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Seeing the Whole Picture

Klal Yisrael is Echad, they are rooted at the core, and the inability to see this means that you are disconnected from the “gantzkeit” perspective 

Not unlike many of my born-and-bred American brethren, I grew up on a steady supply of soda pop. Pepsi was definitely my first choice, with Coke a not-too-distant second.

Upon arriving in Bnei Brak back in 1982 to continue my learning, I discovered to my dismay that I would need to find other ways to quench my thirst. Pepsi was not available due to the company’s participation in the Arab boycott of Israel. Coke, despite its factory located prominently at the entrance to the Ir HaTorah, was frowned upon in the Torah world for not passing muster with respect to its hashgachah. I would have to subside on Cristal, under the hashgachah of Rav Landau ztz”l, and the ever-popular, effervescent Tempo, under the hashgachah of the Badatz.

Several years later, my cousin went to learn in Yerushalayim, and we kept in touch through the mail (no phone calls then — you would need to cram asimonim like mad into the payphone for a 30-second hello). One particular letter stands out in my memory. Pepsi had finally entered the Israeli market, with a Badatz hashgachah, no less! It was laYehudim haysah orah for the chutzniks.

One particular Yerushalmi Yid confided to my cousin that he indulged in the Amerikanishe beverage for the first time in his life and declared, “Es iz gantz geshmak, der Papusi!

I’m sure it took my cousin a minute or two to discern that “Papusi” was one and the same with the beloved “Pepsi.” Of course, the label had no nekudos on it, so what else was he supposed to think? Why would Pepsi (or “Fufsi,” for that matter) be a more logical pronunciation? My cousin had a good laugh over it, and it still brings a smile to my face every time I think about what my reaction would have been had I been there.

On a more serious note, we often see signs and letters too, thinking with total confidence we know exactly what we are looking at. We read them based on our limited intelligence and make conclusions, without considering that we are reading them all wrong.

I am not referring to assembly instructions for the bookcase you bought at Home Depot written in a foreign language masquerading as English, but to much more important messages. Rather, I mean the events that unfold in our world that may look like one thing to an unsophisticated novice but appear completely different to the trained eye of an expert. And the stakes are much higher than Pepsi versus Papusi or installing your bookcase shelf backwards.

We are all familiar with the Purim song “Shoshanas Yaakov.” Although its exact composer remains a mystery to this day, we do know it was written a very long time ago by what early commentators referred to as kadmonei kadmonim. The song is partly based on the Yerushalmi in the third perek of Maseches Megillah that prescribes singing “arurim haresha’im” on Purim along with other expressions of thanks that are familiar to us from that time-honored piyut. The Hagahos Maimoniyos in the first perek of the Rambam in Hilchos Megillah, as well as the Avudraham, record many of these stanzas as well. “Shoshanas Yaakov,” or an earlier version of it, was obviously familiar to the Rishonim.

One of the more puzzling verses in “Shoshanas Yaakov” comes at the very beginning: “Bir’osam yachad techeiles Mordechai,” about how the Jews rejoiced when they saw Mordechai being paraded in the streets of Shushan in his techeiles, simply understood as his royal garments or perhaps even his tzitzis. Why was techeiles the cause of their joy? Wasn’t the simple appearance of Mordechai besting Haman and being escorted by his archnemesis enough to bring everyone to their feet, jumping for joy?

Perhaps we can suggest the following. The Gemara teaches us that each of the Bigdei Kehunah brought atonement for a particular sin. (The Zohar Hakadosh says that one would be inspired to teshuvah merely by staring at one of these articles.) In particular, the Me’il, the special robe worn by the Kohein Gadol, served as a kapparah for the sin of lashon hara. The Gemara tells us that since the Me’il had bells attached to the bottom that produced sound when the Kohein walked, “Yavo davar sheb’kol v’yechaper al kol,” the sound would serve as an atonement for the noise of lashon hara.

Rav Shneur Kotler ztz”l was very fond of offering yet another insight as to why the Me’il served as a kapparah for lashon hara. The Gemara tells us that techeiles had a unique quality, relating that its color reminds us of the color of the sea, which in turn reminds us of the color of the sky, which ultimately reminds us of Hashem’s Kisei Hakavod, His royal throne, as it were. One who observed the beautiful dye of the techeiles would be reminded, through the power of association, of Hashem’s presence up above.

