The Lost Message of Purim: Jewish Unity
Purim is a holiday of Jewish unity. It could never have been made possible without the incredible display of both unity and organization.
The Purim story starts with King Ahasuerus’s feast. History verifies that it was also a strategy session for his impending invasion of Greece. Secular history tells us that he began the invasion soon after this party, in 481 BCE. Many Jews, who were still living in Persia, decided to attend the party, despite the use of the Temple vessels from conquered Jerusalem as part of the celebration. And here we have the defeatists and the apologists. Four long generations after the First Temple’s destruction, we saw the decayed state of many of the Jews who lived in Persia.
Mordechai certainly broke any mold of traditional Jewish heroes. He displayed many Machiavellian-like traits.
Mordechai was both smart and cunning; utilizing his close relative, Esther, as a pawn, in a gambit to ensure that Jews had access to the king is one example of this. Another illustration of Mordechai’s unconventional approach was how he compelled Esther to act.
Esther, rightfully scared, seemed indecisive when Mordechai asked her to petition Ahasuerus. She displayed incredible heroism by making the decision to risk her life to do it. This was captured in the tense climax when Mordecai stated, “think not with yourself that you shall escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if you altogether hold your peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish,” (Esther 4:13,14). Mordecai used strong words to persuade Esther to do her part and get involved.
Equally amazing was Esther’s ability to know what to do next. Esther took charge and developed a plan to work directly with all the Jews in the community. Through Mordechai, she appealed to all Jews, regardless of class. She didn’t ask for an assembly of rabbis or elders; she did not request that a committee be formed to deal with the issue. There was simply no time. She directly appealed to the Jewish community and used her authority as the highest-ranking Jew in the royal court, to petition all Jews to fast for three days and nights. Fasting also implies prayer here. Esther asked for the Jews of Shushan to come together in fasting and prayer to help beg G-d to favor her efforts. Rather than be dismissive of her request, the Jews of Shushan fasted and prayed together on behalf of the nation of Israel.
Finally, when the drama had played out, the Jews banded together and defended themselves. Self-defense means killing for survival. Defending oneself takes time and practice. That the Jews were able to defend themselves is only mentioned in two verses of the entire Megillah, but it might as well have been a whole separate book, dedicated to this achievement.
I wonder what kind of preparation had to have been developed and put in place, in the years before, to train Jews in how to defend themselves? These Jews were able to assemble a fighting organization in a noticeably short time frame. The amount of training, coordination, and working together, is what is also utterly amazing.
The greatest miracle of Purim was the level of Jewish unity displayed throughout the dark days before the salvation. Was it because Jews were willing to unify for their survival, that G-d’s hidden hand was activated to overturn this grave danger? What could have been the biggest massacre of Jewish people since the First Temple’s destruction, instead turned out to be truly a miracle on many levels.
As we look at today’s sad affairs of growing extremism and the unprecedented upheaval of political institutions and social conventions, frustratingly, we as Jews, have not done enough to unify ourselves. Could the miracle of Purim happen today? With the tragic division among the streams of Jews, the apathy, and the insistence of putting partisan social concerns over Jewish communal issues, unfortunately, the answer may be a resounding no. Jews today remain so divided that they almost certainly would not allow for the type of unity displayed in the times of the Purim miracle.
We should learn from Purim that respect for one another as Jews is critically important for our survival. We must learn how to prevent future attacks like the tragedy which shook us to our core when the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting occurred in 2018. How much good could be gleaned by harnessing the power of the now separate communities working together on pressing issues of the Jewish community — education, alcoholism, and so many others.
We as a Jewish nation have been dysfunctional for far too long. We have so much we could do together that could benefit us all, regardless of orientation, especially now, in these dangerous times in which we live. Purim is about the hidden miracle. But that miracle never would have been able to occur had the Jews of that time remained fragmented. Let us use Purim’s underlying message of unity, to transform ourselves and heal our divided nation.
A better understanding of Zionism is one way to improve Jewish unity. Read more at: “Purim: The Zionist Holiday You Never Really Knew.”
Joshua Goldstein is chairman of Herut North America’s US Division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education. In 2020, Goldstien was a delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress for Herut. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/