Purim 5784/2024 Are You Frozen or Chosen?

Someone once summarized all Jewish holidays: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat, and this seems to be the case in the Purim story. A plan (between King Achashverosh and his advisor Haman) was made to annihilate the Jews, the plan was thwarted, Jews defeated their enemies, and since then we have made a feast to commemorate it. The Talmud asks what terrible thing did the Jews do to deserve to be destroyed; Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answered it was because they had enjoyed the feast of Achashverosh. But do people deserve annihilation because they went to a king’s feast? According to the Megillah (the book telling the Purim story we read on Purim) there was even a kosher food there! Once again, what did the Jews of that generation do that was so awful that they deserved to be destroyed.
[Before answering, here’s Jewish history 101 of that period. The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and there was a prophecy that they would return 70 years after the destruction. The Persians eventually defeated the Babylonians and miscalculated the seventy-year period and King Achashverosh (the king in the Purim story) made a banquet to celebrate. The king thought that being as the 70 years passed; the Jews would never return to their land. It was this banquet that the Jews attended and enjoyed.]   
What did the Jews of that generation do that warranted that they be destroyed? It had nothing to do with eating at the King’s feast; they were (almost) punished for enjoying it. Imagine if Neo-Nazis made a gala celebration to commemorate the Holocaust and even used silver cups previously used by Jews for Kiddush and other Judaica they had stolen during the war. To add to their enjoyment, they force a group of Holocaust survivors to attend and participate in their festivities—and even serve them kosher food. What would be the reaction of those unfortunate Jews? Surely, they would cry and feel devastated as their old wounds were reopened. Some might even faint because it caused them to recall their horrifying experiences. Certainly, not one Jew in his right mind would say that he or she enjoyed the festivities.
At Achashverosh’s palace that’s exactly what happened. The purpose of the party was to commemorate the destruction of the Temple because, according to Achashverosh’s mistaken calculation, that time had already passed and, he believed, the Jews were doomed to remain in exile forever. Therefore, he brought out holy vessels of the Temple and other Temple items to emphasize his point. What should the Jews who attended have done? Cried! Wailed! Fainted! Yet, the Talmud tells us that they actually enjoyed the feast. The Temple meant nothing to them; who needs all that religious stuff anyway? If the Jews could be so cold-blooded and apathetic about what was the centrality of Judaism and the Jewish people, then they had totally assimilated and there was no spark of Judaism left in them. For all intents and purposes, they were already dead as a nation. They had bodies but seemingly no souls. The only reason tragedy didn’t occur was because they had realized how far they had drifted and, under Mordechai’s direction, they were able to rectify their gross apathy.
The Baal Shem Tov once took a walk with his students during the freezing Ukrainian winter. They passed by a lake that was frozen solid. The local Christians were chopping up the ice to make a giant cross for their holidays. The Baal Shem Tov stood there staring intently at what they were doing and no one understood why. Finally, a brave Chassid mustered up the courage to ask the Baal Shem Tov why he was so interested in the goings on. The Baal Shem Tov responded, “I’m standing here and reflecting. This lake could be used as a mikveh (ritual bath), which is able to purify the impure but if it freezes, one can cut it up and build a cross! The same is with a Jew. If he is spiritually warm, then even if he makes mistakes from time to time, he can be awakened and be led in the right direction but if he has become as cold as ice, and he is apathetic to spirituality, then he is totally lost to Judaism.”
On Purim, we are supposed to “thaw out” from the icicles of indifference which have become a part of our being. It is a day to eat, drink and celebrate our Jewishness by singing songs and not being embarrassed of our Jewish identity or acknowledging G-d in saving us from Haman and all of our enemies throughout our history. Even when we don’t deserve it, G-d always comes through and keeps us alive for another generation. It’s a day to explain to our children that, “All who hope in You will not be shamed nor humiliated forever, those taking refuge in You” (from the liturgy “Shoshanas Yaakov,” recited after the reading of the Megillah and sung with great gusto throughout Purim).
How does one warm up to being Jewish? You learn about where you come from and instead of being strangers to the Torah, we embrace it as being the document that has been the lifeblood of the Jewish people since our inception. If we want to make sure there will be continuity for Jews, we have to be proud of who we are and what we represent, but we can’t represent Judaism if we don’t know what Judaism represents.The joy of Purim is that no matter how frozen one might be, there’s always hope and it’s up to each individual to find it in themselves. If Jews in ancient Persia were able to thaw out of their deep freeze, so can we. Purim is such a joyous time because it is a holiday of hope.Let’s warm up this Sunday and embrace our Jewish identity by committing to some aspect of it. If you don’t know of one, commit to finding one. Good Shabbos/Happy Purim.  (Sources: Megillah 12a; Esther 1:8; Ohr Yahel by Rav Yehuda Leib Chasman, v. 3; Jerimiah 36; Daniel 9:1-3, Jerimiah 25, 29;)  
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