"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Purim: Consistency despite diverse challenges

Purim: Consistency Despite Diverse Challenges

Rabbi Y. Oliver

There was a full year between Haman’s decree calling for the extermination of the entire Jewish people (G–d forbid) and the date of its expected implementation, for Haman cast the lots in Nissan, and the lot fell out for Adar, a year later.

The Alter Rebbe states[1] that the Jewish people knew during this year that were they to renounce observance of
Yiddishkeit, G–d forbid, and convert to pagan culture, they would be exempted from the decree. (In this respect Haman’s decree resembled the policy enforced against Torah observance under the Spanish Inquisition, where those who outwardly embraced Catholicism, may G–d save us, were exempted from the Spanish government’s harsh decrees.)

However, writes the Alter Rebbe, not only did the Jewish people not succumb to the temptation to convert, but they never even
entertained the thought of it. This utter refusal to convert despite the dire threat that hung over them constituted a truly heroic act of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice.

The Rebbe explains the significance of the time period of a year. The Hebrew word for year,
shanah, is etymologically related to the word for change, shinui.[2] A year thus represents a full cycle, a period that encompasses all possible changes in time.

This quality is manifest in the
Esrog, which the Talmud[3] says remains on its tree—its source of life and sustenance—all year round. The Esrog is always in season because it has the special ability to tolerate vastly different temperatures. Moreover, not only does the Esrog not suffer from being subjected to such diverse and opposite conditions, but it thrives.

Likewise, a Jew should remain connected to his source, Hashem, regardless of any challenges he may face. Moreover, he should pass these challenges in a way that brings him to grow from strength to strength.

This was also the greatness of the Jewish people under Haman’s decree: During the entire year in which they suffered under the looming threat of genocide (G–d forbid), they maintained their loyalty to Hashem despite experiencing the full gamut of the vicissitudes of human experience.

This wide range of experience demonstrates true loyalty. When a person is only challenged with one type of test, even if it was somewhat difficult for him to pass it, it is still not clear whether his faithfulness stems from true selflessness, or whether he was merely following his nature. The possibility remains that if faced with a different type of test that involves truly defying his nature, he may fail.

This concept is expressed in the
Akeidah. Despite Avraham Avinu’s tremendous personal sacrifice for Hashem over many decades, when Hashem asked Avraham to slaughter his son, He pleaded: “I have tested you on numerous occasions and you have successfully passed them all. Now, be strong for My sake in this test as well, so that it should not be said: ‘There was no substance in the earlier tests.’”[4] What was so special and different about this test?

Avraham excelled in his love for Hashem and his kindness to one and all,[5] and the first nine tests involved pushing his limits in his expression of this inborn nature. However, the test of the
Akeidah, in which Avraham was commanded to slaughter Yitzchak, required extreme severity, and this ran totally contrary to Avraham’s nature. Thus, only after Avraham passed this test did Hashem tell him, “Now I know that you are G–d-fearing” because “you did not hold back your son, your only child, from Me.”[6]

Likewise, the fortitude of the Jewish people during the entire year that Haman’s decree hung over them holds the same lesson: True devotion to Hashem is only evident when one remains firm and unshaken in Torah observance even while being subjected to different types of adversity and challenges. For no matter how great one’s talents and skills, there are certain areas in which every individual finds difficulty; hence, these are the true test of his devotion to Hashem. Sometimes these areas of weakness may be obvious, but sometimes not, or one may err in his calculation. Thus, only through
diverse challenges can a person reach a true awareness of his spiritual level, and by overcoming these challenges, he reaches a true, inner bond with Hashem. This may also explain why Hashem brings a person to encounter a vast range of different challenges in life, for only by overcoming them all can his devotion to Hashem be truly known.

Based on the Rebbe's Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, Vol. 1, pp. 319-320.

[1] Torah Ohr, Megillas Esther, 97a.
[2] Avodas HaKodesh 4:19.
[3] Sukkah 35a.
[4] Sanhedrin 89b.
[5] Cf. Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, ch. 13.
[6] Bereishis 22:12.

1 comment:

  1. Do we not say that the challenge on Purim was to our bodies (which is why we have mitzvos relating to them), while on Chanukah it was to our neshamos (hence no mitzvah of seudah)? How then is it that the Alter Rebbe says that Jewish converts during that one year would not have been persecuted?

    How is it that Jews of that time did so well, showed such devotion in all circumstances, while we can hardly show devotion under any circumstances, not to mention all? (In other words, the message of this post seems to be way over our heads).


Thank you for your comment! :)