Norman Lamm explores Megillah with ‘Majesty & Mystery’
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Norman Lamm explores Megillah with ‘Majesty & Mystery’

New book adds meaning to Purim

The festival of Purim is generally associated with frivolity, feasting, and drinking, rather than with immersion in deep thought. All the merriment that envelopes the day, however, conceals its more serious messages.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor, rosh ha-yeshivah and former president Yeshiva University, has authored “The Megillah: Majesty & Mystery,” to aid readers who seek to delve into Purim’s deeper significance.

A leader of modern Orthodoxy who has gained wide acclaim for his writings and discourses on interpretations of Jewish philosophy and law, Lamm has authored over 10 books, including “The Religious Thought of chasidism: Text and Commentary,” which won the coveted 1999 Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought.

Hie newest work, published by OU Press, uncovers the underlying themes of the holiday that celebrates the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s evil scheme in ancient Persia.

The book presents the entire Purim evening service and M’gillat Esther in Hebrew and English with Lamm’s eloquent commentary. The 190-page volume, gleaned from Lamm’s numerous sermons and essays, and compiled by editor Joel Wolowelsky, also contains several additional chapters about other joyous holidays of significance to modern Orthodox Jews, such as Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Thanksgiving.

In his work, Rabbi Lamm derives modern day lessons from the Esther narrative. He describes Mordechai, who is hailed by Jews world over for his outstanding leadership, as a great role model. He notes, however, that not all Jews in Persia agreed with Mordechai, as is indicated in a final verses of the text that he was accepted by “most of the people,” meaning but not by all.

Mordechai was not the type of person who tried to please everybody, said Lamm. This is the mark of a great leader.

True leadership, Lamm, notes, does not mean agreeing with everybody. “If a leader is to achieve his purpose he must sometime oppose certain of those who follow him….Effective Jewish leadership requires that both leader and followers must realize that leadership demands boldness and courage, at times contrary to the wishes and better judgment of many of the followers.”

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy of Teaneck, a professor of Jewish Studies and an ocxcasional contributor to The Jewish Standard, called the book “a work of art and of poetic expression. It is an exciting statement of Torah-true theology and commentary. The work is supported by rich knowledge of the texts of the prayers and of the Book of Esther and it is greatly enriched by 2,000 years of rabbinic insights.”

Zahavy, who said the book will enhance his Purim celebration, added, “Lamm deftly mixes together political insights that he learns from the book of Esther with moral lessons that he sees in the narrative.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, editor of the OU Press, added, “What’s very appealing is his analysis of M’gillat Esther and how it was written in two contexts: Hamelech refers to two kings, Achashverosh, but also the king of kings [God]. It was written in this obscure fashion because it was a public document in ancient Persia.”

Because the story was written with two audiences in mind – the Jews of Persia, as well as the royal court, “They couldn’t write all the religious interpretations. So it has to be read on two levels.”

Lamm “is beyond remarkable in terms of his erudition and eloquence,” Genack said. “Each of the commentaries are beautiful in their own right.”

Although the explanations of the narrative are complex and sophisticated, they are explained in a manner that is easy to understand and can be appreciated by readers of all backgrounds.

For example, Lamm tackles the verse about Achashverosh’s inability to fall asleep one night and brings up a midrash that explains it this way: The king was upset that Esther had invited Haman to the banquet. He suspected that she and Haman were plotting against him. He wonders why no one is loyal enough to apprise him of the conspiracy.

Achashverosh wonders if he had failed to compensate someone for a good deed they did for him, Lamm suggests. “‘Maybe I have been an ingrate, and therefore lost the loyalty of my friends.'” Lamm suggests. “That is why he ordered the chronicles to be read to him.” And that began the Jews’ redemption.

Lamm refers to this event as a momentous moral teaching. “We become truly moral beings when we take the giant step from blaming others for our misery to searching our own souls and hearts for the source of our troubles, from suspecting conspiring neighbors to analyzing the labyrinth channels of our own egos. What was truly remarkable was that Achashverosh could achieve this moral stature. He converted it from a suspicion of plots by others to a discovery of shortcomings within himself. The miracle lay in his ability to make the transition from a frightened animal afraid of others to a spiritual human afraid of what he had found within himself.”

