Glatt Kosher and Glatt Treif

Rashi gives two reasons for the decree calling for the annihilation of the Jews in the days of Esther and Mordechai: their prostration before the idol in the time of Nevuchadnetzar, and their participation in the banquet of Achashverosh (Rashi to Megillah 4:1).

It has often been asked how it could be that enjoying the banquet could have warranted their destruction. Consuming non-kosher food and drink would not have been sufficient to explain the evil decree.

Actually, Chazal, in their precise language, make no mention of kashrus; rather, they refer to it as “seudah shel oso rasha — the meal of that wicked [Achashverosh].” There was apparently something wicked about it unrelated to the food per se, which accounted for the sin of the Jews (Be’er Yosef).

Achashverosh held the banquet to mark the consolidation of his kingdom and a decisive victory over the Jewish people. According to his (mistaken) calculation, now that the 70 years of exile had expired, the Jews would never return to rebuild the Mikdash. He donned the garments of the Kohen Gadol and used the vessels taken from the Beis Hamikdash by Nevuchadnetzar to signify his triumph.

For the Jewish people, it was not a triumph but a tragedy. Yet, except for Mordechai, the Jews of Shushan attended the banquet, ignoring his call to avoid it. They put the honor of the Persian king over the warnings of the Gadol Hador and took pleasure in a meal that desecrated the holy vessels. They reveled in the opulence of the royal palace in Shushan while Yerushalayim lay in ruins.

The food itself was glatt kosher; but the whole event was glatt treif. For their willing participation in it they were subject to annihilation.

That also explains what strikes us as an anomaly — that Purim, of all the festivals, should be the one to be observed by part of Klal Yisrael on one day and another part of Klal Yisrael on the next day.

Haman cited the condition of the Jews of Persia as a people “separate and divided” (Esther 3:8), different from all the other peoples in the kingdom, and also divided among themselves. Even in a time of persecution and danger, they were unable to make peace with their fellow Jews. Only in response to the call of Esther did they succeed in uniting in the prayer, fasting and repentance which annulled the decree of annihilation. It would seem appropriate, then, for all the world’s Jews to celebrate on the same day, as an expression of that unity.

But Chazal decided to institute two separate days of Purim — not only in remembrance of the two salvations, one on the 14th of Adar, the other on the 15th — in order to give honor to Eretz Yisrael, lest it be forgotten in the celebration of the Jews of the Persian exile. By keeping Shushan Purim as a separate day for Yerushalayim and all the walled cities from the time of Yehoshua bin Nun, we effect a rectification for that desecration (Rav Moshe Gefen, z”l, Rosh Yeshivas Knesses Yitzchak, Hadera, Zichron Toras Moshe).

This also answers the question put by Rabi Shimon bar Yochai to his students: If the sin was their participation in the banquet, then only the Jews of Shushan, not the entire kingdom, were guilty? (Megillah 12a) For at the time, all were guilty of putting the honor of the king over that of Yerushalayim.

In a sense, every Jew enjoyed the banquet of the wicked Achashverosh. Even those who were not physically present in Shushan were implicated, for they enjoyed the benefits of a rich, firmly established kingdom. If the “proudest boast” of a Roman was to call himself a citizen of the Roman Empire, so then it was in the 127 provinces of the empire of Persia. But what is there for a Persian Jew to boast about when Yerushalayim is desolate?

In our generation, we face a similar challenge. We are invited every day, in a sense, to the seudah shel oso rasha — not in the royal palace of Shushan, but in the top restaurants and hotels, kosher and non-kosher, in every city and town, every Jewish neighborhood. It is indeed an avodah, replete with devoted study of the culinary arts and obeisance to the master chefs.

Of course, no great banquet is complete without entertainment, and the internet is an integral part of the show. Here, too, the “enjoyment” is not limited to any royal venue, but available to all.

That accessibility makes our challenge all the more difficult. We don’t have to travel to the king’s palace. We can “enjoy” the pleasures Achashverosh offers us in countless venues, including the privacy of our own homes.

Those who choose to serve Hashem instead, who choose the splendor of Yerushalayim over the enticements of Shushan, contribute to a rectification of that sin and bring redemption to the world.

The story is told of someone who asked Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, about the proper brachah to make on pizza.

His reply: “What’s pizza?”

The Gadol Hador simply did not know. He had been immersed all his life, day and night, in studying Hashem’s holy Torah. Pizza was not to be found in the Talmud Bavli or Yerushalmi.

The rest of us are quite familiar with pizza, in all its varieties. We cannot pretend to be above such treats. Still, there is a level on which we can sanctify ourselves.

This Purim, when we drink ad d’lo yada, perhaps we can reach the point where we can’t tell the difference between mushrooms and olives …