It is the 12th of Adar, and I sit in my office in the Old City of Yerushalayim, contemplating the forthcoming festival of Purim. With the situation the way it is, many are wondering, how do we celebrate Purim during these times? In fact this is a question that I have been asking myself time and again over the past two weeks. The answer that I have formulated goes something like this:
The Talmud in Rosh Hashana (19b), after much debate, concludes, that even though there were many Rabbinical festivals during the time of the Bet Hamikdash, all were cancelled during the exile, excepting Chanuka and Purim. This statement in itself is a clear indication that specifically during the times of exile, during times of hardship and suffering, there is an undeniable relevance of Purim. It is not simply that we should try as best we can to carry on as normal, on the contrary, the celebrations of Purim were almost exclusively continued after the chorban, to help us whilst enduring the hardships of the exilic period.
Last Shabbat we read Parshat Zachor. This is a parasha that we must listen to carefully. We must hear every word, to the extent that if we miss a word, we have not fulfilled our obligation. There is a similar halacha regarding the reading of the Megillah. Once again we are told that we must hear every word, the story must be read as a letter, in order, loud and clear for all to hear. Is there a connection between these two halachot? I think that there is.
As we all know, the story of Purim took place over a period of nine years. The story begins at the feast of Achashverosh in his third year, and ends in his twelfth year. Even the events of the twelfth year take place over a period of eleven months. It is clear that anyone living during that period of time would not necessarily have seen the connection between the various events that took place. It is only when we sum up those events of nine years over forty five minutes, hearing every word, that we see, without a doubt the acts of G-d in their fullest glory. Purim is a celebration of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We see so wonderfully how even in the most seemingly natural events, Hashem is there controlling everything behind the scenes. Anyone learning the story of Purim is left in no doubt that Hashem is truly everywhere. This fact might not have been so clear to the people of Shushan when they were coming to terms with Hamans decree. It may not have been clear for all to see as this renowned Anti-Semite grew more and more powerful, yet in retrospect, anyone reading the Megillah who does not see this, simply isn’t looking. Purim is a day when we have no questions, because as opposed to Matan Torah where we experienced open revelation, where G-d was there for everyone to see, here we see G-d even when He was seemingly ‘not there’. There can be no belief in coincidence after the story of Purim. Thus the relevance of Shabbat Zachor. The people Amalek, did not believe in G-d’s involvement in the world, they fought Am Yisrael at their high point, at the exodus from Egypt. Whenever we meet Amalek in Tenach, the word “coincidence” is there. There is no G-d, everything just happens.
However, the external Amalek is the least of our fears, we all have an internal Amalek to contend with. As we know the gematria of ‘Amalek’ is ‘Safek’ – doubt. We all have doubt, each time something happens, every time we turn on the radio, Amalek starts speaking. The doubts come flying in. The years of suffering and hardship feed the Amalek within us. Yet the message of Shabbat Zachor is clear – destroy Amalek. We must wipe out that inner doubt; whenever the questions arise we look inwards and throw out that safek. Yet where do we look to, from where do we gain our inner strength? Having accepted the message of Shabbat Zachor, we now know what we must do, but we are left looking for the tools that we must use. Purim provides us with the clearest of answers. Are you in doubt of your derech, of being Am Hashem, of your destiny as the Chosen people? If so look to the Megillah, Hashem is here, He always was here, and always will be here. The predicament of exile demands of us that we locate G-d, it is an inherent part of our tikun.
Shabbat Zachor defines the ends, Purim is the means. As the Talmud tells us in Shabbat (88), this day was so much greater than the receiving of the Torah, for on this day, G-d did not find the people, the people found G-d. So should we celebrate Purim?!! Is there a question? Purim is our strength. From Purim we draw the inspiration that we need. Purim is not just similar to Yom Kippur in name. The level of emunah that we reach on Neilah, through our awe of Hashem is matched by our madrega of simcha on Purim, that same emunah arrived at through ultimate simcha.
Not only should we celebrate Purim, Purim is the ideal remedy, it is the answer to our questions, the solution to our problems.
Yet Purim is even more than that. When we look into the Megillah itself, we see so many relevant factors to our predicament today; we must sit back and internalize those strong messages.
