By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Megillas Esther annually reinforces the closeness Jews feel with the Creator and with each other.
Unlike many of the famed miraculous redemptions that occurred in Eretz Yisroel, or at a time when the Jewish people were pious, the Purim story took place when the Jews were exiled, divided and, through attending the seudah of Achashveirosh and bowing to his “tzelem,” [see Megillah 12a], demonstrably lacking in spirituality.
The Rambam, in Sefer Hamitzvos, writes that the lesson of the Megillah is that it is true, emes he, that there is no one as close to us as Hashem Elokeinu, who responds to us whenever we turn to Him, just as a loving father, who even when separated from his children, never loses touch with them. Even when they are apart, the father is present somewhere in the background, watching and waiting for progress. Similarly, Hashem showed His enduring love for us in Shushan, even when the mechitzah of golus separated us.
And so, this year again, the sounds of Megillas Esther will fill our shuls and homes with happiness and optimism. They will tell us to remain together and hopeful, for nothing really is what it appears to be. There is always a story behind the story and things taking place that no one would fathom. There are plots and sub-plots happening beneath the surface, while we have no clue about any of it.
Despite all the headlines and sub-heads, quick glances and deep analysis of current events, nothing even scratches the surface in explaining what is really going on. Even those who rely on skimming social media for news would have to admit that there are things going on that they cannot understand or explain. There is so much fake news that unless you really devote yourself to digging through the silliness to get to the truth, you are clueless.
Purim is a time that tells us to recognize that nothing is what it appears to be, and if we have faith in Hashem, we will see salvation.
Achashveirosh, says the Medrash, was a superficial chonef, who sought to ingratiate himself with those around him. He killed his wife because his friend told him to, and then he killed his friend to satisfy his wife, the Medrash remarks, referring to the king’s easy acquiescence to Haman’s suggestion that he kill Vashti and his equal willingness to kill that same Haman for Esther’s sake. There was no loyalty, only convenience and political expediency. He had no core beliefs. There was nothing he really believed in or cared about besides his burning desire to remain in power surrounded by sycophants.
Initially, he favored his Jewish citizens. Then he rejected them, because he craved money and power, and his advisor convinced him that he would have more of both if he would rid himself of the Jews. Then he had a change of heart and began favoring the Jews and helping them in every way possible. He was fickle and capricious. Today’s leaders are no different.
Take, for example, Israel’s prime minister, Binyomin Netanyahu, who faces increasing domestic and international pressures. Originally empowered as prime minster thanks to the support of the chareidi political parties, he was widely viewed as a friend who shared our concerns. Chairing the party of Menachem Begin, he followed his heritage to electoral victory and then to forming a governing coalition. But when peirud caused Shas to lose three seats to splinter parties and Naftoli Bennett pushed the National Religious leader into the arms of the anti-religious demagogue Yair Lapid, Netanyahu changed his spots. He spurned his former allies and friends who enabled his career and signed on to the Lapid agenda.
A few years later, there were new elections and the cards lined up differently. Netanyahu put together a coalition with the religious parties and is once again everyone’s best friend.
The posuk (Esther 2:5) describes Mordechai as “Ish Yehudi.” The Medrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) expounds on the choice of the word Yehudi, which would signify that he was from shevet Yehudah, when, in fact, he hailed from the tribe of Binyomin. The Medrash concludes that the choice of words is to indicate that he was a “yechidi, because he was meyacheid shemo shel Hakadosh Boruch Hu.”
The Sefas Emes explains that when Chazal say, “Ve’ohavta lerei’acha kamocha zeh klal gadol baTorah,” it is because at the root of life, all Jews are connected as one. A person who is connected to the “nekudah chiyus hapenimis” loves all Jews, for that is the point of achdus.
The pure state of the Jewish people is achieved when they are all together, joined with achdus. It is then that we are strong enough to combat Amaleik and his descendants. When we are together, we rise to the greatest heights and are able to achieve the spectacular. When we are divided, we get in trouble. When we battle each other, when we permit people to drive wedges between us, we are all losers.
The United States is accusing Russia of meddling in the 2016 elections and stirring up trouble. Apparently, the Russians didn’t advocate for any specific candidate. In one day they held a rally in New York City for Donald Trump and against Donald Trump. They sought to weaken the American democracy by “sowing disorder,” and turning citizens against each other.
