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ב"ה

WHY SHUSHAN PURIM?

Friday, 18 March, 2022 - 3:04 pm

A Jewish woman wants to take her dog to Israel, so she goes to the travel agent to find out how. He says, "It's easy. You go to the airline, they give you a kennel, you put your dog in it when you get off at Tel Aviv go to the luggage rack, and there's your dog.

So, she does, gets off at Tel Aviv, goes to the luggage rack, no dog. She goes to the lost and found, says, "Where's my dog?" They look all over the airport for it and find the dog in another terminal. Only the dog is dead.

"Oh, my gosh, they say, we killed this woman's dog. What are we going to do?"

Then one says, "Wait a minute, it's a cocker spaniel. They're common dogs.

There's a pet shop across the street from the airport. We'll get the same size, shape, color, sex. She'll never know the difference."

They bring the woman the other dog, but she says, "That's not my dog." Laughingly and making light of it they say, "What do you mean that's not your dog?"

To which she responds, "My dog's dead. I was taking it to Israel to bury it."

It is a strange phenomenon. The whole world celebrated Purim yesterday on the 14th of Adar on Thursdays—but in Jerusalem, they celebrate Purim today on Friday 15th of Adar. Why?

Because Mordechai and Esther instituted that Shushan residents perpetually observe Purim on the 15th of Adar, the day when the Shushanite Jews celebrated for the first time.

The Sages went a step further. Along with Shushan, which was a walled city (and is located in modern-day southwestern Iran, probably the city of Shush in central Persia), all Jews living in cities that were walled like Shushan, observe Purim on the 15th of Adar. This was in a show of solidarity to Shushan.

Yet, a very strange law was instituted. The definition of a walled city was not defined at the time of the Purim story. Rather, we looked at that city at the time when the Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, entered Canaan. Did it have a wall then? If yes, Purim is celebrated there on the 15th; if not—on the 14th.

This generated a strange paradox. There can be a city that had a wall at the time of Purim, yet Purim was celebrated there on the 14th since when Joshua entered into the Holy Land, it was unwalled. Conversely, take a city like Jerusalem (this is the old city of Jerusalem.) When the Purim story occurred, it was unwalled seventy years earlier the Babylonians breached and destroyed much of the wall. Yet there—and slimier cities—they celebrated Purim on the 15th since at the time of Joshua it was walled.

Hence, till today, in the holy city of Jerusalem, Purim is festively celebrated one day after all other cities.

Yet, this seems so strange. What is the connection with the time of Joshua? Why is the status of a city—whether walled or unwalled—determined not by the time of the story, but by almost 1000 years earlier?!

The answer goes to the heart of Jewish history.

This is how the Sages never allowed our people to forget Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. They may be living in Persia, a Jew—Esther—may be the First Lady, Mordechai—a great Rabbi, sage, and holy Jew—may be the Prime Minister. What do you need more?! It’s a dream come true!

Haman is dead. His children are dead. The Nazis of the time have been defeated. The Jews are honored, given freedom, security, and protection. They are safe in Persian, with a king who is now pro-Jews, with Jews occupying the top positions of the palace.  

In contrast, Israel at the time was desolate, destroyed, ransacked. Jerusalem has lost its glory; it didn’t even have its majestic wall to point to its former standing.

Indeed, as the Megillah intimates and the Talmud and Midrash explain, Persia, for many Jews has become the new Israel. Achashverosh is the new leader. When he throws a feat for seven days inviting all the people of Shushan, including the Jews, the Jews are delighted. At last, they have been accepted. They are equal citizens in the grand Persian Empire. As the Talmud puts it, “they enjoyed the feast of Achashverosh.” They did not only attend it; it became their source of pride, dignity, and joy. At last, they can tweet photos of themselves with Achashverosh in the Shushan place. They became comfortable in exile.

As the Talmud explains, the vessels Achashverosh used for the grand feast were the vessels of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He even donned garments of the High Priest. The message was clear: Ancient Jewish history is over. There is a new era. From now on, Jews will be faithful Persians, assimilate into Persian culture, and forget their past. Most Jews of the time embraced this new opportunity.

And yet, in this sea of tranquility—as is always the case in Jewish history—arose a Haman, who accused the Jews of “dual loyalty,” of posing a danger to Persian society, generating a decree of genocide against our people. Assimilation has achieved nothing for the Jews! Everything turned over in a moment and they were at the mercy of evil Haman.

When the tables turned at Haman, and Purim was established, the Sages may have lived in Shushan—but their hearts, eyes, and souls were in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem. “I am in the West, but my heart is in the East, 


"Rabbi Judah Halevi would write centuries later, living in Spain.

So when the status of a “walled city” had to be decided—they looked not at the present most, but the glorious Jewish past, and its glorious future. Jerusalem may be in ruins, but in our mind’s eternal eye, it is walled and fortified, because it once was, and will once be fortified again. A Jew might walk in the desolate streets of Jerusalem, he will look at the holy city and cry for a glory lost forever; he will want to observe Purim on the 14th of Adar, like all walled cities. So Jewish law says to him or her: No. Jerusalem is a walled city! We are an eternal people; we stretch back to Moses and Joshua, and we continue long after Achashverosh is gone. Now, it has no walls; but we still remember it was a walled city—and treat it that way.

And that is why we are still hearing today—with 7.6 million Jews living in our eternal homeland, and 700,000 Jews living in the holy city of Jerusalem.

There is a deeper, spiritual message here—articulated by the Rebbe.

The walled city represents, on a spiritual level, a life, or a community, which is fortified, protected, and immune against destructive influences. “The wall is Torah,” says the Talmud.

Sometimes a person looks in the mirror and feels that he or she is in ruins. I am destroyed and empty. My spiritual fortresses have fallen; my emotional immune system has been severely compromised.

At times I may feel, I have no walls. No boundaries. Things that do not belong in my life, enter it and cause a disruption. I may have these habits and inclinations that I cannot protect myself against.

What Mordechai and Esther taught the Jewish people, that as long as the fortress was once there—and every Jew in the womb of his or her mother has had the “Wall” of Torah to protect him or her, even if now it seems in ruins, Purim allows you to experience life within those protective walls, and see yourself as a “walled” soul. You need not fall prey to the notion that you are open prey to all toxic forces which can enter your systems with your walls compromised.

Sometimes you feel that the walls of your own holy city of Jerusalem are in ruins. Comes Purim and says, now you have the power to “reconstruct” those sacred walls and live a life of integrity, morality, and purity.

The late Yehuda Amichai, one of the great Israeli poets, once wrote this about Jerusalem:

Jerusalem’s a place where everyone remembers he’s forgotten something

But doesn’t remember what it is.

That deep memory, Shushan Purim teaches us, is powerful enough to help each of us to rebuild the walls of our own inner Jerusalem.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Shushan Purim,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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