Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Purim
Growing up, I didn't like Purim much. I dunno, it was just too extraverted a Yom Tov for me. Everything about it – the stuff that everyone else called fun - were things that I don't enjoy. I could relate to the story, but I found it hard to relate it to the events of the day. I distinctly remember thinking as a grade-schooler that this must be the way Hashem serves everyone differently, for the extraverts he gave Purim, for me… Tishrei. But as far as relating to the essential holiday, the background, that wasn't so hard. When I was a bochur, I heard a shiur from R' Immanuel Schochet – based on a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe - who explained it along quite meaningfully these lines:
There was one time that all of world Jewry was at risk of elimination: Purim. Had Haman succeeded C"V, there would in fact not be a Jewish people anywhere. I wouldn't be here, you wouldn't be here, no Jew would be here. If we think about it, since yetzias Mitzraim the Jewish people were never at any other time physically at risk of complete eradication – where they were all located in one place, and there was a decree that put a target on the head of every single Jew in civilization. Only Purim. So what are we celebrating? We are celebrating the existence of Judaism. We are celebrating the continuation of Sinai, the actual acceptance of Torah that began with Matan-Torah and was confirmed on Purim. And how should we relate to that? We start with understanding that the victory of Purim is about stopping assimilation.
To understand what the means, we must ask another question: How can G-d consider the destruction of the entire Jewish people? If Judaism is what G-d wants, where's the logic of annihilating it? And the answer is simple, if Jews lose their compass, if they stop seeking to be Jewish, if they stop respecting the value of being Jewish, then what does G-d need them for?
Let's say you're an astronaut and you dress a certain way, as astronauts do, would you be ashamed? Of course not, rather, you'd be proud that you're an astronaut. But let's say the astronauts felt embarrassed about being astronauts. Let's say they were ashamed of the plumbers – so they would go out of their way to fit in with the plumbers in every single way, do you think they'd be good at being astronauts? Of course not. Instead of a successful space program we'd have a dismal failure. So instead NASA would kick out the astronauts and say, if you want to be plumbers, be plumbers – but we have no use for you. This is the gezeira of Purim – Klal Yisroel in Achashveirosh's time wanted to be accepted. They wanted to live with the Persians peacefully. In fact, according to many opinions, their participation in the seuda was mandatory and 100% Kosher, but they were punished for enjoying it. Because what enjoying means is that they were happy to be recognized by the Persians as worth inviting. They were pleased that they had "made it" into Persian society… and the crime? The crime is that if we look to the Persian for acceptance and self-worth, then we have undermined out entire existence, our entire purpose, in this world. In that case, G-d has no use for the Jews, and put the life of every Jew in danger.
What Mordechai accomplished was that he was able to awake within the Jewish people a return to Torah priorities. They saw that the entire acceptance that they had seemed to achieve was gone, and in its place there was the harshest decree imaginable, and things changed. The teshuva movement took off, and people revaluated their priorities. This change was palpable, and Klal Yisroel once again took their Yiddishkeit seriously, which spurned a sudden conversion movement as well. We are taught that when their neighbors saw the sincerity of the Jewish people, the number of converts grew and grew – even while the gezeira on Klal Yisroel was in force – and this renewed Judaism was mevatel the gezira and provides us with an everlasting lesson – a lesson quite applicable to our lives and our times.
For this reason, we should be able to relate quite well to the Purim of Mordechai & Esther. Esther made it – a Jew that had reached the pinnacle of society – but she remains loyal to Mordechai – the Jew that remains steadfast in his dedication to Torah-centric Yiddishkeit. Is our current reality, are our challenges, all that different? It seems to me that this is the challenge of Galus; this struggle exists on some level for each and every one of us today. I don't know if there is any Yom Tov as easily applicable to our daily lives – and on this day we are reminded of our role… to be astronauts, and proud of it.