Purim is the happiest festival of the year. The epic story of Esther with its happy end, the delicious Haman’s ears, costumes, and of course, mandatory over consumption of alcohol make it by far the most fun Jewish festival.
Long ago, my teacher, Rav Baruch Ashlag, the firstborn son and successor of Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam), author of the Sulam commentary on The Book of Zohar, taught me that Purim stands for much more than triangular poppy pastries and abundant alcohol. He taught me that a year represents an entire circle of spiritual corrections one performs upon oneself in one’s relation to others.
The year begins on Passover, he told me, which marks our first connection with the upper force, the Creator of the world. This is attained by overcoming self-centeredness and achieving the first degree of unity with others. The year continues through the festivals, which mark ascents leading to the highest spiritual degree: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
According to the wisdom Kabbalah, when a person reaches the highest degree, it is regarded as being in a state called “Purim.” In that state, our qualities are fully corrected, and we are working in complete harmony with nature and with people, implementing the greatest, most inclusive commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself.”
These days, many people feel that we are living in a special time. Human society is going through fundamental changes that are accelerating exponentially.
The traditional social structures that have held us together are crumbling all over. People used to feel loyal to their families, hometowns, and countries. Now none of that remains. We have no qualms relocating to different countries; we readily move from town to town, and divorce rates are accelerating so fast that the concept of the same mother and father to all the children in a family will soon become a bygone spectacle.
The reason for this disintegration is our growing self-centeredness and alienation from each other. At the same time, we have become so interconnected and interdependent that the conflict between people’s desire to keep to themselves, and their compulsory connection to others, is sending our society on downward spiral.
Since we cannot disengage from one another, the only solution to humanity’s plight is to connect. However, the only way we can connect is if we start caring for each other, but we have forgotten how to care. We are captive in our own alienation.
At such a time, Haman awakens and threatens to destroy the Jews. Why? How is Haman connected to the global crisis?
These insightful words of Rabbi Azarya Figo shed some light on these questions and point to a possible solution. In his book Binah Leitim [Understanding for Occasions], Rabbi Figo wrote (italics are mine): “The foundation of the wickedness of evil Haman ... is what he had begun to argue, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed.’ He cast his filth saying that that nation deserves to be destroyed, for separation rules among them, they are all full of strife and quarrel, and their hearts are far from one another. However, [the Creator] took preventive measures ... by hastening Israel to unite and cling to one another ... this is what saved them, as in the verse, ‘Go, gather together all the Jews.’”
The world today is in desperate need of unity. People are looking at us, Jews, and like Haman, they feel that we are spreading disunity, and therefore triggering the disintegration of society. As a result, they blame us for causing all the wars and all the problems in the world. They are desperate, and their anger is becoming virulent and violent.
But we can offset this trajectory. Just as the Jews in Persia were triumphant through their unity, we can unite and eliminate anti-Semitism.
The difference between then and now, however, is that now our obligation is to unite not just in order to save our own lives, but first and foremost in order to save the world. Without unity, human society will collapse into a state of endless war. Since Jews have always championed, and previously implemented, unity as the solution to all problems, now all eyes are turned to us with a demand to pave the way to unity.
Our current attitude toward each other is a recipe for self-destruction. We cannot stop quarreling between right and left, diaspora Jews and Israeli Jews, and Ashkenazi and Sephardi. By doing so we are showing the world precisely what Haman had pointed out: that we are scattered and dispersed. We are giving an example of division instead of cohesion. The solution, therefore, is to do the opposite.
We need not suppress or even play down our differences. On the contrary, the more conspicuous our disagreements, the more impressive our unity will be when we unite above them. These differences will only make us a more outstanding example of unity. Since this is what the world needs most, the hatred toward us will dissolve at once.
Our nation is a nation of love. We have given the world the motto, “love your neighbor as yourself,” but we are manifesting the opposite. When we decide together to start caring for each other in genuine mutual responsibility, we will truly be a “light unto nations,” and we will celebrate a worldwide Purim with all of humanity.