Purim has one of the most suspenseful stories ever written. From the panic, doubt and fear in the face of utter destruction to the elation, euphoria and high spirits after everything works out for the best, the story and meaning of Purim encompasses one of the greatest ever resolution of opposites.
Any exceptional drama-thriller has its climax, when the tension of a situation that seems impossible to get out of flips into a miraculous solution. Undoubtedly, the peak of the Purim story is when the decision to kill the Jews gets overturned.
Purim’s plot has many places that escalate toward its climax. If we neglect the importance of these places, we will skip its main idea, and remain with nothing more than an impressive narrative. One such place, for instance is when Queen Esther relays to Mordechai: “You want me to go to the king and beg for your lives? Don’t just sit there at the king’s gate; go, gather the Jews!”
Mordechai is the story’s representative of good. The catch of the story is that, as much as Mordechai wants to bring good, he’s powerless to do so by himself. In order to do so, he needs to gather the Jews. By gathering the Jews, Mordechai invalidates the claim of Haman, the story’s representative of bad, which is to eradicate the Jews. “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed,” Haman says to King Ahasuerus, contending that the Jews were failing to uphold the king’s laws, which discredited their existence in the king’s eyes.
At this point, a question arises: Why did Haman connect the Jews’ dispersion to their disobeying the king’s laws? Cunning and intelligent as he was, Haman understood that the law by which the Jewish nation emerged is a law of unity. The Jews became ratified as a nation when they agreed to unite “as one man with one heart.” Their dispersion meant their disunity, which meant that they failed to live up to what established them as a nation to begin with. That is what Haman emphasized to King Ahasuerus.
While dispersed, Queen Esther could be of no service to the Jews because they were breaching the king’s law. When they united, however, they re-established themselves as a nation, exactly as King Ahasuerus commanded, making Haman’s claim fall short.
The significance of this Purim message penetrates sharply into our current era. “Hamanism,” or antisemitism, is rampant today, comparable to how it was in the Purim story’s setting of Shushan. Likewise, we Jews are in the same loop of brushing off the brunt of what a sudden rise in antisemitism worldwide could lead to.
The disastrous events in the middle of last century clearly exemplify what an escalation of Jewish hatred coupled with Jewish denial of that hatred and failure to do anything about it could lead to. Purim, however, provides us with the opposite, happy-ending example: where the Jewish people understand their role and purpose, and take responsibility to realize the king’s law, uniting above their differences and thereby securing their survival and bringing about great joy and happiness.
We Jews hold the keys to both scenarios: the choice to unite, which brings about the elated state Purim symbolizes, or the choice to remain disunited, which has devastating consequences.
What is this unity we need to reach? It does not mean that we need to physically gather in Israel or anywhere else. Uniting means that we mentally and emotionally support each other in seeking that common point of agreement, “as one man with one heart,” to be there for each other above any seeming differences between us. Moreover, uniting also means that by our efforts to find our common unifying point, we will become conduits of unity to the rest of humanity, as is written, to become “a light unto nations.” In other words, our dispersion and disunity spreads dispersion and disunity, and our unification spreads unification. Unity is an unfulfilled expectation that humanity currently has toward the Jews. Neither non-Jews nor Jews can pinpoint nor verbalize this feeling, but it lurks behind all antisemitic sentiment.
“In such a generation, all the destructors among the nations of the world raise their heads and wish primarily to destroy and to kill the people of Israel, as it is written (Yevamot 63), ‘No calamity comes to the world but for Israel.’ This means … that they cause poverty, ruin, robbery, killing, and destruction in the whole world.
“And through our many faults … the judgment struck the very best of us, as our sages said (Baba Kama 60), ‘And it starts with the righteous first.’ And of all the glory Israel had in the countries of Poland and Lithuania, etc., there remains but the relics in our holy land. Now it is upon us, relics, to correct that dreadful wrong. Each of us remainders should take upon himself, heart and soul, to henceforth intensify the internality of the Torah [i.e. focusing on the unifying essence of what the Torah instructs, to ‘love your friend as yourself’], and give it its rightful place, according to its merit over the externality of the Torah [i.e. where unity is not the main goal, but intellectual progress or performing physical actions with no intention to unite].
“And then, each and every one of us will be rewarded with intensifying his own internality, meaning the Israel within us, which is the needs of the soul over our own externality, which is the nations of the world within us, that is, the needs of the body. That force will come to the whole of Israel, until the nations of the world within us recognize and acknowledge the merit of the great sages of Israel…”
- Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” item 71.
The Purim story, in addition to being an epic tale, symbolizes what life can be like when we unite. Also, as it is in the Purim story, so it is today: the Jews hold the key. We were given the law “Love your friend as yourself” before any other nation, and likewise today, we need to implement this law among each other in order for it to be able to spread to humanity as a whole. Until we do, antisemitism will continue rising in order to corner us into making that fateful decision. It is my hope that the antisemitic atmosphere will not have to grow to the likes of what we experienced in the middle of last century in order for us to wake up to our role. We have the wisdom and tools today to realize it much sooner and reach the perfection that Purim stands for even on this very day if we wanted to.