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Purim, War, and Our Obligations

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The uniqueness of Purim is that it celebrates the salvation from a genocidal attempt to kill every single Jew on earth. Megillat Ester describes the decree as “…to annihilate, kill, and destroy all the Jews from young to old, babies and children, on one day…” (Ester 3:13)

Our celebration takes the form of the four Mitzvoth of Purim: 1)  a Mitzvah to read the Megillat Ester at night and during the day (Kriat Hamegilah), 2) a Mitzvah to have a special festive meal during the day of Purim (Seudat Purim), 3) to give a gift of at least two food items to a friend to enjoy on Purim (Mishloach Manot), and 4) to give a gift to two needy people (Matanot La’evyonim).

Rabbi Chaim Friedlander (Siftei Chaim) explains that the purpose of the gifts to the poor, the festive Purim meal, and the gifts to friends, is to create a sense of unity, love, peace, and friendship. The enemies of the Jewish people gain power when we engage in infighting, division, and slander. The genocidal threat on Purim caused the Jews to drop their petty divisiveness, stop deriding one another, and unite in prayer and war. This explains why specifically on Purim, there is a unique mitzvah to give gifts to friends. Purim is a reminder that only through unity will the Jewish people overcome their foes.

This theme of unity and peace is emphasized in a fascinating midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 19:2). The Midrash explains that King David’s generation studied Torah on an extremely high level, to the degree that young children were experts in the complex laws of purity and impurity. Despite their great level of Torah knowledge, when King David’s soldiers went out to war, they would suffer defeats. The midrash explains that this was the result of people speaking badly about one another, resulting in division and conflict. In stark contrast to this, the Midrash explains that although Ahav and his generation were idolators, they were victorious in war because there were no conflict rousers among them.

Let us speak positively about others and create unity, peace, and love between us. This is our best antidote to antisemitism and is especially important in times of war. May this peace, tranquility, and unity bring redemption to the Jewish people and peace to the entire world.