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Purim Teaches Us How to Understand History & Our Own Lives

The Impact of One Good Morning & the 1840 Opium War

1 hr 13 min

Class Summary:

This Women's class about Purim was presented on Tuesday, 2 Adar, 5777, February 28, 2017, at Ohr Chaim, Monsey, NY. 

Four sages, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Shimon, debate how much of the megilah must be read on Purim. Three of them suggest starting at the point in the story where the Jewish angle begins. Either from mid chapter two, where Mordechai is introduced. Or from chapter three where Haman is introduced. Or from ch. 6 where the king has a sleepless night and decides to reward Mordechai. Yet the verdict and Jewish tradition till this very day follows Rabbi Meir who says that we must read or listen to the entire book of Esther, in order to fulfill our obligation on Purim.

But this view—and verdict—seems strange. Why would there be a religious obligation to listen on Purim to the story of a Persian King’s feast? Of how he executed his first queen? These are interesting historical stories, but why the obligation to listen to them on Purim? Why is it that we fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah only if we learn of the detailed designs at the King’s 187-day party? True, if Vashi would have not been killed, Esther would not have become queen and would not be able to save her people. Yet, this is only the prerequisite to the story—not the story itself. Why is it that if someone decides to skip ch. 1 and go straight into ch. 2, they have to rehear the Megilah, as they have not fulfilled the mitzvah? We all know that you can get away reading a novel and mastering it even if you skip the introduction—the details that describe events prior to the main story and plot?

The very name Purim, which in Persian means a “goral,” a “lot,” seems strange. Haman has cast a random lot to determine the right day in which to kill all of Jews. But then why do we call it Purim in the plural, not Pur?


In 1840 the First Opium War took place between China and Britain. It was essentially a conflict about foreign trade in China. Finally in 1842, the treaty of Nanjing was signed, which essentially turned Shanghai into an international city, open freely for trade for people of all countries. If you were reading a newspaper in 1842, you would not see in this story anything essential to the story of the Jewish people and our mission in the universe. Just another bloody and tragic conflict in the East. But exactly 100 years later, we all discovered that this was part of a tapestry of events that saved generations of Jews.

The Megillah teaches us how to view world-events. The story of Purim is not that G-d saves the Jews from annihilation. It is a much deeper story: that the lavish feast of a mighty King is part of a vast cohesive plan. In Judaism, small fragmented details of our lives are all part of an integrated tapestry. One warm good morning by a prisoner changes history.


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  • D

    david -7 years ago

    The lesson:
    Many situations in life on far more complex than our understanding abilities and it's not our job to judge and try explain.

    This is especially true when visiting a shiva house where many people make the mistake of giving comments and explanations about the situation. We are not gods prophets or messenger to relay the reasons behind tragedies. All we need to do is be there for the person, listen and keep quiet.
    This is the real meaning behind the words "and who knows" , not that Mordechai was in doubt, but that it's far more complex than our minds can wrap around (LIKE WRAPPING YOUR TONGUE AROUND THE SUN!).
    The story of the philosophy teach that asked a single word question in the final test "WHY?" and 2 students got an A & A+ the 2 replies were "Because" & "Why Not", illustrates this point with great humor. Like the alter Rebbi said, Hashem had a craving to create the world, and on a craving there are no questions.

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  • O

    Odom -7 years ago

    Why is it that the real ganev couldn't take the humiliation of being publicly called out as a a theif but the Tzadik was able to? Is it just because of the Tzadik's righteousness, or is it because he didn't mind being called a thief because he knew they weren't talking about him. If we identify ourselves with our actions our inner voice can drive us mad by calling us all sorts of names but if we know that whatever it is we did that's not the real ME we can ignore those same voices and present ourselves as the עמך כולם צדיקים that we are.

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    • RYJ

      Rabbi YY Jacobson -7 years ago

      Well said. I think both points are very true. The real tzaddik lives in a very authentic, internal place.

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Rabbi YY Jacobson

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