וביאור The explanation of the concept

I.e., the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah with mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) on their own initiative at the time of the Purim miracle.

can be understood on the basis of the verse:1 “There was an ish Yehudi (“the officer

Ish is usually translated as “man.” The explanation for the translation as “officer” is given later in the maamar.

of the Jews”)….

We have used the common translation for the term Yehudi. More specifically (as the Alter Rebbe proceeds to emphasize), it means “[a member] of the tribe of Yehudah.” The common translation came about because after the exile of the Ten Tribes, the overwhelming majority of the Jews remaining in Eretz Yisrael (and thus exiled to Babylon) were from the tribe of Yehudah and, indeed, the entire nation was often called by that name.

His name was Mordechaiish Yemini.” As Rashi explains, [the term Yemini] implies that he was of the tribe of Benyamin. Why then is he called a Yehudi which implies that he was of the tribe of Yehudah? It is also necessary to understand why Haman’s decree mentioned “annihilat[ing] and kill[ing]… the Yehudim?2 For in the 127 countries ruled by Achashverosh, there were [not only members of the tribe of Yehudah, but] also members of all the tribes, Ephraim and Menasheh, [etc.,] as well.

Obviously, calling them Yehudim carries an allusion to a concept of general scope.

אלא [In resolution, it can be explained that] they were called Yehudim because of the bittul they showed to [G‑d’s] infinite light. [For the name Yehudim relates to the term hodaah,which emphasizes the quality of bittul,] as we say in the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, Modim anachnu lach, [“We thankfully acknowledge You”].

The concept of acknowledgment (hodaah) implies the acceptance of a position even though one does not understand it totally (see the maamar entitled Tziyon BeMishpat, sec. 1, translated in Vol. II of this series). This is consonant with the concept of bittul which involves nullifying one’s own will and submitting oneself to another authority.

For this reason, they are called Yehudim.

I.e., the name points to the quality of bittul,the spiritual attribute which characterizes the Jewish people as a whole.

[This relates to the reason the name Yehudah was originally given,] as the verse quotes Leah: Bereishis 29:35. “‘This time I will thankfully acknowledge G‑d.’ Therefore she called him Yehudah.”xvi For this reason, Mordechai was called ish Yehudi (“the officer of the Jews”). The term ish can be interpreted as “officer” as in the expression ish Har haBayis, “the officer of the Mountain of [the Beis HaMikdash].”3 [And, as above, Yehudi refers to the approach of bittul. The title thus implies that Mordechai] was the source of bittul [for the entire nation].

I.e., through his teachings and example, and indeed, even through mere contact with him, Mordechai was able to inspire a commitment of bittul and mesirus nefesh within the people as a whole.See the maamarim entitled VeKibeil HaYehudim, 5697 (translated in Defiance and Devotion, p. 1ff.) and VeAtah Tetzaveh, 5752 (translated in Anticipating the Redemption, Vol. 1, p. 76ff.).

כמארז"ל [To develop this concept:] Our Sages’ state:4 “What is the allusion to Mordechai in the Torah? It is written:5Mor dror,”’ which the Targum renders as mar dachia (“pure mor”).

Mor was one of the spices used in the preparation of the anointing oil used in the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash and in the incense offering that was brought daily.

According to Rambam6 and other commentaries,xvii mor is musk,

Raavad and Ramban object to Rambam’s view, for they maintain that a substance coming from a non-kosher animal is inappropriate to be used in the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash. They identify mor with myrrh — a fragrant, resinous sap. Here the Alter Rebbe is following Rambam’s perspective.

The Alter Rebbe proceeds to explain the connection between Mordechai and bittul as follows: As indicated by the association between Mordechai and musk, Mordechai is associated with the transformation of darkness into light. This is possible through the quality of Chochmah,and Chochmah is characterized by bittul.

which is mentioned in the Talmud, [tractate Berachos,] ch. Keitzad Mevarchim,7 i.e., “the blood of a well-known animal,” [the musk deer,] which coagulates in a gland in its neck, [is dried,] and becomes a spice referred to as mor. [The spiritual parallel] in the attributes of the soul are the [services of] iskafia (subjugation)

Ruling over one’s material desires and compelling them to conform to the Torah’s standards.

and is’hap’cha (transformation of) bitterness to sweetness.

