BY RABBI REUVEN BRAND
Finally. For the first time I can write for HaMizrachi without guilt, because it’s Purim.
Personally, this magazine helps me remain focused on and connected to Israel, ensuring Eretz Yisrael is a living part of my spiritual identity. With each edition, I am reminded of the bigger picture, of our land and our people. But at the same time, the magazine evokes mixed feelings, for I do not yet live in Israel. Each issue is tinged with a sense of “if only” – if only I were in Israel.
Experiencing chagim outside of Israel simply isn’t the same. The beautiful Sukkah decorations and spotless etrog in Chicago are wonderful, but can Sukkot in Chicago compare with Sukkot in Israel, where the entire country explodes with the multicolored joy of the chag? The same is true of Pesach and Shavuot, when the entire country celebrates together. Even Chanukah, a Rabbinic holiday, comes to life differently in Eretz Yisrael, where whole neighborhoods are lit up by the lights of thousands of menorahs – a stark contrast to the lights of endless ads boasting deals on electronics and elaborate red and green lawn ornament arrangements.
The same is true for each holiday – with one exception: Purim. Purim is a great day for all of us living in the Diaspora. Purim is our holiday. It celebrates the story of Jews in a foreign land, grappling with life under a foreign government, struggling with observance, connection, identity and antisemitism. The Purim miracle, in the words of the Rabbis, is a נס שבחוץ לארץ – a miracle that took place outside of Israel. Finally, I can write about a holiday in HaMizrachi without fear of missing out, for we celebrate Purim with as much spiritual joy in Chicago as Jews do in Israel. So what makes Purim different?
Each of the chagim highlights a particular aspect of our relationship with Hashem. The primary message of Purim is אין עוד מלבדו, “there is nothing else in life other than Hashem.” Though G-d’s name is absent from the Megillah and the story is one of human initiative and political intrigue, we celebrate it as a holiday specifically because we attribute the story to Hashem’s guiding Hand.
Our appreciation of Hashem’s presence is particularly important outside of Israel, where our apprehension of Hashem is less clear. In the hiddenness of the Diaspora the axiom of אין עוד מלבדו is most significant. No matter where or in what circumstance we find ourselves, we can remember these words and take strength. Perhaps this is why Maimonides teaches that while other holidays will disappear in the time to come, Purim is everlasting. אין עוד מלבדו is an eternal truth – it not only transcends space but time as well. And so Purim is the holiday that belongs to every Jew, in every place. Wherever we may be, geographically or emotionally, we can connect to the inner spark of Hashem, hidden within the world around us.
But we must conclude with a caveat. While the message and experience of Purim can be appreciated in any locale, the story of Purim reminds us that our ultimate goal is a world in which Hashem’s presence is fully revealed. This is our vision of the Land and State of Israel. The Talmud teaches that the tragic moment that precipitated the Purim scare was the participation of Jewish people in Achashveirosh’s party. This gentile celebration was no mere hedonistic bash; it had a deeper meaning. Yirmiyahu the prophet had foretold the Jewish people’s return to Israel after 70 years, a prophecy Achashveirosh believed would no longer come true. Hard as it is to believe, Jews feasted with gusto at a party celebrating the end of our people’s hope to return to the Land of Israel to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash. Clearly, our people’s collective forgetting – our comfort and complacency in exile – landed us in peril. We must remember this lesson in every exile, in every generation.
Although we celebrate Purim with exuberance in chutz la’aretz, we remember that our exile is temporary and toast for our return to the Land of Israel, just as our people did in the years following the Purim story – with the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash!
Rabbi Reuven Brand is the Rosh Kollel of the YU Torah MiTzion Kollel, a community Torah institution with a vibrant Beit Midrash, array of creative learning opportunities, unique women’s initiative and diverse outreach programming. He lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife, Nechama, and their five children.