Monday, March 05, 2007

They who mention towns and walled cities from the days of Yehoshu’a bin Nun will not remain servants of Ahashverosh

Today is Shushan Purim. While everyone always talks about purim, I think it is important for us to talk about shushan purim and the meaning it has to all the Jews all around the world. This is based on a shiur from Harav Mordechai Elon Shli”ta (the full shiur is on

Rav Kook had a sefer in which he would put a statement for each month of the year which would represent the meaning of the month. For the month of Adar, Rav Kook wrote:

"המזכירים כרכים ומוקפים מימות יהושע בן נון לא יוכלו להישאר עבדי אחשוורוש"
“They who mention towns and walled cities from the days of Yehoshu’a bin Nun are unable to remain servants of Ahashverosh”

In order to understand this deep statement, we must understand the two parts of it and what their meaning is:
What is the meaning of the walled cities from the days of Yehoshua bin Nun?
What does it mean to remain a servant of Ahashverosh?

The concept of walled cities from the days of Yehoshua bin Nun should be familiar with most of you. The First Mishna in Massechet Meguila reads:

“Cities surrounded by a wall since the days of Yehoshu’a bin Nun read (the Megillah) on the fifteenth (of Adar); villages and large cities read it) on the fourteenth.”

The gemara then goes on to ask why we go by the day of Yehoshua bin Nun and not the day of Purim, when the miracle happened. The Babylonian Talmud has a different answer than the Jerusalem Talmud.
For the Talmud Bavli, the answer comes from a gzera shava- an illogical, irrational way of analyzing the torah (the comparison of similar terminology of two different verses, utilizing each verse to explain and clarify the other). Thus, when the Torah speaks of unwalled cities when Joshua went to conquer Israel, it also defined the concept of unwalled cities for Shushan Purim.
The Talmud Yerushalmi has a much deeper, much more logical answer: The Yerushalmi says that the reason is that we want to preserve the honor of Jerusalem.
Maimonides write on that:

“Why was the matter (of the dates of Purim) made dependent on the days of Yehoshu’a bin Nun? In order to give honor to (the cities of) Erez Yisra’el which lay in ruin at that time (of the Purim miracle.) In order that they will read (the Megillah) on the fifteenth (of Adar) as the inhabitants of Shushan do, and they will be considered as cities surrounded by a wall – even though at present they lie in ruin, for they were surrounded (by a wall) in the days of Yehoshu’a. Thus this miracle (of Purim) will include a commemoration of Erez Yisra’el.”

It is interesting to note that Shushan itself was not walled from the days of Yehoshua bin Nun and therefore, Shushan, which is the reason why we first wanted this holiday, ends up being a second class exception while Jerusalem takes the center stage in that holiday. As the Rambam said, this holiday ends up being a commemoration of Erets Israel.
The basis for the two day holiday is “the honor of erets Israel”!

Let us pause on minute to answer the second question. What did Rav Kook mean when he spoke of “Servants of Achashverosh”?
It is actually a halachic concept. This is one of the 3 reasons recorded why we do not say Hallel on Purim. Unlike in our generation where we went out of our confrontation with amalek with Political independence, in the time of purim, the Jews were still subject to Achashverosh’s ruling.

The gemara in Hullin asks what is the source for Esther in the torah. The gemara answers:

“‘And I will surely conceal My face (“haster astir”) on that day,’ (Devarim 31:18.)”

Rav Nachman of Breslov explains that there are two types of concealments of God. Rebbi Nachman of Breslev is saying thaat sometimes, we feel God concealed his face from us and feel bad, striving to get closer and closer to him. However, there is an even worse type: When God’s face is so concealed, that we do not even realize it is concealed.

Meguilat Esther is the last book in the Tanach (chronologically). It is an amazing miracle, but it also holds hidden it in a great tragedy. I heard from Rav Aviner that the reason we drink is to forget this great tragedy.

Two generations before the story of the meguila, the was a declaration from Koresh, king of Persia, similar to the Balfour Declaration of our generation, letting all Jews go back to their ancestral homeland and build the Temple.
However the resulting events give rise to two opposing political movements. An autonomous kingdom is established in Yehudah, as the books of Ezra and Nehemyah describe. Simultaneously the Jews are offered ‘emancipation’ – the opportunity to become one with the surrounding nations, as the books of Ester and Dani’el depict.