Transforming one’s natural desires to such an extent that they also seek holiness. In that vein, our Sages interpret (Berachos 9:1) the command (Devarim 6:5): “And you shall love G‑d your L‑rd with all your heart,” as “with both your hearts,” that even the yetzer hara will be motivated to love G‑d and seek a connection with holiness. This idea is epitomized in the transformation of an animal’s blood, i.e., its vitality and energy, into a fragrance. (In Sefer HaMaamarim 5571, p. 134, the Alter Rebbe explains that this transformation is alluded to by the description of the musk as “pure,” i.e., refined, with its material impurities stripped away.)

For blood represents the vital soul, the soul which desires. [The process in which the] animalistic desires [of this soul] are redirected from the pleasures of this world to the extent that all of its desires and pleasures are focused on G‑d [is reflected by] the transformation [of this blood] into a fragrant spice.

ועל On this basis,

I.e., based on the idea of transforming negativity to good.

it is possible to explain the difference of opinion among the halachic authorities concerning musk.8

The Rabbis debate whether, through the drying process, the very nature of the physical substance of musk has changed — and therefore, even though it originally came from a non-kosher animal, it may be eaten as well — or whether the nature of its physical substance remains forbidden and is permitted only as a fragrance.

Rabbeinu Yonah9 permits it, even allowing it to be eaten. Other authorities10 forbid it to be eaten, maintaining that only its fragrance has been transformed, but that its physical substance remains forbidden to be eaten. Rabbeinu Yonah, by contrast, maintains that even its physical substance has been transformed and it has become permitted, as stated in the Tur, Orach Chayim, sec. 216.

ומחלוקתם According to Chassidus, this difference of opinion is dependent on the difference of opinion mentioned in the Talmud, tractate Yoma,11 ,xiii with regard to [the power of] teshuvah: Does it [merely] transform one’s intentional sins to unintentional ones, or [does it] even [transform them] to merits? For both matters involve the same [basic] construct: the transformation of evil to good.

I.e., according to the view that transgressions can be transformed entirely, the blood of the musk deer, though originally forbidden, can be made fit for consumption. The view which minimizes the power of teshuvah, by contrast, sees the blood of the musk deer as something that can never be elevated entirely.

שהרי [To explain:] The “well-known animal” mentioned above, [the musk deer,] is identified with the yidoni,[divination] mentioned in Parshas Shoftim.

See Rashi, Sanhedrin 65a-b et al., who explains that this form of divination involved using a bone from an animal that is called a yidua. Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 6:2), by contrast, identifies a yidua as a type of fowl.

It derives from the impure kelipos, as it is written:12 “One who asks of an ov or a yidoni or seeks to commune with the dead….” [Since it has its source in such a negative substance, the process enabling] this spice to be permitted parallels teshuvah motivated by love which transforms intentional sins into merits, i.e., the evil is transformed entirely into good.

As the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya, ch. 7, after a person transgresses, he feels distant and removed from G‑dliness. This very distance awakens within him a thirst and a desire to reconnect that is more powerful than he would have otherwise experienced. When seen as a phase in this process, the transgression can be seen as a catalyst that prompts the deeper connection, i.e., a merit.

With regard to this, it is said:13 “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand, perfectly righteous men cannot stand.”

