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A United Front

By: Rav David Milston

The following Dvar Torah is adapted from Ki Va Moed: A Fascinating Journey Through the Jewish Year, Rav Milston’s 2-volume series on the Chagim and Moadim. **

Therefore the Jews of the villages, in the unwalled towns, make the 14th day of the month Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions one to another. And Mordechai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews in all King Achashveirosh’s provinces, both near and far, to enjoin them to keep the 14th day of the month Adar, and the 15th day, every year.[1]

The above verses indicate two days of Purim. The initial celebration was set for the 14th of Adar, a day when the enemy at large – throughout Achashveirosh’s kingdom – had been overcome, whilst the second day was fixed in commemoration of the victory in the capital city of Shushan. These two days of Purim are referred to at the very beginning of Massechet Megillah:

The Megillah is read on the 14th and the 15th of Adar… Cities walled since the days of Yehoshua Bin Nun read on the 15th; villages and large towns read on the 14th

The distinction here is not between the provinces of Achashveirosh and Shushan but between walled cities from the time of Yehoshua and every other place. Even though at the time, it was only Shushan that had reason to celebrate on a different date, [2] the halacha includes any city walled during the times of Yehoshua.[3]

In practice today, that halachic division is evident between Jerusalem and the rest of the world - though there are a number of other cities where the historical date of their wall is inconclusive, so they observe two days of Purim to comply with both opinions.[4]

Isn’t this rather strange though?

Whilst Jews all over the world observe Purim on the 14th, the citizens of Yerushalayim go about their daily business,[5] and on the next day it is Yerushalayim’s turn to rejoice whilst the rest of Am Yisrael slowly return to normal.

Whatever happened to Jewish unity?

Why did the Megillah encourage celebration on two separate days of Purim instead of one day of rejoicing being set aside for all Jews simultaneously?[6]

There is evidently a lesson to be learnt here. Something appears to be incomplete in our celebrations, as if the Megillah is qualifying our celebration somewhat.

We know the entire story of Megillat Esther was very much concentrated in Shushan. We are told that messages were constantly going in and out of the capital but we do not hear in any real detail of Am Yisrael’s behavior throughout the 127 provinces. We are only informed of an atmosphere of sadness and mourning engulfing the entire nation when news of the decree eventually reached them.[7]

Meanwhile, what was happening in Eretz Yisrael?

Let us refer to the book of Ezra:

Now when the adversaries of Yehuda and Binyamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple unto the Lord, the God of Israel, they drew near to Zerubavel, and to the heads of the fathers' houses, and said unto them, 'Let us build with you, for we seek your God, as you do and we sacrifice to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.' But Zerubavel, and Yeshua, and the rest of the heads of the fathers' houses of Israel, said to them, 'You have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God but we ourselves will build unto the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.' Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Yehuda, and harried them while they were building, hiring counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Achashveirosh, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Yehuda and Jerusalem.[8]

The beginning of this very telling chapter describes the start of the return to Zion under King Cyrus. We see the initial difficulties the Jews dealt with when they did not allow the nations around them to assist them in rebuilding the Mikdash. And we see how a certain King Achashveirosh decreed against the Jews of Yehuda and Yerushalayim.

Rashi identifies this Achashveirosh to be the exact same Achashveirosh of Megillat Esther. And if we follow Rashi's lead, we discover some extremely interesting points:

1. In Achashveirosh’s time, there were Jews comfortably settled in Shushan, even though the return to Zion had begun. Indeed we have, in previous sichot (citing the Gemara in the first chapter of Megilla), already referred to Jews joining in the king's feast when it was in fact a celebration of the destruction of the Bet Mikdash. Now we discover that Jews were actually returning to Zion at the very same time as the feast. How could Jews remain in Shushan when Am Yisrael were in the early stages of redemption?

2. It seems Achashveirosh issued a decree against the Jews of Israel at a similar time to Haman's decree. Yet there is no mention of the troubles in Eretz Yisrael in Megillat Esther and no allusion to Shushan in the book of Ezra. Is this the same story from differing perspectives or are they two simultaneous yet unconnected national crises?

Haman captures our predicament in a nutshell:

And Haman said to King Achashveirosh, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither do they keep the king's laws so it is not worth the king’s while to suffer them.”[9]

It appears the nation was so divided that what was happening in Shushan was of little interest to the Jews in Israel and vice versa. Perhaps this is another reason why Esther asks Mordechai to gather all of the Jews:

Go, gather all the Jews present in Shushan and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will also fast and so will I go in to the king against the law and if I perish, I perish.[10]

If Haman's plan is to succeed it will be because Am Yisrael are “scattered and dispersed”. The solution must be to gather all the Jews together as Esther suggests. Once again, our problem is disunity. Long before the Second Beit Mikdash was destroyed for Sinat Chinam, even at its initiation,[11] we were already warned of imminent disaster at the time of Achashveirosh.

Perhaps it was this reality that led to the unique division of our two-day celebration. Through the apparent absurdity of some celebrating on one day whilst others wait another 24 hours, we are sharply reminded of the dangers of disunity.

