Which Side of Genocide
Purim is a time of physical celebration. It is a mitzvah to enjoy a festive meal, to send gifts of food to friends and contributions to the needy - and even to imbibe spirits more than one is accustomed to doing.
Chanukah, by contrast, is a time of spiritual celebration. We light candles and add Hallel to our prayers. But there is no obligation to have a festive meal - latkes and doughnuts are only a popular custom.
Why this difference between Purim and Chanukah?
One suggested approach is that Jews have been historically threatened by two forms of genocide - physical and spiritual. Purim recalls the threat of Haman's "final solution to the Jewish problem." Haman was determined to annihilate every Jew, "young and old, children and women in one day." He would not have abandoned his plan even if the Jews had all abandoned their faith in Hashem. Since it was the physical body of the Jewish People which was saved from destruction, it is incumbent on the survivors and their heirs throughout the generations to celebrate with their bodies by eating, drinking and sharing such indulgence with others.
Chanukah celebrates heavenly rescue from a threat of spiritual genocide. The Hellenist Greeks were interested in forcing assimilation upon the Jewish People, not physically destroying them. Since the threat was a spiritual one, the celebration of our deliverance is a spiritual one of lights and prayers of praise.
This very neat explanation is challenged by one of the great Halachic commentaries in the following manner:
The Torah forbids the males of the Ammonite and Moabite nations from ever marrying a woman from a Jewish mother, even if they convert to Judaism. Our Sages explain that the Torah distances these nations from our midst because of their great crime in tempting our ancestors to sin through sexual promiscuity and idol worship on their way out of Egypt. The Edomites, on the other hand, are distanced from marrying into our people after conversion for only two generations, despite the fact that they waged war against us and tried to destroy us. The conclusion, say our Sages, is that one who seeks to persuade a person to sin commits a greater crime than one who tries to kill him. Why? Because one who kills him takes him away only from this world, while one who causes him to sin brings upon him Divine retribution which removes him from this world and from the World to Come.
Therefore, spiritual genocide is equivalent, if not worse than, physical genocide. Why then should we not physically celebrate our Chanukah deliverance from the physical-spiritual genocide which threatened us?
A fascinating response to this challenge is provided by another great Halachic authority:
When is causing a Jew to sin equivalent to physical genocide because he loses both worlds? Only when the Jew is enticed to sin as he was by the daughters of Moab who exploited sexual attraction to lead Jews to idol worship. That is why the Moabites were distanced from our people in an even more severe manner than were the Edomites who only tried to perpetrate physical genocide.
The Hellenists, on the other hand, attempted to coerce Jews into committing sins. Submission to such pressure can certainly not be viewed as inviting Divine retribution which is expressed in physical and spiritual genocide. But continued violation of religious practice is certain to undermine the spiritual health of a people, and deliverance from such pressure is a cause for celebrating a rescue from spiritual genocide in a purely spiritual way.
Which side of genocide does our own generation face? The threat of physical genocide which reared its ugly head in the Holocaust still echoes in the Arab call to Jihad against the Jewish State. But this danger is nowhere near as tangible as that of the spiritual genocide which is decimating our ranks in the form of widespread assimilation and intermarriage.
This is not the spiritual genocide of Hellenist, Crusader or Inquisitors. Nowhere are Jews being forced to choose between the cross and the stake, the crescent and the sword. Our problem is that of the Moabite kind, submission to passion for pleasure exacerbated by the powerful forces of social conformity, the age-old desire to be a nation like all nations. This is a situation of "do-it-yourself genocide" where more than six million are trying to achieve a final solution of vanishing into the family of nations, rather than serve as a model for them.
On Purim, when we joyfully celebrate our miraculous escape from one side of genocide we must resolve to strengthen our Jewish identity through Jewish education in order to save our people from the other side of genocide.
- Levushei Malchus
- Turei Zahav
- Eliyahu Rabba