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Teva, Tabaas, and Purim: What Lashon HaKodesh Reveals

Rabbi Doniel Baron

In lashon hakodesh, every word is replete with meaning, and when words share similar letters, it denotes some sort of relationship between those words. What is the relationship between the words tubu (sunk), teva (nature), and taba’as (a ring), and how do they relate to Purim story?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In lashon hakodesh, a language in which every word is replete with meaning, nature is called “teva.” Words that stem from the same root in lashon hakodesh always have a common theme, and with proper insight we can extrapolate from one to another.

The Torah uses the word tava ׁ(טבע)to mean sink or drown, as in the pasuk, “Umivchar shalishav tubu b’Yam Suf, the elite of his commanders sank in the sea” (Shemos 15:4). Another word derived from the same root is tabaas טבעת)), ring, which relates closely to the word tava. The traditional ring was a signet ring that would leave a seal or image in a medium (such as wax) by sinking into it and making an impression. In a similar vein, the word for coin, matbea מטבע)), reflects that it is the product of a process of imprinting an image.

This brings us to the word teva טבע)), which Chazal use to describe nature. Teva is really a system of cause and effect — of rules that explain observable phenomena in the world. What connection is there to the theme of an impression embossed onto a medium?

From a Torah perspective, science and nature are nothing more than Hashem’s imprint on the world. The more we understand our universe and even ourselves, the more we can appreciate Hashem’s wisdom, and the richer the life it provides. Indeed, Avraham Avinu saw the world in this manner and arrived at knowledge of Hashem through pondering the cosmos.

The world hides Hashem’s Hand behind teva, however, and it is possible for one to deny His presence. That self-imposed hiding is a gift, for it makes free will possible. If Hashem’s presence were so obvious that nobody could escape it, the reward one deserved for connecting to Him would be diminished, since there would be no alternative. Teva therefore superficially provides us with a challenge, since it cloaks Hashem’s Hashgachah, Providence, in a veil of nature.

The story of Purim underscores the centrality of teva and Hashem’s exercise of Hashgachah over history through it. It is a story replete with strange “natural” coincidences. First, king Achashveirosh killed his queen, sentencing her to death in his drunken stupor. This would eventually set the stage for a new queen, Esther — who, unbeknownst to the king, was a Jewess, and would save her people from extermination.

In another “natural” occurrence, Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, just happened to overhear and understand two courtiers planning to assassinate the king, since he “coincidentally” knew the foreign language they spoke. He transmitted this information to the king who recorded it, and the king just happened to “naturally” come across it in his book of chronicles exactly when the plan to kill the Jews was coming to fruition. It was the honor afforded to Mordechai for saving the king’s life that foreshadowed and even began Haman’s demise.

Later, when Esther made a party to which she invited the king and Haman, the series of coincidences reached a crescendo. The king stormed out in fury when hearing Esther’s accusations against the instigator of the plot to kill the Jews, only to return when Haman was pleading for his life in a way that the king just happened to view as incriminating, sealing Haman’s fate. Coincidence?


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