The Purim Path to Unity

In the Purim story, our people are called “Yehudim” – Judeans. The term “Yehudim” not only refers to the members of the Tribe of Yehudah (Judah); it also refers to all the people from our various tribes that were exiled from the Kingdom of Yehudah when the First Temple was destroyed. The Kingdom of Yehudah included the Tribe of Yehudah, the Tribe of Binyamin, members from the Tribe of Levi (including Kohanim), and some members of the other Tribes of Israel. During the era of the Purim story, the term “Yehudim” became a generic name for our people; thus Mordechai, a major hero of the Purim story, is referred to as a “Yehudi” (Judean) from the Tribe of Binyamin (Esther 2:5). The old French translation of “Yehudi” is juieu, and some language scholars say that this old French term is the origin of the English term, “Jew.”

This letter will discuss a unifying message of Purim. And may this unifying message cause us to once again experience the “light, gladness, joy, and honor” which our people experienced during the first Purim (Esther 8:16).
Dear Friends,
The Book of Esther describes how Haman began to plan a program of genocide against the Yehudim, and he therefore attempted to persuade the king to agree with his plans. The following verse reveals how he began his conversation:
“Then Haman said to King Achashveirosh: ‘There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm.’ ” (Esther 3:8)
“There is a certain people scattered and separated” – These words are alluding to the lack of unity and shalom among the Yehudim during that period. (Rabbi Ezra Feigo, cited in “Talelei Oros on Purim”)
According to the above explanation, the threat of genocide emerged in an era when the Yehudim were not united. This was an indication that they were not fully dedicated to the unifying vision of the Torah – the Divine Teaching.

Queen Esther decided that she would reveal to the king that the Yehudim are her people, and appeal to him to cancel the edict of genocide. Esther realized, however, that her people would first need to begin a process of spiritual renewal which would unite them, as in this way, they would merit salvation. She therefore told Mordechai: “Go, assemble all the Yehudim to be found in Shushan, and fast for me” (Esther 4:16). Communal fasting in our tradition is accompanied by prayer. The people were to gather together in a spirit of unity, and through fasting and prayer, they would gain spiritual merit. The Book of Esther records: “Mordechai left and did exactly as Esther had commanded him” (4:17).
The Yehudim followed Esther’s instructions; moreover, all the Yehudim later experienced further spiritual renewal through rededicating themselves to the unifying Torah – our covenant with Hashem. An allusion to this renewal appears in the following words in the Book of Esther:
“The Yehudim fulfilled and accepted upon themselves, and their posterity, and upon all who might join them” (9:27).
According to the tradition cited in the Talmud, the above words are alluding to the process whereby the Yehudim willingly and lovingly reaccepted the teachings and mitzvos of the Torah which they originally accepted at Mount Sinai. (Shabbos 88a – cited in the name of Rava)
There is a verb in the above verse which alludes to the idea that the Yehudim reaccepted the Torah in a spirit of unity. Before we can understand this allusion, we need to be aware that a Hebrew verb has a singular form when the action is performed by one person, and that a Hebrew verb has a plural form when the action is performed by more than one person. In the above verse, it is written, “the Yehudim accepted upon themselves”; however, the verb “accepted” is written in the singular form (kibel) instead of the plural form (kiblu), even though the action was performed by many people! Why is it in the singular form? The following answer is found in the noted Chassidic work, Shem MiShmuel:
This indicates that they were absolutely unified, and they accepted the Torah upon themselves as would an individual – with a clear and single aim.
Towards the conclusion of the Purim story, Haman was hanged. The King then gave the Yehudim permission to defend themselves against Haman’s many followers that were still determined to destroy them.
When the Yehudim were finally free from the threat of genocide, the Purim festival was established as “days of feasting and joy, and for sending food portions to one another, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22).
When we analyze the following mitzvos of Purim, we find that they are designed to strengthen love and unity:
1. In a spirit of joyous unity, men, women, and children gather in the synagogues on Purim evening and morning to hear the chanting of Megilas Esther – the Scroll of Esther. An ancient and beautiful melody is used for the chanting. Megilas Esther is written on a separate scroll which is used on Purim; however, the text is found in the “Tanach” – the Sacred Scriptures of Israel. Individuals that are unable to join this communal reading, should read the text wherever they are.
2. On Purim day, we send two or more different ready-to-eat food portions to one another. This mitzvah is known as mishloach manos – the sending of food portions, and the minimum requirement is to send two ready-to-eat food portions to at least one person. The giving of food portions which can be eaten right away is a nurturing act which can create a special bond of love between people.
This mitzvah can help us to strengthen existing relationships. In addition, it can help us to heal damaged relationships; thus, some individuals send these gifts of food to someone they previously quarreled with.
3. On Purim day, we give gifts to the needy – money and/or food. The minimum requirement of this nurturing mitzvah is to give these gifts to at least two needy individuals. Many synagogues and Torah organizations have a discreet way of distributing gifts to the needy on Purim.
4. On Purim day, we have a festive meal in the afternoon, and it is proper that the meal extend a bit into the night. The Purim meal includes joyous spiritual singing and dancing; moreover, words of Torah are spoken. The celebration at this meal brings us closer to Hashem and to each other; moreover, it is customary to invite guests to the meal, especially those who would otherwise be eating alone on Purim.
When Purim is celebrated in the proper way, we, the People of the Torah, can truly say:
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren also dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).
Once again, an evil and violent enemy of our people has arisen in the land of Persia, which today is Iran. He has publicly called for the destruction of the State of Israel and is working towards that goal. In addition, he is strengthening other violent enemies of our people that are striving to achieve that goal. Let us therefore remember the following teaching of our sages:
“The People of Israel will only be redeemed when they are a united society.” (Midrash Tanchuma on Netzavim 1)
As a source for the above teaching, our sages cite the following prophecy which refers to the future unity of all of our scattered tribes through a renewal of our covenant with Hashem:

