Monday, February 17, 2014

Spark in Dark,

Why Get Drunk on Purim? – a Kabbalistic perspective [1]

By Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad

And King Ahasuerus probed Queen Esther, “Who and where is he who filled his heart with such designs?”

And Esther responded, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”
And Haman cringed in terror before the King and Queen.
~ Esther 7:5, 6

Wouldn’t it be more accurate for the verse to read, “This evil oppressor and enemy Haman!” rather than reading, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”?

The current reading seems to exclude a “good Haman” [from Queen Esther’s accusation].  Is there such a thing as a “good Haman” and this was an “evil Haman”? Isn’t Haman one person - who’s evil, an oppressor and an enemy?

It appears appropriate to answer this question according to the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria of blessed memory.[2]  Here’s an excerpt in his words: [3]

The Talmud teaches that a person is supposed to get drunk on Purim to the point that he does not know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing Mordecai. [4] The intention of this teaching is that a dark force always contains a holy spark illuminating it and giving it life. This is why we need to say ‘blessed is Haman’ in order to draw the appropriate living light to this holy spark.

This is why the statement needs to be made unintentionally while drunk and unfocused. If one said this intentionally the dark forces [of Haman] will also become illuminated, heaven forefend.

Based on this teaching, it can be understood what our sages related that there were descendants of [Israel’s arch enemies,] Haman, Sennacherib and Sisera, who taught Torah to the masses. [5] This is because within each of these dark forces there had to be a single great spark of holiness. These Jewish sages, who taught Torah publicly, emerged from the holy spark within each of the dark forces.

It comes out that there was a great spark of holiness within the dark forces of Haman and Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat emerged from the power of that spark, as he was from the descendants of Haman who taught Torah to the masses. It appears to be an allusion to this in the Hebrew letters comprising the name Haman. [In Hebrew Haman is spelled with the letters “Heh”, “Mem” and “Nun”.] When each of the letters were fully spelled out, the filled in letters also spell out “Haman”. This is how: “Heh” is spelled “Heh-Heh”, “Mem” is spelled “Mem-Mem” and “Nun” is spelled “Nun-Vav-Nun”. However, there’s one exception to this pattern of respelling Haman from the filled in letters. There’s an addition of a “Vav” within the full spelling of the “Nun”. This “Vav” alludes to the holy spark within the dark force of Haman. From this spark, emerged Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat who taught Torah to the masses.

The above seems to properly explain why it was fitting for a saintly person who taught Torah to the masses to have emerged from Haman’s spark of goodness. [The Talmud relates that] the Jews lovingly reaccepted the Torah in the days of Ahasuerus.[6] This resulted from Haman’s decree [- from the holy spark within Haman]. That’s why [generations later] this saintly person taught Torah to the masses.[7]

Based on above teachings, what the following verse alludes to can be understood: “Write this as a record in a scroll and place it in the ears of Joshua that I will certainly erase the memory of Amalek [8] from under the heavens”. [9]

Why doesn’t the verse simply state “I will erase Amalek”, why does the word “memory” need to be used? In accordance with the above, a beautiful explanation emerges: because there has to be inside the impurity of Amalek a good and holy spark, which gives it life. This good spark won’t be erased, heaven forefend. However, when Creator erases the evil, the good portion will be removed and separated out. This way the evil will be entirely nullified and the good portion will continue to exist.

The numerical value of Amalek and “mar”, Hebrew for “bitter”, both equal 240. When you subtract 13 the numerical value for “echad”, Hebrew for “one”, alluding to the portion of holiness and goodness (for goodness is the mystery of oneness, a unified domain), what remains is “zecher”, Hebrew for “memory”. This alludes to the portion of evil in the dark forces, which in the future will be blotted out and nullified. Concerning this the verse states, “I will certainly blot out the memory of Amalek”, with specific emphasis on the word “memory”, which is the evil alone.

Accordingly, Haman sought to destroy, murder and displace. All this was done with the evil portion within him and not with the good portion which was swallowed up within him. For the good portion of Haman aids and loves the Jewish people. It’s only the portion of evil within Haman who's the “This oppressor and enemy…” By responding, “This oppressor and enemy, this evil Haman!”, Esther intended to exclude from her accusation the “good Haman”, the good portion swallowed up within him, which is alluded to by the “Vav” in the filled out spelling of his name. The latter is not the “oppressor and enemy” and did not agree to and plot the destruction of the Jewish people. On the contrary, this portion aids and loves, as from it emerged Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat who taught Torah to the masses.

From the above, we can understand what the following verses in Psalms are alluding to: “Those who love God hate evil. He guards the souls of His devoted ones. He spares them from the hand of the wicked.”[10] The verse intends to inform us that when one encounters a wicked person, with a huge Haman-like dark force, hate him out of love for God. However, lovers of God, don’t hate the entire person. Only hate the evil part of him. This is why the verse emphasizes “hate evil”, for only the evil you should hate and curse, because God protects the souls of His devoted ones - which are hidden inside the dark forces.

“He spares them from the hand of evil”. This is similar to the language, “The Lord spared the flocks of your father and gave them to me”.[11] For in the future God will separate and divide them out from within the evil of the wicked, where they’re now sunken and blended in. This portion of good within the wicked needs to be blessed in order to draw light towards it, as the Ari z”l taught in his explanation of getting drunk until one does not know…

Therefore, as they proclaim, “Curse Haman, curse the wicked” don’t hate in order to curse entire the person, only the wicked portion within him. For it is impossible that there isn’t a good portion giving him life. This good portion, you need to bless, in order to draw light to it, as our master [12] taught in his explanation on getting drunk until one does not know the difference between cursing Haman and blessing…

This is an expression of “light is sown for the saintly”. However, to accomplish this, the straight-hearted need to celebrate, so that the blessing to the good portion shall be in the midst of celebration and drunkenness, allowing the blessing to emerge from his mouth unintentionally. So this way the flow from the blessing won’t reach the darkness, heaven forefend.

[1] This is a translation from Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad’s commentary to the “Book of Esther” called “The Wholesome Power of Redemption”, pages 32 and 33. He was also known as the “Ben Ish Chai” after his most popular work.
[2] Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as the Ari z”l, was the leading figure in the mystical renaissance which occurred in 16th Century Safad, Israel.
[3] See “The Gate of Meditation”, the discourse on Purim, P.109, folio 4.
[4] Megillah 7A
[5] Gittin 57B
[6] Shabbat 88A
[7] Rabbi Yosef Chaim is explaining that the Haman’s good spark is designed to enhance Torah. During the story of Purim it was working behind the scenes to enhance Torah’s acceptance. Generations later, the spark worked openly through the person of Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilat to enhance Torah teachings.
[8] Amalek plays an important role in the story of Purim, as Haman was a descendant of Agog the king of Amalek. This is why he’s referred to as “the Aggagite” (see Esther 3:1). In contrast, Mordecai and Esther are descendants of King Saul. This is why Mordecai is called “a Benjamite”, a member of Saul’s tribe (see Esther 2:5).  By oral tradition, the confrontation between Haman and Mordecai was a replay of the showdown between Saul and Agog in Samuel I, chapter 15.
The Bible explicitly states that this Saul’s battle with Amalek was a continuation of the battle between Joshua and Amalek, following their unprovoked ambush, in the desert, on the Jews who left Egypt.
[9] Exodus 17:14
[10] Psalms 97:10,11
[11] Genesis 31:9
[12] The Ari z”l

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