SALT - Wednesday, Taanit Esther, 13 Adar Bet 5776 - March 23, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            The Gemara in Masekhet Chulin (139b) raises the question of where in the Torah an allusion can be found to Mordekhai, and it replies by noting one of the ingredients of the shemen ha-mishcha – the anointing oil used to formally consecrate the Mishkan, its appurtenances, and the kohanim.  This ingredient is mor deror (a type of myrrh – Shemot 30:23), and Targum Onelos translates this term as mira dakhya, which sounds like the name “Mordekhai.”  It is thus in this context that the Torah alludes to Mordekhai.

            How might we explain the connection implied by the Gemara between the Purim miracle and the shemen ha-mishcha?

            One possibility, perhaps, relates to the theme of designation and special status.  The shemen ha-mishcha’s entire purpose was to set a group of people and objects apart from all others, formally assigning them a unique status and elevating them to a higher plane.  The Jews at the time of the Purim story were assimilated into Persian society and appeared to be neither different nor distinct from the others in the kingdom.  The Purim miracle reminded them of their distinctiveness, that despite their apparent assimilation, they were singled out by Haman for annihilation, and by God for special protection.  The idea of the shemen ha-mishcha is, indeed, one of the central themes of Purim – that even when it appears that we are no different from other nations, our special bond with the Almighty is eternal and unshakable, and our designation as His treasured nation will remain intact forever.  We might add that the Sifrei (Parashas Naso), cited by the Rambam in Sefer Ha-mitzvot (asei 35), establishes that the initial anointing of the Mishkan and its appurtenances in the time of Moshe sufficed for all future vessels of the Beit Ha-mikdash.  Symbolically, then, the shemen ha-mishcha may perhaps be viewed as a model of the eternal “consecration” of Benei Yisrael, which endures even in our state of exile as we eagerly await the restoration of the Beit Ha-mikdash.

            After the Megilla reading, we customarily recite the “Shoshanat Yaakov” hymn, which describes the Jews of Shushan as “the rose of Yaakov” exhilarating as Mordekhai left the king’s palace dressed in regal attire.  On one level, this phrase hearkens to the verse in the Megilla (8:15) which speaks of the joy in Shushan (“tzahala ve-sameicha”) after Mordekhai’s departure from the palace, and thus “Shoshanat Yaakov” is simply a poetic reference to the Jewish of Shushan (Shushan/Shoshana).  Additionally, however, the image of the rose connotes something especially beautiful that stands out from the rest, as in the famous verse in Shir Hashirim (2:2), “As a rose among thorns – so is my beloved among the girls.”  The astonishing turn of events in Shushan reminded the Jews of the time of their status of distinction, that they were a “shoshana bein ha-chochim,” locked in an eternal, unbreakable bond with God.  This was the cause of their outburst of joy – “tzahala ve-sameicha” – as they reflected upon their eternal designation as God’s am segula, that their initial “anointing” had not expired, and continues making our nation special and unique forever.