Parshios Vayakhel & Pekudei
Men First - Ladies First - Everyone First!
I came across an idea on Purim that seemed not only to capture the
underlying theme of that festival, but also sheds light on the opening lines
of this week's Torah portion.
We read in the Megillah how Mordechai bids Esther to appear before
Achashverosh and plead with him on behalf of the Jewish people who were
slated to be annihilated. Mordechai encourages her with the poignant
question, "Who knows? Perhaps it was precisely and only for this critical
occasion that you attained your royal position?"
Esther immediately replied, "Go assemble all the Jews in Shushan and fast
for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day; I with my
attendants will fast as well. Esther then uttered a seemingly superfluous
And thus (or consequently), I will enter the king's presence against the law
of the land." What is hinted at by this extra word, "u'vchen?"
Let us consider what is the most efficacious prayer that our sages tell us
is guaranteed to elicit a favorable answer from above. It is when someone
sincerely entreats Hashem on behalf of his disadvantaged fellow Jew even
though he too desperately needs the very thing that he requests for his
friend. Such an entreaty is considered the quintessential selfless prayer,
for, rather than being preoccupied with ones own travails, he has focused
instead on his friend's plight.
Hashem responds first to the needs of such a caring, unselfish person for in
recognition of his selflessness and total bonding with another Jew's needs,
Hashem ensures that he becomes the conduit of His divine blessing, and will
therefore be the first to receive His bounty and goodness.
This is what Esther was alluding to when she told Mordechai, "The Jewish
people face a life-threatening decree from Haman, just as do I when I enter
unlawfully into the king's presence. We both are in mortal danger. Let the
Jews fast for my welfare and I and my attendants will fast similarly for the
salvation of the nation. 'U'vchen', and consequently, armed with this great
merit that we are begging for Divine favor and mercy for one another, I will
enter the king's presence.
We similarly mention this identical declaration 'U'vchen' numerous times in
our Rosh Hashana prayers as a prelude to each major appeal for salvation.
The commentaries explain that it is placed before each prayer as a reference
to Queen Esther's prayer to Hashem before she interceded with the king on
behalf of her people. By omitting any personal requests from our Rosh
Hashana supplications and directing our pleas on behalf of the entire nation
we too trust and anticipate meriting Divine assistance and deliverance .
This thought kept buzzing in my mind throughout Purim for it crystallizes
the key theme of the day: by caring for one another, sending gifts and
mending frayed relationships, caring for the poor and reaching out to one
another in friendship, we demonstrate the inner unity that lies at the core
of our people. With that demonstration of brotherhood and solidarity, we
merit a unique outpouring of Divine favor and closeness.
This perhaps, is why Moshe deemed it necessary to assemble the entire people
after the sin of the Golden Calf, before introducing them to the mitzvah of
the building of the Mishkan. By bringing together the entire Jewish people,
he paved the way for them to be reunited with the Divine, for only when we
are united down here in this world, can we be connected at the most exalted
Source in heaven. The building of the Mishkan fused together the entire
people in the transcendent mission of its construction, and it was the unity
of the people that secured Hashem's presence in this world.
May this theme of our oneness as a people and our readiness to put others
first that makes Purim such a joyous and spiritual day, continue throughout
the year. For only when we uncover that wonderful unity and discover the
genuine caring and sharing for one another, can true joy prevail.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos,
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.