Tuesday, May 3, 2011

R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk on Celebrating the Downfall of an Enemy

Meshekh Chokhma on Exodus 12:16, s.v. “hineh
Hebrew text available here.
Bio of R. Meir Simcha here.
Translated by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld

When Passover was observed in Egypt [during the year of the Exodus] the prohibition of eating chametz was only for one day, and so too the full festival was not practiced.

And in my opinion, the reason why nevertheless he now taught them something that would pertain to future generations [i.e., the full 7-day holiday] was in order to teach them the wholesomeness of God’s commandments, for other nations, with their sophisticated religions, turn the day of victory, the day of their enemy’s downfall, into a holiday, a victory celebration.

Not so in Israel.  They do not rejoice at the downfall of their enemies.  They do not joyously celebrate this, as it states (Proverbs 24:17-18), “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls… lest God see and it will be bad in His eyes and He will turn His wrath upon him.”  Thus, a refined person should not rejoice in the downfall of his enemy, for such joy is bad in the eyes of God. And that which is bad in the eyes of God needs to be hated!
Thus, with respect to Passover it does not state, “The Festival of Matzot, on account of God bringing Egypt to justice,” but rather, “on account of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But regarding the downfall of enemies there is no festival and holiday for Israel.

Thus regarding the holiday of Chanukah, the day instructs us only about the lighting of the olive oil and the dedication and purification of the Temple, and the Divine Providence of God over His people at a time when there was no prophet or seer in Israel.  Thus, we light the candles to commemorate a little-known matter—the lighting of the flames for 8 days in the Temple—for the leaders and officers of the army were the great Kohanim, the Hasmoneans, and God was concerned lest people might say, “I did this through my own strength and power” and military strategy. Therefore, God showed His Providence in the Temple, which was known only to the Kohanim, so that they would understand that the hand of God did this, and that they were saved by a miraculous manner.

So too, with respect to the holiday of Purim: they did not make a festival on the day that Haman died or on the day that they killed their enemies, as this not a cause for rejoicing among His people Israel.  Instead, the holiday is only “on the days that they rested from their enemies” (Esther 9:22).  It is as though, they needed to rest, and there were snakes on the path and the snakes were killed, is it appropriate to rejoice on the day that the snakes were killed?  Their joy was from their relief.

Thus, “Mordechai wrote…the days on which the Jews rested.”  For the rejoicing is only on account of their relief and not on the day that the enemies were killed.  {Meshekh Chokhmah proceeds to prove this point at greater length}

And indeed, in Egypt they drowned in the sea on the seventh day of Passover.  If God would say that they should make the seventh day a festival, then it would seem to some that God was commanding them to make a festival on the day of the downfall of their enemies.  And indeed, we know that the angels did not sing that day as it states, “and they did not come near each other” – for God does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked.

Thus already in Egypt the Israelites were taught to make the seventh day into a festival: in order to demonstrate that the festival of the seventh day does not derive from the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea, as they were commanded about it before the Egyptians drowned!

So too the Midrash teaches that for this reason the word “Simcha” (rejoicing) is not written with respect to the holiday of Passover and Hallel is not recited for the entire holiday, since “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”