Mercaz, Purim, and the Aish Kodesh

No one distilled the feeling better than the op-ed columnist in Yated, whose headline read, “We Are All Mercaz Harav.” Ironically – in the month of ironies – he may have given us all a way to restore our simchas Purim.

The Avnei Nezer used to have a drink each day of Adar. He noted that it is inefficient to attempt genocide in a single day. Indeed, Haman had first cast lots and settled on a month-long program of extermination scheduled for Adar. It then occurred to him that the Jews would be rescued by Hashem, and his failure would be turned into a time of celebration. Not wishing to give Jews a month-long holiday, he scaled down his edict to a single day. Said the Avnei Nezer, “Because of that rasha, I should be denied a l’chayim?”

Even if it can be supposed that the Sochatchover Rebbe’s intent was whimsical, he touched on a serious theme. Haman’s contributed far more to the triumphant end of the Purim story than the turnaround from disaster to victory.

The Alshich Hakadosh expresses amazement that we should term the events of ancient Shushan miraculous. Is it miraculous that Hashem accepts the sincere teshuvah of Klal Yisrael? According to all His assurances to us in Chumash, the outcome of the episode should have been predictable.

He answers his own question. The miracle is in the timing. Hashem set into motion the events that would bring about Jewish repentance while the Jews were happily eating and drinking at Ahashverosh’s banquet, the very crime for which they would need to do teshuvah.

Their teshuvah spared their lives. It also provided, says the Sfas Emes, the final element in an even larger project. Hashem was ready to rebuild the Beis Hamikdosh. All that was needed was a national renewal, an across-the-board sense of commitment and dedication to Hashem. The teshuvah of the Jews at the first Purim accomplished this, and thus led directly to the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdosh. Rav Zvi Kushelevsky, shlit”a, takes the irony a step further. By the time the dust settles, it was none other than Haman who gave Klal Yisrael the gift of a Beis Hamikdosh by causing their teshuvah. He had attempted to deny them their lives; he not only failed, but became the vehicle for bringing them a spiritual gift that would last centuries.

What stands in the way of the third Beis Hamikdosh, תובב”ה? If, as the gemara tells us, it was sinas chinam, groundless enmity, that destroyed the last Temple, it follows that remedying the problem is an awaited precondition to the geulah. Genuine unity is what we need.

As others have showed on these pages, the reaction of the community took us all by surprise. The pain and anguish, felt so deeply, was shared so broadly. Many writers cherished the common embrace of consolation, while mourning the fact that it might easily evaporate.

Jews have come together before in the face of enemies. Non-Jews do the same. But to paraphrase the language of Chazal, when that happens, it is the lev echad, the common goal or the common threat, that produces the am echad, the unity of the community.

This is not what happened. Yeshivos and Roshei Yeshiva did not respond to this tragedy because their own institutions are equally vulnerable. We cried not out of a sense of foreboding of what the future will bring to us, the survivors. We cried because we sensed that these angelic young bnei Torah were chosen because it was Torah itself that bled. We who love the Torah were ourselves hit by the hail of bullets along with the Torah. We discovered in the process how much we love that Torah, and how deeply seated and widespread that love is within all the different parts of the community that we often live parallel to, but ignore like ships passing in the night. Like at Sinai, we were ish echad before lev echad.

Maharal explains that sinas chinam is the symptom, not the disease. The underlying condition is pirud, separation. No enemy can hold sway over a united Klal Yisrael. Any separation and division between Jews, no matter how well camouflaged by words of diplomacy, detracts from that unity. What we witnessed and felt in these last days is a genuine feeling of essential – not strategic – unity. We found the place within all of us that indeed is the same, and we found that place to be at the very core of our identities.

Alas, this epiphany is not shared by all Jews. Outside of the Orthodox community there was sadness and commiseration, but we could not expect to find the same sense of violation of Torah itself from people who have not had the opportunity to learn of its beauty. Achdus of the community must include both observant and non-observant cohorts to work the way Chazal describe it, as the ultimate hedge against our enemies. Even within our community, inspirational thoughts and feelings are often short-lived. So of what long-term good is all of this?

