“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayakhel 5782
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Redemption Begins With Chesed”
Parshat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1 -38:20)
“Redemption Begins With Chesed“
This week, we bless Rosh Chodesh as we usher in the second month of Adar, Adar Bet, in which we celebrate Purim. Now, logic dictates that Purim should be celebrated during the first Adar, to be consistent with the idea of “מצוה הבאה לידך אל תחמיצנה”, if you have the ability to do a mitzvah, do it right away. [Midrash Mechilta to Exodus 12:17]
So why don’t we celebrate Purim in the first Adar? The halakha is such because there is a need to celebrate Purim as close to Pesach as possible, to promote a juxtaposition between Purim and Pesach. [Talmud, Megillah 6b]
What is the idea behind this connection?
I believe that there’s a message regarding the two different paradigms of redemption that are seen on Purim and Pesach.
There is redemption that is achieved simply by the grace of God, what the kabbalists call “אתערותא דלעילא”, an awakening by God to save and to aid His people. That is what Pesach is all about. Even when the people are so distant from God, there are times in which God feels the need to engage with the Jewish people.
There are times in which God feels that there is a time for salvation, and even when the redemption is directed and fully choreographed by God – of course, there is human initiative, as in the case of Pesach.
We see the role of Moshe, the role of the women ensuring Jewish continuity, the role of Miriam and Yocheved in saving Moshe and modeling how to save the male children.
Yet, there is this idea that the centerpiece of the redemptive experience is totally Divinely-driven. Human actors in the experience, including Moshe, are not really mentioned in the Haggadah.
And then there’s a second paradigm of redemption, “אתערותא דלתתא”, an awakening that comes from below, redemption that is driven by the enterprise of humankind, where the redemptive activity, as we see on Purim, are the actors of Mordechai and Esther. Their initiative is what is critical.
There are no plagues, there’s no splitting of the Sea. Yes, God plays a role. After all, the randomness of the coincidences in the story are too perfect for God not to be orchestrating it behind the scenes.
And, in fact, we hint to God in the Megillah with the words “HaMelech” on top of each column, but the emphasis is on humankind.
The Megillah celebrates human-driven redemption, and while God is hinted to, His name is not even mentioned.
Yet, there are similarities to the way we celebrate both of these holidays:
- First of all, it is these days that we have a concern for the poor: Matanot L’evyonim and Kimcha D’Pischa; the responsibility of not eating the Paschal sacrifice alone, but rather consuming it with the other; and on Purim, the responsibility to send gifts of food to the other.
We commemorate our brush with annihilation with the reminder that redemption of any sort in Judaism starts with us being kind and concerned for the other.
- Both holidays, the one celebrated in Adar Bet and the one celebrated in Nissan, at the core, recognize the fact that redemption isn’t possible when we are separate from the other.
The core of the celebrations of both of these holidays is the fact that irrespective of the person’s background, disposition, religious persuasion, redemption of the self and of the community is only possible when we’re willing to recognize the greatness of others.
So we wait for Adar Bet to celebrate Purim so that Purim and Pesach “dance together”.
They celebrate two paradigms of redemption which we honor when we understand that our redemption happens only when we are concerned with the other.