From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
[Explaining Why the Jewish People Were Punished so Harshly for Eating Non-Kosher Food at Achashverosh’s Feast]
This year, 5781, the inhabitants of Yerushalayim and other cities surrounded by a wall [from the time of Yehoshua] will celebrate “Purim Meshulash” [A Three-day Purim]. So whilst most of the cities will celebrate Purim on Friday the 14th Adar, in Yerushalayim they will spread Purim over three days. On Friday the 14th Adar they read Megillat Esther and give Matanot La’Evyonim, on Shabbat the 15th Adar they say Al Hanisim and read the parasha about Amalek and on Sunday they celebrate the Purim Seuda and Mishloach Manot.
We all celebrate the Festival of Purim and give thanks to Hashem for the miracle of the salvation from the decree of Haman ben Hamdata, who wanted to annihilate and kill all the Jews from young to old on one day. Hashem abolished his decree and erased his devious plan, “and it was turned about: The Jews prevailed over their enemies” (Esther 9:1).
The Talmud (Megilla 12a) relates that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s pupils asked him, why did the Jewish people of that generation become liable for destruction? Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said to them. You answer! They said to him, because they benefited from Achashverosh’s seuda. That means that they ate and drank non-kosher food that Achashverosh had made for all the people, the Jewish people in Shushan the capitol joined in this feasting.
It begs the question that in the Torah there are rules for the severity of each sin. The prohibition for eating forbidden food is a “lo ta’aseh” (something prohibited) for which lashes are proscribed, if so why were they punished with such a severe punishment of death and annihilation?
In order to understand this we will preface the following story of a bank manager who required a person to work as a cashier and who would welcome customers. A young man expressed an interest suited to the bank’s criteria. The bank manager informed him that he won the job and must arrive tomorrow at 8:00am. The next day he arrived at 9:00am, one hour late. The bank manager summoned him and warned him that he must be punctual. The next day, he was yet again late and arrived at 8:30am. The bank manager called him and said, “This is your final warning! If you are late tomorrow you will be fired” And so the next day he was on time.
After some time, the bank manager required a clerk who would open new accounts for the bank. A suitable young man arrived and was immediately given the job. However, immediately on his first day the bank manager saw that every new customer that arrived to open a new account in the bank sat for a while opposite the new clerk and would immediately leave without opening a new account. Another customer arrived, and when he got up to leave, the bank manager beckoned to him and asked him why he isn’t opening a bank account here, as he had originally wanted to? The customer answered him explaining that the clerk advised him to open an account in the bank situated opposite since it is offering some really good incentives and the charges are much lower, it is a much better deal. And he advised me to open there and not by you!
The bank manager was infuriated and demanded that he leave the bank immediately and fired him on the spot.
The new clerk was surprised, “Why when the cashier came a number of times late you warned him before you fired him and why am I fired without warning?” The bank manager responded, “The cases are not comparable at all. The cashier was part of the bank’s workforce but was somewhat lazy and came late, in these circumstances it is sufficient to warn him and wait for him to improve. But you send our customers to another bank, you have detached yourself from our bank, you are no part of us, and you are fired without warning!”
The analogy is as follows. A Jew who has an urge to sin, is still part of the Jewish People, because he is distressed for having sinned. To him applies the rules of sins and comparable punishments. But a Jew who sins and benefits from that sin and enjoys being there, he has excluded himself from the group. In this case, there are no warnings and rules. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s pupils said about the Jews of Shushan that they “benefited” from Achashverosh’s seuda, it doesn’t say that they simply “ate”, implying without choice, but that they “benefited”! They enjoyed being amongst the gentiles and another people! It was delight for them to be there! With this they excluded themselves from Klal Yisrael. They are associated with another bank and as such the normal principles do not apply but they are discharged from the Jewish People.
The remedy therefore was that “They accepted upon themselves and their children” (Esther 9:27), they accepted the Torah’s mitzvot with a genuine sense of willingness, with love and joy. They merited to relief and deliverance, miracles and wonders. We should all make the effort to fulfil the Torah from joy and love, as we say every day in our teffilot: “Our King, You have drawn us close to your great Name with love, to thank you and to proclaim Your Oneness, to fear and love Your Name”.
May we all merit to miracles and wonders, good news, salvation and comfort, Amen.