is not corroborated by eyewitness reports. Some people claim it is only legend. But it is interesting in any case. There was once a Persian king named Astyages. He had a daughter named Mandane who befriended one of the king’s courtiers. The furious king killed the courtier and threw his daughter into prison, where she gave birth to a son.

“The king wanted the child to die, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it directly. Instead, he gave the order that the child should be left exposed on a mountaintop where it would die in a matter of hours. Miraculously, a dog found the baby and suckled him. The child survived on the mountaintop and grew into a powerful warrior. As he grew older, he drew other warriors to his side until he had his own army. Since he had been raised by a dog, they called him Koresh, which is, as you know, Persian for dog. The Greeks called him Cyrus.”

“Hey, isn’t he the king who sat on King Solomon’s throne?” asked the youngster. “How did he get to be king?”

“Not bad, young fellow,” said the thin man sarcastically.

“That’s right,” said the foreman. “It is one and the same Cyrus. When Astyages, his grandfather, heard he was alive, he sent soldiers to kill him. Cyrus routed the king’s soldiers, marched on the capital, killed his grandfather and assumed the throne of Persia. The neighboring kingdom of Medea was ruled by King Darius. Cyrus and Darius forged an alliance that was sealed when Cyrus married Darius’ daughter. Together, they invaded Babylon in 3389 and conquered it, killing Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon.

That was the end of the Babylonian Empire and the beginning of the Persian-Medean.1 (4) Darius and Cyrus agreed to share power by taking turns; when one held the throne, the other was governor, and vice versa. (5) Darius was the first king. When he died in 3390, Cyrus took the crown. One of the first things he did as emperor was authorize the reconstruction of the Beis HaMikdash.”

“As Isaiah had prophesied,” said the thin man.

“Indeed,” agreed the foreman as he stroked his gray beard. “Indeed. And he prophesied it a century before it happened. I know the words by heart. ‘So said God to His anointed one, to Cyrus whose right hand I held… I lifted him up with righteousness, I will straighten all his ways. He shall build My city and free My exiles.’ My mother had me memorize these words as a young boy so that I would not despair of ever seeing the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash. We had never even heard of Cyrus then.”

“So what happened with Cyrus?” asked the youngster. “Why isn’t the Beis HaMikdash built yet?”

“Good question,” said the foreman. “Things started out well. A small group led by Daniel and Mordechai went to Jerusalem first. Zerubavel, a scion of the Davidic dynasty, and Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak followed soon afterward, and construction began. Cyrus himself traveled to the construction site to return the holy vessels Nevuchadnezzar had stolen from the Beis HaMikdash.”

“How about Ezra?” asked the youngster. “Did he go, too?”

“No, he didn’t,” said the foreman. “He was afraid his Torah learning would suffer if he left his teacher, Baruch ben Neriah. Many others were also reluctant to make the journey, discouraged by the poverty and desolation that characterized the Land of Israel at the time and by fear of the hostile peoples who had moved into their vacated homes and towns. They saw the first stirrings of reconstruction as a sign of heavenly favor but not of imminent redemption.”

“So what stopped the reconstruction?” asked the youngster.

“Intrigue, lies, intimidation. The Samaritans, or the Kutim if you please, sent a delegation to Cyrus accusing the Jews of plotting to rebel and of not paying their fair share of taxes. At the same time, they threatened the Jews with physical violence. Cyrus gave in to the pressure. He allowed the Jews who had gone up to Jerusalem to stay there, but he called a halt to further emigration. This was a serious blow to the reconstruction. There simply were not enough people to complete it. In 3393, one year later, he died and was succeeded by his son — our very own beloved King Achashveirosh.” (6)

The rotund redhead scratched his head. “Why do you say he is beloved? We don’t love him. In my neighborhood, they make a pun of his name and say ‘Ach larosh, woe to my head.’ The taxes he imposed on us are driving everyone into the poorhouse. On top of that, he stopped the reconstruction.” (7)

“Yes, he did,” said the foreman. “The rabbis also used those words as a pun, ‘Ach larosh,’ but they translated them as ‘brother to the head.’ Nevuchadnezzar was the head of the kings, a killer who destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. Achashveirosh is his brother in evil; he also seeks to kill Jews and destroy the Beis HaMikdash. (8) It started from the very beginning, when Achashveirosh ascended to the throne. The Samaritans and that rascal Haman, the fellow with a whole bunch of sons, wrote Achashveirosh a clever letter accusing the Jews of disloyalty. Haman’s son Shimshai is a clever scribe, and he made it seem as if he was interested in promoting peace and harmony in the empire. Achashveirosh liked what he heard, but he still wasn’t too sure about what to do.”

“So why did he decide to stop the reconstruction?” asked the youngster.