There are two explanations for the concept that a baal teshuvah reaches a higher peak than a completely righteous man:

a) Through teshuvah, a person can even elevate the sparks of G‑dliness within the sins that he intentionally committed. A righteous man can only elevate the sparks of G‑dliness that are invested in permitted entities, while a baal teshuvah can elevate even those embedded within the realm of evil. Based on the kabbalisticprinciple (Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 191a, et al.) that everything which falls farther away has a higher source, it follows that these sparks invested in sin contain a more elevated potential than those invested in permitted entities. Hence when a baal teshuvah elevates them, he attains a higher level than that of a righteous man.

b) The Divine service of the righteous, even those on the highest rungs, is defined by the nature of their spiritual personalities. Since their service is defined, they relate to the levels of G‑d’s will that are also defined and limited. The Divine service of baalei teshuvah, by contrast, is characterized by bittul — an unbounded and unlimited commitment. Therefore they draw down G‑d’s Essence, a level that likewise has no boundaries or limitations (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 20ff. {translated in Crown Jewels, Vol. 2, p. 6ff.}).

When, by contrast, teshuvah is not motivated by such great love, one’s intentional sins become considered inadvertent transgressions.

Which, although viewed far more leniently than willful transgressions, still leave a blemish both in the spiritual realms above and within a person’s soul.

They are not, however, transformed entirely to the extent that they would be considered good. This parallels the approach which maintains that although the fragrance of musk is good, it has not become sufficiently transformed that it is permitted to be eaten.

והנה As mentioned above, Mordechai is identified with pure mor, i.e., he is the source of bittul —[in kabbalisticterms,] the attribute of Yesod within the sublime father.

The sublime father refers to the Sefirah of Chochmah, which, as explained in sec. 1 and notes, is associated with bittul. Yesod is the Sefirah associated with the quality of connection. The Yesod of Chochmah thus refers to the dimension within Chochmah that connects with other qualities and infuses them with bittul.

The term Chochmah (חכמה) shares the same letters as כח מה, “the power of bittul.” [It is stated:14 ] “With Chochmah, they will be refined.”

The intent is that the guiding light of Chochmah enables a person to refine and elevate his environment and the situations he encounters.

Therefore Mordechai is called ish Yehudi, [which in this context means,] “the officer of bittul.

I.e., as implied by the connection with musk, Mordechai represents the epitome of the transformation of evil into good. Since this transformation is accomplished through Chochmah, Mordechai is identified with this quality. As “the officer of bittul,” Mordechai’s mission was to infuse the entire Jewish people with this quality and empower them to carry out such transformation.

והנה Haman represents the antithesis of this quality, as evidenced by his statement:15 “Whom would the king desire to honor more than me?”

This statement indicates that pride and haughtiness lay at the core of his being.

He considered himself a significant entity and, [in that way,] separated himself from G‑d’s oneness, saying:16 “I, and nothing else but me.”

In the verses cited, this expression is used to describe the Babylonians who exiled the Jewish people. It has, however, a far greater range of application, relating to all those possessed by egotism.

כי Haman was a descendant of Amalek

I.e., he was called “the Agagite,” implying that he was a descendant of Agag, the last king of Amalek. See the Targum Sheni to Esther 3:1; Sofrim 13:6.

concerning whom it is written:17 “Amalek is the head of the nations.” For the seven nations mentioned in the verse:18 “the Canaanites, the Chitites,…” correspond to the seven undesirable emotional qualities: desire, [a tendency to] murder….

I.e., selfish desire is a reflection of the attribute of love; a tendency to murder is a reflection of the quality of might, etc.

Amalek is identified with “haughtiness,” which is “the head” of these [nations], for haughtiness is the source of all the undesirable emotional qualities.

To further develop this idea: the seven undesirable emotional characteristics parallel the seven emotional characteristics of the G‑dly soul. For example, in the G‑dly soul, the attribute of love is directed to the love of G‑d and the love of one’s fellow man, while in the animal soul, this quality is directed to the objects of one’s material desires. Similarly, in the G‑dly soul, the attribute of fear is directed to the fear of G‑d, while in the animal soul, that attribute reflects the fear of worldly entities. The intent of our Divine service should be to direct the attributes of the animal soul toward the service of G‑d. This endeavor parallels the Jews’ conquest of the seven Canaanite nations and the transformation of their lands into Eretz Yisrael, a land of holiness.

