Klal Yisrael. All of Israel.
One people. One community.
Recent news accounts told of several hundred passengers – Orthodox yeshiva students, tourists, secular college-aged Jews on Birthright – scheduled to fly to Israel who found themselves stranded at JFK by the terrible blizzard that struck the northeast at the end of 2010.
As one report put it, “Several rabbis traveling with the group sprang into action, working their connections with the local Orthodox communities to get help. In an amazing act of chesed and a deeply rooted sense of Klal Yisrael, the Five Towns local Orthodox community worked to bring meals to the airport and provide temporary housing to the young passengers who didn’t want to wait at the airport. Advertisement
“Despite continuing blizzard conditions and snow drifting to heights of four feet or more, they shuttled food to the nearby airport and transformed what could have been a completely abysmal experience into an uplifting one. In a day and age where we often hear about the divisions within the Jewish community it is always nice to see that, despite our differences, Jews are always willing to help each other out in a jam.”
If only it were always so!
There is no greater blessing for Jews than unity, and no greater curse than discord, strife and machlokes. And yet, despite the clear blessing of unity, we seem so often to be defined by our divisions rather than our common purpose and community. There is hardly a corner among Jews where acrimony, negativism, and hatred don’t reign supreme; barely a place where we don’t hear Jews defaming others’ spiritual leaders, opinions, and writings. Such factionalism and feuding can lead only to disaster.
True happiness for Jews is only possible when there is unity. Absent unity, we will always be diminished by festering anger, angst, and anxiety. We know we should constantly re-dedicate ourselves to our sacred, nobler natures, yet we too often fall victim to our baser inclinations. As a result, pettiness, jealousy, misunderstanding and disrespect define our dealings with our fellows.
How timely, then, that Purim is before us. How good it is that the ultimate purpose and focus of this, the happiest of Jewish holidays, and of its central source, Megillas Esther, is to create and reinforce unity and harmony among Jews. How good it is that Purim teaches me to embrace the community I share not only with those I consider friends but also with those far distant who come “stretching out their hand” asking for my understanding and generosity.
For on Purim we must reach out to one another. If only for this one marvelous day, we must get beyond our stubborn refusal to acknowledge others who are “not like us.” If only for this one day, we must reach out to anyone and everyone in the Jewish community.
On Purim, we give gifts. The mitzvah of mishloach manos – that each person give a friend two varieties of food as a present – is based on the pasuk “U’mishloach manot ish l’reiyhu.” Many commentaries observe that this custom comes to us in direct remembrance of the unity that defined the Jewish people in Shushan, when disaster was looming darkly on the horizon.
Then, in response to Esther’s call, we gathered as one in prayer and fasting. Every Jew and his fellow. Together. Our unity of need, purpose and practice was surely the key factor in reversing Haman’s cruel decree. Our unity implicitly and explicitly disproved Haman’s argument that “there is a certain people scattered and dispersed (mefuzar u’meforad) among the peoples.”
The p’shat of Haman’s argument is the accusation that the nation of Israel “stands opposed and apart,” refusing to assimilate among the nations of the world. It is something we continue to hear even today. But in the heavenly courts, “scatteredand dispersed” had a deeper meaning. It was an allusion to machlokes – the disunity that was pervasive among Jews at the time. To dispel evil decrees against our nation, the heavenly courts expect us to live in harmony with ish l’reiyhu.
What greater expression of harmony between ish l’reiyhu than the breaking of bread? Isn’t this what happened at JFK that snowy night? Isn’t this how we show our true willingness to reach out to another Jew? Which makes the mitzvah of mishloach manot all the more powerful.