This concept of Kisei Hakavod is analogous to someone having a bird’s-eye view of the entire world from way up high. Not only does Hashem have a panoramic view of the physical world with respect to space, but Hashem also has a wide-angle view of events with respect to time and history. As the Lakewood Rosh Yeshivah famously termed it, “mit der gantze gantzkeit,” in absolute entirety.

A baal lashon hara is compared in the seforim to a fly that is attracted to filth. If only the slanderer were to look at his victim in his entirety and see in his “gantzkeit” how much good he really possesses, he would understand that focusing on the flaw is a distortion of the full picture and desist from his toxic speech. This is why the Me’il atoned for lashon hara, for it was precisely the slanderer’s inability to look at the whole person that caused him to sin. Gazing at the Me’il could inspire a baal lashon hara to look at people wholesomely, to see others in their entirety, instead of focusing on little shortcomings.

Haman, the Gemara in Megillah (13b) tells us, was the ultimate slanderer — leika d’yada lishna lishna bisha k’Haman.” What was Haman’s great lashon hara? The Gemara points to Haman’s comment that Klal Yisrael is a nation that is “mefuzar u’mefurad — spread out and scattered.”

One wonders, is that really such a terrible thing to say? Why does the Gemara see this as quintessential lashon hara? I once heard it explained that while the comment may not be the most sinister, Haman’s perception of Klal Yisrael as a scattered nation goes to the very heart of the nature of lashon hara. Klal Yisrael is Echad, they are rooted at the core, and the inability to see this means that you are disconnected from the “gantzkeit” perspective — the worldview that comes with an association with the Kisei Hakavod. You are unable to put the pieces together.

And as we know, Haman was, in fact, disconnected from the Kisei Hakavod. Haman was the progeny of Amalek, who fought a vicious battle against Klal Yisrael. Afterwards, Hashem says that there must be war against Amalek “ki yad al keis Kah — for the hand is upon the throne of Hashem.” Rashi points out that the word “keis” is missing an alef and explains that, until Amalek is eradicated, the Kisei Hakavod will be incomplete. So we see that Haman, who is divorced from the Kisei Hakavod, and from the “gantzkeit perspective” that comes with it, is also the ultimate speaker of lashon hara.

In light of this, let us now return to “Shoshanas Yaakov” and see how the worldview we gain from the Purim story is precisely the remedy to all the evil that Haman represented.

As we know, the Purim story stretches over nine years, from Vashti’s death to Esther’s selection, and ultimately to the yeshuah we celebrate as Purim. Looking at each event along the way in isolation, one would be very challenged to see anything more than a string of natural occurrences, political intrigue and infighting, and a foolish ruler with a hot temper doing whatever he pleases on a whim. (Sound familiar?)

Only after the story ends can we step back to see how the story of the Megillah unfolded (as we do with the Megillah itself when reading it), and how it is indeed one gantze gantzkeit. It was precisely the sight of Mordechai’s techeiles — which harkens back to the Kisei Hakavod — that inspired the Jews to realize this and put all the pieces together. It was a miracle that nobody could have seen coming. The story that looked like a total disaster looming was actually Hashem’s guiding Hand orchestrating every single event.

We need to take note of this, not just on Purim, but during every stage of our long and difficult galus.

Back when Ronald Reagan was president, the United States negotiated a deal to sell Saudi Arabia the most sophisticated military reconnaissance aircraft to date, known as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems). Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister at the time, expressed “profound regret and unreserved opposition” to this deal, as these planes were touted as being able to track every move of the Israeli Air Force and prevent surprise first strikes.

President Reagan turned a deaf ear to Israeli protests, proclaiming that “It is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.” The Israel lobby was in overdrive trying to prevent this disaster from actually coming to reality, as the planes were scheduled for delivery between 1986 and 1987. It was to no avail, and indeed the Saudis got the AWACS. Only Hashem could save us from utter calamity, everyone thought.

And He did. Fast-forward to the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and we saw from a front-row seat next to Kisei Hakavod how the Saudi AWACS became an essential part of the allied war effort against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which had promised to attack Israel. And in case anyone forgot, that war ended on Purim.

Did anybody see it coming in 1986? Could we have known that what looked like sure disaster was really Hashem’s method of putting every weapon in place for a campaign to be waged in another five years? If only we learned from the Me’il.

