Difficult Crisis in the Days of Ahashverosh
In the times of King Ahashverosh, the Jewish nation found itself in a very difficult situation. Ever since the zenith of the Exodus from Egypt, receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai, conquering the Land of Israel and the kingdoms of David and Solomon – for a period of hundreds of years, the nation gradually plummeted. The sins of idol worship,
promiscuity, and murder spread throughout Israel. At first, the tribes located on the eastern side of the Jordan were exiled, and afterwards, all the rest of the tribes of the kingdom of Israel. In the end, the Holy Temple was destroyed, and the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and all those who joined them from the other tribes, went down to exile. Almost no Jews remained in the land. Indeed, the times of Ahashverosh came after the announcement Koresh’s declaration, allowing the exiled Jews to return to their land; however, in actuality, only a small amount returned, and as a result of various indictments, they were prohibited from building the Holy Temple. The Persian Empire dominated the world, and the large Jewish population under its rule, instead of immigrating to Israel, made an effort to integrate amongst the goyim and act like them – to the point where many of them were willing to bow down to their idols. In the capital city of Shushan, the Jews participated in the festive meal of Ahashverosh. They saw with their very own eyes how the vessels of the Holy Temple, which
were captured by the enemy at the time of its destruction, were carried out and used profanely for secular purposes – and nevertheless, they rejoiced at the festive meal of that evil man. It seemed as if there was no more hope for a Return to Zion. Within a few generations the Jewish nation would assimilate amongst the nations and the great vision for which it was chosen would be lost.
Then emerged the wicked Haman, from the seed of Amalek, and led the Persian Empire to a terrible, unrivaled decree: “To destroy, to kill, and to annihilate, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day” (Esther 3:13). This was the first time the Jews were faced with the unbearable dilemma: to continue cleaving to their identity and Torah, knowing that the price they would have to pay might be insufferable, or to assimilate amongst the nations and save themselves from the fate of the Jews.
The unbelievable happened: in spite of the generation’s weakness, the Jews stood-up to the test, embracing their Jewish identity and refusing to assimilate. God caused a miracle, “and it was turned around” – instead of the Jew-haters carrying out their evil plans, the Jews killed their enemies, even hanging Haman and his sons on the tree they had prepared for Mordechai. From all of this arose within the Jewish nation the strength to return to the Land of Israel, and we merited to build the Second Temple.
Since those times and until today, the miracle of Purim is the ideal example of Jewish life throughout all the long years of exile. Thousands of times our forefathers could have assimilated amongst the goyim, removing from themselves the heavy burden of anti-Semitism. Any other nation would have assimilated a long time ago. Rational people would certainly have decided to convert. However, the Jewish nation, despite all the sufferings, chose to continue bearing the word of God and His Torah, through faith that we have a great destiny – to return to the Land of Israel and bring Redemption to the world.
Receiving the Torah Anew
That moment, when the Jews stood-up to the test and remained one with God’s Torah, was so great that the Sages said (Tractate Shabbat 88a) that Israel repented and received the Torah in the days of Ahashverosh. In a certain sense, this acceptance of the Torah was greater than the one on Mount Sinai. At the time of the Giving of the Torah, Israel received the Torah through coercion, for who could possibly imagine that after all the wondrous miracles that God performed for Israel — the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the manna and quail, and Mount Sinai – they would refuse to accept the Torah?! The question was: what would Israel do when there was no Heavenly revelations and the troubles and sufferings increased, and in order to cleave to the Torah, they would have to sacrifice their lives. Would they still want the Torah?
The time of trial arrived during the days of Ahashverosh. And behold, it became clear that the bond between the Jewish nation, the Torah, and faith is eternal. In spite of the tremendous difficulties, they did not flee from their destiny, but repented and prayed to God, and were rewarded with a miracle and salvation. Not only did they return to fulfill the 613 commandments, but after they were saved, they instituted an additional commandment – the mitzvah of Purim. This was receiving the Torah anew.
Mitzvah of Purim
Indeed, through the story of Purim, the uniqueness of Israel was revealed – that even in the most difficult situations, they remain connected and cleave to God. This is what the Sages have said, that Israel, even when they sin, are called sons of God. It also became clear that the Holy One Blessed Be He rules the world and brings about events for the benefit of Israel in order to save and redeem them. This is the essence of Purim – to rejoice in the holiness of the Torah and Israel. In the commandment of reading the megillah we involve ourselves with the Torah, while with ‘mishloach manot’ and ‘matanot l’evyonim’ we are involved with the holiness of Israel.