Perhaps this is where Purim comes in.

Rav Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Aish Kodesh, had to put his tzibbur in some sort of Purim mood in 1940 in the Warsaw Ghetto. Although some would survive for a few more years, many would not; all had already been drained of their tears, having witnessed and endured the unspeakable over a long period of time.

The Zohar, he reminded them, makes the comparison between Yom Kippurim and Purim. “If you are not in the mood to fast on Yom Kippur, what do you do? Fast, of course! Hashem demands it, whether we are agreeable to it or not. Purim is no different! The avodah is simchah. We are all obligated to force ourselves to find a bit of simchah on this day.”

And then he continued. “At the same time, remember that the gemara says that Yom Kippur is effective even for those who do not do perfect, complete teshuvah. Even a bit of teshuvah brings kaparah, atonement. HKBH builds upon what we begin, cherishes it, turns it into something bigger. So it will be with our avodah of Purim. If we find even a small amount of simchah, Hashem will take it and apply it to the geulah that is advanced through the avodah of this great day.”

We enter this Purim with an understanding of our essential achdus. We may ignore it or suppress it in the future, but we will forever know of its existence beneath the surface. In a moment of enlightenment, we may even understand that it is in the heart of every Jew, just pushed to a more remote place by some. We can lovingly caress this sense of achdus at our seudos this Purim.

Yehi Ratzon that He will do the rest.

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4 Responses

  1. ZB says:

    A beautiful post, and its message is inspiring.
    I just want to point out the distinct possibility that the bais hamikdash was already built when purim took place, which sorta takes away some of the drash from the Rav Zvi Kushelevsky and the Sfas Emes (not that they would ever agree that this in fact was the case). But we can then say that the story of purim created a unity that help solidify the newly built bais hamikdash, if we can ever resolve the chronological issue.

  2. Barak says:

    Yashar Kochacha on a very nice and well-written article. I do have one question. You mentioned we are ALL Mercaz Harav, and that, in the name of Achdus, we ALL suffer from this tragedy, regardless of “Hashkafa” or sect. Would say then that someone who doesn’t feel this way, someone who blames the victims themselves for their own murders because of their “bad” “Hashkafas” would be considered by the rest of mainstream Orthodox Judaism to be beyond the pale? I’d really like to see a response to this question.

    Freilichen Purim and Good Shabbos.

  3. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I don’t know anyone who speaks for “mainstream” Judaism. I don’t even know what the term means anymore. If you mean the more RW elements of the yeshiva world, Yated would be a better indicator that an isolated voice here or there who turned out to be the exception that proved the rule.

    My own view on any such statement (and I would exercise the usual caution before assuming the accuracy of any media reports)? Clearly and unequivocally beneath contempt.

  4. Avigdor says:

    We found the place within all of us that indeed is the same, and we found that place to be at the very core of our identities. [¶] Alas, this epiphany is not shared by all Jews. Outside of the Orthodox community there was sadness and commiseration, but we could not expect to find the same sense of violation of Torah itself from people who have not had the opportunity to learn of its beauty.

    I am a Conservative Jew, and I was horrified by the attack. It struck me as a qualitatively more terrible than similar attacks elsewhere in Israel. I felt the same way when I read about the attacks in Hebron in 1929, and I immediately thought of those when I heard about this attack. The same people, the same barbaric killing, but all new excuses.

    Arnold Eisen has argued that (in contrast to Orthodox Jews) more liberal Jews have a partial and pluralistic approach to Judaism. Partial in the sense that other values play a core role as well, and pluralistic in that different Jews will strike this balance in different ways. Without debating the merits of all this, I simply note that even with this understanding, Judaism and Torah do in fact form the core of many of our identities, although perhaps not as strongly or as exclusively as for Orthodox Jews. I considered this attack to be an attack on Torah and Judaism, as well as Jews and Israel.

    I’m sure not all Conservative and Reform Jews feel this way. But at least one does.

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