Let’s take one more peek into the Megillah. The Gemara famously tells us that when Esther proclaimed at Achashveirosh’s private party, “Ish tzar v’oyeiv,” in response to the king’s question of who was responsible for the attempted genocide (a relatively recent addition to our vocabulary, but an old concept in our history) of the Jewish nation, that Esther pointed to Achashveirosh himself. It took a malach, who came and shifted her finger toward Haman, to seemingly save the day. Mefarshim are quite intrigued by the question of what Esther was thinking at that moment. Truth may be a virtue, but this hardly looks like a smart move. It wouldn’t have been far-fetched for Achashveirosh to declare, “Off with her head!” His track record for that was, after all, pretty good.

Perhaps we can suggest that Esther was indeed viewing the entire episode from her Kisei Hakavod perspective. Where the layman saw nothing special, Esther saw everything as another link in the chain of miraculous events that would eventually make us declare for the rest of time, “she’asah nissim l’avoseinu.” She read the signs.

In her world, the entire Purim story was one incredible miracle after the next, not simply random mundane events that happened to get her to this point in time. If so, she reasoned, it is indeed appropriate to answer Achashveirosh’s question honestly. We are living an open miracle! The malach had to intervene and demonstrate that although it may have been as clear as day to Esther, this was not the way Hashem wanted it to play out.

There is a lesson to be learned here for generations. We must take note of what look like banal events and realize that they are Hashem’s hidden way of preserving us, just as open miracles are. That lesson would have gotten lost on us had Esther chosen the uber-miraculous route. It had to be b’hester, hidden, for this is the modus operandi that Hashem uses from that point forward to guide history throughout the rest of galus.

The era of open miracles such as Yetzias Mitzrayim was no more. Our yeshuos will be shrouded in nature, and we will have to analyze events ourselves and appreciate every little step for what it is, Hashem’s hashgachah, whether we understand it at the moment or not. The greatest among us can read the signs and guide us and encourage us along the way to hold on to our hopes and dreams, for the yeshuah is kerovah lavo, soon to come.

I merited to hear one shmuess from the incomparable Rav Shlomo Brevda ztz”l while I was learning in Bnei Brak. (Ironically, Rav Brevda was very outspoken about Americans’ obsession with Pepsi Cola. I didn’t share our opening anecdote with him.) He asked why, among all the different opinions mentioned in Maseches Megillah concerning how much of the Megillah one needs to hear to be yotzei, everyone agrees that we must hear the last chapter.

This would seem very odd, because all it says there is that Achashveirosh imposed a tax over his entire kingdom, followed by the information that Mordechai became the second in command to the king. Why is this so significant?

Rav Brevda suggested that after an episode as incredible as the Purim story, one might have thought it would make a life-changing impression on everyone who experienced it, even Achashveirosh; for he saw as much as anyone the incredible sequence of events and how it all turned around and changed the course of history. Yet he was the same old taxing king, looking to make more money to fill his coffers, and was totally oblivious to what has just transpired over the previous nine years. Achashveirosh could not read the signs, as he did not recognize them for what they were. Mordechai, on the other hand, brought his public service up to a whole new level.

Back to “Shoshanas Yaakov.” This ability to see the gantze gantzkeit sheds light on why the paytan describes the Jewish nation as “Shoshanas Yaakov.” The magnificence of a shoshanah — a rose — arises from the arrangement of its many petals being more than a sum of its parts. A bag of loose petals cannot excite the senses the way an entire rose does. So, too, the beauty of this miracle was much greater than the sum of disjointed parts. Our identity as “Shoshanas Yaakov” is a reflection of our newfound beauty, and of our having perceived the gantze gantzkeit.

This should serve as a mandate to us to come away from Megillas Esther with an entirely different perspective on life, hashgachah, hester panim, and the ideal of teshuas Hashem k’heref ayin. May we all gather the strength to read the signs and see Hashem’s guiding Hand throughout the remainder of galus, which will b’ezras Hashem finally come to an end, bimheirah b’yameinu.


Rabbi Plotnik, a talmid of the yeshivos of Philadelphia and Ponevezh, has been active in rabbanus and chinuch for 25 years and currently serves as ram in Yeshivas Me’or HaTorah in Chicago.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1004)

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