When people try to stir up trouble in our camp and divide brother from brother, we ought to let them know that they are not welcome. We aren’t interested in fighting anymore. We don’t want silly splits and fracases. We’ve had enough. It’s time we really got back to where we were the night Rubashkin was freed, when Jews of all stripes danced together, talking to each other without regard to any differences. It was just a few weeks ago. Why can’t we go back there? Why can’t we all work to unite instead of divide? Would it really be that hard?
When we are united, there is no force that can stop us. We can defeat Amaleik and Haman. We can overturn evil decrees and get our lives back.
That is what Mordechai told his people. He gathered them all together. “Leich kenos es kol haYehudim,” he said. He dressed himself in sackcloth and delivered mussar to the Jewish people and Esther. He enforced three days and nights of tefillah, teshuvah and fasting. He committed everyone to achdus, as the posuk states (Esther 9:16), using the singular verb “nikhalu v’amod al nafshom,” signifying that they gathered as one to beseech Hashem. Through his prodding, they did teshuvah, and as a result of their improvement, they were reconnected to the “nekudah chiyus hapenimis” and once again loved each other as Jews are meant to.
Thus, they were able to earn Hashem’s intervention, and the decree that had hung over them for ten years was swept away. They got new life. Their achdus brought them back to where we were as we gathered at Har Sinai to accept the Torah, “k’ish echod belev echod.” The togetherness enabled them to once again accept the Torah and they had much to celebrate. “LaYehudim hoysah orah vesimcha vesasson vikor.”
Rav Yeshayahu Pinto, a talmid and mechutan of Rav Chaim Vital, explains that the enormity of the sin of attending the seudah of Achashveirosh’s was because the feast was held to celebrate that according to the king’s calculations the Jews would never be redeemed and the Beis Hamikdosh would never be rebuilt. Since the Beis Hamkidosh was where the Jewish people connected with Hashem, by joining in the celebration the Jews demonstrated that as far as they were concerned that special connection was broken. Without that special relationship, they no longer had a reason to exist.
Parshas Vayikra deals with the laws of korbanos. The parsha details the process of one who is makriv himself, his very essence, through a korban. In fact, the word kiruv, meaning to come closer, lies at the root of the word korban, sacrifice, for it brings people closer to Hashem.
The Ohr Hachaim (Vayikra 1:2) expounds on the posuk at the beginning of Parshas Vayikra which states, “Adam ki yakriv mikem (korban).” He explains that the desire to become close to Hashem has to come from within the Bnei Yisroel. Sinning creates distance between Hashem and us, as a sinner becomes separated from the Shechinah. Since Hashem wants us to remain close to Him, he commands, “Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha.” He wishes for us to seek to draw closer to those who have drifted away. This is the reason that Chazal say, “Kol hamezakeh es horabim ein cheit ba al yado” (Avos 5:18). Because Hashem wishes to be reunited with His lost children, he heaps reward upon people who enable that relationship to crystallize.
The Bais Hamikdosh was a place of kirva, representing the ultimate closeness attainable in our world between man and his Creator. Referred to as a place of yedidus, the highest level of interpersonal friendship, it was built in the biblical portion of Binyomin, who is referred to in the Torah as “yedid Hashem, the friend of Hashem,” to underscore the closeness of the relationship.
Rav Moshe Shapiro explained that the word yedid means friendship because in every relationship there are ups and downs, times of closeness and times of distance. In every relationship, there is a time to stand apart. There are times defined as yemin mekarev, when the right hand draws close, and periods of s’mol docheh, when the left hand pushes away.
Even bein odom laMakom, between man and Hashem, there is a precedent for this type of distance. When Yaakov bowed to Eisov, he was expressing an admission of the fact that in this world, there is an order. The will of Hashem at that time was for Yaakov to subjugate himself to Eisov.
Since Binyomin was not present at that encounter between Yaakov and Eisov, he didn’t accept that there are times when right and justice must submit to might. As such, Binyomin was defined as a yedid, which in Hebrew is written as a compound of the word yad twice, yud dalet, yud dalet. Rav Shapiro explains that a yedid possesses only a yemin mekarev, perpetual closeness.
