Torah Fax

Thursday, March 24, 2005 - 13 Adar II, 5765

Torah Reading: Tzav (Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36)
Candle Lighting time: 5:55 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:56 PM
Fast ends (3/24): 6:45 PM
 
Purim Unmasked
 
Everyone is familiar with the story of Purim. The wicked Haman was offended by Mordechai's refusal to bow down to him. So Haman decided to have a decree issued by the Persian Emperor Achashveirosh to have all the Jews annihilated. Enter Queen Esther-who did not divulge her Jewish identity to the king-who saved the Jewish people by interceding on their behalf.
 
A superficial reading of the Purim story would yield a rather anti-Jewish identity message. The Jews got into trouble because Mordechai had to stand out as a Jew. If only Mordechai had hidden his Jewish identity; or, at the very least, if he did not have the "in-your-face" attitude towards Haman, the entire threat to the Jewish people would not have materialized. Furthermore, if Esther had revealed her Jewish identity, the king might not have tolerated her either. Her ability to save the Jewish people seemed to be directly related to her ability to conceal her Jewishness.
 
Are we to suggest that Purim is the holiday of assimilation? Does the story of Purim convey a message that we are to keep our Jewishness under wraps? Obviously, the message of Purim could not possibly be that we should keep our Jewishness low key. Yet, the events that precipitated the crisis and the efforts that brought about the salvation appear to be linked to precisely that-hiding one's Jewishness. In truth, a more thorough and beneath-the-surface analysis of the story of Purim yields a totally contrary conclusion.
The Talmud and Midrash-which contain the background information about the narrative of Purim-introduces us to another picture. Before presenting the Talmudic analysis, a few words of introduction are in order. Throughout our history, we have been exposed to threats to our existence. But there was no other time in history when we came so close to total extinction, and that, in the end, we came out totally unscathed. In all other periods of history either we did not come close to total annihilation, or, that, conversely, when we were threatened, we did not fare so well.
 
This ironic situation-the most dire threat on the one side, and the most positive outcome on the other hand-is explained by our Sages thus: When the Jewish people were compelled by government decree, prior to the Purim saga, to bow down to a pagan deity, they complied. Since their lack of faithfulness to G‑d was only on the outside, but in their hearts they remained loyal to G‑d, they were therefore subjected by G‑d to an outward threat, while, beneath the surface, G‑d never intended to have the threat to their lives materialize.
 
Incidentally, this is the reason given for the custom of masquerading on Purim. The external appearance of both the Jewish people and G‑d belied their true inner feelings. The Jews did not really mean to worship the other gods, and G‑d did not really intend to let Haman realize his murderous objectives. Their true intentions were masked. In effect, it was the hiding of their Jewish faith that precipitated the crisis in the first place, and not Mordechai's flaunting his Jewishness as it might have appeared superficially.
 
Furthermore, when we see how the plot was ultimately neutralized, we discover another interesting observation pointed out by our Sages.  During the eleven months, from the time the decree to annihilate the Jews was issued to the day that it was to be implemented, not one Jew changed his religion. By converting to the religion of the Persians, they could have been spared from the fate that awaited all of the other Jews. As a result of their refusal to hide their Judaism, not one Jew was harmed on that fateful day.
 
This fact is underscored by the way the Jews are described in the Book of Esther. Despite the fact that they were a mixture of several tribes, they are nevertheless characterized as Yehudim, from which the word "Jews" derives.  Why were all the Jews named after the tribe of Judah? The Talmud explains that the name Yehudi, connotes one who acknowledges only one G‑d and rejects all others. It was this trait of proudly announcing their unwillingness to change their identity and to remain openly loyal to G‑d and His Torah that shattered the decree and brought about salvation. In other words, when the Jewish people at that time allowed their true inner Jewishness-that was previously suppressed-to surface, G‑d reciprocated by unleashing His true love for the Jewish people that resulted in the shattering of the decree that loomed over them.
 
We are living in Messianic times, eagerly awaiting the future Redemption. Our road to salvation is not by hiding or compromising our Jewish uniqueness. Moshiach, who must be a descendent of Yehudah personifies the trait of unabashed Jewish identity and pride. And it is this trait that we must awaken in every Jew. And when it is aroused, all the external negative forces will be shattered and the pure goodness will be revealed.
 
Moshiach Matters
 
Just as Israel's redemption in those days was brought about not through our own merit, but through Divine mercy, likewise do we demonstrate through our manner of rejoicing on Purim that we do not rely on our own merits but only on G‑d's compassion. (Book of Our Heritage)

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