“In those days and at that time, says Hashem, the Children of Israel will come, they together with the Children of Judah; they will walk along crying, and they will seek Hashem, their God. They will ask about Zion; their faces will be turned toward it (saying), ‘Come; let us join with Hashem, with an eternal covenant that shall never be forgotten!’ ” (Jeremiah 50:4,5)
Our sages then conclude with the following message:
“When they are united, they receive the Shechinah – Divine Presence.”
Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos,
And have a Happy and Unifying Purim!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Insights and Comments:
1. We are allowed to travel on Purim, and those living in the Land of Israel that travel on a bus can increase Purim joy by giving gifts of food to the driver. The bus driver is just an example, as there are other workers we may encounter who would appreciate being remembered on Purim.
2. Regarding the mitzvah to have a festive meal on Purim, the Rambam (Maimonides) offers the following guideline in his classical halachic work, Mishneh Torah:
“It is better for a person to increase gifts to the poor then to increase his meal and the sending of food portions to his friends; for there is no greater and more beautiful joy than to bring happiness to the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the converts.” (Megillah 2:17)

The Rambam adds: “For the one who brings happiness to the hearts of the less fortunate is emulating the Shechinah.” The Rambam then cites the following Divine statement as a source for this idea:
“I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit – to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent” (Isaiah 57:15).
3. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar, and it begins this year on Saturday night, March 19th.  
4. Jerusalem residents celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar which begins this year on Sunday night, and this Purim festival is known as Shushan Purim. For information on Shushan Purim, visit:  
5. We cited a teaching from the noted Chassidic work, Shem MiShmuel. The author is Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, the Rebbe of Sochaczev, Poland. This work consists of eight volumes of homiletical studies on the weekly Torah portion and on the Festivals. Targum Press published the following recommended one volume English edition which contains excerpts from these studies, and the teaching that we cited is from this edition:
SHEM MISHMUEL – Selections on the weekly parashah and festivals, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, and published by Targum: The book is also distributed by Feldheim:


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