Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Purim and Unity

We have invited Rabbi Yosef Benarroch this week to share some thoughts with us. Rabbi Benarroch is the Rabbi of Midreshet Eshel in Jerusalem and lectures here at Berot Bat Ayin. Born in Tangiers, Morocco, he holds a degree in Education from the University of Manitoba, an M.S. in Jewish History from Tauro College and is a graduate of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He was ordained as Rabbi by Machon Harry Fischel in Jerusalem. Rabbi Benarroch also served as the Rabbi for the Sephardic Community in Vancouver, Canada.
One Jewish Man-ish Yehudi
by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

Click here for a printable version

With Purim quickly approaching I want to dedicate my dvar Torah to insights in Megilat Esther. One of the most shocking statements in the Megilah is the annihilation edict of Haman to King Ahashverosh. In asking the King to wipe out the entire Jewish nation Haman says the following, "And Haman said to the King Ahashverosh, there is a nation who is scattered and dispersed amongst the people in all your provinces. Their laws are different from the other people and they do not even observe the Kings laws, therefore it is not befitting for the King to tolerate them. If it pleases the King let it be recorded that they be destroyed.... And the King responded, the money is given to you do as you please to this nation...  And the letters (of the edict) were sent by the Kings messengers to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews from young to old, woman and children, in one day on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month which is the month of Adar" (Book of Esther 3:8-13).

In these few verses we read about Haman’s desire to destroy our entire nation. A close examination of those verses reveals much more about Haman's plan. Not only did Haman want to destroy the entire Jewish nation, he wanted to do it in one day! Why was he so intent on carrying out his genocide in ONE DAY? The worst murderers and anti Semites throughout history took months and years to carry out their plans. Yet Haman was intent on finishing off the Jews in ONE DAY, why?

In addition, why when communicating his wishes to the King does he add, "there is a nation who is scattered and dispersed amongst the people in all your provinces”. Why was it important for Haman to add that the Jewish nation were scattered and dispersed? Shouldn't it have been enough to tell the King that they did not follow his laws? 

Before I answer these questions let me digress to how the Megilah introduces Mordechai. The text says the following, "A Jewish man (Ish Yehudi) lived in Shushan the capital. His name was Mordechai the son of Yair the son of Shimi, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin" (Book of Esther 2:5). Many of the commentaries ask why Mordechai is introduced as a "Jewish Man". Nowhere in Tanach do we see such a title. Why wasn't he simply introduced as "A man named Mordechai the son of Yair from the tribe of Binyamin"?

It is the introduction of Mordechai that will shed light on all of our questions. The Rabbis in the Midrash explain why Mordechai is introduced as a "Jewish Man (Ish Yehudi)". They state the following, "Why was he called a Jew (Yehudi)? Because he made the name of
G-d one before the people of the world therefore he was called Yihudi (one)".
(Esther Rabah)

It may be a cute play on words between the word Yehudi (Jew) and Yihudi (one), but to our Rabbis the message of Mordechai’s name is a powerful one. He understood that the power of Jewish existence had to do with the number one and the unity it embodies. Morecai taught the world that there was one G-d and he taught the Jewish people that their salvation would be the result of their unity, their steadfast trust in one G-d and their ability to unite as one people. It is for this reason that when Esther acts, her first request is to "Go and gather all of Jewish people in the capital of Shushan and fast for me for three days... and Mordecai did everything as Esther requested (Book of Esther 4:17).

Perhaps we can better understand the words of Haman. He too understood that the power of the Jewish nation was in their unity. He understood that to destroy the Jewish nation he would need to destroy their unity. It is for this reason that he says to the King that they are scattered and dispersed. He was telling the King that they were not unified, not in their love for each other and not in their faith in G-d, and so victory could be achieved. It is also for this reason that Haman is so intent of annihilating the Jewish nation in ONE day.

The Sefat Emet explains that every Purim we must access the energy of unity that the holiday provides. He goes on to explain that all of the commandments of Purim reflect unity. When it comes to the reading of the Megilah the law stipulates that it should be done in public with as large a gathering as possible. So too we are required to send baskets of food to our friends and to give to the poor. These acts, explains the Sefat Emet, are in order to arouse within us the power of unity. We pray and read the Megilah together, we take care of the poor together, and we send gifts to one another.

Finally we are required to eat a festive meal together as the Book of Esther states, “And these days should be celebrated by every generation, and by every family, and by every province, and by every city, and these days of Purim should never cease amongst the Jews” (Book of Esther 9:28). Indeed the entire festival of Purim allows us to reach out in love and joy, as a united nation. Haman sought to destroy this and Mordechai knew how important it was to preserve.


  1. This is such an important message at such an important time in the world. I had to keeping remembering that this post is about ancient history and not what's happening today. So important...

  2. All the events that took place this week show how relevent that message is to our time; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit and his speech before AIPAC. I hope the world will wake up NOW!