Standing, as we are, between the Yomim Tovim of Chanuka and Purim, perhaps we should take out some time to analyze these days, and to examine some ways in which these Holidays are similar, and some in which they are different.
Both of these Yomim Tovim originated after the giving of the written Torah, and on both we celebrate our salvation from certain threats. Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim points out, the reaction of our forefathers to each of these threats was very different. In the story of Chanuka, when the ancient Greeks made certain decrees against the Jews with the intention of having them abandon their religion, the Chashmonaim (the righteous Jews who led the rebellion against the Greek Oppressors) actually risked their lives and went to do battle against the oppressors. The Jews in the days of Purim, however, when threatened with total annihilation at the hands of Haman, felt it sufficient to rely on G-D, and they limited their reaction to fast, prayer and repentance.
Why this distinction?
By taking a closer look at this juxtaposition, we find evidence of a beautiful and reciprocal relationship that exists between G-D and the Jewish people. The Pasuk in Shir Hashirim says, regarding this relationship, “Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li” – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me! We take up each other’s cause! When the Greeks attempted our spiritual destruction, it was essentially the honor of Hashem that they sought to undermine. In such a circumstance we don’t have the right to simply pray and rely on G-D to take care of it. We have a responsibility to defend the honor of Heaven by actually sacrificing our lives to overcome this threat. (Not, of course that G-D needs our help, rather, it is we who need to demonstrate publicly the awesome regard in which we hold Him and His Torah). In the story of Purim, however, where it was only our physical lives that were at stake, we then view it as a threat to us, and – in traditional Jewish style – we react with prayer and repentance, and we leave the fighting to Hashem.
There are other places where we notice this special relationship. At the beginning of Parshas Yisro the Torah tells us the following: “VaYishma Yisro Kohen Midyon Chosen Moshe…Vayovo Yisro Chosen Moshe…” etc.
Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, heard something, and as a result of that which he heard, he came to join the Jewish people as their first convert. Rashi asks the question:
What was this thing that he heard which made him give up a life of luxury for a life in the desert with a foreign nation? Rashi answers: “Krias Yam Suf U’Milchemes Amalek”.
Yisro heard about the splitting of the Red Sea and about the war that the Jews fought (and miraculously won) against the nation of Amalek. It was these two miracles, which convinced him to come and convert.
Many commentators ask the following question. While both of the above mentioned miracles were certainly great and wondrous, they were by no means the only miracles that G-D performed for the Jews when He took them out of Egypt! How, then, did Rashi know that it was specifically these two miracles which made Yisro come and join them? (The question becomes even more puzzling when we take a look at the rest of the Rashi’s on the very same Pasuk and we see that Rashi himself enumerates many of these other miracles in connection with the conversion of Yisro!)
The answer may be that, in fact, it was not these two miracles per se which made him come. Rather, it was the juxtaposition in the response of the B’nai Yisroel to these two
situations, which intrigued Yisro. Just before the splitting of the Red Sea, when the Jewish people saw the huge Egyptian army, (a total of nine hundred million people! –
Rabbeinu Bachya) running toward them, they came to Moshe to express their fear. Moshe responded saying: “Al Tirau…Hashem Yilochem Lochem V’Atem Tacharishun”. You need not fear! Hashem will fight for you, and you can be still”!
Yet a relatively short time later, when the Jewish people were attacked by the nation of Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua: “B’Char Lonu Anoshim V’Tzei Hilochem BaAmolek”. Go put together an army and do battle against Amalek!
Why the discrepancy?
The same concept, which we introduced to differentiate between the reaction to the threat of Chanuka and that of Purim, can be applied here as well. The Egyptians came running after the Jews in an attempt to regain the free labor, which they lost as a result of the Exodus from Egypt. As such, their battle was against us, not against G-D, and as such we leave our defense to Hashem. Amalek, on the other hand, came to attack us in order to diminish the great honor that was being given to G-D by all the nations of the world, as a result of the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim. When G-D’s honor is at stake, we go to war!
When Yisro heard about the different responses to these two miracles, he became aware of this beautiful relationship, which exists between G-D and the Jewish people, and he was thus duly inspired to come and be a part of this tremendous experience.
May our awareness of the great love that Hashem has for us, inspire us to embrace the same feelings towards Him!
Rabbi Yehuda Oppenheimer