Finding Grace From Within - Hamodia 4.2.2014

Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel (said, since) in most years (we think of the Jewish month of) Adar as (a month which) adjoins (the month of) Nissan, (we celebrate the holiday of Purim) in the Adar which adjoins Nissan (I.e. Adar II)… What is the reason? Rabbi Tabi said… more emphasis is attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another (I.e. Purim and Passover). (Megilla 6b)

At first glance, the connection established in the above Talmudic passage between Purim and Passover appears tenuous. The Purim story, after all, was a classic hidden miracle, in which God orchestrated the Jews’ salvation through a sequence of seemingly fortuitous political events. In stark contrast, the detailed account of our redemption from Egypt is presented as one long, supernatural miracle, through which God exacted precise punishment on the Egyptians and led us out on the path to freedom and independence. Certainly, the pronounced dissimilarities between Purim and Passover bring the need to juxtapose the two “periods of redemption” into serious question.

Rabbi Chaim Freidlander (Sifsei Chaim, Vol. II, pp. 241ff) suggests that despite their fundamental differences, the redemptions of Purim and Passover are intimately linked by the lesson which they taught about achieving true grace (graciousness) in the eyes of our gentile neighbors.

According to the midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13), the Jews of Persia were threatened with extermination “because they partook of the feast of Achashveirosh”. This statement is quite puzzling. After all, it would appear that the Jews of Shushan did the right thing by attending the feast. Not only were there no concerns about the acceptability of the food and drink that was served (see Esther 1:8), but the Jews logically reasoned that their absence from the event would invoke the ire of their Persian ruler. Nevertheless, by participating the Jews ignored Mordechai’s warnings to stay away, based on his concerns over lewdness at the feast and the unhealthy sociability that their involvement would engender.

The Jews of Persia favored a compliant, non-confrontational approach in dealing with the country’s ruler. They perceived that they would achieve the greatest degree of royal favor by acceding to Achashveirosh’s expectations. In truth, however, it was this very conformity that led directly to the enactment of Haman’s hateful, devastating decree, and almost resulted in their complete annihilation.

They learned the hard way that securing gentile favor has little to do with our willingness to adopt their societal and behavioral norms. On the contrary, goodwill is engendered circuitously by following God’s will and allowing our Maker to intervene on our behalf. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7) Yet, when God deems it to be unhealthy for us to enjoy such favor, all of the efforts in the world to the contrary will be of little consequence. “He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.” (Psalms 105:25)

Sadly, the Jews of Persia failed to learn from the past. At the beginning of the Jews’ exile in Egypt, they made the same mistake in their attempt to curry Egyptian favor.

 “And a new king arose who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) – When Joseph died, the Jews abolished the covenant of circumcision… As soon as they had done so, God converted the love with which the Egyptians loved them into hatred. (Exodus Rabbah, 1:8)

According to Bais HaLevi, this midrash is not to be understood literally. Our sages are telling us that following Joseph’s death, the Jews feared for their futures in Egypt and attempted to undo their marked uniqueness. Much to their surprise, this attempt at conciliation backfired and ultimately resulted in vicious hatred and slavery.

Two hundred years later, the Jewish slaves in Egypt experienced a similar paradox, this time in a positive sense. Following the conclusion of the plague of darkness, at a time when one would logically expect for the Jews and their leader to be thoroughly despised for the destruction which their God had wrought on their country, the Torah tells us that the exact opposite occurred. “The Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians… Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the eyes of the people.” (Exodus 11:3)

This trend has repeated itself far too often in our long history, most notably in recent centuries. Time and again Jews have viewed appeasement and social blending as the best path towards acceptance, discarding key aspects of their faith in favor of the current whims of their host country.

And each time God has had to remind us, sometimes in the harshest of terms, that true acceptance will never emerge from such falsely placed hopes. Only through a true, longstanding commitment to God and His Torah will we merit to witness the final “period of redemption”, in which we will fully appreciate the unique destiny which God has planned for us. 

This lesson has application for us on many levels, personal as well as communal. So often, we sell ourselves short in our quest to satisfy others and gain acceptance. We underestimate our special qualities and instead seek recognition through association and conformity, even when such relationships force us to compromise on some of our standards.

While we may be inclined to think that we have to find ways please those around us in order to win their good graces, we must realize that grace is primarily the outgrowth of our own confidence and clarity of purpose. A person who understands life and their unique role exudes a special confidence and inner peace that is magnetic and inspiring.

Naturally, relationships are very important to all of us and must be properly developed. We are social creatures who were designed to interact with one another and to work together to inspire each other towards growth and fulfillment. However, we must remember that the way to earn the genuine respect and admiration of our friends and associates is not through artificial conformity but rather a deep sense of confidence and purpose, one that emerges from inner contentment and peace. 

Naphtali HoffComment