Dispersion and Dissension

Though every individual Jew is unique, we all share a ba­sic commonalty that joins us into a single collective entity. Throughout the generations, even in times of danger, this unity has sustained our nation.

Jewish unity is especially relevant to Purim. Haman sought “to kill, to annihilate...all Jews, young and old, chil­dren and women, in one day.”1 He did not relate to each Jew as an individual, but viewed the entire nation as a collective. Furthermore, both the events that led to the decree to destroy the Jewish people and the nullification of that decree, closely involved the issue of Jewish unity.

Our Rabbis2 explain that certain of the references in the Megillah to Achashverosh, King of Persia, can be interpreted as references to G‑d. Thus, Haman’s request of Achashverosh to destroy the Jewish people can be understood as reflecting an indictment of the Jewish people in the Heavenly Court.3

In light of this, Haman’s rationale to Achashverosh for destroying the Jews4 — “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the peoples... and it is not to the benefit of the king to tolerate them” — can be understood as both a spiritual and a physical description of the state of the Jewish people at the time. They were not only scattered geographi­cally, but had also become divided in the realm of human relations. And it was this dissension that made it possible for Haman’s request to be accepted by the true King.

Strength in Unity

As long as our people are united, they cannot be destroyed by their enemies. Our Sages5 interpret the verse,6Ephraim is joined to idols: let him be,” to mean that when the people of Israel are joined in a bond of unity, even if they worship idols, their sins will not harm them. They will fight wars and be victorious. Only when their unity is fractured, can a decree calling for their destruction be countenanced in heaven.

By the same token, it was the restoration of Jewish unity that led to the nullification of Haman’s decree. Before Esther approached Achashverosh, she requested that Mordechai “go gather together all the Jews.”7 She realized that she could not successfully intercede on their behalf until they joined hands and thereby corrected the spiritual flaw that had brought about the decree of destruction.

The Torah as a Medium of Unity

The Jews responded to Esther’s request by gathering together to study Torah. We learn from this that although Jew­ish unity results from a spiritual connection shared by our people, the conscious establishment of unity requires the medium of Torah.

The connection between Purim and Torah is reflected in the Talmudic interpretation of the verse in the Megillah, 8 “The Jews fulfilled and accepted upon themselves.” Our Sages explain9 that at the time of the Purim miracle, the Jewish people “fulfilled what they had already accepted upon themselves [at the time of the Giving of the Torah].”

At Mt. Sinai the Jewish people achieved a sense of com­plete unity, as may be seen from the verse,10 “And Israel camped there before the mountain.” In this verse, the Torah uses the singular form of the verb “camped” (ijhu), rather than the expected plural form.11 Since our people had risen to the level where they were thus “like one man, with one heart,”12 the singular form here becomes — for the first time — appropriate. In subsequent generations as well, the Torah has continuously enabled the Jews to achieve a state of unity that resembles the level reached at Mt. Sinai.

Unity in a Divisive World

In our world, unity can only come about as a result of connection to G‑d. Each created entity is unique; only through the revelation of G‑d’s ultimate unity can all the separate elements of creation be perceived as one whole. Since “the Torah and G‑d are one,”13 the Torah is the medium by which this unity is revealed in our world.

Although Torah study is an intellectual discipline, and people differ in their ways of thinking, Torah study unifies, instead of reinforcing our personal differences. Why is this so? Because the intellectual dimension of the Torah repre­sents only a limited aspect of its true nature. The essence of Torah is rooted in a level of G‑dliness that transcends all limitations, totally surpassing the confines of the intellect.

Of all forms of Torah study, this quality is most completely reflected in the Halachah, the legal area of the Torah which governs our conduct. Each of the many possible ap­proaches to Torah study underscores the differences between individual scholars. With regard to the Halachah, however, there are no differences in application between individuals. Before the final legal ruling on any particular issue is estab­lished, there may be numerous differences of opinion. Once a conclusion is reached, however, the law applies universally. This unity in Torah makes unity among the Jewish people possible.

“One Nation” Even When “Scattered and Dispersed”

This idea enables us to understand the above-quoted de­scription — “There is one nation scattered and dispersed among the peoples” — in a positive light. Even when cut off from each other and separated by the different cultures and practices of their adoptive lands, Jews identify as “one na­tion.” Despite the external differences that exist between one Jew and another, through the influence of the Torah, they experience an inward unity.14

In light of this, we can appreciate the way in which the unity achieved on Purim was even greater than the unity that prevailed at the Giving of the Torah. When the Jews received the Torah, the entire nation was collected in one place. Furthermore, they were living in the desert and thus were not disturbed by the practicalities of day-to-day existence; there were fewer factors which could interfere with the establish­ment of oneness among them.

At the time of the Purim miracle, by contrast, the Jews were scattered throughout the civilized world. They had to contend with the difficulties of living in exile, and, after Haman’s decree, with the threat of death that hung over them. Nevertheless, they were able to overcome their personal differences and join together in perfect unity.

An Actual Expression of Oneness

The concept of Jewish unity directly affects our observance of the Purim holiday. Two of the mitzvos connected with Purim — mishloach manos (gifts of food that are sent to friends) and matanos laevyonim (charitable gifts to the poor) — are clear expressions of friendliness and concern.15

Actually, the principle of Jewish unity is expressed more clearly by matanos laevyonim than by mishloach manos. A true sense of Jewish unity implies a love for every Jew, even those whom we do not know personally. Generally, we give mishloach manos to our friends and close associates, whereas by reaching out and helping a poor person whom we may never have seen before, we show that our relationships with others are not limited by our personal feelings. We express the essential and unconditional bond that unites our entire people without differentiation.

May the celebration of Purim help intensify our aware­ness of this bond. And as in the time of Mordechai and Esther when the deliverance of our people was brought about by Jewish unity, may our efforts to spread love and unity among our people at present enable us to “join one redemption to another”16 — and proceed from the redemption of Purim to the ultimate Redemption, speedily in our days.

Adapted from the Sichos of Purim, 5722 and Purim, 5727