Layehudim (Shenker)

February 14, 2021

In our last post, we spoke about how Shabbos is closely connected to the month of Adar and to the yom tov of Purim. Menucha and simcha, joined as one in perfect harmony as the sublime light of Shabbos fills the world. This small portion of the primordial radiance – the Ohr HaGanuz – is channeled into our homes and lives through our Shabbos licht. Throughout Shabbos we are encouraged to grab hold of as much of this light as we can in order to take it with us into the new week ahead. We sing zemiros, we say divrei Torah, we eat three Shabbos seudos and delight in the company of our families and friends.

The “ohr layehudim” that we are fortunate enough to receive each week is something so divine and exalted that we are surely left at a loss when Shabbos comes to a close. How can we go back to our mundane, weekday lives after experiencing life on an entirely different plane of existence? What will happen to the menucha of Shabbos – that feeling of security and calm that came with knowing that Hashem runs the world – that we are safely in His hands?

Hinei Kel yishuasi, evtach v’lo efchad – Behold, Hashem is my salvation, I will trust in Him and not be afraid. Havdalah begins with statements of bitachon, thereby reinforcing our trust in the One above and committing ourselves to a week of faithful dependence on His benevolent hashgacha.

But then we recite a pasuk that seems a bit out of place and, seemingly, quite out of context. Layehudim hoysa orah v’simcha v’sasson vi’kar – The Jews had light, happiness, joy and honor. Of all the possible pesukim that could have been chosen for this part of Havdalah, the one that we say is taken from Megillas Esther (8:16). And not only does the one reciting Havdalah say it, but according to most minhagim, this pasuk is said aloud by everyone listening as well! What is going on here? What is it we are trying to accomplish as the last vestiges of Shabbos begin to slip away?

For this, we’ll have to take a look at what the particular pasuk is referring to. The Megillah tells us that Persian Jewry was in mortal danger. Haman, in addition to wanting to eradicate Jews, whom he hated, was also irked by Yiddishkeit as a whole – he was bothered to no end that the Jewish people were different! They didn’t observe the same laws, they didn’t eat the same foods, they didn’t wear the same clothing. In fact, every time he saw a Jew, it angered him. This inherent “havdalah,” this spiritual separation to which they adhered, drove him to enact a law that would put an end to the Jewish people once and for all. Of course, instead, this led to his inevitable downfall.

After Haman’s evil decree was annulled, the Megillah states, Layehudim hoysa orah v’simcha v’sasson vi’kar. The Jews rejoiced over being able to practice the very aspects of Yiddishkeit that kept them separate from their gentile neighbors – Torah, Yom Tov, Milah and Tefillin (see Megillah 16b). Against all odds, kedushah was restored and the light of our people shone bright. In this victorious moment in history, a message was sent to all future generations of how a Yid must behave, even when faced with adversity. We must embrace that which makes us holy and celebrate that we are separate from the world around us.

With this declaration at the conclusion of Shabbos, we call upon the eternal message of Purim. Kein tihiyeh lanu – so may it be for us! We, too, wish to serve Hashem with confidence and without fear. Kein tihiyeh lanu – we, too, desire to remain separate and to do so with pride – proud of our Torah, proud of our practices, and proud of our identity.

Such a special idea deserves a special melody. Today’s classic, Layehudim, was composed by R’ Ben Zion Shenker, z’l in 1978. It became the title track of his 1980 release – a record filled with some of his latest hit compositions. While composed with Havdalah in mind, it has since become one of the most well-known Purim songs of all-time. However, as we have now learned, this is much more than just a seasonal tune. Layehudim contains a lesson that applies as much to us now, as we approach the upcoming holiday, as it does every week, as we extinguish the light of the Havdalah candle.

Gut voch!

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