Too often, the first reaction to our own discomfort is to blame others, rather than undertaking the more courageous and painful self-criticism, said Lamm. “If modern man suffers a gnawing sleeplessness, it is not so much because of his oppressive outer world as because of his depressed inner life.”Book adds meaning to Purim

Deena Yellin Fuksbrumer

The festival of Purim is generally associated with frivolity, feasting, and drinking, rather than with immersion in deep thought. All the merriment that envelopes the day, however, conceals its more serious messages.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor, rosh ha-yeshivah and former president Yeshiva University, has authored “The Megillah: Majesty & Mystery,” to aid readers who seek to delve into Purim’s deeper significance.

A leader of modern Orthodoxy who has gained wide acclaim for his writings and discourses on interpretations of Jewish philosophy and law, Lamm has authored over 10 books, including “The Religious Thought of chasidism: Text and Commentary,” which won the coveted 1999 Jewish Book Award in Jewish Thought.

Hie newest work, published by OU Press, uncovers the underlying themes of the holiday that celebrates the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s evil scheme in ancient Persia.

The book presents the entire Purim evening service and M’gillat Esther in Hebrew and English with Lamm’s eloquent commentary. The 190-page volume, gleaned from Lamm’s numerous sermons and essays, and compiled by editor Joel Wolowelsky, also contains several additional chapters about other joyous holidays of significance to modern Orthodox Jews, such as Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim and Thanksgiving.

In his work, Rabbi Lamm derives modern day lessons from the Esther narrative. He describes Mordechai, who is hailed by Jews world over for his outstanding leadership, as a great role model. He notes, however, that not all Jews in Persia agreed with Mordechai, as is indicated in a final verses of the text that he was accepted by “most of the people,” meaning but not by all.

Mordechai was not the type of person who tried to please everybody, said Lamm. This is the mark of a great leader.

True leadership, Lamm, notes, does not mean agreeing with everybody. “If a leader is to achieve his purpose he must sometime oppose certain of those who follow him….Effective Jewish leadership requires that both leader and followers must realize that leadership demands boldness and courage, at times contrary to the wishes and better judgment of many of the followers.”

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy of Teaneck, a professor of Jewish Studies and an ocxcasional contributor to The Jewish Standard, called the book “a work of art and of poetic expression. It is an exciting statement of Torah-true theology and commentary. The work is supported by rich knowledge of the texts of the prayers and of the Book of Esther and it is greatly enriched by 2,000 years of rabbinic insights.”

Zahavy, who said the book will enhance his Purim celebration, added, “Lamm deftly mixes together political insights that he learns from the book of Esther with moral lessons that he sees in the narrative.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, editor of the OU Press, added, “What’s very appealing is his analysis of M’gillat Esther and how it was written in two contexts: Hamelech refers to two kings, Achashverosh, but also the king of kings [God]. It was written in this obscure fashion because it was a public document in ancient Persia.”

Because the story was written with two audiences in mind – the Jews of Persia, as well as the royal court, “They couldn’t write all the religious interpretations. So it has to be read on two levels.”

Lamm “is beyond remarkable in terms of his erudition and eloquence,” Genack said. “Each of the commentaries are beautiful in their own right.”

Although the explanations of the narrative are complex and sophisticated, they are explained in a manner that is easy to understand and can be appreciated by readers of all backgrounds.

For example, Lamm tackles the verse about Achashverosh’s inability to fall asleep one night and brings up a midrash that explains it this way: The king was upset that Esther had invited Haman to the banquet. He suspected that she and Haman were plotting against him. He wonders why no one is loyal enough to apprise him of the conspiracy.

Achashverosh wonders if he had failed to compensate someone for a good deed they did for him, Lamm suggests. “‘Maybe I have been an ingrate, and therefore lost the loyalty of my friends.'” Lamm suggests. “That is why he ordered the chronicles to be read to him.” And that began the Jews’ redemption.

Lamm refers to this event as a momentous moral teaching. “We become truly moral beings when we take the giant step from blaming others for our misery to searching our own souls and hearts for the source of our troubles, from suspecting conspiring neighbors to analyzing the labyrinth channels of our own egos. What was truly remarkable was that Achashverosh could achieve this moral stature. He converted it from a suspicion of plots by others to a discovery of shortcomings within himself. The miracle lay in his ability to make the transition from a frightened animal afraid of others to a spiritual human afraid of what he had found within himself.”

Too often, the first reaction to our own discomfort is to blame others, rather than undertaking the more courageous and painful self-criticism, said Lamm. “If modern man suffers a gnawing sleeplessness, it is not so much because of his oppressive outer world as because of his depressed inner life.”

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