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Purim: Why Name A Holiday After the Enemy?
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Now, here is the language of the passage in Numbers that talks about this. Numbers chapter 30 verse 14: Kol-neder uchol-shevuat isar leanot nafesh, “any vow or restrictive oath that would cause hardship”, ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu, “ her husband can affirm the vow or her husband can annul it.” V’im-hacharesh yacharish lah isha miyom el-yom,- “but if the husband is silent, yes silent from day to day, then he will have affirmed her vows.” V’hekim et-kol-nidareiha, “the vow that she took and is silent about is affirmed.” Ki-hecherish lah biyom shamo, “because he was silent on the day that he heard it.” The Torah goes on to say that if the husband later tries to annul the vows after he first heard of it and was silent, then nasa et-onah, “then actually if she transgresses her vows, he is the one who bears her sins.” The Torah concludes eleh hachukim asher tzavuh Hashem et-Moshe, “these are the laws that God commanded Moses,” bein ish leishto bein av leveto bein naareha beit aviha, “these are the laws of a naarah and her father’s house.”
So as we saw in the last video, Mordecai's speech is completely saturated with language borrowed from these verses, from these laws of vows. Mordecai also speaks of a married naarah and her father’s house. Mordecai too speaks of silence that has to be broken quickly. He also uses that unique doubled form of the verb lehacharish - “to be silent’. Why does Mordecia’s speech so closely follow these laws? So let’s go back and talk about these laws a little bit.
The first thing that the verse said is that when a married woman takes a vow ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu, “the husband can affirm the vow or he can annul it”. So what’s the verse saying here? “ When a woman takes a vow that imposes some kind of personal hardship upon herself, the Torah seems to give her husband two options - he can declare that he affirms the vow, in which case it stands; or he can protest it in which case it’s annulled. But look at the very next verse that introduces us to what seems like a third option. The text says v’im-hacharesh yacharish lah isha, “if her husband keeps silent, yes silent”, why would he do that? What stance is the husband taking by a silence? So the language used for the husband’s silence is, as I have mentioned before is the doubled form of the word lehacharish. Let’s talk about exactly what that word means. It means silence. But it turns out that the Hebrew language contains more than one word for silence; there is another more common word for silence - lishtok. Why would the Torah have two different words for silence? Must be that there are two different ideas here. What’s the distinction between lehacharish on the one hand and lishtok on the other hand? How these kinds of silences differs from each other? What are the nuances of each word?
Okay. So let’s talk about lishtok first. If you look throughout Tanach, you’ll find the word lishtok sometimes used with reference to not just to people but to inanimate objects, for example in the Book of Jonah; Jonah says that “if you throw me in the sea vayishtok hayam maalechem- the sea will be silent, it will be still, it won’t continue to threaten you.” So lishtok really means “to be still”. Anyone, or anything for that matter of fact, can be still.
But there is another kind of silence that can be experienced by human beings and not lifeless objects such as the sea. It’s the type of silence that the Torah talks about with the word lehacharish, that word only gets used in connection to existing beings like people. What exactly does lehacharish means? Look at it’s root, the root is heresh - chet resh shin - if you look at that word chet-resh-shin as a noun, it means cheresh - deaf person. So what does the verb lehacharish mean then? It means to make yourself deaf, to be silent because you’re not listening; to act as if you haven’t heard.
An ocean is either still or it’s not still. It doesn’t put its finger in it’s ears and make itself deaf; only people do that. The word lehacharish in the context of vows describes the husband’s silence in the face of his wife’s vow; a vow that imposes terrible hardship upon her. What the Torah is saying is that there is a third option - the man might do something else, besides either to say “yes” and affirm the vow or say “no” and annul it; he might choose to remain deaf to it. He might become silent; he might pretend as if he doesn’t hear. He might say “look, I’m just staying out of this, I’m neutral. His wife made this impetuous vow to accept some sort of terrible pain and suffering, he might choose to remain oblivious; I didn’t hear anything. How does the Torah look at that neutrality?
Look at the rest of the verse.V’im-hacharesh yacharish lah isha miyom el-yom - “if the husband is silent” V’hekim et-kol-nidareiha - “he is thereby affirmed the vows”. This silence, the Torah tells us, is not really silence, it’s tacit affirmation. The third option isn’t really an option; it only looks like an option. You can’t remain deaf, you did hear your wife’s vow. You are aware or the pain and hardship that faces her. Your silence is a choice - keeping quiet; staying out of the situation -that’s also a choice. It’s a choice to accept her vow.
You know, it’s all too easy to believe that for every question there is always three possible answer, yes, no and maybe. Sometimes that's true, it's not always true; it depends upon the question. So, if someone ask you, will it rain tomorrow? Then yes, there is three options - you might say yes, you might say no or you might say maybe.; I don’t know. That last option - “maybe, I don’t know”, is actually a pretty appealing option. You’re not a weatherman, you really don’t know whether it’s going to rain tomorrow so you just say ‘maybe’. Sometimes though, maybe is not really an option.
The guy shows up at the doctor’s office, the doctor diagnose stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer,it looks like it’s fatal. But you know what, there is a little bit of a hope, there is a very rare experimental kind of chemotherapy, if you take that, it will actually save your life; if you don’t , you’re going to die. The fellow’s sacred, he looks for a second opinion, he goes to the other expert in Pancreatic Cancer, he says “ I don’t see anything wrong with your x-ray. But I’ll tell you one thing; if you take that chemotherapy, it will kill you.” What do you do now? They’ve arrived at two completely opposite diagnosis. “I have no idea! I don’t want to commit!” But there is no way to sit this one out; you only have two options - you either take the chemotherapy or you don’t.
More than a hundred years ago, a fellow by the name William James made the argument about belief in God - believers say there is a God; atheist say there is no God and agnostic, they say they aren’t sure. That option seems kind of sensible -how could you be sure? You can’t see God, you can’t touch God, you can’t feel God, how can you know for sure? Seems logical to just remain neutral. James argued though that agnosticism is actually the only thing that doesn’t make sense because in real life,you actually have to choose, you have to live your life, you have to live it one way or another. You either live your life extending yourself towards God, towards a higher being , or you don’t! Those are really the only two options; there is no way to abstain. That’s the way it is with cancer and according to the Torah, that’s the way it is with vows.
When a man hears his wife has taken an impetuous vow that puts her is a place of hardship,he really only has two options before him. He can affirm her words or he can protest them. He can’t can’t pretend not to her. If he tries to stay silent, he’s taken a side; his silence is tantamount to saying yes - he heard her vow and by her silence he affirmed it. What happens if you do this? What’s the Torah’s attitude towards that? Look at the end of the passage.
The Torah tells us that if the husband, after remaining silent, and thereby affirming the vow, later on tries to change it - sees the terrible consequences, tries to undo it; he can’t. And the Torah says “ And if she transgresses the vow, he is the one who bears her sin.” Rashi commenting on that says “if you see or hear or someone who causes his friend to stumble morally or spiritually, takes their place,as far as responsibility for any misdeed is concerned. There is no neutrality. Silence is a choice and you’re responsible for that choice. Centuries after the Torah was written, Mordecai remembers all of this, Mordecai quotes all of this right back to Esther as his response to her recalcitrance from going to the king. What was he saying? Let’s come back in the next video and put these puzzle pieces together.
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