July 18, 2024
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‘Who Did Miracles for Me’

Rav Chaim of Volozhin was one of the important contributors to the development of Jewish thought and Torah study at the turn of the 19th century. One of the primary talmidim and progenitors of the Vilna Gaon, Rav Chaim transmitted the sacred mesorah to generations of students. He founded the great yeshiva of Volozhin, renowned as the “eim hayeshivas—the mother of all yeshivas,” where engagement in the analytical methodology of the Gra awakened a revolution in Torah study. Known after his classic and groundbreaking sefer, the “Nefesh HaChayim,” Rav Chaim cemented the intellectual and spiritual path of his rebbe, the Vilna Gaon.

One day, as Rav Chaim was traveling with a group of students about to cross the Romanova bridge (in modern day Krasnaya Polyana, Russia), he abruptly asked the carriage driver to stop and pull over. The Nefesh HaChayim looked out at the river below and and summoning great kavana, recited the bracha, שעשה לי נס במקום הזה—“Blessed is … the One who performed a miracle for me at this place.” A curious talmid could not help but ask the rosh yeshiva what miracle he had experienced there.

Rav Chaim took a deep breath, and began to tell the story:

“Once, in a snowstorm—in bone-chilling cold—a sheer sheet of ice covered the narrow Romanova bridge. A young mother, clutching her child bundled in a blanket, slowly made her way over the bridge. As a horse drawn carriage passed, the woman was forced to the side. The wind howled and the woman slipped and fell, her baby tumbled over the railing, down into the raging waters below. She cried out, as onlookers helplessly watched the baby plunge into the freezing waters below.”

“Shrieks of horror turned to gasps of amazement when, moments later, the bundle was seen floating intact on top of the choppy waters. The baby seemed to be lifted by some divine force. As young men shouted and raced with all their strength down to the shore, the baby was miraculously deposited on dry land. They lifted the little baby girl, still warm and cooing peacefully, and brought her back to her mother’s arms.”

“This girl grew up and became a righteous woman known as ‘Traina,’ who married a scholar named ‘Rabbi Shlomo Zalman’ … and gave birth to Rav Eliyahu … our great teacher, the gaon of Vilna.”

~

וַיְהִי בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בַּשָּׁנָה הַשֵּׁנִית בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ הוּקַם הַמִּשְׁכָּן:

וַיָּקֶם משֶׁה אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־אֲדָנָיו וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת־קְרָשָׁיו וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־בְּרִיחָיו וַיָּקֶם אֶת־עַמּוּדָיו

“In the first month of the second year, on the first of the month, the Mishkan was set up. Moshe set up the Mishkan, placing its sockets, setting up its planks, inserting its bars and erecting its posts, (40:17-18).”

Our sedra describes the final stages of the building and dedication of the Mishkan, providing an accounting for the materials donated by klal Yisrael. These richly beautiful components are brought to Moshe Rabbeinu, who guides the process until the structure is complete and the divine presence rests within it.

Midrash Tanchuma (Pekudei, 11) recounts some of the exciting experiences surrounding the completion of the Mishkan, painting a picture of some of the behind-the-scenes drama. Try as they might, all of those who contributed to the building of the Mishkan could not comprehend how to complete its construction. Again and again, the Mishkan failed to stand and remain stable. Frustrated, they gathered their handiwork—representing their best of their efforts—and approached Moshe Rabbeinu for guidance.

אָמַר מֹשֶׁה, רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, אֵינִי יוֹדֵעַ לְהַעֲמִידוֹ—“Moshe said, ‘Master of the Universe! I do not know how to erect it either!’” Finally, it was miraculously lifted by some divine force—as the pasuk says: הוּקַם הַמִּשְׁכָּן—“the Mishkan was set up,” in the passive tense. In the end, all realized that the Ribbono Shel Olam Himself had made the edifice stand, establishing—even until today—the “headquarters” of our relationship with Hashem.

Prior to the giving of the Torah, our faith and avodas Hashem was based on the אותות ומופתים—the “signs, wonders and open miracles” that we experienced in ‎Egypt. Says the Kedushas Levi, upon receiving the Torah, our spiritual perception was refined to such a heightened point of spiritual sensitivity that ידעו למפרע שגם הניסים והנפלאות שעשה במצרים ובים אין הפלא מצד הנס כי אם שנראה אהבתו לישראל—“We recognized that the miracles performed‎ in Mitzrayim were not solely intended as exhibition of Hashem’s power and ability to change nature, but as an expression of our kesher with Hashem, and His great love of Am Yisrael,” even now.

~

The Megillah reading is preceded by three blessings: The first is upon the mitzvah of reading the story, (al mikra megillah), the second is upon our gratitude for the miracles (sheasah nissim), and the third is upon the recognition that we have been blessed to reach the day which is eternally imprinted by that story and those miracles (shehechiyanu). The following is the halacha, codified in Maseches Megillah (2:1):

הַקּוֹרֵא אֶת הַמְּגִלָּה לְמַפְרֵעַ, לֹא יָצָא

One who reads the Megillah out of order has not performed the mitzvah.

Why must the text be recited in its exact order? The correct interpretation of the story could still remain intact. In fact—while there are different opinions on the meaning of this—the Gemara rules (Pesachim, 6b) that the Torah itself does not always portray events in chronological order. Yet here, reading even one pasuk of the Megillah out of order undermines the flow to the extent that the mitzvah is negated.

The Meiri offers a solution: If the Megillah is read non-sequentially, we would be unable to appreciate the miraculous unfolding of events. Thus, our reading would not accomplish its very purpose: “pirsumei nisa—publicization of the miracle.”

The word למפרע is most commonly translated as “retroactively,” suggesting here a reading of the Megillah “backwards.” With this in mind, the Maggid of Mezritch offers an expansive interpretation. If we relate to the the events that took place in the days of Mordechai and Esther as a historical account, as למפרע—something which took place in the past rather than a narrative that we are experiencing “forward,” today in our lives, לא יצא—we do not fulfill our obligation. In other words, our obligation is to notice that the miracles of Purim are happening “right now.” The story recorded in the Megillah is “our” story. Hashem’s hand is being revealed within the current flow time, within the “concealment” of the natural events in our own lives.

One is obligated to give thanks for a miracle performed for their parents or their rebbe (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 218). The language of this blessing, שעשה לי נס במקום הזה—“ … Who made a miracle ‘for me’ in this place,” is personal—as if the salvation was experienced firsthand. For the Nefesh HaChayim, crossing the Romanova bridge was an opportunity to thank Hashem for the miracle that preserved his rebbe’s mother—in effect, saving him as well.

As we approach Purim and prepare to witness our miraculous salvation “firsthand,” may we see the fulfillment of the bracha: שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה—and experience miracles and revealed good ‘in this time!’”


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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