Then, there was the great feast of Achashverosh. In the feast, he took out all the utensils from the Beit Hamikdash in order to symbolize that the Jews would not return to build the Temple. Rather, they were now well integrated in Persia (or Montreal, New York, Washington, LA, Miami, England etc…) and were part of the upper echelon of this society.
It might seem like a great thing when Joe Lieberman lives in the Kings Palace, and in some ways it is. However, it is also a great danger if this makes us so comfortable that we ignore rising opportunities to go back to the land of Israel when they come up. It becomes a state of Haster Astir. We don’t even realize the concealment anymore!

Therefore, only a tiny minority of poor people went back to Israel while all the great sages and rich people integrated in t he high ranks of chuts laarets society. This refusal to go back to Israel is explained tragically by the Kuzari, after the King of Khazar asks the Rabbi why he did not move to Israel (during a time of complete exile):

“Indeed you have found my point of great shame, King of Kuzar. It is the sin which kept the divine promise with regard to the second Temple, “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion” (Zech. ii. 10), from being fulfilled. Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority, including the important leaders, remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs…Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is prepared to receive; if his receptive capacity be small, he obtains little, and much if it be great. Were we prepared to meet the God of our forefathers with a pure mind, we should find the same salvation as our fathers did in Egypt.” (Kuzari 2:24)

Purim is a time in which the Jewish people participated in a feast which was a mockery of the nation, displaying all the vessels of the temple. However, religiously, it was all glat kosher. Purim is a time in which the great tragedy of haster astir came to the Jewish Nation.
The Gemara teaches

‘Just as when (the month of) Av enters we diminish simhah (happiness,) so too when (the month of) Adar enters we increase simhah.’” (Ta’anit 29a)

Rashi immediately explains as follows:

“‘When Adar enters’ – The miraculous days of Purim and Pesah (occurred then) for Yisra’el.” (Rashi, ibid.)

It seems that Rashi’s commentary makes no sense –Pesah is not in Adar, but in Nissan. Why then does Rashi say that when Adar enters we are to increase our happiness owing to the two festivals of Purim and Pesah?
Pesah is the first miracle that was wrought for all of Am Yisra’el, while Purim is the final miracle, (which is recorded in the Tanakh.) These two miracles occurred in the Diaspora, on the way to Erez Yisra’el, both intimating hester panim.
This is closely related to the month of Av, for the Gemara states:

“Just as when Av enters we diminish simhah, so too when Adar enters we increase simhah.”

The devastation of the month of Av began with Am Yisra’el, when the slaves incited the nation not to enter into Erez Yisra’el. The hope of its rectification appears with Purim, in the knowledge that even in the darkness and gloom of the exile and the Diaspora, we have the power, and God’s hand will never fail us. From Purim we can learn how to find God in a state of Haster Astir and never to loose sight of the fact that we should always be on our way to erets israel.
This is why Shushan Purim was created. This is why we go back to the days of Yehoshua Bin Nun, in order not to forget Erets Israel. In order to show us that even if in the time of Purim, the people in Erets Israel were all poor and the people in Shushan (and New York, and LA, and Miami, and Montreal) were all rich and integrated, in God’s eyes, the people of Jerusalem were the people who were the rich ones.

When one remembers that, then he will not be a slave to achashverosh anymore. He will never be a slave to his money, to his nice household etc… all things which make him be slave to Achashverosh rather than Gd, rather than being an independant nation in the service of Gd.

"המזכירים כרכים ומוקפים מימות יהושע בן נון לא יוכלו להישאר עבדי אחשוורוש"
“They who mention towns and walled cities from the days of Yehoshu’a bin Nun are unable to remain servants of Ahashverosh”

In order to fullfil this duty of remembering the walled cities of the days of Yehushua Bin Nun, remembering Jerusalem, and in order not to be servants of Ahashverosh, I made a video clip of Jerusalem. Its not Amazing, but it is worth watching in order to keep Jerusalem in our hearts and keep making each of our steps a step towards Yerushalaim and the rebuilding of our temple. I think everyone should look at it on this Shushan Purim.



Cosmic X said...

Excellent post and video!

LEN said...


THis was an excellent summary of the shiur.
You and your readers may be interested to know that I have begun recording Rav Elon's shiurim in English, with his blessing, and this shiur is among them. It can be heard at

where I have also translated the mekorot into English.

Best wishes!