I hope this note finds you all well.
This Shabbos we read Parshas Zachor, heralding the approach of Purim and marking a year since we began to confront the pandemic. It has been a year of many challenges for everyone, while many have endured a total upheaval, resulting from the loss of family members, serious illness, financial ruin, or significant emotional challenges due to the uncertainty and the lockdown. If you or I have been blessed to be more or less okay, we must not forget our brothers and sisters who are not as fortunate.
In that same spirit, we should note the Texas communities struggling with the ravages of this week’s extreme winter storms, with thousands left without power, heat, and running water. We should have them in mind in our prayers, and not allow ourselves to be oblivious to their suffering.
Empathy is central to the Purim story. The critical turning point in the story occurs when Mordechai tells Esther, “Do not imagine that you alone from amongst all the Jews will be able to find safety by taking refuge in the king’s palace.” And this same theme is found in the original war against Amalek that we recall this Shabbos and read from the Torah on Purim morning, when Moshe stood on the mountaintop overlooking the battlefield with his hands raised in prayer. The Torah describes how as Moshe’s hands became heavy and tired, they brought him a stone to rest upon. The Talmud (Taanis 11a, quoted by Rashi Shemos 17:12) explained that Moshe chose not to rest on a soft pillow or blanket but on a stone, because he needed to share the pain of the Jewish people on the battlefield.
This attitude is in line with a fundamental contrast drawn by our Sages (Vayikra Rabba 4:6, quoted by Rashi Bereishis 46:27) between the families of Yaakov and of Eisav, forerunners of the Jewish people and of Amalek. Eisav had six people in his family and they were referred to as “souls”, Nefashos, in the plural form, while the seventy Jews who came to Egypt are referred to in the singular form as Shivim Nefesh, literally “seventy soul”. Fundamentally, the Jewish people – as opposed to the Amalekites – must live and feel as one, connected to and feeling for each other.
So, while as we celebrate Purim we often make note of the Jewish faith, noting G-d’s hand in every world event and celebrating the power of prayer as a pathway to deliverance, it appears that there should be a significant emphasis on Jewish compassion, expressed both in the story line and in the Mitzvos of the day that emphasize reaching out to others via Mishloach Manos and care for the needy through Matanos l’Evyonim. There is nothing quite as Jewish and as worth of celebration as true empathy and caring.
If you have a few minutes, please follow the link below for a thought from this week’s Parsha regarding the enduring impact of our own investment and handiwork.
Watch Rabbi Hauer’s Erev Shabbos Message – Terumah/Zachor 5781 2.19.2021 – below: