The Mitzvot of Purim and Unity
By Nachum Mohl
There are four mitzvot that everyone involves themselves with on Purim, reading the Megillah, making a drinking party (Mishtah), sending food gifts to friends and neighbors (Mishloach Manot), and giving alms to the needy (Matanot L'Evyonim). These four are not just four random mitzvot, but rather are linked together in accordance to the theme of Purim which is "Achdut", meaning unity, being all together, as we shall explain.
The main protagonist of the Purim story, Haman, started the Purim catastrophe by complaining to King Achasverous that "there is a certain people who are scattered and dispersed amongst the peoples in the states of your rule and their religion is different from all of the (other) peoples
" (Esther 3:8) What Haman is really pointing out is that the Jews are the opposite of unity, they are 'scattered and dispersed'.
Therefore in order to cancel the decree that was enacted by Haman and King Achasverous it was necessary to "go, assemble all of the Jews..." (Esther 4:16) The Jews in Shushan gathered together to fast and to pray. From this we see that the main point of Purim is togetherness and unity amongst the Jews. It was not just then but also in our times that in order to cancel evil decrees, the Jews must come together, put aside their differences and stand jointly as one body.
This can be seen in the four mitzvot of the Purim:
Reading the Megillah is to be done at least in a minyan (quorum of ten) but it is preferable that a person should go the synagogue where all the people have assembled to hear the reading together. This coming together to hear the reading is opposite Haman's claim that the Jews are 'scattered and dispersed'. We unite in the synagogue to hear the Megillah reading.
Mishloach Manot, the sending of food presents to our friends and neighbors brings us together in feelings. It generates good will towards each other. The more one can send to as many friends, the more he cements bonds of good will that will make him a valued person in the community and not just one person out there. In addition, the people who receive the food stuff feel honored by the gifts. This type of unity is in the heart. Not only do men send presents to their friends and women to their friends, but children are encouraged to send food presents to their friends as well. This adds to the greater unity amongst us.
Matanot L'Evyonim is giving alms to people in need. Nothing is as bad as being an indigent person who must beg for his necessities. When we go out of our way to help our impoverish brethren, we show them that we as individuals care. We do not leave their plight to some cold-hearted institution to help them, but rather we seek them out and send them money. This brightens their hearts and makes them feel part of the community; they are cared for and they know it. This is an example of unity by bringing people into the community who feel totally left out.
The festive meal (Mishtah) also, we are instructed not to make it just a family affair, but rather to invite others into our houses. We open our doors and tell others to come join us for there is no comparison of joy and happiness when we are alone to that of when we are with others. In fact the more people who join us, the greater is the simcha and joy of the Purim feast.
How is it possible that we can be happy if others are not happy? By gathering together in performance of mitzvoth and helping out others to realize happiness brings us closer to unity. It is just this unity of care and concern of one Jew for another that saved us from Haman's evil decree and it will be this same type of concern that will bring us through all of the troubles and trials that should never come upon us.
from the Febuary 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine