And Esther Wrote
by Reb Shlomo Carlebach
One of the saddest things in the world, in my world, that breaks my heart, is that on the one hand I would like our daughters, our mothers, to be so Jewish and so holy, so exalted, and yet, when you meet those women who really are so holy and so beautiful and you start talking with them, you realize that they are so empty inside. Gevaldt are they empty. When I walk into a place, the moment I start saying Divrei Torah (words of Torah), naturally the women take off, because they are not sitting together with the men. They are sitting separate. The men are listening. The women are already talking, about bagels, earrings. When it comes to singing, our holy sisters don’t join us. They sit there and talk to each other, It’s heartbreaking. You know what we need, absolutely need, we need to cry and beg our holy, so to speak frum, mothers and frum sisters, please, please don’t put us to shame. Please don’t put us to shame before those holy young women who are coming back to Yiddishkeit, who are so sensitive to what’s going on in life. I’ll tell you something, something heartbreaking. You know what happens to religious girls who go to college? In every subject in the world they are very deep, You can talk to them about anything in the world. Yet, When it comes to Torah, they are so shallow. It’s not fair. It isn’t fair.
Our generation has to fix two things. We have not fixed the relationship between Adam and Eve, and we have not fixed the relationship between Cain and Abel, between Jews and non-Jews. Basically, the same people who don’t know how to relate to women also don’t know how to relate to non-Jews.
There was a time that men and women didn’t live in the same world. It’s not true anymore. We are living in the same world, In 1959, when I came to Eretz Yisrael for the first time, I was a bachelor, walking into a Beis Midrash in Meah Shearim, and someone asked me if I was married. I said no. He said, “I have a wonderful shidduch (match) for you. Come back next Monday.” I came back Monday, and he asked me, “Do you speak Hungarian?” I said, “No.” He said, “The girl I want you to marry only speaks Hungarian.” I said, “O.K., no more shidduch.” He looked at me and said, “Why? What do you have to talk to her about? Unbelievable.
Maybe there was a time when a man sat at the table alone, and his wife sat in the kitchen, Friday night and this was holy. Today, if a person doesn’t sit with his wife and children, with his daughters, at the table, it’s a criminal offense. This girl who eats in the kitchen, the moment she is old enough to get out from her father’s stupidity, might very well leave Yiddishkeit.
The deepest secret of life is that everything is the same, and yet, every thing has to become better. I keep everything my bubba did, and yet I am one step ahead. One step ahead. Reb Nachman said that G-d cannot stand the same thing twice. People can’t either.
Yentas, we have plenty of. The women who stand all day in the kitchen, we have had this for a few generations. The Ribbono Shel Olam (G-d) needs now strong women who stand an their feet, and learn. Who know what Yiddishkeit is all about. Who can give it over to their children. The most heartbreaking thing in the world is that the Rabbis, who think they have to guard the old tradition, actually refuse to realize that you only guard the old tradition if you are aware of what’s going on today – if you add. The new doesn’t have to conflict with old; it can enrich it.
What about giving aliyot (being called to the Torah) to women? I’ll tell you an unbelievable story. I gave a concert in Paris. After the concert, a beautiful young lady came up to me and said, “I want to tell you my story, I come from a Chassidic home in Boston. I like to paint, to draw. I managed to get to college, despite my father, and I got a scholarship to Paris. I left and didn’t write to my parents. I had no money, so when a non-Jew asked me to move into his house I did. I lived with him for four years, and he asked me to marry him. This non-Jew asked my to marry him, and I was overjoyed. Sunday morning, I was supposed to be baptized, and Sunday night, the wedding. For me, Shabbos didn’t exist anymore, so the Shabbos before, I went shopping. Crazily enough, I passed by the Reform Synagogue, the same Reform Synagogue that, three years ago, was bombed by the P.L.O. I passed by that synagogue and, I don’t know why, I walked in. They were just reading the Torah. Suddenly, the shammos (beadle) came to me and offered me an aliyah. I want you to know, I was religious when I was young. Nobody ever gave me an aliyah. When they called up my name to the Torah, it was clear to me that G-d was calling me. When I made the bracha (blessing) over the Torah, I swore to G-d that I’ll be a Jewish daughter again. I came out from shul, I called up my boyfriend, and I told him that I was just in shul, and I heard a voice from heaven tell me that I shouldn’t do it. And I didn’t.”
