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Just Jew It!

Thursday, 17 March, 2016 - 7:19 pm

The first reference to the people of Israel (the entire nation) as Yehudim – Jews is in the book of Esther. Until that point they are primarily associated with the name Yisrael (B’nei Yisrael, Am Yisrael) or Yaakov. The term Jew or Yehudi is associated with the tribe of Yehudah – Judah. The Kingdom of Judah (the lower kingdom in Israel), ruled by the Davidic dynasty, being the last remaining vestige of Jewish presence in Israel following the exile of the Ten Tribes (the northern kingdom), accounts for the use of the name Yehudi.

However there were more than just Judeans in Judea. Mordechai himself, who is identified in the Megillah as “Ish Yehudi” – a Jewish man – was from the tribe of Benjamin. There were also members of the remaining tribes living in Judea (and subsequently in Babylonia and Persia). So there must be a deeper reason for the propagation of the term Jew at that time.

The sages of the Talmud explain that the word Yehudi comes from the verb Hoda’ah, which, among other definitions, means to humbly acknowledge (in this case) G-d as the true G-d and the rejection of idolatry. Mordechai refused to bow or prostrate to Haman and the idol around his neck. Mordechai in turn led a spiritual revival amongst the previously assimilated Jews in Shushan, causing them all to become Yehudim – rejecters of idolatry and assimilation.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the original Yehudah – Judah, was his immutable sense of responsibility for his brother. When Joseph (viceroy of Egypt) threatened to arrest Benjamin and keep him as a slave, it is Yehudah who argues for his release with great persistence. He declares “for your servant has assumed responsibility for the lad.”

The sense of Areivut – responsibility for a fellow Jew is something that comes with the title Yehudi – Jew. This is true on a physical/material plane and certainly on a spiritual level.

As Purim draws near, our sense of Areivut must kick in as we make sure that our fellow Jews will have the opportunity to celebrate and observe this special holiday. Invite another Jew to the reading of the Megillah. Give Shalach Manot to someone who would otherwise not know of this tradition. Encourage others to give Tzedakah to the poor on Purim. Bring your Jewish friend as a guest to a Purim celebration.

Chabad of Louisiana offers a variety of options for Purim observances. Please take advantage of one or many of them, including the Megillah reading on Wednesday night at Chabad Uptown and Chabad Metairie, the grand Purim in Outer Space celebration on Thursday afternoon and more.

To paraphrase Nike’s tagline – Just Jew it!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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