Dear Readers,

Were you ever in a situation that you felt your free will was taken away? I don’t mean that someone forced you to do something, but that the choice was so obvious that it wasn’t even a choice.

Imagine after a romantic honeymoon getaway, feeling an outpouring of love to your spouse. Were he to ask you for a favor, it would be difficult to deny his request.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) teaches that the Jewish people experienced something similar at Mount Sinai.

“ ... and they stood in the bottom of the mountain.”

Rav Avidmi said: “This teaches that the Holy One, Blessed is He, covered them with the mountain as though it were an [upturned] vat. He said to them: ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; if not, your burial will be there.’ ”

Rav Acha bar Yaakov said: “From here [we learn] a claim of coercion [regarding the acceptance] of the Torah.”

Rava said: “Nevertheless, they accepted the Torah again in the days of Achashverosh, as it is written: ‘The Jews established and accepted.’ They established [in the days of Achashverosh] that which they had already accepted [in the days of Moses].”

How were the Jewish people coerced to accept the Torah? Didn’t we willingly exclaim, Naaseh venishma: “We will do all that the Torah commands us?”

After G‑d’s overwhelming outpouring of love, after witnessing His show of open miracles and wonders, it was like our free choice had been taken away. G‑d enveloped us in such a huge mountainous hug of love that saying anything other than “yes” was impossible, and comparable to death itself.

But then came the holiday of Purim. The name Esther means hidden, and hints that at this time G‑d’s open love and revelation was hidden. Our relationship was in a crisis mode. We felt distant and alienated. We had been thrown out of our bridal chamber, exiled from our home in Israel. Nations were plotting to destroy us. We no longer felt G‑d’s protection or intimate care for us.

And yet, amid this cold alienation, we still chose to be His people.

An entire year lapsed from when Haman issued his decree to annihilate the Jewish people until it would go into effect. Anyone who was Jewish—man, woman or child—would be ruthlessly murdered. But the decree only applied to a Jewish person; whoever converted would be spared. Nevertheless, despite the horrifying threat held over their heads for an entire year, not one person chose this alternative. Every member of the Jewish people recommitted themselves to being G‑d’s chosen people.

This was a huge shift in our relationship with G‑d. We showed G‑d then—and continue to show Him throughout our current long and difficult exile—that our commitment remains more than a bond for good times. Even during our harshest moments, even during our worst fears, even during those days when we feel completely abandoned and dejected, we remain G‑d’s people.

This dedication brought about our miraculous salvation in the story of Purim. May this continuous dedication bring each of our personal and collective salvation today.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW