By Rabbi Yossi Levertov
Parshat Ki Tisa
The story of Purim, as related in the Meggilah, the Book of Esther, gives us a clear analysis of the “Jewish problem.”
Being dispersed over 127 provinces and lands, with their own land still in ruins, the Jews undoubtedly differed from one another in custom, dress and language according to the place of their dispersal, similar to the way Jews in different countries differ nowadays. Yet, though there were Jews who would make an effort to conceal their Jewish identity, Haman, the sworn enemy of the Jews, recognized the essential qualities and characteristics of the Jews, which made all of them, with or without their consent, into “one people,” namely, “their laws are different from those of any other people.”
Hence, in his wicked aspiration to annihilate the Jews, Haman seeks to destroy “all the Jews, young and old, children and women.” Although there were in those days, too, Jews who strictly adhered to the Torah and mitzvot, and Jews who distanced themselves from their people, or who sought to assimilate themselves, none could escape the classification of belonging to that “one people.” Every single Jew was included in Haman’s evil decree.
Throughout the ages there have been Hamans, yet we have outlived them, thank God. What is the secret of our survival?
The answer will be evident from the following example. When a scientist seeks to determine the laws governing a certain phenomenon, or to discover the essential properties of a certain element in nature, he must undertake a series of experiments under various conditions in order to discover those properties or laws that are obtained under all conditions alike. No true scientific law can be deduced from a minimum number of experiments, or from experiments under similar or only slightly varied conditions, for the results as to what is essential and what is secondary would not be conclusive.
The same principle should be applied to our people. It is one of the oldest in the world, beginning its national history from the revelation at Mount Sinai some 3,300 years ago. Over the course of these long centuries, we have lived under extremely distinctive conditions in different times and countries all over the globe. If we want to discover the key elements making up the cause and basis of the existence of our people and its unique strength, we must conclude that it is not its strange physical or intrinsic mental characteristics, not its language, manner and customs (in a wider sense), nor even its racial purity (for there were times in the early history of our people, as well as during the Middle Ages and even recent times, when whole ethnic groups and tribes have become proselytes and part of our people).
The vital element that unites our “dispersed and scattered people” and makes it “one people” throughout its dispersion and no matter when, is the Torah, the Jewish way of life, which has remained basically the same throughout the ages and in all places. The conclusion is clear and beyond doubt: It is the Torah and mitzvot that have made our people indestructible in the face of massacres and pogroms aiming at our physical annihilation, and in the face of ideological assaults of foreign cultures aiming at our spiritual destruction.
Purim teaches us the age-old lesson that no manner of assimilation, not even such which is extended over several generations, provides an escape from the Hamans and Hitler; nor can any Jew sever his ties with his people by attempting such an escape.
On the contrary, our salvation and our very existence depend precisely on the fact that “their laws are different from those of any other people.”
Purim reminds us that the strength of our people as a whole, and of each Jew, lies in a closer commitment to our ancient divine heritage, which includes the secret of a meaningful and happy life. Everything else in our spiritual and worldly life must be free from any contradiction to the core and essence of our existence, and be adjusted accordingly in order to make for the utmost harmony, and add to our physical and spiritual strength, both of which go hand in hand in Jewish life.
May we merit to live in a world free of Hamans, which will only happen with the coming of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days.
I wish you a joyous Purim.
Rabbi Yossi Levertov is director of the Jewish Learning Center at Chabad of Scottsdale in Arizona.