Queen Esther prayed to God and called on all of the Jews to pray, as one, on her behalf. She endangered her life to approach King Achashverosh unbidden in order to try to save Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, from annihilation. In addition to her modeling bravery and self-sacrifice, Esther also modeled the power of prayer as an individual and as part of a unified community. While God communicates with us in many ways, we communicate with God by talking to Him in prayer.
We know that tefillah is a critical component of a life with emunah. This belief that God is ever present, listening and intimately involved in our lives is what accords strength in times of hardship. Psalm 22 is attributed to Esther (Megilla 15b) as she cries out to God questioning her feelings of abandonment. It opens with the words- לַמְנַצֵּחַ עַל־אַיֶּלֶת הַשַּׁחַר – For the conductor, Ayelet Hashachar. One of the explanations offered by Rashi (22:1) is that ayelet refers to a beloved deer likened to the radiance of the dawn.
Fittingly, the tribe of Naftali is associated with the month of Adar and is likewise correlated with prayer and the image of a deer. In Yaakov Avinu’s blessing to Naftali (Bereishit 49:21) he says-
נַפְתָּלִי אַיָּלָה שְׁלֻחָה הַנֹּתֵן אִמְרֵי־שָׁפֶר –
Naftali is a dispatched deer who delivers letters bearing beautiful messages (see Onkeles, Ramban on Bereishit 49:21). Additionally, the land of Naftali is the first to produce fruit in the holy land and as such prompted people to pray in gratitude and with hopes of continued good tidings.
The Purim holiday is marked by giving gifts to one another. Just as the deer was a messenger of praise and positivity, so too our mishloach manot are an opportunity to offer a warm word, a handwritten note, a funny joke or a meaningful dvar Torah along with the delivered food items.
In a poignant play on words, Rav Eyal Vered (based on the Sfat Emet on parshat Terumah) enlightens us with the crux of the voluntary donations to the building of the mishkan when he states
– “המשכן עשוי לא מכסף אלא מכיסופים, לא מזהב אלא מלב זהב שנותן” –
The mishkan is not made from silver (kesef) rather from longing (kissufim), not from gold, but from a golden heart that gives. It is the positive intention, the yearning for connection and closeness which is at the core of the nation’s physical and spiritual center.
The unity of the nation that was fused in tefillah is what we aspire to when we bestow upon our friends, neighbors and passing strangers a mishloach manot. The presentation of food is the technical mitzvah but love and intention are the key ingredients.
This Adar, in the culmination of the Jewish year, let’s take a few moments to formulate our own words of supplication and devotion to God, just as Queen Esther did in Persia 2,000 years ago. May we deliver beautiful messages of unity, support and connection to all of our brothers and sisters in this beautiful nation, this family of ours, Am Yisrael.
Matan Women's Institute for Torah Studieshas been at the cutting edge of Torah learning for women since it was established in 1988.