It was exactly a year ago that Covid began to spread throughout Israel, forcing us into our homes, locking the door behind us. When we celebrated Purim last year, we understood that something was happening, but we could never have predicted the magnitude. We toned down our Purim celebrations a drop, asked our guests to apply hand sanitizer, and prayed for the best.
But the parties ended, and the flood hit. One year later, and we are still wearing our masks.
Throughout this challenging time, our chevre at Congregation Shirat David in Efrat have been finding strength and inspiration through the sefarim of Rav Itamar Schwartz, best known as the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh. Lately, we have delved into Shni Tola’at, first introduced to me by my own Rebbe, Rav Moshe Weinberger.
Asking for Emuna
One of the most striking pieces in this book is an offhand comment mentioned somewhere in the middle of a paragraph. Rav Schwartz writes that there is only one thing to which God never says no. We all ask for so many things — more money, a partner, this job, that opportunity — and God responds “yes” or “no” without revealing the rhyme or reason. We are left wondering why this thing that we are so certain will enhance our lives has been deemed unnecessary by our mysterious Father in Heaven.
But there’s one request that Hashem simply cannot refuse.
Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the World, help me believe in you more.
When a Jew asks for more emuna, all the gates are opened. And the word emuna means so much more than “faith.” It is rooted in the word imun — trust.
Hashem, I want to trust you, and I want to feel that you trust me.
This basic trust is something that is so lacking today among Klal Yisrael and in the world at large. Alongside the threat of the deadly disease, many of us are also suffering from a serious side effect – the pandemic of fear that has swept through our hearts and souls. Fear of getting sick, and fear of infecting others. Fear of getting vaccinated, and fear of being exposed. Fear of conspiracy theories, and fear of being used. Fear of being alone, and fear of being together. Fear that builds walls and destroys relationships. Fear that has planted a lack of trust so deep that many of us find ourselves skeptical of everything — the government, the media, our own neighbors and relatives. How broken are we, when we cannot trust one another? What has become of our emuna?
Mordechai & Esther as Masters of Emuna
In Megillat Esther we see this dual concept of emuna and trust demonstrated by Mordechai:
וְכָל-עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר-בְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ, כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לְהָמָן–כִּי-כֵן”
“ צִוָּה-לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ; וּמָרְדֳּכַי–לֹא יִכְרַע, וְלֹא יִשְׁתַּחֲוֶ
“And all the king’s servants, that were in the king’s gate, bowed down, and prostrated themselves before Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down, nor prostrate himself before him.” (Esther 3:2)
Moredechai’s courageous faith paved the way for all of us to be true believers. He showed us that even when you stand before the greatest challenges in life — when a death sentence hangs over your head — there is no reason to despair. Instead of surrendering to his fate or betraying his true self, Mordechai stands out as a symbol of faith.
And he wasn’t just a spiritual soul, disconnected from the world around him. He had a tremendous sense of social responsibility to both Esther and Am Yisrael as a whole.
“וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת-הֲדַסָּה, הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּת-דֹּדוֹ–…וּבְמוֹת אָבִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ, לְקָחָהּ מָרְדֳּכַי לוֹ לְבַת”
“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter…and when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter.”
The megillah uses the verb omain, linguistically connected to both the concepts of coaching (think imunim – training), as well as faith (emuna). Mordechai did not just keep Esther fed and clothed, he was her faith coach. She had no one else in the world, so he passed on to her the deepest secret of life: he taught her to pray to God for emuna.
It is through this intense yet simple training that Esther the orphan grows into the powerful queen we meet in the Purim story, the one who ultimately becomes capable of risking her life because she learned how to believe in herself and the God above. She knew that she had nothing to fear because she was asking for the one thing she was guaranteed to receive.
Mishloach Manot as a trust-building tool
Beyond the main characters, the entire Purim story is a lesson in trust and faith. According to the Ostrovtzer Rebbe, when the fate of the Jewish people was miraculously overturned, they didn’t just come to believe in God, but they learned to trust each other again. At the beginning of the story, we are deep in the gluttonous debauchery of King Achashverosh’s feast, guzzling unkosher food and wine from the sacred vessels used in the Temple. No one could trust each other anymore – their beliefs, their actions, or where they stood on halachic issues.
But as Mordechai reminds us — there is no reason to despair. After the Jewish people are saved, Chazal translated the lofty messages learned through the miracles into practical, communal rituals. By overturning the course of the world on our behalf, God demonstrated a tremendous trust in the Jewish people and our role in human history. In order to bring God’s miracles into the real world, we need to emulate this trust toward one another.
We simply need to give and receive mishloach manot — gifts of food. It may seem mundane, but it was revolutionary at the time. At the beginning of the story, no one would have trusted each other’s kashrut or dared to accept food from one another. Sometimes, it is the simplest things that have the power to bring us together and bring God into the world.
I want to give us all a bracha that this Purim, our emuna — our faith in God — and our emun — our trust in each other — should be taken to the highest levels. This Purim, give and receive mishloach manot from someone who looks, thinks, lives, and prays differently from you. This Purim, ask God to open you up to truly believe. He won’t say no. The original Purim story ended with the building of the Second Temple. If we get it right, perhaps this year’s Purim will end with the building of the Third Temple.
Gut Purim & Good Shabbos