IN THE TWELFTH MONTH, WHICH IS THE MONTH OF ADAR, ON ITS THIRTEENTH DAY…ON THE DAY THAT THE ENEMIES OF THE JEWS WERE EXPECTED TO PREVAIL OVER THEM, IT WAS TURNED ABOUT: THE JEWS PREVAILED OVER THEIR ADVERSARIES. – ESTHER 9:1
By Rabbi Yigal Rosenberg
Throughout the generations, the Jewish nation has experienced many trials and hardships. Of all these historic challenges, the events of Purim were particularly unique, in that Haman had succeeded in convincing Ahasuerus, King of Persia to enact a decree to annihilate all of the Jewish people, regardless of age or level of observance—and all on a single day, the 13th of Adar!
As devastating as that might seem, the result was all the more astounding. We find that throughout that whole year during which the decree was in effect, the entire Jewish nation was steadfast in its faith and resolve. There wasn’t a single Jew who entertained the slightest thought of abandoning his Jewish identity, even temporarily, even though that betrayal would have served to save that person’s very own life. On the contrary: with renewed vigor—as exemplified by the children’s courageous public Torah study—the Jews strengthened their commitment to their G-d and His Torah.
The determination of the Jews in response to this decree was so powerful, the Talmud explains, that they were considered to have “fulfilled that which they had initially accepted upon themselves at the giving of the Torah.” Centuries earlier, upon receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Jewish people had committed themselves to fulfilling the Commandments. However, due to dramatic occurrences leading up to the event, and the intensity of G-dly revelation that accompanied that momentous occasion, it was as though the Jewish nation had been coerced to accept. How could we possibly refuse G-d’s proposal after having been shown His outstretched hand, which had miraculously saved our entire nation from Egyptian slavery and led more than two million people to safety in the wilderness? Overwhelmed, nurtured, protected and completely enveloped by the Divine presence, it was as though we had no choice but to commit ourselves to our Divinely ordained mission and role.
Real Simcha—real, lasting happiness—comes from commitment to live our lives according to core values, Torah values.
950 years later, however, when the Purim story took place, the circumstances were completely different—in fact the exact opposite of the time of G-dly revelation at Mount Sinai. Our Holy Temple lay in ruins, the era of prophecy was coming to an end, and we had been forced into exile at the hands of our enemies. Specifically at this dark and hopeless period, seemingly devoid of spiritual illumination, we girded ourselves and stayed true to our religion. That was when we proved that we were faithful to G-d—as we had promised at Mount Sinai, but not yet demonstrated. It was a choice that was wholly from within, not dependent on G-d’s revelation, nor impeded by the lack thereof.
Purim is more than just a celebration of our political victory and our liberation from Haman’s evil design to exterminate our people. On a deeper level, it’s a celebration of acknowledging and recommitting to our true purpose in life, the fulfillment of G-d’s will. When people understand their mission in life, all other seemingly disconnected aspects of their lives fall into place. Interestingly, in our generation, the notion of right and wrong seems to be hidden from so many of us, and the purpose of life seems elusive. People look for happiness in all sorts of meaningless or even harmful distractions and turn to extraneous ways of feeling well and whole. From the story of Purim and the joyful rededication of the Jewish people to their true purpose, we learn that real Simcha—real, lasting happiness—comes from commitment to live our lives according to core values, Torah values. More specifically, the celebration highlights certain mitzvahs that bring us joy, the giving of mishloach manos (gifts of food) reminds us that givers are happy people; having a family meal of celebration highlights the importance of family solidarity, the reading of the Megillah underscores the unity of the Jewish people regardless of their dress, level of observance, or political beliefs. The Megillah ultimately teaches us that things are not as grim as they seem and that even though G-d may at times appear to be distant and hidden, He is always there for us when we allow Him in.