It’s all very beautiful to say that we should not give women aliyot. The Satmar Rebbitzen doesn’t need an aliyah. But, there are a lot of holy women today who need an aliyah.
I want to tell you one more story. I was on a plane from London to Tel Aviv. I saw a Rosh Yeshiva of one of the biggest yeshivat, and next to him was a very beautiful non-religious girl, and next to her was her mother. The Rosh Yeshiva was talking to her. I said, “Rebbe, I want to talk to you straight. Tell me the sad truth, If you would sit next to a girl who was educated by you, would you have something to talk to her about? Why do you talk to that girl? Sadly enough, the sad truth is, because she is not a religious girl.” Isn’t that heartbreaking? Does a girl have to be non- religious in order for you to be able to talk to her? Don’t you want your daughter to be a little bit like her?
I was sitting on a train, going from Tel-Aviv to Haifa, and there were a hundred little kids from a religious school on the train. The kids knew me and said, “Hey, sing something for us.” Little kids, they are so sweet, their eyes were shining, they were glowing. I took out my guitar and started singing, one niggun after another. I asked them, “Where is your teacher?” She was sitting there by the window looking out. I walked up to her and said, “I envy you, to have such children to teach.” She wouldn’t look at me, wouldn’t talk to me. I thought, this is crazy. Is this called frum? Those kids were so happy, and she would not be a part of it.
Two weeks ago, I was someplace where there were only religious people. I was singing and then I told two stories. Three religious women came up and said to me, “Why do you talk so much? Why don’t you just sing?” They didn’t understand a word I was saying. The stories didn’t touch them.
All the redeemers of Israel were men, with the exception of Purim, where we have a man and a woman. Obviously, Esther must have had some class. She was educated by Mordechai. To be queen of the world, of 127 medinot (lands). She had to have some class.
The Midrash says that Rabbi Akiva was saying Torah on every letter, on every tag (crown) of the Torah. Some of his students said, “Why must you bother with all that? The letters, the tagin, what do we need it for?” Rabbi Akiva was master of the Torah She-Beal-Peh (the oral Torah). There are Torahs that you need in life so much. What is the Tree of Knowledge? The Tree of Knowledge is where I know what to do about everything, but there is some kind of inner knowledge that is beyond words, deeper than words. This is what kingdom is all about. A king has some inside stuff, deep, deep stuff. Everybody knows that Sarah is even deeper than Avraham. G-d told Avraham, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you.” * Footnote: Midrash Rabah 58.3 – Rabbi Akiva was sitting and teaching and his students were dozing. He wanted to rouse them. He said “Why was Esther queen of 127 lands? Since Esther was descended from Sarah who lived one hundred twenty-seven years, she (Esther) ruled over 127 lands.
Why then is the prophecy of Sarah not written in the Torah? We get just a little glimpse of her prophecy, that she said to send Yishmael out. Her prophecy wasn’t written down. The prophecy of Avraham was in words. The prophecy of Sarah was in letters, the Torah of Rabbi Akiva, the Torah She-Beal-Peh.
What are the letters all about? When I get a business letter, the words are important, the letters aren’t. When I get a love letter, everything is important. I look at every letter a thousand times.
Maybe our fathers teach us the Torah. But, to love the Torah so much, that every letter is read a thousand times, this comes from our mothers. So, Rabbi Akiva said, “Do you know why Esther was the queen of one hundred twenty-seven lands?” She must have known something. What did she know? She knew the Torah of our mother, Sarah. Rashi says that tzaddikim are “tamim”, complete. We live in the world and we don’t know if we did what we have to do. The tzaddikim live exactly to finish the product. When they leave this world, they are a finished product, Avraham was in the world exactly to finish Avraham. And, it says that it took exactly one hundred twenty-seven years to finish Sarah. (Sarah lived 127 years.) And her Torah she gave over to Esther.
Everybody knows, the megillah is based on letters. G-d’s name is not mentioned there on the level of words. His name is mentioned only in Rashei Teivot (abbreviations). One word begins with “yod”, one with “heh”, and so on. Megillat Esther is based on letters. The Torah She-Beal-Peh is letters. Why is it letters? One sits and looks at the letters, until the letters begin to reveal the deepest secrets.
Rabbi Akiva was sitting and saying Torah on the letters and even on the tagin, His students said to him, “Who needs this? You can be a Jew without it.” He answered, “Yes, You can be a Jew without it, but you cannot be Esther HaMalka (the queen) without it. You cannot give over G-d to the world without it.” On Purim we are told that many people became Jews. Mordechai and Esther took over the world. The world knew then that Jews are holy, that G-d is holy.
