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Divrei Torah: Purim: A Gift of Unity

This week in 'The Parsha in Chesed' series: the festival of Purim.
Legend has it that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, z’’l, had a special custom when it came to receiving mishloach manot (gifts) on Purim. He would taste from the items no matter what the “hechsher” (kosher certification), as long as there was one.

Why would someone who was usually very personally stringent take such a different attitude when it came to Purim gifts?

To understand this let us take a look at the essence of Purim.

At the heart of the story of Purim is the evil decree, proposed by Haman, enacted by King Achashverosh, and overturned through a miraculous series of events.

What terrible thing could the Jews have done to receive potential annihilation, G-d forbid?

According to many, the collective guilt lies in the exposure to the “zuhama” (pollution) that came from the Jews’ attendance at the 180 day feast of Achashverosh.

What was this “zuhama”? Some say it was the promiscuity at the party. Others lay the blame on the fact that the holy vessels from the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) were put on display and yet the attending Jews continued to party. Another idea given is that while technically “kosher,” the food at the party raised many halachic questions.

For me, while these reasons certainly have merit, the rest of the Purim story doesn’t “fit the narrative.”

And now for something completely different….

I would like to propose that the “zuhama” of the feast was the lack of love and unity among the Jews themselves. This discord became apparent during the half-year party.

How do we know?

When Haman approached King Achashverosh with his plan, he presented a most unusual argument. His claim that the Jews were “mefuzar umefurad” (spread out and separate) should have had no consequence. Why would having the Jews spread all around create any threat to the kingdom? There could be no better situation than having your perceived enemies divided and conquered.

The fact is, however, that Haman was speaking to a different King. He, like his ancestors, was pointing out a serious flaw within the Jewish nation. One that would certainly anger the King of Kings.

Our rabbis have taught that every time that the word “melech” (king) is used in the Megilah (Scroll of Esther) on its own, it is a reference to Hashem, the King of Kings.

Haman was bringing an accusation that the Jews were separate and divided from themselves. How did he identify this?

It was at the infamous Feast of Achashverosh. Haman, the consummate party planner, spared no expense to make certain that all of the attendees would feel comfortable. No one was forced to eat or drink. Strictly kosher food was provided to the Jewish subjects.

Unfortunately, according to many commentators, there were Jews who didn’t want to be seated next to certain others at the party. Their hechsherim were not “the hechsherim” that “we eat.” They wore the “wrong” kipa (skullcap) and sent their children to “that” school.

God created this world as a place to for us to co-exist and imitate His ways of kindness and concern. Infighting and baseless hatred contradict that plan. When we don’t get along, the very foundation and security of the world is shaken.

Once again sinat chinam (baseless hatred) raised its ugly head and cast a cloud over Jewish continuity.

What was the solution?

Esther, the newly crowned queen, understood perfectly.

After hearing of the impending doom, Esther is asked by Mordechai to plead to the king on behalf of her people.

Once again, with a double meaning, to ask both King Achashverosh and at the same time to plead to the King of Kings to reverse the decree.

Esther’s reply begins with, “Go and gather ALL of the Jews.”

This utterance was so powerful that it in fact launched the process of wholesale repentance among the nation, resulting in the salvation of Purim. This call for unity is credited as the “antidote” to the decree brought on by the “zuhama.”

An antidote comes to neutralize the effects of a toxin. If the cause for annihilation was the promiscuity, vessels or non-kosher food, how would the gathering of Jews serve as the antidote?

If, however, the root of the issue was the toxin Jewish disunity, then Esther clearly understood that uniting was the only answer.

A decree resulting from sinat chinam could only be overturned by ahavat chinam (baseless love).

When the Jews heeded the call of Esther, and unified, G-d made a miracle and saved us from destruction.

The Megilah says that the Jews reaffirmed what they had accepted once before. This refers specifically to receiving the Torah. Because of the miracle, they lovingly relived the events at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai) - they “renewed their vows,” if you will.

This included the necessity of standing together “as one person with one heart.”

This is why the mitzvot of Purim include the requirement to take care of the poor through matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) and increase friendship and joy through mishloach manot (gifts of food to friends).

Yes, we must publicize the great miracle done by G-d. However, equally important is the knowledge that true redemption will only come through the love and respect of others, even when they are not like us.

Unity doesn’t require for us to be the same. It means for us to respect and tolerate our differences.

As Rav Kook, Z’L writes: “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam. (Orot HaKodesh vol. III, p. 324)

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It has the power to absolve us of past sins and create a clean slate. It is Yom Kippurim, “a day like Purim.” While it may be special, it is only “like” Purim. In order for Yom Kippur to facilitate atonement, one must first make amends with those that they might have wronged. Without forgiveness from humans, G-d will hold back His as well.

The potential for growth on Purim is infinite. It is the true melding of our physical and spiritual senses. And like Yom Kippur, it requires that we adjust our attitude toward others.

Rav Shlomo Zalman understood this clearly. The message, indeed, the task of Purim, is to heed the call of “Go gather ALL of the Jews” - to accept ALL others no matter what their hechsher, head covering or opinions may be.

There is no better place to start than by accepting their love from within the mishloach manot.

May this Purim, particularly in light of the past year, be one of joy, health and reconnecting with those near and far.

Purim sameach (happy Purim) and Shabbat shalom (have a good Sabbath).

(After writing this, I was humbled to discover that the Klausenberger Rebbe, Z’L offers a similar view on the Purim story.)

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