Purim and Personal Responsibility

This is the first murmuring in the Megillah of what it means to be singled out as a people. Note that in the Hebrew text, "Am Echad" is translated as "people", but literally means One People.What is the significance here of the Hebrew wording? In what way does the Hebrew reinforce the meaning of separateness? Why is being different "Shonot Mikol Am" a threat to others?

(ח) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הָמָן֙ לַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֔וֹשׁ יֶשְׁנ֣וֹ עַם־אֶחָ֗ד מְפֻזָּ֤ר וּמְפֹרָד֙ בֵּ֣ין הָֽעַמִּ֔ים בְּכֹ֖ל מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתֶ֑ךָ וְדָתֵיהֶ֞ם שֹׁנ֣וֹת מִכָּל־עָ֗ם וְאֶת־דָּתֵ֤י הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֵינָ֣ם עֹשִׂ֔ים וְלַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֵין־שֹׁוֶ֖ה לְהַנִּיחָֽם׃

(8) Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them.

(יג) וְנִשְׁל֨וֹחַ סְפָרִ֜ים בְּיַ֣ד הָרָצִים֮ אֶל־כָּל־מְדִינ֣וֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ֒ לְהַשְׁמִ֡יד לַהֲרֹ֣ג וּלְאַבֵּ֣ד מִנַּ֨עַר וְעַד־זָקֵ֜ן טַ֤ף וְנָשִׁים֙ בְּי֣וֹם אֶחָ֔ד בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁ֥ה עָשָׂ֛ר לְחֹ֥דֶשׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֖ר הוּא־חֹ֣דֶשׁ אֲדָ֑ר וּשְׁלָלָ֖ם לָבֽוֹז׃

(13) Accordingly, written instructions were dispatched by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month—that is, the month of Adar—and to plunder their possessions.

Read the English translation....and note that in the Hebrew, the couriers bear some responsibility for their act. They are not simply 'dispatching' letters, but the words are in their hands to carry out the edict. Put yourself in the place of these 'runners'. What is their responsibility?


The sages searched for the Biblical 'proof-text' for Esther. See where they found the sources.

אסתר מן התורה מנין (דברים לא, יח)

They also asked Rav Mattana: From where in the Torah can one find an allusion to the events involving Esther? He replied to them that the verse states: “Then My anger shall be kindled against them on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day: Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us? And I will hide [haster astir] My face on that day for all the evil which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned to other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:17–18).

(יז) וְחָרָ֣ה אַפִּ֣י ב֣וֹ בַיּוֹם־הַ֠הוּא וַעֲזַבְתִּ֞ים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּ֨י פָנַ֤י מֵהֶם֙ וְהָיָ֣ה לֶֽאֱכֹ֔ל וּמְצָאֻ֛הוּ רָע֥וֹת רַבּ֖וֹת וְצָר֑וֹת וְאָמַר֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא הֲלֹ֗א עַ֣ל כִּֽי־אֵ֤ין אֱלֹהַי֙ בְּקִרְבִּ֔י מְצָא֖וּנִי הָרָע֥וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (יח) וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עַ֥ל כָּל־הָרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה כִּ֣י פָנָ֔ה אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲחֵרִֽים׃

(17) Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, “Surely it is because our God is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.” (18) Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day, because of all the evil they have done in turning to other gods.

What does it mean that God chooses to "Hide"? How do you come to understand that concept? What has that meant to you in your life?

(יג) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מָרְדֳּכַ֖י לְהָשִׁ֣יב אֶל־אֶסְתֵּ֑ר אַל־תְּדַמִּ֣י בְנַפְשֵׁ֔ךְ לְהִמָּלֵ֥ט בֵּית־הַמֶּ֖לֶךְ מִכָּל־הַיְּהוּדִֽים׃
(13) Mordecai had this message delivered to Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace.

(יד) כִּ֣י אִם־הַחֲרֵ֣שׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי֮ בָּעֵ֣ת הַזֹּאת֒ רֶ֣וַח וְהַצָּלָ֞ה יַעֲמ֤וֹד לַיְּהוּדִים֙ מִמָּק֣וֹם אַחֵ֔ר וְאַ֥תְּ וּבֵית־אָבִ֖יךְ תֹּאבֵ֑דוּ וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת׃

(14) On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.”

I am required to support the entire world, as the verse says (Proverbs 10:25), “The righteous are the foundation of the world… I am responsible for everything that happens in the world because I was created to fix the world. Even if others neglect their duty, as each person is required to fix the world, I must act as if there is nobody else beside me [to do it].

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Michtav M’Eliyahu, volume 3, p. 292

What does this text mean to you? Have you been in a situation where you acted "as if there was no one else to act?" What were the circumstances? In what ways have you stepped up in your life? In what ways do you sometimes think that 'others will take care of things'?

(כה) כַּעֲב֣וֹר ס֭וּפָה וְאֵ֣ין רָשָׁ֑ע וְ֝צַדִּ֗יק יְס֣וֹד עוֹלָֽם׃
(25) When the storm passes the wicked man is gone, But the righteous is an everlasting foundation.

. רק שכן דרך כל הצדיקים שאף שיודעין הישועה מ"מ יכולין לצעוק בלב שלם ממש כמו אם לא היק יודע. ולמי שאינו כן אין מראין לו הישועה באמת. וזה תליא באמונה שלימה שמבטל כל השכל להשי"ת ויודע ומאמין שאין סתירה מכל זה שהישועה בא ע"י צעקת האדם. אף כי השי"ת לא יעזוב בני ישראל בלי ספק. מ"מ צריכין לצעוק בעת צרה כמ"ש עת צרה כו' וממנה יושע:

(2) ".....However through this way, that all tzadikim {righteous}, that even though they know of the salvation, nevertheless they are able to cry out with a truly complete heart as if they didn't know. And someone that isn't {on that level}, the true salvation isn't shown to him. And this is dependent on complete faith that one nullifies his intellect to HaShem, may He be blessed, and he knows and believes that there is no contradiction in any of this, that the salvation arrives through the outcry of man. Even though HaShem, may He be blessed, will not forsake the Jewish people, without question. Nevertheless it is necessary to cry out in a time of distress as it is written "a time of distress" etc. and from that, one will be saved.

What does it mean to you to 'cry out with a full heart'? Is there a time when you experienced that?

What about the selected texts above inspires you? How will you respond when you hear words of hate? What might you do differently?

For a companion piece on this topic, go to the blog post "Purim and Personal Responsibility".