And, the way we teach the world is not with words. It has to be deeper than that. Non-Jews also have the written Torah, but they are still non- Jews. Torah She-Beal-Peh is the deepest knowledge of G-d. It is the knowledge of every letter, of every word.
The utmost redemption of the world can only be Adam and Eve together. Our downfall was that Adam and Eve split. The real redemption of Purim is that Mordechai and Esther were doing something together.
I want to tell you something so heartbreaking Today, in our religious circles, the husband goes to shul, the wife stays home. He does this, she does something else. It may be beautiful, but it is not Purim, it is not the redemption of the world. It is not what brings Moshiach. Today, thank G-d, in the non-religious world, women get stronger and stronger. We have to get behind the wheel and step on the gas a little bit. We have already lost 80% of our daughters. We shall lose, G-d forbid, 100%, if we don’t do something about it. Yes, we’ll always have some frum girls, but they will be like the woman in Toronto who told me that unless you talk about something like kashrut, my learning won’t be popular.
You know what is so special about Purim? On Purim we don’t have time to learn. We send shalach manos, we get drunk. The revelation that G-d reveals to us on Purim is so deep. Someone wrote a sheilah (question) to the holy Ostrovitzer. He said that he got shalach manos from a person who was not so religious, and he asked if he was permitted to eat it. The Rebbe answered something very beautiful. What is the whole idea of shalach manos, he asked? The whole story of Esther began because the Jews ate at the feast of Achashverosh. Every Jew accused every other Jew of eating treif. So, Esther said to Mordechai, “Go and gather all the Jews.” Forget what we ate yesterday. From now on, all the Jews will be together. The idea of Purim is that from now on, every Jew says to every other Jew, “I trust you that you are kosher. I trust you.” By that we bring Moshiach.
Woe unto those who don’t eat shalach manos because they don’t think they are kosher. On Purim, the most important thing is for Jews to be together, The Megillah says, “And Esther wrote.” Today, if a woman wrote a book, and a rabbi would say that book should become part of the Torah, all the rabbis would write teshuvot (response) against it. Yet, Esther was the editor, the author of the Megillah. Today, a woman cannot even decide if a bakery is kosher. This is what keeps Moshiach from coming.
A lady once told me, “I stopped going to shul. The women asked the rabbi if they could hold the Torah, and he said no. I watched the men. They were talking, sleeping – there was no kavannah (meaning). If we women would have held the Torah, it would have been so holy, so exalted. Who is the rabbi, to keep us from serving G-d?”
We are so concerned with the words. Where is Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, the Torah of Esther, the queen of the world?
We are living in a world where 65% of our young people intermarry. When I was in San Francisco, in 1959, 1 felt right now was the time to create a different kind of yeshiva, to get our kids back. I had two responses. One great rabbi told me to forget it. The other said I was being stupid, a comedian. What was I talking about? That man is now the head of a well-known yeshiva for Baalei Teshuva.
We need Chanukkah and Purim together, We need to add. We must stop being afraid of adding. What is so terrible if our sisters want to add Torah? Torah She-Beal-Peh is the Torah of your mother.” Adding is not changing. We need Chanukkah, and we need Purim also. We need “And Esther wrote.” Give Esther a chance.
In my shul, we have four Sifrei Torah. On Simchat Torah, we give one to the women. One year, a man said to me, “What’s going on here? This apikorsut (heresy), to allow women to carry a Torah.” I said to him, “If our women are good enough to carry our children for nine months, they are good enough to carry a Safer Torah for a few minutes.
When you love somebody very much, you think about them even when they are not there. This is shalach manos; it is telling somebody that you are sending them your love, your thoughts, even when they are not there.
The Gemara says, “Esther is Hester Panim” (the hiding of the Presence of G-d. G-d’s -name is not mentioned in the Megillah). Purim is when we don’t see G-d. Do we know how much G-d thinks of us, especially when He is not looking? Do you know why G-d is not mentioned in the Megillah? The Megillah teaches us how much G-d loves us, even when He is not when He is not showing it at that moment, when He seems to be hiding. When you love a person, the real test of the love is how much do you think about them when you don’t see them. The test of a Jew in exile is how much G-d thinks about us, and we think about Him, even when we are not close.
