Carry it forward

Spending all day at the office, it is easy to get distracted from our true priorities in life.

With Purim fast approaching, we can borrow a teaching from the megillah, which should provide us with some chizuk:

Haman was thrilled to attend a banquet and have the opportunity to dine with Esther and Achashverosh. He left this banquet feeling ‘sameach v’tov lev[1], literally happy and glad of heart.

Why does the megillah bother telling us how Haman felt when he left the banquet?

One way to understand this is that, for the first time, Haman had experienced ruchnius (spirituality).

Normally, he attended purely gashmi (physical) events – he ate, drunk and gambled to his heart’s content. Whilst he was in the moment, he felt elation. But as soon he left, the experience passed. He soon felt ill as a result of his overeating, worried about how much money he had gambled away, and reflected on his bad behaviour towards other people. The feeling of joy was fleeting. However, the banquet with with Esther was the first time Haman had experienced something more.

In this week’s parsha, Yisro, Rashi brings a gemara from Berchos to explain that when one dines at the table with talmidei chachamim, it is as if they are dining with the Shechina (Hashem’s presence). Esther, a person of true piety and dedication to the Jewish people, had this same effect on Haman, whether or not he realised its source. Having experienced true ruchnius, he left the banquet, and the experience was taken with him.

We should all strive to have the same experience in our working lives. When we daven in the morning, we should carry this experience to work with us. And when we pop out for mincha or go learn in the evening, this experience should carry forward to the next day. And so too, with Shabbos: there is an idea that the proper observance of one Shabbos is really dependent on the one before it – hence why klal yisroel are required to keep two shabbosim before the geulah will come.

Hopefully this provides some food for thought, as we pass through another working week, heading towards a time brimming with spiritual potential, to Purim, and beyond that to Pesach and redemption.

Of Carob and Man(na)

There is a famous discussion in the gemara[2] regarding the purity of an oven. Rabbi Eliezer, determined to prove his minority viewpoint against the other sages, elicited help from G-d himself: the carob tree uprooted itself, a nearby stream of water flowed upstream, the walls of the beis medrash began to fold in, and a bas kol (Heavenly voice) proclaimed that Rabbi Eliezer was correct.

Yet Rabbi Yehoshua plays a trump card: Lo bashamayim hi – the Torah is not in heaven, but rather down here on earth. Therefore, we don’t listen to Heavenly instructions on halachic matters, but rather determine opinion ourselves (in accordance with the rules set out in the Torah).

An interesting challenge to this idea comes from the time spent by klal yisroel in the desert:

Where a dispute arose between two parties over the ownership of a slave – Reuven claiming that he owns the slave, and Shimon stating that he recently bought it – they would turn to Moshe Rabbeinu for halachic guidance.

Moshe’s solution was to wait for the manna the next morning. The slave’s portion of manna would fall in front of the tent of the true owner.

Surely this is a contradiction? We just learnt above that Torah is not in Heaven – and yet we see Moshe relying on a miraculous occurrence from Hashem in order to resolve a dispute here on earth?

Several answers are offered to this question, amongst them the Maharam Chaviv, who explains that Moshe actually did resolve the dispute himself according to halachic principles (without the intervention of shamayim), and the falling of the manna each day simply demonstrated that he was correct.

The fact that the slave’s manna fell next to the real owner’s door was not due to Moshe’s manipulation. Rather, that was simply the ‘rules’ of how manna would fall. Moshe did not alter the process, but simply pointed to its result as proof. By contrast, Rabbi Eliezer actually elicited Hashem’s help to change the course of nature, with the aim of encouraging the sages to get on board. The halachah was against him (the majority of sages disagreed with his position), and it was therefore not open to him to win an argument through miraculous means.

As Jews in the workplace, we do not always have absolute clarity of how we should act or what we should say or not say. We might think, if only we would simply receive a instruction from Heaven, telling me exactly what to do, then of course I would do it!

But this is not what Hashem wants from us, nor expects of us. Rather, the onus is on us to make decisions about our actions, by applying Torah principles and seeking guidance from teachers and mentors.


The Working Jew.

[1] Megilas Esther, 5:9

[2] Bava Metsia, 59