SALT - Monday, 11 Adar Bet 5776 - March 21, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            In the “Asher Heini” hymn customarily recited on Purim after the Megilla reading, we describe Ester’s emergence as the Jews’ savior with the words, “Neitz parach mi-lulav hein Hadassah” – “A shoot sprouted from a palm – this is Hadassah.”  The author here appears to associate Ester, whose Hebrew name was Hadassah, with the hadas (myrtle) included in the arba minim which we hold on Sukkos.  Ester is described here as the “hadas” that emerged from the “lulav,” likely referring to not just the lulav, but to the four species, which are often referred to by the largest, the lulav.

            This description of Ester and the reference to the four species bring to mind the famous comment in the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Emor) viewing the four species as symbolic of four different types of Jews.  The arba minim are held together to symbolize the unity and sense mutual responsibility to which we should aspire.  In this vein, Rav Yitzchak Meir Schwartz explains in his Imrei Yitzchak the phrase, “Neitz parach mi-lulav.”  The description of Ester as having “sprouted” from the “lulav” to rescue the nation perhaps refers to Ester’s role in bringing the nation together in unity, as symbolized by the four species.  Many writers have noted that Ester’s command to Mordekhai, “Leikh kenos et kol ha-Yehudim” – “Go, assemble all the Jews” (Ester 4:16) – indicates not merely the physical assembly of Jews for prayer, but also a process of reconciliation of restoration of harmony and fraternity.  .Haman described the Jews to Achashverosh as a “scattered and disjointed nation” (3:8), and Ester sought to respond to his edict by triggering a process of “assembly,” of bringing the Jews together, elevating them above their differences and petty arguments, and creating a sense of unity and harmony among the nation.  And thus Ester is associated with the four species, which are held together as a symbol of different groups and kinds of Jews joining together in a single, indivisible bond of love and concern.

            The concept of unity and togetherness marks one of the numerous themes shared by the otherwise opposite celebrations of Purim and Yom Kippur, holidays which Kabbalistic teaching famously associates with one another.  The Purim celebration, to a large extent, revolves around the theme of Jewish fraternity, as we are obliged to exchange gifts and support the poor, the Megilla reading should preferably be conducted in large assemblies, and the Purim feast is customarily held with large gatherings of relatives and friends.  On Yom Kippur, Halakha requires seeking and granting forgiveness, a requirement which many view as intended not merely to facilitate atonement for interpersonal offenses, but also as an integral part of the day’s observance.  On both these occasions, we look beyond the differences that appear to set us apart from one another, and see each other as fellow Jews who, ultimately, have much in common.  On Yom Kippur, as we introspect and reflect upon our unworthiness, we realize that we are all flawed, that none of us have the right to claim any sort of superiority over our fellow Jews, and that we all live at every moment in a state of absolute dependence on the Almighty’s compassion.  Upon considering our inadequacies and failures, we recognize just how audacious it is to harm or offend our fellow Jews, and how we have no right to bear grudges against them, as we are all, ultimately, flawed and collectively dependent on God’s grace for our very existence.  And on Purim, we recognize that we all share the same fate, that Haman’s hatred of Mordekhai automatically translates into hatred for the entire Jewish Nation.  The entire nation rallied behind the kohen gadol approaching God on Yom Kippur to beg for their continued survival, and the entire nation rallied behind Ester as she approached Achashverosh to beg for their continued survival.  The gravity and consequences of both occasions made our differences and quarrels seem trivial and meaningless, and thus inspired a sense of unity, which is reflected in the observance of these two occasions.

While we might at times appear as an “am echad mefuzar u-meforad,” a disjointed group of different factions, the truth, as the Jews revealed at the time of the Purim story, is that we are a single, indivisible entity.  This recognition allows us to transcend our differences and find that common essence that we all share, leading us to the special joy of Purim and the strengthening of the bonds of love that tie us all together.