Yes, Purim and Shushan Purim are days of immense joy - days when the barriers between Jew and Jew collapse - but masked in that celebration is a perpetual rebuke to us all. The mitzvot of Mishloach Manot and Matanot LaEvyonim may stress mutual help but the lesson goes deeper.

On Pesach, when we celebrate national redemption, the entire people converge on Yerushalayim. Everyone has to be there to partake of the Korban Pesach. In contrast, Purim is not a celebration of total salvation – after all, even at the end of the story we still remain “the servants of Achashveirosh”.[12]

Yes, the people did come together but that unity was triggered by a temporary external threat. As soon as the danger subsided, we returned to our old ways – and hence we remain in exile. Absolute redemption was not forthcoming because we were not truly united.  

Has anything changed?

When we look at our current demographics, with half of Am Yisrael living in Eretz Yisrael whilst the other half live in the Diaspora, we sadly see a recurrence of the same phenomenon.

Jews in Israel are often ignorant and insensitive to the predicament of their brothers and sisters in the Diaspora, and the Jews of the Diaspora are sometimes oblivious to Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

This is a crucial and oft overlooked message of Purim.

The innate unity of the Jewish people is an undeniable fact.

It is irrelevant where we live geographically. Our aim must be constant awareness, empathy and identification with the needs and troubles of Jews wherever they are.

Yes, of course many Jews in Chutz LaAretz give to the State of Israel in various forms. And the State of Israel assists and protects Jews in the Diaspora all the time. It does seem the situation is not as bad as it was back in Shushan.

Nevertheless, we are far from the ideal of absolute and unconditional Jewish unity. So as we open our doors to let in the needy on Purim, as we take gifts to our friends and give money to the poor, let us remember that that loving and giving spirit must extend to every single Jew after Purim too - wherever they are, whatever their politics and whatever their level of observance.

I suppose it is with this in mind that I refer to last week's Marathon in Yerushalayim. I have no idea as to what similar events around the world look like, but I would be surprised if anything compares to the amount of chesed and charity that surrounds the Jerusalem Marathon. It is one of the most wonderful events in the yearly calendar that embraces Am Yisrael. The atmosphere is so warm and friendly, so many people are running/walking for so many causes, and Jews from Diaspora and Israel can be seen running together in the streets of Jerusalem, the city of Tzedek. There are no demonstrations, no arguments, just many of Am Yisrael sharing a positive experience in our Capital. It is a Kiddush Hashem of grand proportions, and due to this year being a leap year, its juxtaposition to Shabbat Zachor and Yemai HaPurim should not be ignored.

The indictment of Haman is that we were divided; we are still divided, Esther's answer is to gather all of the Jews together, and that is the same answer today; on that Purim many years ago, we enjoyed a temporary respite, but today seventy years after the establishment of our State, we are in search of a permanent respite. We know what needs to be done; the time has come to do it.

We are in the heat of elections in Israel. There is nothing wrong with differing opinions. On the contrary - the more discussion, the more debate, the more clarity we will eventually enjoy. However, healthy debate can only work when we all share the same common goal. I believe that we do all share the same common goal, but often in the heat of the moment we forget that fundamental point.

Says HaKadosh Baruch Hu: “My children, what do I ask of you? All I ask is that you love each other and respect each other.” [13]

Purim Sameach,

Warm regards,

Rav Milston

** To order the books, please click here.

[1] Megillat Esther 9:19-21.

[2] Megillah 2b.

[3] The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 688) dedicates an entire siman to explain the distinctions between what we know as Purim (fourteenth of Adar) and Shushan Purim (fifteenth of Adar). Mishna Berurah (Orach Chaim 688 Seif Katan 1) explains that from a logical perspective the distinction between those keeping the 14th and those celebrating the 15th of Adar should have been made between walled cities at the time of Shushan as opposed to walled cities at the time of Yehoshua Bin Nun. However since when Purim occurred the Land of Israel and her great cities lay in destruction, had such a decree been invoked walled cities like Jerusalem would have ended up celebrating on the 14th with the masses whilst cities in the Diaspora would have been glorified with celebration on the morrow. Chazal were extremely sensitive to embarrassing our holy Cities and as such they fixed the law to include all walled cities from the period of Yehoshua Bin Nun in the requirement to read and celebrate on the 15th of Adar.

[4]  Chevron for example – see Shaareit Teshuva on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 688 Seif Katan 3

[5] Although tachanun is not said.

[6]  This is different to the concept of two days Yom Tov in the Diaspora as opposed to one in Israel. The first day is common to all whereas on Purim each place celebrates on a different day.

[7] Megillat Esther 4:3.

[8] Ezra 4:1-6.

[9]  Megillat Esther 3:8.

[10] Megillat Esther 4:16.

[11] See Yoma 9b.

[12] Megillah 14a.

[13] Midrash Tanna DeBei Eliyahu – Eliyahu Rabbah (Ish Shalom) parashah 26.

 

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