Although most of us are now focused on Pesach and rolling up our sleeves – both physically and mentally – we need to keep close to our hearts a wrenching message that was brought to the fore this particular Purim. For me and many other Jews, Purim was not “business as usual” in terms of having great fun, merrymaking and partying. Our joy was deeply tempered by the haunting images of the murdered Fogel family – a young mother, father, and three of their six children, including a three-month old infant girl – who were ruthlessly slaughtered as they slept, by Palestinian descendants of Amalek.
How could we boisterously celebrate the timely foiling of our planned annihilation by Haman, when the Fogel’s personal “megillah” had a brutally violent ending?
The merciless (who could stab an infant in her crib) murder of this peaceful family crystallized what Purim is truly all about – Amalek’s obsession to do the very same to hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and babies.
We intellectually understand that thousands of years ago, a virulent anti-Semite tried to butcher us, but we don’t fully internalize what that means. It’s like the old joke regarding our holidays. “They tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!” Emotionally, the story of Purim (and of Pesach, which revolves around yitziyat Mitzrayim – our emancipation from Egypt), doesn’t have the impact it should – it doesn’t speak to our hearts. We are focused on the partying.
This year, this Purim I “got” it all too well: We escaped the fate of the Fogel family.
Yet, we wonder with sorrow, why didn’t they? Why were these particular sons of Amalek so successful in destroying this erlich, devout couple and their sweet babies?
No one mortal can answer this question – but I wonder if the last sentence of the Megillah possibly offers a clue.
The Megillah states that Mordechai was second to the king, was great among the Jews – and “ratzu l’rov achav” – accepted by the multitude of his brethren. It’s funny, I’ve read this line every year for decades, but never realized that something did not make sense. The word “rov” in nearly all translations means “most” or a majority. This final pasuk in the Megillah states that Mordechai was liked/accepted by a “multitude” (majority) of his people. How could it be that he was not embraced by “ALL” of them? You would think EVERY Jew – survivors of an aborted genocide – would be so grateful to Mordechai that the word “kol”, meaning ALL would have been the word used, not rov.
Mordechai was instrumental in stopping what would have been a horrific bloodbath. Yet obviously some people had an issue with the man who saved them, their wives, children and babies from being slaughtered by a crazed mob fortified by a governmental ” green light” to do so. Or else the word “kol” would have been the one in the megillah – not “rov.” What possible reason could any Jew have to complain about Mordechai?
I can only imagine that there were Jews infected with the two warped attributes that have ruined many individuals, families and nations – unmitigated jealousy/envy and arrogance – character traits that have caused overwhelming sinat chinum and hence acrimony and division within the community.
No doubt, due to mindless jealousy, some of Mordechai’s peers could not “fahgin” his incredible achievements and the honor that came out of it. The Yiddish word fahgin is unique in that it is used in the dual context of forgiving someone when they wronged you – and when they haven’t. It is applied when no actual hurt was done by the individual, yet the person doing the forgiving (or not) feels negatively impacted – for no real reason.
Point in case: A woman, one of hundreds, puts a ticket in a bin in the hope of winning an expensive sheitel at a Chinese auction – and hers is drawn. She wins the fancy wig everyone was salivating over. While some of her friends and acquaintances are thrilled for her, others don’t “fahgin” her good fortune. Though she did not wrong them in any way, they do not forgive her luck. It’s as if she took away something they felt belonged to them – or that they were more deserving of.
Maybe some of the Jews who were not fans of Mordechai felt that he was just lucky – that he was in the right place at the right time (he overheard the plot against the king) and that he had the right connections (being related to the queen) and that he was no “big deal” and therefore was not necessarily competent nor worthy to be the number two bigwig in the empire.
Some might have felt that they were better suited for the job; that they were smarter; more pious (after all, he let his adopted daughter/kinswoman marry a non-Jew); that they came from better yichus, were better educated, etc.
This unwarranted envy and haughtiness and conceit has led to rancorous, even malicious discord, division and dispute within our community, with tragic consequences. For the Jewish people, a lack of unity, an unwillingness or inability to be am achad, a unified people – embracing our differences and respecting one another (secular, religious, Litvish, Chassidish/Ashkenazi, Sephardic, etc.) is our Achilles heel, our collective kryptonite.
Without achdut, we are vulnerable to Amalek’s attempts to annihilate us – one family at a time or in a mass massacre. Our continuity depends on our solidarity – our unity.
In order to achieve this oneness with our fellow Jews, we have to destroy the Amalek lurking in our psyche -seething jealousy and preening snobbery. We must work at viewing another Jew’s good fortune as being our good fortune. That his “win” is our win also. Ironically, we actually are good at feeling another Jew’s sorrow – but somehow, many of us can’t fahgin his happiness or success.
We must work at giving unconditional support, protection and kavod (respect) to every Yid no matter his religious affiliation, economic or social status (except those tragic, twisted Jews who are anti-Semitic and pro-Amalek).
Then as one united people we will truly be able to shout out, “Am Yisrael Chai!”