Alberta is one of the most prosperous places in the world. The money is just gushing forth from the ground – they call it oilsands. People come from far and wide to work in the oilfields around Fort McMurray. Without any experience or qualifications, you can make upwards of six figures.
Young Jimmy from the congregation is just sixteen years old. He’s been thinking about quitting school and going to work up in Fort Mac.
“Rabbi, why should I finish school and go to university? I can just work in the oilsands and make a hundred grand right now!”
Life in the oilsands is grueling. You work ten-hour days for ten days straight and then you get ten days off, during which time most blokes will travel seven hours into Edmonton to rest up and spend their earnings. Men will leave their wives and kids in Edmonton for ten days at a time while they work up in Fort Mac.
“Jimmy,” I replied, “that decision may work now. But picture yourself in ten years’ time when you’re going to want to get married and have a family. Will that kind of life travelling back and forth still work then?”
The Mishnah discusses the four special readings on the Shabbasos around Purim. “On the second Shabbos, we read Zachor,” which reminds us of our obligation to destroy Amalek. Amalek was the anti-Semitic ancestor of Haman who first attempted to destroy our people when we left Egypt. His descendants continued their attempts at our destruction throughout the generations. Consequently, Zachor is always read on the Shabbos prior to Purim.
The Gemara asks: If Purim falls on Friday, when do we read Zachor, on the preceding Shabbos or the following Shabbos?
Rav says: We read Zachor on the preceding Shabbos, since the Megillah states, “These days shall be remembered and performed.” If we were to celebrate Purim and then subsequently read Zachor, the performance would precede the remembrance which would contradict the order of the verse.
Shmuel says: We delay Zachor to the following day. Since walled cities celebrate Purim on the 15th Adar (the day after most other communities commemorate the festival), reading Zachor on that day would produce a simultaneous remembrance and performance, which would be acceptable.
Rav quoted the Megillah’s instruction that remembrance must precede performance. But doesn’t that run counter to our general approach of naaseh v’nishma (we shall do and we shall understand)? We pride ourselves on our unique reply to the Almighty when He offered us the Torah. All the other nations inquired as to its contents. In contrast, we responded with a resounding “naaseh v’nishma!” Performance of G-d’s will always comes first without any prior thought! Why does Rav insist that the remembrance of Amalek precede our performance of Purim?
When Jimmy wants to quit school and go work in Fort Mac, he’s simply avoiding the challenges of life and aiming to maximize his pleasure as quickly as possible. But life is not about avoiding challenge – when you do that, you end up delaying the pain to later in life. Finishing school now in order to reap the rewards later means facing up to the challenge today in order to avoid the pain later in life. In other words, we must always strive to face up to our challenges now rather than later.
Generally, when it comes to mitzvos that we don’t understand like keeping kosher or circumcision, our approach must be naaseh v’nishma – we will perform the mitzvos immediately even though we don’t understand why. Only after we’ve accepted the challenge of mitzvah performance do we then think about the more satisfying aspect of attempting to understand the whys and wherefores.
By contrast, everyone loves doing Purim. We get dressed up, we have a big feast, we shake our groggers at Haman’s name during the Megillah reading, we send gifts to one another! And so after we’ve done Purim, who wants to hear a Torah reading that makes challenging demands on our minds and very beings? Therefore, we read it first. In this case, the challenge is the remembrance and so that must precede the performance.
And so it is with every decision you weigh up in life. Each time you make a choice, every time you prioritize a task, ask yourself which is the greater challenge. And that’s the one you’ve got to do first. Once you’ve faced the challenge, only then do you deserve to reap the rewards.
G-d placed you on this earth to be challenged. Face up to every challenge, you will become greater for it!