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Home » Purim

Purim: A Nation United

Submitted by on March 16, 2024 – 11:20 pmNo Comment | 290 views

The die was cast. King Achashverosh granted Haman a genocidal license against the Jewish nation. Mordechai was one of the first to learn of the plot and he appealed to Queen Esther for help. Esther explained that it was dangerous even for her to enter the king’s chambers unbidden. Mordechai replied that it was precisely for this moment that G-d chose her to be queen.

Esther understood the power she held to save the Jews, but she also understood the mortal danger in which this placed her. She consented to Mordechai’s appeal but on the condition that Mordechai gather all the Jews and declare a fast for three days and nights. Three days of intense prayer and fasting would give Esther the spiritual fortitude for her perilous task.

The Dispute
Mordechai agreed, but with one proviso. Surely, Esther intended to include only the righteous Jews who resisted the appeal of the royal Persian party. Nine years earlier, King Achashverosh threw a great feast for his citizens to celebrate the demise of the Jewish nation and the destruction of their Holy Temple. Mordechai admonished the Jews not to attend, but many disregarded his exhortations and went. Surely, Esther can’t mean to rely on the prayers of these self-hating Jews, betrayers of their cause and identity?

But Esther wanted these Jews included. An argument broke out right then and there.  Mordechai was adamant that G-d would not want to hear from such Jews. He was convinced that Haman’s plot was decreed by G-d against all Jews because of the sins of these Jews. How can we invite those who caused the decree to pray for its amelioration? Including these Jews would only serve to anger G-d.

Esther was just as adamant. Fasting and prayer that doesn’t include all Jews is worthless, she proclaimed.[1] G-d does not want to hear from Jews who drive wedges between themselves and those they deem inferior. All Jews are G-d’s children. In fact, when these Jews are invited to pray, they will recognize that their actions caused this decree and will repent with a complete heart. Their change of heart will generate such intense passion that their prayers will pierce the heavens and reach G-d’s’ throne.

But how can you know that, asked Mordechai. How can you foretell that they will repent and pray with a complete heart? After all, they closed their hearts to my admonitions; who says they won’t close it again?

I know, Esther explained, because I walk in their shoes daily. Mordechai, it is easy for you to judge these Jews because you are protected behind the virtual walls that you put up between yourself and the nations. From inside your proverbial fortress, where you are devout and pious, you reject the promise of power, luxury, and acceptance that tempts other Jews.

But the Jews who went to the party don’t live behind the walls of your fortress. They live in the community, among the people. They do business every day in the market and mingle with Persians day in and day out. They see the fabulous power and wealth the Persians possess and compare it to their meager lot. They are envious of the Persians. When the Persians invited them to the party as equals, it was hard for them to resist. The allure was just too great.

When you instructed them not to attend, they refused because it was hard for them to resist the invitation. When you demanded that they follow your lead and refrain, they couldn’t because you didn’t understand them. They felt your rebuke, not your love. You could not relate.

I, on the other hand, live in their world. I walk the corridors of this palace. I reside in this centre of debauchery fuelled by immense power and fabulous wealth. Every day, I need to remind myself of my Jewish values because they can easily erode in this environment. I know the Jews who went to the party. To you, they are blatant sinners. To me they are bleeding hearts who were overcome by terrible trials.

Where you see stone-cold heretics, I see passionate bleeding hearts. I want them to fast and pray with me. These are my children. My Jews. I know their hearts and spirit. Please, Mordechai, don’t split the nation at a time like this. We need unity. A single united front. Invite these Jews, or I won’t go to the king.

Mordechai yielded to Esther’s forceful argument. He could not disagree. The facts were the facts. He was not living the life of these Jews and realized he had erred in his unflinching rebuke of them. The rest is history. Mordechai declared the fast. Esther approached the king. All Jews, including the former sinners, stood united and ready to die as Jews. In the end, Haman was hung, and the Jews were saved.

The Lesson
When Haman presented his case to the king, he characterized the Jewish nation as a scattered and divided people. His point was to assure the king that his plot would succeed because the Jews were fractured. A united front is difficult to defeat, but as a fractured group, each faction would pull in a different direction while the enemy would divide and conquer.

Recognizing that disunity made them vulnerable, Esther argued for unity. Fortunately, Esther prevailed because unity and peace are channels for Divine blessing. Because Mordechai gathered all the Jews, the Jewish people were saved.

The traditional practices of Purim underscore this truth. Three of the four obligations on this day bolster Jewish togetherness and unity. We send food parcels to one another. We give charity to the poor. And we throw large feasts while opening our doors to visitors and guests. These are practices designed to strengthen the unity of our nation and put the lie to Haman’s claim that we are scattered and fractured.[2]

The lesson is to be stubbornly committed to Jewish unity despite our very real differences. This requires refraining from judging and dismissing each other. The reality is that everyone has faults. If we highlight everyone’s faults, there will be no one left to befriend. The only way around this is to fudge our integrity by overlooking the faults of the people we like and highlighting the faults of those we don’t like. This is dishonest, but we do it all the time. The fiction preserves the friction.

The trick, then, is to love all Jews, as the Torah requires, and overlook everyone’s faults. If, instead, we highlighted their strengths, we would inspire them to improve. When we profess our confidence in a fellow Jew known to have faults, we nurture their commitment to live up to our compliments. This inspires them to overcome their faults and to double down on their strengths.[3]

The key is understanding that people are not inherently bad just because they have faults. Just like we don’t think our friends are bad despite their faults, so is no Jew inherently bad just because they have faults.[4] Mordechai dismissed sinners as dispensable to the Jewish people. At a perilous time like ours. we can’t afford to repeat his error. We must reach out to all Jews, even those with whom we vehemently disagree. We must treat all Jews as we treat our friends. This is the key to unity. And unity is the key to redemption.[5]

[1] As indicated by the fact that the incense included galbanum, a foul-smelling spice (Talmud (Keritot 6b).

[2] The last three paragraphs are based on Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum, Megilas Setarim 9:19.

[3] Likutei Sichos 27, p. 163.

[4] Derech Mitzvosecha, p. 29a

[5] This essay is based on Toras Menachem 5731:2, pp. 327–332 and Sefer Hasichos 5748:1, p. 296, footnote 49.

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