This year Taanis Esther is observed on Thursday, 11 Adar, since Purim falls on a Sunday. This reminds us of a unique aspect of Purim, that unlike other Yamim Tovim, is observed on varying days, from 11 to 15 Adar, depending on calendrical, geographical and historical considerations. In fact, there is not a single year that all of the Jewish people celebrates Purim on the same day; some are in cities that were walled in the time of Yehoshua bin Nun and observe Shushan Purim; most are in unwalled cities celebrating on the 14th.
This anomaly has often been commented upon. Shem MiShmuel (Shemos, Purim 1912) addresses it by way of explaining the dynamics of the miracle:
The main miracle of Purim was in the achievement of unity despite the fact that at the time they were leaderless, a subject people whose king had turned against them. Yet, with no political or military authority of their own, and despite the might of Achashverosh, Haman and the bloodthirsty masses arrayed against them, the Jews of ancient Persia were able to prevail over their enemies. They did so by meriting Hashem’s salvation by coming together as one in their fasting and prayer.
Amalek’s power derives from the division of the Jewish people. He thrives on dissension and internal strife. In this sense, Amalek was the originator of the strategy of “divide and conquer.” So said Haman to Achashverosh: There is a nation scattered and divided (am mefuzer u’mefurad), scattered physically and divided spiritually. That is their weakness — and that is our opportunity.
Faced with the royal decree of annihilation, and without the material wherewithal to resist, they put their faith in Hashem alone. That spiritual solidarity served them better than any king or general, and they won a monumental victory over Amalek.
Furthermore, Haman and Achashverosh unwittingly assisted in bringing it about. As the Rebbe Simchah Bunimof Peshischa interpreted the passuk, many thoughts are in the heart of a man, but the counsel of Hashem will prevail. (Mishlei 19:21): That the counsel of Hashem prevails over human designs should not surprise. Rather, the teaching here is that from the designs of man himself Hashem’s plan will be brought to fruition.
He explained that Haman and Achashverosh sensed that the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash was imminent. But they also knew that before that could happen, Klal Yisrael would have to defeat Amalek. Yet, they felt secure, because the Jews lacked the means to fight them, the descendants of Amalek.
Yet, it was Haman’s plot to gain Achashverosh’s approval to destroy the Jews that caused the Jewish people to put aside all their differences and together turn to Hashem to save them.
That is why Purim was instituted on separate days for separate communities, each one glorifying the same great event, to commemorate the overcoming of the divisions in Klal Yisrael which made possible the miracle at that time.
How was such unity achieved? The Megillah says that they accepted upon themselves these days of Purim in their times…as they accepted upon themselves and their children a remembrance of these fasts and outcries (Esther 9:31).
Fasting was the path to unity. Abstention from food and drink (for three days!) enabled them to detach themselves from mundane distractions and petty quarrels, to perceive the underlying connection that all Jews have to one another and to Hashem.
Chazal say that talmidei chachamim bring shalom to the world. The source is the first passuk in B’chukosai: Im b’chukosai teileichu, If you will walk in My statues…v’nasati shalom baaretz, and I will place peace in the Land.
It has been explained that peace is brought about by talmidei chachamim because those who dedicate their lives to Torah — for whom food, drink and the pleasures of this world are of little interest beyond the necessity to sustain life — are the least susceptible to being drawn into the conflicts that occupy others, which are usually tied to material desires.
To be sure, the desire for intangibles such as prestige and honor also cause strife. But the authentic talmid chacham is free of such desires as well. In Parashas Tetzaveh, Rabbeinu Bachya writes that the stone called sapir (sapphire) represented Bnei Yissachar on the choshen mishpat because they were talmidei chachamim, (yodei binah l’itim) and the luchos habris were made of sanpirinon. It was a blue color, akin to techeles, which unlike red, is associated not with pride but with humility, a trait suitable for the sages. Such people don’t fight over kavod.
Harav Chanoch Henich Hakohen, the Rebbe of Alexander, would say in the name of the Maggid of Zlotchov: Haman came to the outer court of the king’s palace to tell the king to hang Mordechai on the tree he prepared for him (asher heichin lo). Tana: lo, heichin. Chazal interpret it to mean that Haman actually prepared the hanging for himself. (Megillah 16a to Esther 6:4)
Yet, the drashah appears to be contradicted just a few pesukim later when it says asher heichin l’Mordechai, that [Haman] prepared [it] for Mordechai.
The answer lies in the nature of preparation (hachanah). In Torah usage, preparation pertains only to preparation for mitzvos, which require kavanah, concentration. Wickedness needs no forethought. Hachanah, as the Torah understands it, has no relevance to the likes of Haman.
This is what Chazal wanted to point out: In making the scaffolding, he prepared his own hanging, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek, wiping out Amalek, to which the expression of hachanah does apply (Harav Avraham Elimelech Biderman, Be’er Mayim, Purim, P. 67, quoting Chashva Latova, Purim).
Our simchas Purim depends on the extent to which we prepare ourselves. On Taanis Esther we can bring peace and unity to the world. And with that we can have a truly freilichen Purim!