S P E C I A L S

For the week ending 19 March 2005 / 8 Adar II 5765

Each To Their Own

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The story of Purim is a real rollercoaster. It contains almost everything required for a "good read". It has intrigue, murder, a sensitive and wise hero, a cold and evil antagonist, a powerful king, a beautiful queen, parties galore, an assassination attempt and plenty more.

And yet, the fact that the Megillah is included in Tanach is not merely an indication that it made it onto the "Shushan Times Best Seller List," but rather that it contains powerful and personal messages for every single Jew in every single generation. In fact, one of the wonders of the Megillah is that every year new messages come to light and its eternal significance is emphasized anew. As I was studying the Megillah this year I was hit by a seemingly insignificant piece of narrative that takes place. Mordechai is patiently explaining to Esther why it is imperative that she risk her life and attempt to have an unscheduled audience with Achashverosh. After presenting his very compelling argument, Mordechai adds "And who knows if it wasnt for this moment that you became the queen?".

They may sound innocuous but those words are very sharp, perhaps even sarcastic and acerbic. What possessed Mordechai (our sensitive and wise hero) to be quite so severe? Because he wanted to stress in the clearest possible way to Esther that it is G-d who is in charge of destiny. In other words Mordechai is saying, "What do you think? That being the queen will save you from the approaching genocide? Well, think again!"

Esther hears those words and understands the message.

And that should give us all pause for thought. What about us? Do we hear our messages or do we ignore them and continue on our merry way without too much thought as to who is running our world and what is required of us? In Ethics of the Fathers Hillel says, "In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader". Hillel is teaching us that someone has to take responsibility, and if there is no one prepared to do so, then you be the one.

But there is a deeper, more personal meaning hidden behind the words. Very often, when one is in private, there is a feeling that if I cant be seen it does not really matter too much how careful I am, not in myrelations to other people and not with my relationship to G-d. Hillel wants us to know that nothing could be further from the truth. In public and in private we must strive to reach a level of symmetry where the inner persona and the outer one reflect the same character. And it is that lesson that Mordechai is trying to convey to Esther. Esther is being told that it is not enough to feel the pain and the sorrow of the Jewish People in public. That same anguish must be apparent in private as well, to the point that she must be prepared to give up her life if need be to save them.

There is a story told about a small town in Siberia where once a father and a son came to the Rabbi each one laying claim to the one coat in the house. The father stayed home while the son went off to work each day. The father said that he needed the coat; otherwise he would freeze to death as there was no heating in the house and the walls were insufficient to keep out the winds. The son, on the other hand, claimed that his need was far more pressing because he was out working all day in the exposed fields. The father retorted that as the son was working after a while he would warm up and not need the coat anyway. The son replied that even though their house was full of unplugged holes it was still preferable to be indoors as there was always some shelter to be found. The Rabbi, being unsure as to who should have the coat, told them to come back in two days time when he would give them an answer. On their way home both the father and the son begin to assess the claim of the other one and they came to the realization that perhaps the other was right after all. So, on their return to the Rabbi two days later, they were still arguing, but this time each was claiming that the other one should take the coat!

On hearing both of them present their cases once again, the Rabbi asked them to wait a few moments. He left the room only to return almost immediately with a coat that he gave to them, telling them that now they would both have a coat to wear. Of course, both the father and the son thanked the Rabbi profusely and began to leave. As they got to the door the son turned around and asked the Rabbi why he hadnt just given them the coat two days ago. The Rabbi answered that when they were both fighting because each one thought that he needed the coat more,the Rabbi thought to himself that he also needed his coat. But when they returned with each one wanting to manage without the coat, the Rabbi thought to himself that he could also manage without his coat!

That is the significance of the seemingly severe and extraneous sentence that Mordechai added when speaking to Esther. Its not enough to say "Im okay". The Jewish People are all interconnected with each other and there can be no such thing as one person shirking his responsibility because he thinks that the effect will be negligible. Purim and the Megillah are teaching us that even though we seem to live in a world where very few of us are prepared to accept responsibility, that does not remove our accountability both to ourselves and to the Jewish People. We must learn that in Judaism "each to their own" is an anathema.

And that sounds like a very powerful message for this Purim: If I dont take responsibility, even if I think that I am under-qualified, who will?

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