The Megillah begins by describing the feast of Achashverosh, the detail seems superfluous, until we understand that this feast was a celebration of the fact that Achashverosh believed that the Temple would not be rebuilt.
Yirmiyahu had prophesied that seventy years after the destruction of the first Bet Mikdash, the second would be rebuilt. Yet according to Rashi in the book of Ezra, chapter four, when the Jewish people began to rebuild the Temple, the very same Achashverosh stopped them. It is in this atmosphere that this incredible feast took place, using the vessels and clothing of the Bet Mikdash in celebration of the ‘end of the Jewish dream’. When our Rabbis tell us that Jews were at that feast, there can be no greater indictment of a people. A people who have seemingly not only given up on their dream, but will actually celebrate the end of that very dream. What were Jews doing in Shushan, at a time, when the second Mikdash was in the process of being built? How could Jewish people celebrate with a man who had stopped the realization of that eternal Jewish dream? Were those Jews Jewish first, or were they Persians at heart.
After eighteen months of the current struggle in our Homeland, I cannot help but reflect on our current predicament. Only a few weeks ago we read Parashat Beshalach. The Haftara from Judges chapter five is Shirat Devorah. Having overcome the enemy, miraculously, Devorah turns to the Tribe of Reuven. Why did you sit there on the other side of the Jordan, whilst your brothers went to war?
The verbal support from the Diaspora has been enormous, I am proud of the fact, that, Baruch Hashem, we have never been fuller at the Midrasha. Yet the time has come to turn to Am Yisrael – why are you there when you should be here? This is our land, this is our only land, and this is where we all belong. It is not the fight of a few million fanatical Zionists, it is the fight that will fix our future, the future of our entire people, wherever they may be now.
The beginning of the Megillah is not really describing the riches of Achashverosh, but the predicament of Am Yisrael. A people so divided and dispersed, so far from its beliefs that it can actually participate in the feast of Achashverosh.
Esther provides the solution to the problem posed by the Megillah at its start. Before she is prepared to risk her life, she demands two things from the Jewish people: Firstly-Unity. She instructs Mordechai, to gather all the Jews. Unity cannot simply be a nice phrase used in order to make us all feel better. It demands action. Unity means that my problems are your problems, that your problems are mine. The problems do not disappear when one turns off CNN, by simply saying one perek of Tehillim after shul. Unity means understanding our common goal, understanding our oneness as a people. It is unity that sent the IDF to Entebbe, it is unity that absorbed the thousands of olim escaping from countries all over the world without a second thought. The time has come for an absolute show of solidarity. The time has come for every Jew to pack up his bags and come home.
Before Esther defends her people, they must be an entity, proud of its direction, determined to succeed. We cannot succeed against Achashverosh or Haman, unless we fully understand what must be done.
Secondly- Teshuva. Esther decrees a three day fast. A cheshbon nefesh; who are we, where are we going, what are our objectives. Acceptance of G-d as our true leader, absolute belief that Hashem, and no one else is our King. Once we understand this, then salvation will come just as it did at Yam Tzuf.
These two requirements of Esther, are essentially the turning point of the Megillah. Unity and true Teshuva, will always bring us the success of the story of Esther. Who knows what would have happened to Esther had those two conditions not been fulfilled.
However, in addition to these two essential requirements, we must realize the third requirement:
Esther is hesitant to go to the King, surely she can wait till she is called. Why risk my life, surely I will be called at any moment? Mordechai’s answer is as relevant now as it was then. If you miss out on this opportunity then salvation will come from someone else.
Who can disagree with these two conditions of Esther. Unity and Teshuva are not only the prerequisites to Megillat Esther, they are the prerequisites to Matan Torah. However, there are those, like Esther, who tell us to wait. Why risk our lives, when Hashem will call us soon. Why fight against all odds, against twenty-two Arab States, when Hashem will bring us here on eagle’s wings, without any risk to our lives? Yet Mordechai’s answer is ringing in the air. If you miss this opportunity, if Kol Dodi Dofek, and you do not answer, then once again a wonderful opening will have been lost. Redemption will surely come, but not in your generation.
Is Purim relevant, aderaba, aderaba, aderaba!!! There could be nothing more relevant.