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Unity Through Shared Purpose - Parashat Tetzaveh 5780, March 6, 2020

This coming week, we will celebrate the holiday of Purim. We know that Megilat Esther is the record of the miraculous saving of the Jewish People that occurred in Shushan and in the surrounding areas of King Achashverosh’s reign. One of the culminating themes in the megila is the unity within the Jewish People that was forged as a result of this miracle.

This unity expressed itself in a number of ways. One of the expressions was the re-acceptance of the Torah that occurred in that generation – 
kiyemu ve’kibelu. This re-acceptance included a unified acceptance of the mitzvah of Purim that was legislated by the Anshei Kinesset HaGedola – the Men of Great Assembly. Another expression of this unity is the emphasis on forging brotherhood within the Jewish People – we read the megila in big groups, we give money to the poor and we give food gifts to our fellow Jews. Clearly, unity is a fundamental theme of Purim.

Given this focus on unity, there is a striking difference between Purim and all other holidays – a difference that seems to emphasize
particularism as opposed to unity. Rabbenu Nissim of Gerondi highlights this difference at the beginning of his commentary on Masechet Megila. All Jewish holidays have a single date of observance. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Pesach and Sukkot are celebrated universally on a single specified date. Purim is the only holiday celebrated on alternate dates – those who live in a city walled from the time of Yehoshua bin Nun celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar and all others celebrate on the 14th of Adar. Rabbenu Nissim is struck by the fact that the existence of these alternate dates seems to contravene a Torah principle that the Torah’s laws must apply universally – Torah achat u’mishpat echad (one Torah and one law). This unique phenomenon of Purim is especially jarring given Purim’s emphasis on unity.

Rabbenu Nissim explains that our celebration of Purim is a reflection of the way in which the miracle occurred – each community fought against the Haman supporters and then spontaneously celebrated its victory. Shushan fought on the 14th of Adar and celebrated on the 15th of Adar. Hence, those cities that are important like Shushan was – i.e. surrounded by a wall – celebrate on the 15th of Adar. All other communities fought on the 13th of Adar and celebrated on the 14th of Adar. Hence, all Jews living in unwalled cities celebrate on the 14th of Adar. The unifying law is not the date of celebration. Rather, it is the national re-creation of the Purim story. The Jews in the time of Achashverosh won battles and spontaneously celebrated the miracle. By celebrating on alternate dates, we also demonstrate that the proper reaction to a miracle is spontaneous celebration and praise of Hashem.

From this perspective, Purim suggests a different way of thinking about unity. One common idea of unity is uniformity. We are unified because we do the same thing or we think the same way. Purim suggests another dimension of unity – different groups acting differently but all motivated by one principle. The unity emanates from shared purpose, if not from shared action. Hence, Purim teaches us that while we may have different perspectives and differing philosophies, we should aim to work with our fellow Jews to create unity by aligning our respective philosophies with the Torah philosophy.

May this Purim be one of unity for all.


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