“Queen Vashti, his 18-year-old bride, persuaded him to do it. She is the daughter of Belshazzar, the Babylonian king who died on the night Babylon fell, the great-granddaughter of Nevuchadnezzar, the one who destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. ‘Why are you building up,’ she asked, ‘what my ancestors tore down?’ With the support of the haughty queen, Achashveirosh issued the decree that put an end to the reconstruction”…

“Quick!” he said. “Everyone back to work. I hear footsteps approaching – many of them.”

The men grabbed their oil-soaked rags and went back to shining the already gleaming throne. Moments later, a dozen helmeted palace guards marched into the throne room. With a disdainful glance at the four Jewish laborers, they ran a thorough inspection, then they left the room and assumed positions on either side of the door.

In the silence that followed, the four men heard the stamping of heavy feet accompanied by the clank of armor and the rich rustle of silk and satin. Then he appeared, the mighty King Achashveirosh himself, a hulking bear-like figure of a man, with bushy eyebrows and a glowering scowl. (9) Two fawning courtiers ran alongside him, holding up the hems of his robe, bowing incessantly and offering to bring him food, drink or anything else his hungry royal heart might desire.

Walking past the Jewish laborers as if they did not exist, the king strode to the throne and ran his hands lovingly over the opulent carvings.

“It looks just about ready [for the royal feast],” he growled to his courtiers. [And thus began the Purim story…]


1. Menos HaLevi.

2. See Megillah 12a, according to both views. See Tosfos and Ben Yehoyada there; Einei HaEidah.

3. Esther became queen over 127 lands in the merit of her ancestor the Matriarch Sarah, who lived 127 years (Esther Rabbah 1:8; Midrash HaGadol 23:1).

4. See Sefer Yuchsin; Seder HaDoros; Shalsheles HaKabbalah and Me’am Loez.

5. Megillah 12a.

6. See Maharsha to Yoma 9b; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 5:4, 8:9; Maharsha to Megillah 12a and 16a; Rashi to Pesachim 87a.

7. See Maharsha to Megillah 11a; Me’am Loez 1:1. Some suggest that Achashveirosh was actually a good king. He was good-hearted by nature and a man of good intentions, but his foolish and gullible character allowed him to be manipulated by others. This influence led to the references to Achashveirosh as a wicked Jew-hater, based on his actions towards them (Eshkol HaKofer, Tzuf Devash).

8. Maharsha to Megillah 11a; Me’am Loez 1:1; see Midrash HaGadol to Esther 1:1.

9. See Megillah 11a; Daniel 7:5; Krovetz L’Purim.

Purim of Egypt

We all know the story of Esther, as related in the Megillah. That story is, however, only one example of how behind seemingly natural happenings, is the invisible hand God, which fashions and shapes events for the benefit of His People, as the Psalmist says: “Your wonders and your thoughts are toward us” (Psalms 40:6). There are many similar stories of events like these, though of more local significance, during the period of our exile, whose anniversaries were celebrated as a “Purim” in the places where they had happened. One such “Purim” is called “The Purim of Egypt.”

It happened at the time of the great Radvaz (Rabbi David Ibn Zimra) when he was the Rabbi of Cairo, during the first half of the sixteenth century. Egypt was a province of the Turkish Empire and was ruled by a viceroy, Ahmad Shaitan Pasha, appointed to that high office by Sultan Selim I, as a reward for his conquest of the Island of Rhodes.

However, as often happens, pride and conceit got the better of him, and in his heart were hidden plans to make himself absolute ruler of Egypt and rebel against the sultan. His first step was to order the Jewish finance minister Abraham di Kastaro (appointed by Sultan Selim) to strike new coins bearing the name of Ahmad Shaitan only.

Abraham di Kastaro, of course, owed his allegiance to the sultan; when he received his orders from Shaitan he pretended to cooperate, since to do otherwise would have imperiled his life. However, he demanded that those orders be given to him in writing. When this was done, he secretly fled from Egypt to Constantinople to the court of the great Sultan Selim, and placed the written orders before him. No clearer proof of this vassal’s defiance was necessary.

In those days, of course, communication was not as swift as it is today. Reaction to events which would now take days, in those times took months. Although immediate orders were given to crush the rebellion, there was no chance of an army reaching Egypt for several months.

In the meantime the rebel Ahmad Shaitan Pasha, realizing that di Kastaro had defected, vowed vengeance on all the Jews of Cairo. As a first step, he ordered the imprisonment of several prominent members of the community, as well as all friends of di Kastaro. He then imposed a huge fine on the Jewish community and decreed that if it were not paid by the appointed day, he would order a mass slaughter of all Jews ― men, women and children. To prove that he was in earnest, he had the 12 leaders put in chains as hostages.

