Being There is Half of the Battle

In the Ninth פרק of מגילת אסתר, we read that on the thirteenth of אדר, the Jewish People fought their battles and rested on the fourteenth, and the Jews of שושן fought also on the fourteenth and rested on the fifteenth. Then: “עַל כֵּן הַיְּהוּדִים הַפְּרָזִים הַיֹּשְׁבִים בְּעָרֵי הַפְּרָזוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר שִׂמְחָה וּמִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב וּמִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ- Therefore, the exposed Jews in the exposed cities made the 14th of Adar into a day of happiness and celebration and sending presents to each other” (אסתר ט’:י”ט)- the Jews, who had been in an exposed position, made י”ד אדר into a יום טוב. However, a little further on, we read: “לְקַיֵּם עֲלֵיהֶם לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר וְאֵת יוֹם חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה- [Mordechai sent a letter to all of the Jews] to make a celebration day of the 14th and 15th of Adar every year” (ט’:כ”א). Doesn’t this seem to contradict the previous פסוק which says that the Jews celebrated only on the 14th of Adar? Where does the 15th come from?

According to (גמרא מגילה (דף ב’ עמ’ ב’, this is the source of שושן פורים, a delayed celebration of פורים for those who live in cities surrounded by walls since the time of יהושע בן נון. This הלכה, which was impractical for many hundreds of years as the Jews were in the Exile, became to be practical again as more Jews returned to Israel in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century with the first and second עליות, and became even more practical with the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, leading modern poskim to come to the unanimous decision that the Jewish capital would celebrate שושן פורים. It is miraculous that we are in a day and age where we can see the celebration of holiday that our forebears only dreamed of seeing, and with G-d’s help we will see the continued celebration of שושן פורים in the Holy city until we see the final destruction of our mortal enemy עמלק speedily in our time.

I believe that there is an important lesson that can be learned from the reasoning for this celebration of שושן פורים. Many ראשונים grappled with question of why there is a separate holiday for the Jews who live in walled cities. It is extremely odd that we would split up the Jewish People’s celebration of a יום טוב based on where they live- why would we be חולק the ציבור by creating שושן פורים? Furthermore, why would we base our חג on the cities that were surrounded by walls in the time of יהושע בן נון? At the time of the נס פורים, most of those cities laid in ruins having been destroyed by the Babylonians.

Rav Ovadiah of Bartenura, in his פירוש on משנה מגילה א’:א’, answers that the reason that we celebrate שושן פורים based on the cities that were walled in the time of יהושע is because at the end of the תורה reading of פורים day, we read “וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ- G-d said to Moshe: Write this remembrance [of Amalek] in a sefer and put it in the ears of Yehoshua” (שמות י”ז:י”ד). Therefore, we celebrate שושן פורים in the walled cities established by the one who was first commanded in זכירת עמלק.

Rambam, in הלכות מגילה א’:ה’, answers that the reason that we celebrate שושן פורים based on the מקופות חומה of the time of יהושע is to remind the Jewish People that even as we have a victory in Persia, the cities of Israel, first established by יהושע בן נון, are still in ruins and “אכתי עבדי אחשורוש- we are still slaves to the גלות of אחשורוש.” By basing our celebrations on ארץ ישראל, we are able to bring the Holy Land into our celebrations, even as we feel so far away from it, and through this we can remember our גלות and anticipate our גאולה.

While Bartenura and Rambam both have very interesting ideas on why we use the walled cities of the time יהושע as our guide for שושן פורים, and we can learn very important lessons from them (especially רמב”ם), we still have not explained why there is a שושן פורים at all. Why would we divide the Jewish community in their celebration of the חג of unity?

Ramban (חידושי רמב”ן על הש”ס מס’ מגילה דף ב עמ’ א), answers that the reason that there is a שושן פורים is because the Jews of the walled cities felt less threatened than their more exposed brothers by the המן threat, and were therefore slower in sending their troops and support to the war against their enemies. This explains why, in the פסוק quoted above, we read of the “exposed” Jews (יהודים הפרזים) celebrating on the 14th of אדר, yet we read at the end that the first פורים was celebrated on the 14th and 15th of אדר- because the exposed Jews, the ones who were on the front-line and had the most to lose, started fighting first and celebrated on the 14th, and the more secure Jews, the ones in the walled cities, celebrated on the 15th instead. רמב”ן continues to explain that when מרדכי established the חג for the דורות, he created שושן פורים as a reminder to the Jews of walled cities of their delay in helping out their brothers, and as reminder to the Jews of future generations of the price of withholding their help until it’s too late.

Right now, we are in a similar, yet ironically opposite situation (truly ונהפוך הוא). The Jews who will be celebrating שושן פורים on Monday are on the frontline- living in a city considered by most to be illegally occupied by them. They, along with their brothers in neighboring cities and towns, face a constant threat of terrorism, rocket launching, and are in the process of fighting a heated defensive battle in a an attempt to save their homes and our national ancestral home. As they are engaged in this intense battle, we, their Jewish brothers sitting in our continually self-imposed exile, are leaving them on their own much as the Jews of the walled cities left their exposed brothers in the time of נס פורים. Based on the teachings of the רמב”ם in his ספר מורה נבוכים as well as modern גדולים in the religious orthodox world, we believe that the only way to save our endangered brothers is not through sending money and packages (משלוח מנות), not through telling of their plight (קריאת מגילה)- it will be through righting the wrong of our ancestors who lived in the walled cities by leaving our security in the exile to join our fellow Jews on the frontline in Israel. Whether one agrees on a Haskafa level about the connection between the Jewish settlement in Israel and the coming of the משיח is not as important right now.  What is important is that 5.5 million of our Jewish brothers, whether underly-religious, overly-religious, or anywhere in between, need our help. Politics won’t help them- they have been virtually abandoned by the American government and almost every other government in the world. Money won’t help them. The only thing that can help our brothers and save the Jewish state is by leaving our walled cities of the גלות, making our way to the frontline in Israel, and saving our brothers by joining them, for there is strength in numbers.

Through this, we can iy”h fulfill the רמב”ם’s interpretation of מקופות חומות מימי יהושע by including ארץ ישראל in our פורים this year in the גלות, and, with G-d’s help, we will hopefully see a righting of the wrong that the רמב”ן believed the Jews of the מקופות חומות committed against those who lived in the ערים פרזים by joining our exposed brothers in the Holy Land, and through this, we will see a final victory against our generation’s עמלק, an end to our strife and the strife of our brothers, and the coming of the גאולה very soon. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach.

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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