Hashem – It literally means, “the Name,” and it refers to the most sacred Divine Name which expresses the Divine attribute of compassion.
Yehudim – During the era of the Purim story, this term referred to our entire people. It means “Judeans” – a term which later became known in English as “Jews.”
The Purim Path to Unity:
“Then Haman said to King Achashverosh: There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm.” (Esther 3:8)
“There is a certain people scattered and separated” – These words are alluding to the lack of unity and shalom among the Yehudim during that period. (Rabbi Ezra Feigo, cited in “Talelei Oros on Purim”)
The threat of genocide emerged in an era when the Yehudim were no longer united. Queen Esther decided that she would reveal to the king that she was a Yehudiyah (Jewess), and she would appeal to him to cancel the edict of genocide. Esther realized, however, that her people would first need to begin a process of spiritual renewal which would unite them, as in this way, they would merit salvation. She therefore told Mordechai: “Go, assemble all the Yehudim to be found in Shushan, and fast for me” (Esther 4:16). The people were to gather together in a spirit of unity, and through fasting and prayer, they would gain spiritual merit which would enable her plan to work. The Book of Esther records: “Mordechai left and did exactly as Esther had commanded him” (4:17).
The Yehudim followed Esther’s instructions, and they did indeed experience spiritual renewal. An allusion to this renewal appears in the following words in the Book of Esther:
“The Yehudim fulfilled and accepted upon themselves, and their posterity, and upon all who might join them” (9:27).
According to the Talmud (Shabbos 88a), the above words are alluding to the process of spiritual renewal whereby the Yehudim willingly re-accepted upon themselves the Covenant of Torah. This was the Covenant which they had originally accepted at Mount Sinai when they joined together and proclaimed with one voice, “All that Hashem has spoken, we will do, and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). As the Talmud indicates, they accepted the Covenant of Torah again in the era of Mordechai and Esther. The Hebrew verb which the Book of Esther uses for “they accepted” is written in the singular form, although it is pronounced in the plural form. The spelling of the verb in the singular form alludes to the idea that the Yehudim were once again a singular entity - a people united through a renewed spiritual vision. As the Maharal of Prague explains, the events of the Purim story inspired all the Yedudim to once again willingly and joyfully proclaim with one voice, “All that Hashem has spoken, we will do, and we will hear!” (Cited in “Talelei Oros on Purim”)
Towards the conclusion of the Purim story, Haman was hanged, and the King gave the Yehudim permission to defend themselves against Haman's many followers that were still determined to destroy them. When the Yehudim were finally free from the threat of genocide, the first Purim celebration was established as “days of feasting and joy, and for sending food portions to one another, and gifts to the poor” (Esther 9:22). The Talmud states that the leading sages agreed to Esther's suggestion that Purim be established as a holiday for all generations (Megillah 7a).
When we analyze the main mitzvos of Purim, we find that they are designed to strenthen love and unity. For example:
1. In a spirit of joyous unity, all men, women, and children gather in the synagogues on Purim evening and morning to hear the chanting of Megilas Esther - the Scroll of Esther. An ancient and beautiful melody is used for the chanting. Megilas Esther is written on a separate scroll; however, the text can be also found in the Tanach – the Sacred Scriptures of Israel.
2. On Purim day, we send two different ready-to-eat food portions to one another, usually through a messenger. This mitzvah is known as Mishloach Manos – the sending of food portions. In traditional Jewish neighborhoods, the streets are full of people bringing gifts of food to others; thus, the atmosphere of love and unity flows into the streets.
The minimum requirement, however, is to send these food portions to at least one person. There is also a custom to send gifts of food to someone we may have quarreled with during the year.
3. On Purim day, we give gifts to the needy - money and/or food. The minimum requirement is to give these gifts to at least two needy individuals. Many synagogues and Jewish organizations have a discreet way of distributing gifts to the needy on Purim.
4. On Purim day, we have a festive meal with joyous spiritual singing and dancing; moreover, words of Torah are spoken. Our eating and drinking at this feast becomes a sacred service which brings us closer to Hashem and each other.
When Purim is celebrated in the proper spirit, we can truly say, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren also dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). May the era soon arrive when all humankind will experience this unity.
May we be blessed with the sweetness and shalom of Shabbos, followed by the unifying joy of Purim!
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. If you are unable to go to a synagogue to hear the chanting of the Scroll of Esther, then read it wherever you may be. The text can be found in the Tanach – our Sacred Scriptures. Even if one person studies words of Torah, the Shechinah - Divine Presence - is with this person (Pirkei Avos 3:7). And through reading the story, you will strengthen your link to all the Family of Israel.
2. Appropriate gifts of food should also be sent to those who are isolated from family and friends due to illness or other factors. We are allowed to travel on Purim, and those living in the Land of Israel who travel on a bus or in a cab on Purim can increase Purim joy by giving gifts of food to the driver.
3. Regarding the mitzvah to have a festive meal on Purim, the Rambam (Maimonides) offers the following guideline in his classical work, Mishneh Torah (Megillah 2:17):
“It is better for a person to increase gifts to the poor then to increase his meal and the sending of food portions to his friends. For there is no greater and more beautiful joy than to bring happiness to the hearts of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the converts.”
The Rambam adds: “For the one who brings happiness to the hearts of the less fortunate is similar to the Shechinah, as it is written (Isaiah 57:15): ‘I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit - to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent.’ ”