Purim has a really odd custom:
As we read Megilas Esther, carefully attending diligently to every word: something unusual happens.
Everyone is listening intently without interruption to a beautiful chanting of the Megillah:
Chapter one goes by, chapter 2. Beautiful
And all the sudden chapter 3 verse 1: we make a ruckus! the booing, the groggers, the firecrackers set ablaze in the shul parking lot, the cannonballs come out (ok maybe not cannon balls)- and then calm:
Then comes Verse 2: more noise: people are banging their feet, more noise: and it stops again.
It happens again in verse 4,5,6,7,8,10,11,12,15- We say the name Haman 64 times in the Megillah, triggering this reaction – 64 times!
Now imagine for a moment: Prime Minister Steven Harper coming into Schara Tzedeck to experience his first megillah reading. What would he think – or any stranger for that matter?
He would think it was question period in the house of commons!
We call this custom הכאת המן : smiting his name: actively wiping it out every time it is mentioned:
The origin of this custom comes from the special Maftir of Parshas Zachor, which we just read, that is always read the Shabbos before Purim reminding us to wipe out the name of Amalek: the ancestors of Haman. So important is this Mitzvah that is a Torah obligation, and this day is declared SHABBOS ZACHOR: the day to remember to never rest, until we completely blot out evil in our world. Booing Hamman, twirling the grogger, stamping our feet, making the ruckus, is a symbolic act of wiping out the name of Amalek.
What a somber prelude to Purim! Why is wiping out Amalek the introduction to a day of Joy?
Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner: Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin, a champion of Torah learning and an incredibly philosophical 20th century, author of the Pachad Yitzchak, deals with this mandate of Zachor:
He cites a very unusual law. Scoffing, scorning, making fun of another Jew - לצנות, is absolutely forbidden
With ONE exception: one who worships עבודה זרע: Idolatry
Rav Hutner posits the permissibility of scorning anything that would drive us toward evil and hold us back from divine service. So why only point out idolatry?
Rav Hutner brings his source from the words of Mishley, Parables, written by Shlomo Hamelech. Chapter 27 verse 21
ואיש לפי מהללו:
How do we measure the worth of man? By his aptitude for moral integrity? No.
ואיש לפי מהללו: The man: is measured by his praise.
Most commentators and translators explain : ”A man is measured by those who praise him”
Rav Hutner cites the explanation of Rabbeinu Yonah of Garona.
A man’s worth is measured by who (or what) he praises: (the virtual opposite!) One’s true essence can be determined by what he esteems
אם הוא משבח את המעשים הטובים והאנשים הצדיקים – תדע שהוא אדם טוב,
“If he praises good deeds and righteous individuals, then you know he is a good person.
ואם הוא משבח מעשים מגונים או מהלל רשעים – להיפך.
And if he praises disgraceful acts and evil people [in this context, idols], who you might not want to introduce to bubby and zeidy: who aren’t traveling on the path of righteousness- then you are not a good person.
in short: you are what you praise.
According to Rabeinu Yonah: Whether you work all day, play all day or even learn Torah all day (ideally a mixture of all three): those acts will not define you. Who you pick as your mentors, or in contrast, who you “idolize”- is the barometer for who you really are.
Defining a person by who he praises or longs for, we do not deny the right to enjoy life, become successful, play sports, or amass wealth and stature. It means what enchants us will help determine our actions and devotions.
It’s no secret, that you can understand who or what someone praises by how they carry on with their life. From a musical standpoint, I will say without hesitation, that I have learned a tremendous amount from the creativity, exuberance and sheer genius of Michael Jackson. Yet I will never relate to the guy, although he strongly influenced my own musical preference and expression. An article was written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a celebrity Rabbi who, in addition, I take his character with a grain of salt as well. However, his article about Michael Jackson revealed some very interesting insights about who the man was.
He wrote, after his untimely death in 2006, By the time I met Michael in the Summer of 1999 he was already one of the most famous people in the world. But he seemed lethargic, burned-out, and purposeless. My fear was that Michael’s life would be cut short.
Shmuley told michael he should be: replacing his desire for attention and ticket sales with a hunger for righteous action…he took him to meet Elie Weisel, and attemped to incorporate more meaningful encounters that will elevate him beyond his Stardom. However, Michael Jackson personally felt some of the things Shmuley requested, like handing out books in Newark NJ for parents to read were too ordinary for a superstar. He felt he was being demystified. He needed the throngs, he thrived on the adulation of the crowds.
The superstar can’t endure the diminishing of their own importance. Michael told Shmuley his motivation behind his stardom: I think all my success and fame, and I have wanted it, I have wanted it because I wanted to be loved. That’s all. That’s the real truth. I wanted people to love me, truly love me, because I never really felt loved.” IN spite of his stardom and hero like status, he was the center of the world and yet he never felt loved. In the end, he went down as the King of Pop- who never felt loved. U a sad conclusion.
So by scorning idolatry, we are avoiding a very dangerous course.
By giving too much attention to idolatry aka impermanent things not linked to our essence (for Michael Jackson it was stardom, it’s different for eveyone), it makes those things an inordinately significant part of life. We even believe we need those things! That is the danger of our current idolizing generation. The Iphone: Ipad, Itunes, American Idol, World Idol, America’s got talent, Canada, Europe, we all have talent! You should know A recent national survey conducted on teensfound half of the heroes that teenagers named were well-known celebrities. Even more disturbing was that Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man came out as far more popular than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. Yes, we mock the worship of people and things, when we know it all comes from G-d and is not all about the I generation.
Praising a righteous person is different. The defining character traits of the righteous must include humility, avoiding great honor, but feeling honored to do for others and serve Hashem. Those who praise the righteous aspire to their goodness, not their greatness
SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL HAVE TO DO WITH MAKING NOISE TO DROWN OUT HAMMAN?
We wipe out Amalek’s memory to celebrate purim, and sound the alarm every time Haman the Amalekei is mentioned, because they are the epitome of idolatry and take us away from goodness!
Haman, couldn’t stand the fact Mordechai wouldn’t bow to him. Hamman relished in recognition, and when he wasn’t acknowledged for his celebrity greatness, he desired revenge. But it wasn’t enough to want to kill one man, he devised an elaborate plan for genocide just because, someone wouldn’t acknowledge his greatness. Amalek attacked us when we were weak to demonstrate their greatness, showing no fear in G-d and moral goodness. Amalek’s philosophy denies anything that doesn’t contribute to their own personal prowess. It challenges our purpose in this world. It taunts our moral code. Amalek entices us to indulge in things that make us feel great, but aren’t good. Those who praise the righteous aspire to their goodness, not their greatness.
And we scorn and revolt their dangerous customs and beliefs. We need to first challenge and negate their philosophy in order to fully enjoy Purim, a time of love for Hahsem and one another.
What we praise (and don’t praise) shapes our identity, and impacts our children as well. Our children hear it, they see it, they know what we love and what we just don’t have the attention span for or the interest in. Our children see us gravitate to what influences us and occupies our time.
Our inspiration becomes our children’s inspiration. L’dor va dor. Our children one day will tell others what we praised, and how we occupied our time. Who we looked up to. What we held dear. Will it be, he loved gelt- or golf- more than anything in the world? Or will it be, “he loved golf, but nothing was as great, as important- as richly satisfying to him as his family and his devotion toward a meaningful Torah life. What will it be? In the end, and forever more, that is what becomes our legacy.