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Shabbos Zachor


There is no question that the essential theme of Megilat Ester is that of the Jewish community in exile, and the challenges that come with it: namely, maintaining our Jewish identity and religious commitment, and, of course, Jewish survival in the face of oppression.

It is no wonder that for many generations of our difficult exile, Purim symbolized our hope that the Jewish community will ultimately survive and thrive even against great odds through the galus.

At the same time, there is a tradition that finds fault with this over-idealizing of galus-Judaism.  This is most vividly expressed through the minhag that some pesukim of the Megillah are read in the trop of Eicha.  

Though not explicitly addressed in the megilah, there are allusions to the fact that Shushan became the Bira, in place of Yerushalayim.  Outside of Shushan, the word Bira in Tanakh is always used in reference to Yerushalayim.  And historically, we know that the story of Purim took place after we got permission to the Jews to return to Israel and to rebuild the Bais Hamikdash.  Chazal believed that the Purim story happened before the construction of the Beis Hamikdash, while modern historians believe that it was after the construction of the Temple.  Either way, it was at the time that we had permission to return, and most Jews chose not to. So the very fact that so many Jews were situated in Persia in the first place, forms a dark cloud as a backdrop to the Megilah.

I believe that Chazal captured this tension in the institution of Shushan Purim, as they decreed that this special day of Purim is to be celebrated in all cities that had a wall around it during the time of Yehoshua ben Nun, in order to commemorate the special miracle that occurred in the city of Shushan, where we were given permission to defend ourselves for another day in order to fully save the Jewish community.   

The obvious question is: why the time of Yehoshua ben Nun?  The Talmud Yerushlami suggests that it was in order to give dignity to Yerushalayim what was in a state of destruction during the time of Purim.  If we would celebrate Shushan Purim in all cities that had a wall during the time of Purim, then we would annually accentuate the fact that Yerushalayim was a ruin at that time.  

We know from the Navi that after the second Beis Hamikdash was built, the city of Yerushalayim was basically a dump, and the walls were not built until much later.  Why was this?  Presumably because we lacked the man-power and/or the funding.  Even if the Bais Hamikdash was built before the Purim story, Yerushalayim was still a city that was not built up and walled, and this was a significant tragedy.

It was not only the fact that the Jews were still living in Persia, but the fact that they had no connection or interest in the Jewish community in Israel.  And even though the geographic distance would have been harder to overcome at that time, there was more that could have been done.

This too, I believe, is subtly alluded to in the end of the Megilah:

Mordechai ended up as “Mishne Lemelech Achashverosh” - he achieved incredible political power - and his identity was no longer hidden - everyone knew now that he was Mordechai Hayehudi.  And he advocated for the interests of his community - “doresh tov leamo”.  But the question that we are left with is was he doresh tov leartzo?  Did he find a way to assist the newly forming community in Israel?  Did he use his political position to ensure the survival of the Jewish community in Persia or was he thinking about Israel also?  And even if he was not going to lead a wave of Aliya, would he at least send funding to build up the city of Yerushalayim?

And that is exactly the question that we have to ask ourselves today in the United States.  Our community is politically engaged and active.  We have a lot of interests and needs for us to sustain ourselves here, including but not limited to, educational funding. But we cannot think only about our future here, but also about how we can leverage ourselves to help the Jewish State of Israel.

And to tell us a bit about one way that we can do that, I am honored to present to you Dr. Laurie Baumel, who is the Co-Chair of the NORPAC Mission.

Thu, June 13 2024 7 Sivan 5784