Amalek, by contrast, is not associated with any particular quality, but rather with the approach of self-concern that lies at the core of all the attributes of the animal soul. That self-orientation must be eradicated entirely; it cannot be transformed. Similarly, the wars against Amalek were never for conquest. And we are commanded to annihilate that nation entirely; there is no way of using anything associated with it for a positive purpose. Therefore when King Saul thought of using the herds of Amalek as sacrifices, his initiative was repudiated entirely by G‑d (I Shmuel, ch. 15).

ולכן Accordingly, Haman, who is identified with haughtiness, desired to annihilate and kill all the Jews, for they are identified with bittul, the opposite of self-concern and haughtiness. If they had denied [their Jewishness], Heaven forbid, nothing would have been done to them, for the decree was directed only to the Jews.

See Megillas Setarim to Esther 3:13 which states that if the Jews had chosen to assimilate, they would not have been harmed by Haman’s decree.

Nevertheless, all of them, as one, did not even conceive of any thought outside [their Jewishness] and they [were prepared to] sacrifice themselves for His oneness.

וזהו This represents the quality of bittul that exists in potential within every member of the Jewish people [and was expressed at the time of Purim].

See Tanya, chs. 18-19, which explains that, due to the merit of our Patriarchs, every Jew possesses a spiritual heritage that motivates him or her to self-sacrifice.

Even the most careless and most frivolous [of the Jewish people] is prepared to actually sacrifice his life not to be separated from [G‑d’s] oneness to any degree.

As is borne out by the thousands-year-old tradition of martyrdom that exists within our people.

The fact that he violates other prohibitions is because a spirit of folly [possesses him Sotah 3a. and] causes him to err

I.e., it might seem that the fact that a person is willing to commit other transgressions negates this principle. For if a person is willing to sacrifice his life to maintain his Jewish heritage, it would appear that he would surely sacrifice and conquer his petty material desires. In fact, however, this is not true. Both phenomena are present within our conduct. On one hand, even the most estranged Jews are willing to sacrifice their lives to maintain their connection with G‑d. Simultaneously, they often commit other transgressions.

The Alter Rebbe (Tanya, chs. 14 and 25) explains this paradox based on our Sages’ statement (Sotah 3a): “A person does not violate a transgression unless a spirit of folly enters him.” No Jew can and no Jew will consciously separate himself from G‑d. Therefore, every Jew is willing to sacrifice his life in sanctification of G‑d’s name.

Why does he commit other transgressions? Because this spirit of folly confuses him and prevents him from appreciating that through committing any transgression, even a seemingly slight one, he is separating himself from G‑d. Were he to realize this, he would never sin.

and think that this transgression does not separate him from the Holy One, blessed be He, for [he observes other mitzvos, e.g.,] he wears tzitzis [and] puts on tefillin.

I.e., the observance of these mitzvos lures him into complacency and enables him to think that his connection with G‑d is intact even when his observance lapses.


Summary

The previous section explained that at the time of the Purim miracle, the Jews expressed consummate bittul. This section focuses on the catalyst for that bittul,Mordechai. The quality of bittul he manifested is highlighted by the reference to him as a Yehudi, even though he was from the tribe of Benyamin, not Yehudah. Yehudi reflects the quality of hodaah, acknowledgment, that is associated with bittul.

The association of Mordechai with bittul is developed by explaining the allusion in the Torah to his name as cited by our Sages: mor dror, mar dachia, “pure mor.” Mor is identified as musk. Now musk comes from a non-kosher animal. The fact that it can be used in the Beis HaMikdash indicates that its nature has been transformed into holiness. This parallels the power of teshuvah stemming from love which transforms intentional sins into merits. The attribute of Chochmah is the medium that brings about this transformation. And Chochmah is categorized by bittul, Mordechai’s primary quality.

By contrast, Haman and the nation of Amalek from which he descended are characterized by self-concern. Therefore he desired to annihilate and kill all the Jews. The Jews responded with self-sacrifice, revealing the potential for bittul possessed by every member of our people, regardless of his or her spiritual level.