No pleas or tears could penetrate the stony heart of this tyrant or persuade him even to grant them more time to raise the money. The Jews of Cairo had nowhere to turn for salvation in the dire peril, but to their Father in Heaven. A general fast was declared, and the people gathered in the synagogues for intensive prayer and supplication. Even the small children under the age of 12 were assembled in the synagogues ― for the prayers of innocent children are especially effective.

On the appointed day, the representatives of the community attempted to hand over 10,000 gold pieces to Ahmad Shaitan, with a promise to pay the rest later. This the enraged Pasha rejected with contempt. He sent out his personal secretary with the following message: “The end has come for you Jews; in a short time you and your children will be put to death.” The secretary ordered the arrest of those who had brought the money, and announced that on the return of his master from his bath, the slaughter would begin.

What Ahmad Shaitan did not know, however, was that his deputy, Mohammed Bey, was plotting against him, and that the moment had come for him to rid Egypt of a tyrant. While the cruel tyrant was at the bath, looking forward with vicious excitement to the slaughter, he suddenly found himself surrounded by plotters. Wounded in the struggle, he nevertheless succeeded in escaping to his citadel; but Mohammed Bey roused the Moslem citizens of Cairo who surrounded and stormed the fortress and plundered it.

Ahmad Shaitan was captured while attempting to escape. He was put in chains and subsequently beheaded. Thus, another enemy of the Jews came to a miserable end.

Mohammed Bey freed all the Jews and remitted the fine. This day, the 28th of Adar 5284, was changed from a day of destruction to one of rejoicing for the Jews of Cairo. A day of threatened mourning became a festival. Its anniversary was celebrated by the Jews of Cairo with festivities and the reading of Megillat Esther, and it was called “The Purim of Egypt.” (



Toras Purim 5771 is sponsored by Mr. Ed Belkin in loving memory of his parents Chaim Sender ben Moshe, Niftar 28 Adar I 5738, and his mother Leah bas Yitzchak Isaac Niftarah 17 Adar 5761


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[i] Look back on the top!

[ii] For the record, Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld has a different take on this  subject, and here is the quote from his web site, The Gemara tells us, “Descendants of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak… descendants of Sisera taught children in Yerushalayim” (Gittin 57b). Although our texts do not reveal who these descendants of Haman and Sisera were, the text available to the early commentators apparently did. The descendant of Sisera was Rebbi Akiva, and the descendant of Haman was Rav Shmuel bar Shelas, a contemporary of Rav (Ein Yakov to Sanhedrin 96b; Toldot Tana’im v’Amora’im; Sefer Yuchsin; Menoras ha’Ma’or 5:3:2:3).

It is immediately evident that a typist’s error must have crept into our texts of this Gemara. We never find Rebbi Akiva (= descendant of Sisera) teaching children; nor do we find him living in Yerushalayim. To the contrary, we are told that Rebbi Akiva, leader of all of Israel, had thousands of older, mature students (Yevamos 63b) and that he lived in Bnei Brak (Sanhedrin 32b). It is Rav Shmuel bar Shelas who we find teaching children (Bava Batra 8b, 21a), and the place reserved for teaching children is indeed Yerushalayim (Bava Batra 21a, based on the verse “From Zion goes out Torah…”). It is clear that the descriptions of the two sets of descendants should be reversed, and the Gemara should read, “Descendants of Haman (= Rav Shmuel bar Shelas) taught *children in Yerushalayim*… descendants of Sisera (= Rebbi Akiva) taught *Torah in Bnei Brak*.” In fact, this is the reading cited by Menoras ha’Ma’or in the Mosad ha’Rav Kook edition of that work. (These words found favor in the eyes of my Rebbi, Haga’on Rav Yisroel Zev Gustman of blessed memory. Incidentally, the emendation that Rav Shmuel bar Shelas taught *children* also appears in a number of manuscript Gemaras, as cited by Dikdukei Sofrim, Sanhedrin 96b #200.)

[iii] The Gemara (Sota 36b) states that Yosef knew seventy languages, whereas Pharaoh knew every language except for Lashon Hakodesh. Yosef proved to the brothers that he was Yosef by telling them that he spoke Lashon Hakodesh. The Ramban wonders about this, as he opines (J) that Lashon Hakodesh is essentially the language of the Canaanites, so what was the novelty that Yosef understood Lashon Hakodesh? The Chasam Sofer answers brilliantly that Yosef didn’t just know Lashon Hakodesh. Rather, Yosef understood נוטריקון גמטריא א”ת ב”ש. That being the case, who did Pharaoh know Hebrew, and for that matter, how did he know א”ת ב”ש? וצריך עיון גדול וה’ יאיר עיני

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