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During the Second Temple, the Greek empire reigned (over Israel),1 and they (the Greeks) passed decrees against the Jews and (tried) to erase their religion, and did not allow them to carry out Torah (study) or the commandments. They put their hands on their property and their daughters. They entered the Temple, destroyed and made the pure unclean. The Jews were in great distress because of them and were much oppressed, until the G-d of their fathers had mercy on them, delivering them from their hands and saving them. Then overcame, the sons of the Hasmonean High Priest, (the Greeks) and killed them and saved the Jews from their hands. They appointed a king from the Priests, and the kingdom of Israel was restored for more than 200 years until the destruction of (the) second (Temple). When the Jews overcame their enemies and destroyed them, it was the 25th of Kislev2 when they entered the Sanctuary (inner room) and did not find pure (olive) oil in the Temple, except one jar sealed with seal of the High Priest, and it did not contain enough to light except for one day only. But they lit from it the lamps of the Menorah3 for eight days, until they could crush olives and produce a (new quantity) of pure oil. For these reasons, decreed the Sages of that generation that these eight days that begin on the 25th Kislev, will be days of joy and praise. One lights on them lamps at evening at the entrance to the houses, every evening of the eight nights to show off and demonstrate the miracle. These days are called ''Hanukah'' that is to say ''they rested'' (chanu) on the ''25'' ('th of the month) because on the 25th they rested from their enemies. and also because of those days they (re)-dedicated the house (Temple) which their foes had defiled. Also some say that it is a commandment to increase slightly the festive meals on Hanukah. Another reason is because the work of (building) the Sanctuary (in the desert) was completed in these days. One should tell one's children the story of the miracles that were done for our fore-fathers in those days, (see Josephus) However, these meals are not considered as part of the commandment unless one says at the meal songs of praise. One should increase charity in these Hanukah days, for this can help mend any defects in our souls. This charity, should be given particularly to poor Torah scholars. (KSA 139:1)
1) 352 BCE until 70 CE
2) 139 BCE
3) The Menorah was made of gold and had seven branches.
The Mishna Berurah in the beginning of Hilchos Megillah tells us of the four parshiyos we read during the weeks leading up to Purim and Pesach. The week before Purim, we read Parshas Zachor, the commandment to remember the evil of Amalek and their hideous attack on Klal Yisroel after they left Mitzrayim. Hashem tells us never to forget that incident, and that their memory must be forever erased from this world. In fact, Hashem reveals to us that “His throne” is incomplete as long as Amalek and their memory still exists. We read this Parsha the week preceding Purim, because the killing of Haman was somewhat of a fulfillment of this commandment, for Haman was a direct descendant of Amalek.
This commandment though, has never been fully fulfilled. We came close in the days of Shaul, but as we read in the Haftorah, he left Agag alive, thereby allowing for the continuity of Amalek to live on. Ever since then, it has not been in our control to fully rid the world of Amalek. As a matter of fact, at this point in history, it isn’t even clear who Amalek is as a nation. This is a mitzvah that we will never be able to fulfill until Moshiach comes, and only with Divine intervention will the world finally be rid of their evil for once and for all. Yet, for thousands of years we read Parshas Zachor to make sure we don’t forget. What is it that we are to remember if in a practical sense this mitzvah does not apply to us today?
To delve a bit deeper, aside from the mitzvah to actually wage war with and wipe out the existence of Amalek, there is another aspect of this mitzvah, namely, “Zechira”, to remember the event of Amalek’s attempt to destroy us. This is puzzling. How do we remember an event that we did not witness? Admittedly, there are many mitzvos that are meant to commemorate various moments in our history, such as; eating matzah, sitting in a sukkah, lighting a menorah. But here we have a situation where the entire mitzvah is not commemorated with anything other than recalling events which transpired thousands of years ago! How are we to dredge up a recollection of something we did not witness?
On Purim, after the reading of the Megillah, we sing “Shoshanas Yaakov.” In this beautiful song there is one line that tells us the entire message of the Purim story: “L’hodea shekol kovecha lo yeivoshu v’lo yikalmu lanetzach kol hachosim Bach,” “To make known, that all that hope in You will not be shamed; nor ever be humiliated all those taking refuge in you.” During the time of Mordechai and Esther, the Jews found themselves in a precarious situation, facing the threat of complete annihilation from Haman. Chazal teach us that the Jews at that time deserved to be wiped out, for they had sinned by eating at the party of Achashverosh. This seems puzzling, the party of Achashverosh was not the most suited place for a Jew to be, but what was the severity of such a sin that Klal Yisroel deserved to be completely wiped out?
The Megillah tells us the drinking at Achashverosh’s party was “B’klei zahav, v’keilim mikeilim shonim,” “From gold vessels and many other sorts of vessels.” Chazal reveal to us that these “Keilim shonim” were actually vessels of the Beis Hamikdash, that the Persians has seized during the destruction 70 years earlier. Achashverosh purposely flaunted the sacrilegious display and usage of these vessels, as well as many others from the Beis Hamikdash, to send an ominous message to the Jewish People. The 70 years which was prophesized as the end of the galus, had come and gone and the Jewish nation had not been redeemed. The Jews had been forsaken by G-d with no hope of redemption. The Jews attending the party, should have been repulsed by the denigration of these holy vessels. These keilim should have reminded them of the days of the not so distant past, when the Jews lived in Eretz Yisroel, had a Beis Hamikdash and witnessed the Shechina living amongst them. This memory should have evoked deep feelings of mourning and longing for their return to the Holy Land, bringing them to their senses and taking leave from this lowly feast.
Alas, the Jewish people indeed forgot about their past. Perhaps some despaired of ever returning to Jerusalem to rebuild from the ashes and restore the former glory of Am Yisroel. Perhaps some were content to live in Shushan and identify themselves as proud Persians. For these reasons, Hashem decreed the Jews should be wiped out, for a nation that forgets its past has no future. Hashem “Hid” His face at that time, as is hinted to in the name “Esther”. It was only when Jews realized that they have no future that they finally remembered their past. The Jewish nation then mourned, fasted and did teshuvah, and only then were they delivered the miracle we know as Purim.
The story of Amalek is not one that we can remember, for we did not witness it. But, Hashem wants us to remember that there was once a time when the glory of Hashem filled the world and everyone believed in Him. There was once a time when every person in Klal Yisroel was able to see Hashem and point to Him with his finger. There was indeed once a time when we lived with such a profound sense of clarity and our mission to bring this world to perfection was within reach. Amalek sought to destroy the Jewish Nation and make it impossible for us to fulfill our mission by filling the world with darkness and confusion. He succeeded, and we, today, still suffer from his evil spell. Confusion, feeling unfulfilled, children leaving the fold, and the endless suffering of the Jews in exile are all thanks to Amalek. These are the challenges that we will have to endure until the end of time. However, our key to survival has always been to remember that we are not forever lost. We look back at the many miracles of our long history as a reminder that Hashem cares for us, and protects us. These “Memories” illuminate our darkest of times with hope that Hashem will not forsake us, and one day we will come back.
We all have ups and downs in our lives and sometimes those down times can feel crushing. We are overcome with guilt and feel as if Hashem has forsaken us and we can never come back. The story of Purim teaches us that we must look at our brightest times, and take strength and solace from those time and with that strength, forge ahead and “Lo yikalmu lanetzah kol hachosim Boch!