Generations later, Mordechai maintained this yedidus. When others insisted that it was necessary, even pikuach nefesh, to conform to the dictates of Haman, Mordechai refused to bow. The Megillah states that Mordechai was “lo kom velo za” (Esther 5:9). Not only did Mordechai refuse to rise before Haman, but he seemed to be unaware of Haman’s existence. He didn’t flinch when Haman passed him. Mordechai was showing his people, and instilling in those who would follow until this very day, that they possess the strength to confront evil without shuddering. He taught not to succumb to the urge to surrender to the prevailing temporal power.
Mordechai was a yedid of Hashem, possessing a closeness that didn’t leave room for disloyalty. He was an unfailing yedid of the Jewish people, admonishing them not to compromise, because he loved each of them and wanted to ensure that they would remain yedidim of Hashem.
Due to his efforts, they merited being saved from the plots against them and returning once again to be close to Hashem, so much so that they embraced Torah Shebal Peh as their forefathers had accepted Torah Shebiksav at Har Sinai. Their acts of return and devotion were so great that they led to the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdosh.
The Jews had been “mefuzar umeforad,” spread apart from each other. Each was in his own sphere, unconcerned about the other. Now they were together once again, the way we should be.
Mordechai, a descendant of Binyomin, was a yedid of Hashem and a cherished friend of every Jew. He fulfilled the mitzvah of hochei’ach tochiach in its most ideal form. When people ignored his halachic ruling forbidding attendance at Achashveirosh’s feast, he bore the burden of their collective suffering after the gezeirah was passed. Like a loving father, he reassured, comforted and led, establishing the mass fast and gathering in Shushan.
Though they had sinned, Mordechai loved them and Hashem enabled a salvation to be brought about. Through his mesirus nefesh and yedidus, the Jews merited the Purim miracle.
Our enemies have tried, ever since the days of the Shushan miracle, to entrap and ensnare us. But if we care for each other and seek to bring about achdus and yedidus, we can overcome that which is put in our path and merit a return of the Bais Hamikdosh in our day.
Throughout the generations, our great leaders have been men such as Mordechai, who cared about each Jew. Genuine giants are unfailingly humble and gentle, accessible and available to every person who needs help, guidance or a warm smile.
The closeness of good people with the Ribbono Shel Olam allows them to see the Divine light in every Jew as they are mekarev them with love and devotion, as true yedidim. Their friendship echoes the overriding friendship that gave us the neis of Purim; the yedidus of Binyomin, and the deveikus of Mordechai to Hashem and every Jew.
We all have our problems and are upset about various issues that plague our community. We have tuitions to pay, mortgages to worry about, and a pile of bills, but there also has to be room in our hearts to feel the pain of others who are suffering. We need to befriend and help them. Often, people suffer in silence. A person can appear to be very successful, but in his heart, there might be a gaping hole that we can help fill. People who appear to have everything going for them might have issues tormenting them. There is no way to know. If we smile to everyone, we are bound to help cheer up those lonely souls as well.
The Megillah (4:6) relates that Mordechai told Esther’s messenger, “Kol asher korahu ve’es parashas hakesef.” Mordechai shared everything that happened to him. While he was in prison, Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin once asked me why the posuk states that Mordechai told him of his own personal experiences. The Jewish nation was in serious peril, as Haman plotted to kill every Jew. It seems to be a very selfish act for Mordechai to tell Esther’s messenger what had happened to him personally.
The answer is that he only told of other peoples’ pain but every Jew’s pain was Mordechai’s very own personal pain. He told the messenger to report to Esther what was going on outside of the palace and how so many people were suffering. He felt their pain as if it was his own.
Every Jew’s pain should be our pain. If someone is in trouble, we should rush to help him. If we see people fighting, we should bring them together. We shouldn’t tolerate anything divisive. We have had enough of golus. If we could only stop the squabbling, we’d be able to end it.
Everyone is thinking about what the next big thing will be. Let’s try achdus.
Let’s make it happen. Let’s silence the dividers and empower the uniters. Let’s all get together and say that we’ve had enough, once and for all. When we exchange mishloach manos let us show that we can all get along and be friends. Let us reconnect with the nekudas hachiyus and each other.
We will then merit rejoicing in the great nahafoch hu with the imminent arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.
Ah freilichen Purim.