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Thursday, 26 February, 2015 - 11:19 am

An anti-Semite walks into a bar and sees a Jew sitting there. He walks over to the bartender and says, "A round of your most expensive drink for everyone here-besides the Jew."

He turns and sees the Jew is smiling.

The anti-Semite, desperate to denigrate the Jew, tells the bartender to give another round to everyone besides the Jew. Once again the Jew smiles.

The anti-Semite repeats the round of drinks yet again. At this point, the Jew has a massive smile.

The anti-Semite asks the bartender, "What's wrong with the Jew that he is smiling so much when I'm so obviously insulting him?"

The bartender answers: "He owns the bar."

As Purim approaches this coming week, I wish to reflect on one perplexing detail at the conclusion of the entire Megilah narrative—to be read in one week, on Purim.

The Megilah tells the story of how a Persian Minister named Haman made an attempt some 2,400 years ago to destroy the Jewish people. Haman approached the king of Persia, Achashverosh, and offered him an enormous sum of money in exchange for permission to arrange a "Final Solution." The king responded: "The money is given, and the nation of Israel is yours to do with as you see fit."

In an astonishing turn of events, Queen Esther manages to turn around her husband, the king, who then executes Haman, gives Jews the right to defend themselves, and appoints the Jewish leader Mordechai as his Prime minister. The entire book concludes with these words:

"For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverosh, and accepted by most of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all their seed‫."

The obvious question is why does the verse state that Mordechai was “accepted bymostof his brethren”? Apparently, not everyone liked Mordechai. Why? After all, he was the man who, together with Esther, was responsible for the rescue of the entire nation.

There is a fascinating interpretation. Mordechai was the preeminent Torah scholar of his generation—he was the leader of the Jewish Supreme Court, a group made up of 71 members, the greatest scholars and leaders of the Jewish nation. With the dramatic unfolding events of Purim, this brilliant scholar became entangled in politics. After Haman’s plot was foiled, he was appointed Prime Minister of the Persian Empire. Most Jews adored Mordechai—but not all of them did. Some of his closest colleagues, says Rashi, distanced themselves from the great leader. They took issue with the fact that Mordechai went into politics and abandoned his position as the preeminent Torah scholar of the time.

Why, did he give up his role as spiritual and intellectual leader of his people for a glorious career in politics? True, for some people there is no greater achievement than attaining political power.... But not Mordechai! For him, Torah was the most precious vocation. If anyone knew the pitfalls and falsehood of politics, it was Mordechai. Ethics of the Fathers cautions us:“Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, perverted it into tyranny.

“Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad,” Henry Kissinger remarked.

Maureen Murphy quipped: “The reason there are so few female politicians is that it is too much trouble to put makeup on two faces.”

Mordechai saw the moral abyss to which leaders can descend. Until the decree of Haman was obliterated, he had no choice but to involve himself with affairs of the Persian government, as the lives of his people were at stake. Saving lives takes precedence over Torah study. However, once Haman was executed, and there was no trace left of Haman’s decree, why did Mordechai not bid farewell to public office, and return back to the authentic and sacred world of Torah?

The Rebbe suggested that the answer to this enigma is to be found in the very opening verse of the Megilah:

“In the days of Achashverosh—he is Achashverosh who reigned from Hodu to Cush, over one hundred twenty-seven provinces.”

Why the redundancy "he is Achashverosh"? The verse could have simply stated, “And in the days of Achashverosh, who reigned from Hodu to Kush, over one hundred twenty-seven provinces.”

Rashi explains: "He is Achashverosh: He remained wicked."

From the beginning until the end he remains a fervent anti-Semite and self-centered Monarch. Even after he kills his minister Haman who plotted genocide, and after he concedes that the Jews be given a right to self-defense, he remains the same dangerous bigot, vulnerable to fall prey once again to another Haman who might come around.

In the very first verse, the Megilah is telling us, Do not think for a moment that Achashverosh was a truly changed man from within.

There is an old legend told about Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher and leader. A group of wise men approached him and told him that they could change the nature of a cat, training it to be as gracious, polite, and giving as a human being, making the cat into a servile butler. Maimonides argued that it was impossible to change the nature of a cat.

The group of "wise men" set about training a cat. They worked for weeks on end and taught it to walk on its hind legs like a person. They dressed it up in a little suit. When people came into the room the cat would escort them to their seats. In fact, the cat acted just like a butler. They further trained the cat to hold a little cup and to serve people in their seats. They invited Maimonides to show him their accomplishment.

The cat greeted Maimonides and guided him to his seat. When Maimonides got to his seat he removed a box from his pocket. In the box was a little mouse. He dropped the mouse on the floor. The cat suddenly forgot that it was a butler and scampered after the mouse. Maimonides turned to the wise men and said, "A cat is a cat and will always be a cat."

Had Achashverosh really gone through a transformation, Mordechai could have returned to the Supreme Court. But Mordechai saw that Achashverosh was able to become a ruthless and merciless dictator at any time.

Mordechai felt he must remain in the palace to adhere to the old adage: “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.”

There is also a spiritual message here, articulated by the Rebbe. The forces of positivity is always deeper than the forces of negativity. Light is more powerful than darkness.

By Achashverosh we can see that his external appearances did not alter his essence. On the outside he may have been nice to the Jews, but on the inside he was still rotten.

How much more so is this truth when it comes to positive forces to our inner connection to Judaism, and to G-d.

Some of us think to ourselves, we have grown up in a very secular environment, without much Judaism. Can we expect from ourselves to embrace it at such a late point in life? This has not been part of our journey for so many years!

Any living Jew today can ask his or her grandparents, or great-grandparents, what kind of Jewish lives they led while they were growing up. In all likelihood, the response will be that they not only lived Jewish lives, but they even committed great sacrifices for the sake of Judaism!

When you look at yourself and all you see is a secular self, you are truly looking at just a few years out of a story that stretches for over 3,300 years! The fact that for a few isolated decades—out of thousands of years—we have become alienated from Torah does not alter the essenceof who we are and remain throughout.

We cannot change our essence or our DNA. For thousands of years, Judaism has flowed in our genes. When we decide to take another Mitzvah upon ourselves, to strengthen our Judaism, to come closer to G-d, we are not doing something “new.” We are simply returning back to our original source and innate core.

George Rohr is a prominent businessman and longtime supporter of Chabad who enjoyed a special relationship with the Rebbe.

While requesting the Rebbe's blessings before Yom Kippur, he prepared for the Rebbe a gift of good news, he told the Rebbe that on Rosh Hashanah he had organized a beginners' service in his synagogue for more than 130 Jews who had no Jewish background.

"What?" the Rebbe asked, looking at Rohr intently.

Assuming the Rebbe did not hear everything he said, Rohr repeated himself. "No Jewish background?" asked the Rebbe

"Go back and tell them that they have a background. They are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah!"

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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