This week the theme of hiddeness has been ever before us as we have read the book of Esther, a book with no mention of G-d's name. As we recount how our people nearly became subject to a plan of mass genocide, it would behoove us to peer behind the curtain of history and see the thread of salvation that has been ever present throughout time. Along this thread have been individuals, who by no other reason except divine purpose and not coincidence, have been set before our people to be raised up during a time of need.
Esther, in this week's Purim Megillah reading, was just such an individual. In earlier Israelite history, we recall when King Saul neglected to act according to Hashem's command and take the life of King Agag, an Amalekite. Chazal (the Sages) teach us that King Agag's wife conceived after the war and this later brought about the evil descendant called Haman. This fracture in history would later be repaired through an unlikely turn of events. Through the divine plan, even before the evil scheme of Haman was made known, Esther was established in the kingdom after winning a notorious beauty pageant set by the King Ahasereus. She did not devise or conspire to win such a title as the new queen; her Jewishness would be considered repugnant to the kingdom and she knew such a position would force her true identity to remain hidden. As Esther becomes privy to Haman's plot to destroy the Jewish people, she responds to the call that her relative Mordechai sets before her; should she decide to not act on behalf of her people to save them, then salvation will come through some other means and her life would be lost. Esther realizes the gravity of the situation and makes the choice to attempt to redeem her people. Nonetheless, it seems that her opportunity to redeem was not without risk.
Esther must accept the risk of going before the king - an allusion of not just appearing before a monarch uninvited, but an act of seduction which could put her own soul in jeopardy. When responding to Mordechai's plea for her to act, she concludes, "Then I will go in to the King though it's unlawful; and if I perish, I perish." Not only could her very life be lost through disobedience to the king, but her soul as well for all eternity for having appeared before the king in an act of immodesty.The very act of losing her soul does not deter her, for her purpose lies in saving her people. The activation of Esther as a selfless redeemer was vital in saving the lives of future Jews. She emptied herself in order that her people be saved. Though King Saul's neglect to blot out Amalek led to a series of events which nearly brought about the demise of the Jews in Shushan, Persia, the Jewish community had the opportunity to erase this error. Esther, a champion for her people, was motivated by compassion and the realization that she had the ability to change the course of history. She unselfishly sought life for her people L'shem Shamayim, for the sake of Heaven. Through this act of altruism not only was her neshama spared but her people as well. Indeed, as Mordechai well knew, she had an opportunity to act and help save her people. Had she not, it was apparent to him that Hashem would allow relief and deliverance to come from some other place.
In this week's Torah reading, we see this same theme mirror in the actions of Moshe, Aharon and Hur, the grandfather of Bezalel. Like Esther, they risk their own share in the world to come in order to keep the community in tact. As Moshe is upon the mountain, the people grow restless and lose hope in Moshe's return. Desperate for leadership, they turn to Aharon and demand gods to go before them. Meanwhile, Aharon, in an attempt to stall for time until Moshe returns, risks his very soul in an attempt to keep the people from sinning. He calls out to the people to bring their gold - from their wives, sons and daughters. Imagining that this might be a difficult task, he bides his time and waits for his brother. When they bring him gold in great masses, he assumes that the formation of such an idol might be laborious and afford him more time as Moshe returns before it is completed. In a last attempt after the idol is formed, he puts off the celebration until the next day, when there will be "a festival for Hashem." While playing into the hands of the unfaithful, he is in essence placing his soul in the balance in the hope that the culmination of these tasks would not actually amount to complete idol worship.
