The story of Purim is one of many incidents throughout our history where an anti-Semitic enemy sought to destroy our people. Only two cases, however, prompted our Sages to establish community observance of Holy Days — Chanukah and Purim. The commentators discuss which of the two is greater — which celebrates a greater miracle? Purim, it is said, will be the only day of the year, including the Biblical Holy Days like Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, to maintain its lofty status after the coming of Moshiach. What aspect of the great miracle explains this fact?
When the Syrian-Greeks imposed their decrees on the Jews, Matityahu and a small band revolted against the world’s most powerful army. The miracle of the victory of the few over the many — the weak over the powerful — is the miracle that we celebrate each year. We acknowledge the intervention of G-d to override the rules of nature on our behalf. The improbable military victory brought happiness and celebration to our people.
Purim, similarly, represents our salvation from a wicked and powerful foe; however, there is a major difference in the nature of the miracle. The Talmud elucidates the fact that Haman was not the only powerful party who held a strong hatred for the Jews in his heart. Achashverosh was also an anti-Semite. The Gemara (Megillah 14a) compares the two to a man who had a ditch in his field that prevented him from maximizing his output and to another who had a pile of dirt blocking the path of his plow on his property. Each would have paid for someone to solve his problem. They met and the one with the dirt gladly gave it to the other with the ditch and both left happy. Both Haman and Achashverosh despised our people and they joined forces to declare a holocaust on the 13th of Adar.
G-d set the scene. Esther, a Jewess, was chosen as queen but her identity was kept a secret. Haman came to a private party for him and the king. When Esther asked for her life and pointed out Haman as the one who wanted to kill her and her people — the Jews — Achashverosh ordered that Haman be hung. The change of heart took only one moment. Achashverosh converted from enemy of the Jews to savior of the nation. That is the miracle!
In all of the other miracles whereby Hashem saved us, He took control of nature and changed scientific and political realities for our benefit. He turned water to blood, split the Sea, and He brought about the victory of the weak over the strong. Here, in contrast, He changed the heart of a human being. Achashverosh, the hater became Achashverosh, the defender and savior. To change an enemy into a friend is the greatest miracle of all!
This would explain why our Sages say that after the Final Redemption, Purim will maintain a unique status among all the Holy Days. The miracle of Redemption is summed up as “Hashem will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children.” The basis of the Purim miracle — a change of heart — is the basis for Redemption.
One of the mitzvot of the day is mishloach manot — sending gifts of food to friends and neighbors. This mitzvah is unique to Purim. Why?
Haman prosecuted our people as one who is spread out and divided. Spread out throughout the 127 nations of Achashverosh’s rule; divided into factions within our nation. Hashem loves unity — which is one of His attributes —and despises division. The approach of Esther and Mordechai was to gather together all of the Jews, men and women — young and old — and to fast and pray to Our Creator. When G-d saw the unified appeal, He changed the heart of man on our behalf.
The sharing of gifts brings good feelings between people. Some commentators advise that one should send mishloach manot to some people who would not expect to receive a gift from you. This will bring people together and unify us in our celebration of G-d’s special protection of our people. The miracle was a change of a human heart to prompt redemption and we, too, must change our hearts. Good feelings among us — accepting the shortcomings of others and acknowledging our own weaknesses — in order to come together — will bring a new miracle with the coming of Moshiach speedily and in our days, amen.
Happy Purim, everybody!
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He is author of the book 1 Minute with Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.