By Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, Chabad of Centrepointe
Although this “From the Pulpit” column appears in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin after Purim, I am writing it just a few days before this joyous festival. As such, I would like to devote this article to the timeless message of Purim.
Most of us are familiar with the incredible story behind our joy. But allow me to share with you a short synopsis.
The wicked Haman, viceroy of the king of Persia is intent on wiping out the Jewish people. Due to the intervention of Queen Esther, cousin of the Jewish leader Mordechai, whose Jewish identity is unknown in the palace, the decree of Jewish extinction is averted.
The miracle was recorded in detail by Mordechai and Esther in the Megillah which we read every year on Purim. In addition, we celebrate by eating a festive meal, donating to the poor and distributing food baskets to our friends.
If I was asked to capture the message of Purim in one short phrase, it would be “Jewish Pride.”
You see, Haman’s anger against the Jewish people was because they refused to bow to him and treat him as a deity while stubbornly remaining loyal to God, Torah, tradition and culture. They remained fiercely proud of their heritage, refusing to assimilate. In fact, the Megillah records Haman’s justification to the king for wiping out the Jewish nation, and it is precisely because they refused to blend in.
Living today in North America with unprecedented religious freedom, I am afraid we are still battling a different type of Haman. Modern society begs us to assimilate and blend in, to forget about our rich heritage and culture. The record level of intermarriage within North America is riveting proof of how overwhelming this battle truly is. Many of our youth today have very little idea of what it even means to be Jewish, let alone to live Jewish.
That is why I was particularly heartened to witness a group of 10 local teens who travelled with my wife Bassy to New York to join 3,000 other teens for a memorable weekend focused on Jewish pride. In fact, the highlight of the weekend was a Jewish concert in Times Square where the teens screamed “Shema Yisroel” at the tops of their lungs.
As participant Mimi Breiter wrote in a text message, “The trip was very inspiring. It was so different to all the other Shabbatons I’ve been on. I have never seen so many Jews in one place before. I was proud to be Jewish with everyone, and because of this I felt so included.”
Perhaps this is the reason behind wearing masks on Purim. It is as if we are collectively saying, on this day our personal externalities cease to matter. On Purim, we are committed to clinging to our joint religion and heritage. We all beat with one proud Jewish heart and soul. Am Yisroel Chai.