Why is the Torah of Purim even deeper that the Torah of Mount Sinai? The Torah of Mount Sinai is Face to Face. G-d talks to us. He looks at us. Deeper than this is the Torah of Purim. It gives us a taste of how much G- d is thinking about us, even when we don’t directly feel it. The Torah of Face to Face can be given over by a rebbe. The Torah of Purim can only be truly taught by men and women together.
At the beginning of a wedding, the groom covers his bride’s face. All day long they are on the level of Yom Kippur. When he covers her face, they reach the level of Purim. The groom is saying to the bride, I am giving over to you all of my love, even when I don’t see you.
Do you know why children keep their eyes closed when they are born? They want to taste how much their parents love them when they don’t see them.
I want to tell everyone please, send shalach manos to your wives, to your husbands, to your children. Sometimes we forget to send shalach manos to the people closest to us.
I want to tell you one more thing. I would like to see, in the religious world, a man saying Torah at the table, and a woman saying Torah. I would like to see, “And Esther wrote” – a woman’s Torah. I would like to see a man and a woman, both saying Torah, Friday night at the table.
There are two holidays where basically everyone can do their own thing. On Chanukkah, there are many different customs about lighting candles. The Sephardim have different customs than the Ashkenazim. This is considered beautiful. On Purim, there are different days possible for Megillah reading – the 12th, the 13th, 14th, days of Adar, or the 15th, Sushan Purim, depending on where a person lives.
Do you know the difference between a restaurant and a hospital? In a restaurant, there is one menu, and everybody eats the same food. In a hospital, everybody gets different medicine made especially for them. Torah is the same. The Torah She-bechtav (written Torah) is the same for everyone. The Torah She-Beal-Peh has to be different for every person. We are living in a sick world. The Gemara says that, on Yom Kippur, if a doctor says you are well, and you say you are sick, you are permitted to eat. Everybody knows themselves best.
The Torah of Hester Panim (the hiding of G-d’s face) is when, G-d forbid, things are hidden. Give Jews a chance to have their own connections with the Torah. In most shuls, women cannot kiss the Torah. I know that in those shuls that do allow women to kiss the Torah, for some women, their whole Yiddishkeit began when they first kissed the Torah. It’s so important.
The story of Esther teaches that sometimes there is a kind of Torah in which G-d’s name is not even mentioned, it’s hidden, but it’s there. Everybody has his own connection to Yiddishkeit. I’m afraid to tell anybody else, this is my connection, this is what I like the most. That is why I send shalach manos; I do not deliver it face to face. I say, I want you to know, whatever your connection to Yiddishkeit is, you don’t have to tell me, but I want you to know that I am connected to the same thing. We are all connected to the same place.
At the House of Love and Prayer, in California, as a rule I did not give aliyot to women, But, when girls asked for an aliyah, I give it to them. I saved many girls from the abyss of assimilation because I was strong enough to give them aliyot.
Purim is when we realize that Torah is not only food. Torah is medicine. On Purim I am getting drunk with the Torah, The difference between food and wine is very simple. When you eat food, you don’t have to be happy. But, when you drink wine, you glow with it. On Purim you glow.
All year long, I learn Torah. It gives me life; like food, it keeps me going. On Purim, I want different Torah. I want Torah that touches every secret in my heart. I want Torah that connects me to every Jew. I want Torah that strengthens my friendships, my relationships with every Jew. “Go and gather together all the Jews.” That is the essence of Purim.
My dearest friends, I hope you understood what I said to you. In order to keep Yiddishkeit alive, we desperately need synagogues that do not give aliyot to women and we also desperately need synagogues that do give aliyot to women.
Everybody knows that the downfall of the world is Loshon Hora, The Gemara says Hamen is the master of Loshon Hora. Mordechai and Esther are masters of -non-Loshon Hora. On Purim, we do not send shalach manos face to face; we are telling each other “even behind your back, I shall not speak evil about you.”
G-d is opening so many gates. When will we have enough courage to help each other find the right gates? Gevaldt, brothers, and sisters, we need so much for ourselves, but we need so much more for our beautiful children. On Purim, it says, whoever holds out his hand, should receive something. So, this Purim, let it be that all that we need is given to us, and let a great miracle happen to us – that as G-d sees us holding out our hands and begging, so should we see G-d’s hand to give to him who he needs. For us, for Israel, and for the world, Good Purim everyone! Good Purim!