Aaron walks a fine line of seeking peace and pacifying the masses until Moshe shows up to bring the people to order. In the end, the people rally around their completed idol in drunkenness and revelry. This act of worship nearly brings an end to B'nei Yisrael, as Hashem's anger burns on the mountain. Hashem expresses his desire to blot out B'nei Yisrael and to instead make a new nation from Moshe. Just as Aharon was motivated to be a mediator and agent for preservation of the community and sought to rise above his own self to save them, Moshe prefers to preserve B'nei Israel than be the father of a new nation. Instead, he intercedes for B'nei Yisrael and selflessly places his own life in the balance if they should be cut off. Even in the presence of the living G-d, he does not cut a deal and instead accepts the challenge to be numbered with B'nei Yisrael. As he leaves the mountain, he further redeems Yisrael by nullifying the covenant by which they would be damned. Like tearing up the marriage contract of an unfaithful wife, Moshe smashes the tablets hoping to save them from the ultimate punishment.While the tragic error of not doing away with King Agag causes Haman to arise, Esther was given the opportunity to correct this mistake in time for a redemptive purpose for her people. Likewise, in Ki Tisa, we see that despite the blunder of the Golden Calf, an individual, another mediator in the plan of redemption, is called out from his inactive state to be one of the fashioners of a place for the Divine Shechinah. His desire to be utilized in the building of this sacred space would be the antidote for the brazen sin of the misplaced worship of the Golden Calf:
"See, I have called by name, Bezalel son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled Him with a G-dly spirit, with widsom, insight, and knowledge, and with every craft..." [Shmos 31:1-3]
During the incident of the Golden Calf, the Torah states the grandfather of Betzalel was Hur. The Midrash Rabbah shows the account of Hur during the construction of the Golden Calf:
Another explanation of SEE, THE LORD HATH CALLED BY NAME BEZALEL, THE SON OF URI, THE SON OF HUR, OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH. Why is Hur mentioned here? Because when Israel were about to serve idols, he jeopardized his life on God's behalf and would not allow them to do so, with the result that they slew him. .[Midrash Rabbah - Exodus XLVIII:3]
What is important to note is that Hur's life and sacrifice is accredited as righteousness to Bezalel; for each time Bezalel is introduced, the Torah makes a point of tracing his lineage both to his father and his grandfather. This righteousness, a family trait as it would be, sets the stage for one who is already in their midst, Bezalel, to be called upon to utilize his talents and allow his neshama to change the course of history for B'nei Yisrael. Note that Bezalel, was a man "called by name" from the tribe of Judah, was"filled with the Spirit of G-d" and whose name means "in the shadow of G-d." The Torah speaks of him as one who innately possessed all the talents that his job required . so much so that it was said he was filled with divine wisdom regarding the Hebrew letters. This intimates that Betzalel had a very mystical, holy and deep attachment to G-d. The Midrash Rabbah elaborates on this very concept:
Another explanation of SEE, I HAVE CALLED BY NAME BEZALEL. Thus it is written, Whatsoever cometh into being, the name thereof was given long ago (Eccl. VI, 10). The Holy One, blessed be He, said: ' I have already named him whom I have appointed from the very first to construct the Tabernacle.' ... While Adam was still a lifeless mass, G-d showed him all the righteous people that would descend from him...
This imbuing of divine purpose into a young man of thirteen years was necessary in order to fashion a space in this world that would be a suitable dwelling for the Divine Presence. Though we transgressed as a nation and made the Golden Calf, Bezalel had been created and placed in our midst to set the wheels in motion for communal redemption through the building and use of the Mishkan. Only one who had the qualities of the Messiah could put his hands to the task of building the Mishkan in the wilderness. Imbued with wisdom, insight and understanding, Bezalel constructed the first abode for Hashem. The future Messiah, filled with the same qualities, would build the final Temple as a permanent resting place for the King. In the Besorah, we see this example of Messiah Yeshua, only twelve years of age, teeming with the spirit and wisdom of G-d as he is found in the Temple by his parents:
The child grew and became strong and filled with wisdom . G-d's favor was upon him.....On the third day they found him . he was sitting in the Temple court among the rabbis, not only listening to them but questioning what they said; and everyone who heard him was astonished at his insight and his responses...And Yeshua grew both in wisdom and in stature, gaining favor both with other people and with G-d." [Luke 2:40, 46-47, 52]
Bezalel was placed in time when the nation was in a purely dysfunctional state and needed a young and vibrant man, filled with the Ruach ElohimRuach Elohim (spirit of G-d). But it seems fitting as we see a young man who is given a calling to build the Tabernacle that he should have mashiach-like qualities to build a space for the divine . his very purpose and intent being intimately connected with the Holy One. In the midst of our nation's gravest mistake, a life that might have gone unnoticed was brought forward to be awakened and utilized for the sake of our people. to help transform the physical world around them into a conduit of blessing for the nation. This tabernacle would not only allow the people to have a place to atone for their sins, but also allow them to witness the Shechinah in their midst. Throughout the course of history, not many are labeled as having the
Though in this world the face of G-d appears to be hidden, we must realize salvation is always hidden within His plan. When we take the risk to empty ourselves for the sake of our community, we reveal the hidden redemption which underlies our world. The players of our stories this week exemplify the faith necessary to reach beyond the mask of this world to reveal that which is embedded deep within. May we draw courage from their lives and be always ready for the measures in time when we are called upon to play in the divine symphony of redemption.
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