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Purim is also about anti-Semitism

Purim is also about anti-Semitism. (See for last week’s post entitled “Purim is not about anti-Semitism.) Not only that, but even after the Haman threat was eliminated, serious vigilance against the potential flare up of further anti-Semitism was needed. Where is this indicated?

The very last verse of the book of Esther states: “For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverosh, and great among the Jews and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their offspring.” There is a glaring awkwardness in this verse. Why was Mordechai accepted by most of his brethren and not all? What could the detractors possibly find wrong with him? He just saved the entire Jewish people from a “final solution” attempt to “to annihilate, murder and destroy all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on one day.”

The answer is in the earlier part of the verse, “Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to the king.” Some of his colleagues in the Sanhedrin felt that once the decree was averted, Mordechai should have resigned from governmental affairs to exclusively apply himself to Torah. In fact, in a listing of leading sages of the Sanhedrin in the book of Nechemiah, Mordechai is slightly demoted from his place on an earlier list in the book of Ezra.

So why indeed did Mordechai elect to remain an active leading member of the king’s court? In the opening verse of the Megillah it states: “And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh, the same Achashverosh who ruled… one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.” Why does the verse repeat the name of the king? It could have just said, “In the days of Achashverosh who ruled…” Our sages explain, that the verse is pointing out to us that Achashverosh was also a Jew hater. He was threatened by the prophecy of Jeremiah that G-d would bring the Jews back to Israel after 70 years of exile. The party described in the opening chapter of the story is a celebration of his perception that those 70 years passed and the Jews would be his subjects forever. Indeed later on the story, when Haman offers the king 10,000 silver talents in exchange for permission to destroy the Jews, Achashverosh responds, “The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please.” Why? Because he was an anti-Semite just like Haman was. Maybe for a more pragmatic reason; but he hated the Jews all the same.

Mordechai reasoned, that a fickle king such as Achashverosh, who displays such narcissistic tendencies, can easily swing right back to his old Jew hating ways if he felt threatened by them. So Mordechai deemed it necessary to remain as viceroy, in order to address any threats that may arise.  

Jews must always be vigilant and take measures to protect ourselves, whilst remaining hyper-cognizant of the fact (as mentioned in last week’s post) that the true source of our protection and well-being, both physical and spiritual, is our connection to Hashem. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, we must “pray softly and carry a big stick.”  

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim is not about anti-Semitism

Purim is not a holiday about anti-Semitism. Of course Haman was most definitely an anti-Semite. (In fact, he got his career in Jew hatred started as an entry-level government official who was advocating against Persian support for the Jewish people’s right to a homeland in Israel.) Furthermore, he most certainly tried to persecute and destroy the Jewish nation. Finally, his plans were thwarted by the powerful Jewish lobby in the palace (the queen), resulting in his downfall and execution. Following the Jewish victory against Haman’s minions, Mordechai and the sages of Israel established the festival of Purim. So how can we say that Purim is not about anti-Semitism?

Because the story told above is only the mask - the outer layer. Upon closer examination, we discover an entirely different subplot that is far more instructive of how we are to live as Jews.

When Haman issues his decree, Mordechai reacts by wearing sack-cloth and ashes and declaring that Jews must gather in prayer, fasting and Teshuvah. What happened to working the phones and leaning on his connections in the king’s court? What happened to raising money for an effort to get the decree annulled by the king?

When Esther is prevailed upon to go to the king, she prepares by fasting for three days. For a king who spent 4 ½ years looking for the most beautiful woman in the Persian empire to marry, it would not seem to be wisest idea to approach him after a three day fast. Even a very attractive woman doesn’t look great without eating or drinking for 72 hours. It would seem more logical for Esther to spend three days at the spa and shopping for new clothes with which to impress the king.

So what’s the deal? Mordechai and Esther understood that Haman’s decree is merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Namely, the Jewish people falling out of favor with Hashem. This was because of the self-degradation stemming from the Jews wanting so desperately to be accepted by Persian society, that they went to the king’s feast celebrating their own subjugation. They were so thrilled just to be invited to the ball, that they tossed their Yiddishkeit; eating the non-Kosher food, engaging in promiscuity, and fully embracing the pagan Persian culture.

Accordingly, Mordechai’s primary focus was getting the Jews good with Hashem again through prayer and repentance. Once that got squared away, they then employed natural channels to get the decree annulled and the enemy eliminated. Consequently, Purim is a celebration of our reunification with Hashem as His treasured and devoted nation. Haman’s anti-Semitism was just a side-bar.

The takeaway is that every threat to our people must be dealt with using all means available to us. But we must first remember that our primary task is to strengthen our connection to Hashem. Only then can our efforts to neutralize the threats be effective.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Purim prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Who's Helping Whom?

Who’s giving to whom? The Midrash (Lev. Rabba) states, “More than what the philanthropist does for the poor person, the poor person does for the philanthropist.” The conventional way of understanding this is that the poor person gives the rich person the opportunity to do a Mitzvah. And not just any mitzvah, but the Mitzvah of Tzedakah, which has many special merits as enumerated by our sages all over the Talmud and Midrash.

This week I heard a story that gives a whole new meaning to this concept. We had a visitor at Minyan one morning this week, who shared with me something that happened to him. Several years ago his teenage daughter went into renal failure and she needed a kidney. It was determined that he was a match, and he became a kidney donor for his daughter. With Hashem’s help all went well, and they both recovered nicely.

Fast forward one year. This man is a member of Hatzalah, the volunteer ambulance corps. He was rushing to a call one day, and as he went through an intersection on a red, a bus plowed into the driver's side of his vehicle. He took a rough hit on his side and was badly injured. When Hatzalah rushed him to the emergency room, the doctors were freaking out about the prospect of major damage to his kidney, with the possibility of kidney rupture. He and the Hatzalah members who brought him in were laughing. He explained to the doctors that a year ago he had given that kidney to his daughter and therefore there was no kidney there to worry about.

So while he thought he was helping his daughter by giving her a kidney and saving her life, in fact she relieved him of his kidney thereby saving him from major medical issues.

We don’t always understand Hashem’s ways. But we do know that in the end end end, doing what Hashem’s wants of us is also for our own benefit.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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