Categorized | Columnists, Rabbi Yogi

Heroic figures of our past are worth imitating

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

We got the Torah on Shavuot, but you won’t find any 9-year-olds dressed up as Moses, holding up cut-out-cardboard Ten Commandments, anywhere in synagogue over that holiday. Not many Maccabee look-alike contests over Hanukkah either.
But on Purim, we’ve got Queen Esthers and Mordechais to spare! These royal Jewish personages seem to be everywhere and anywhere over the holiday! I would venture to say that the No. 1 choice of Purim dress-up for 5-year-old girls is Queen Esther, and similarly it’s Mordechai for the boys. Sure, you’ve got one or two wise-guy Hamans in the crowd, but that shtick doesn’t usually start up until the teenage years, when that’s the least of parents’ concerns concerning teenage rebellion.
And so, it’s only appropriate on the holiday that recognizes and celebrates its ancient Jewish heroes like no other, to focus on the miracle that is great Jewish personages throughout our history.
I happened to be in the Holy Land just months after the venerated giant of mussar (the study of Jewish ethics and character development), Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe zt’’l, passed away. The year was 2005 and I was engaged in one of my favorite practices of Jerusalem life, book hunting. Meah Shearim in particular is lined with tens of large and small sefarim (Jewish books) shops, and I always spend as many hours as I can find perusing up and down the aisles for new and ancient treasures.
It just so happened that I passed by a certain store that had a table outside on the sidewalk, showcasing its newest additions, and a small, paperback book caught my eye. In honor of the shloshim (the 30-day period of mourning after death), the students of Rabbi Wolbe zt’’l had collected and published a small book of letters that their rebbe had written to individuals, addressing all sorts of questions and concerns that people presented him. I had to buy it!
Unfortunately, the book sat on my shelves for years, largely untouched, until just last year when I decided to go through the letters one by one. It turned out to be a real treasure. There were Torah insights on just about every page, with one pearl of wisdom in particular resonating with me above them all — an insight that highlights the uniqueness of man, and more particularly the singular majesty of the spiritually elevated man.
Rabbi Wolbe was perplexed as to why the Shemoneh Esrei (otherwise known as the Amidah — literally, “the Standing Prayer”), the holiest and most often recited of Jewish prayers, begins its praise of God with the reductive words, “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob,” when it could have used broader, seemingly more glorifying terminology like, “Creator of Heaven and Earth,” “Redeemer From Egypt” or “Giver of the Torah.”
The answer, according to Rabbi Wolbe zt’’l, is that the greatest praise that we can offer the Almighty is that He created physical creatures of flesh and blood who nonetheless might achieve Godly natures. People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who educated the world about the nature of the divine and were elevated themselves to such a lofty degree that the King of kings Himself felt it appropriate to attach His holy name to theirs (“God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob”). Who would think that you and I have the potential within us to become the greatest miracles of all! (See Igrot U’Ketavim Mimaran Rabeinu Ha’Mashgiach, Letter 5: Bircat Avot, for greater detail.)
Besides the fun and games associated with dressing up on Purim, it’s worth considering how special, and indeed unique, it is, that we as a people educate our children that the people they ought most to imitate and emulate aren’t today’s top athletes or most famous movie stars, but the holy and heroic figures of our Jewish past. People like the saintly Mordechai and the righteous Esther. Within the merriment of the day, and in the childlike endeavor of dress-up, we are indeed imparting a most lofty lesson to the next generation: that human beings can become greater than our biological limitations might imply — that we have the potential to become vessels of the divine, the greatest miracle in all of Creation!

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