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By Rabbi Altein, March 18, 2011

The Megilla sums up the Purim story by saying, "the Jews gave a lasting commitment and accepted upon themselves to celebrate their victory over Haman, year after year." To what did the Jews commit? If it was to celebrate Purim, then the wording should have been: "the Jews accepted upon themselves and gave a lasting commitment" because it is only after having accepted something that you can give that acceptance a lasting commitment.

The Talmud explains that this verse alludes to a much more far-reaching commitment. The Jews committed themselves to keep the Torah in a way that they had never done before. When some 970 years previously the Jews left Egypt and stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, they had already accepted G-d's Torah. But that earlier commitment was not as deep and far reaching as their later commitment at the time of Purim.

The Talmud goes on to say that on Purim, Jews committed to live by the Torah out of a free choice. But in the times of Moses, their decision was forced. That statement cannot be taken literally. When Moses asked the Jews whether they would accept the Torah, they replied, "All that G-d says we will do." Sounds like a sincere commitment, so why was it incomplete?

The founder of Chabad, Rabbi S. Zalman, explained that this Talmudic statement contains a most profound thought. A human being is not only coerced by physical force. Reason and logic can exert just as much force. When a person is presented with two options, one that makes sense and the other illogical, there is no question about what course an intelligent human being would choose. It is unthinkable for a rational person to make an irrational choice.

When the Jews left Egypt, they were set free from horrible persecution by G-d with compassion and love. They witnessed first-hand amazing miracles: the Ten Plagues, the Crossing of the Red Sea and the food of Manna that fell daily. When they all heard the voice of G-d proclaim at Sinai, "I am your G-d that took you out of Egypt"-could they possibly have refused to accept His laws?

In the times of Purim, the tables were turned. It was dangerous to be Jewish. Haman had issued a decree that every single Jew would be killed on the 13th day of Adar. The entire civilized world, including all Jewry, lived in the Persian Empire under Haman's authority. They had nowhere to escape unless they would change their religion and convert and try to lose their Jewish identity. But they remained Jewish. Purim presented Jews with the greatest challenge that they had faced since they began their history.

It was a no-brainer to remain Jewish at the time that Jews stood at Mount Sinai. At that time, it was the most natural, pleasurable and proudest thing to do. But there was no guarantee that their acceptance of Judaism at that peaceful era would endure the test of time. Perhaps, when things would change and living as a Jew would become challenging, perhaps Jews might then change their mind about their priorities. The times of Purim brought that challenge. It took tremendous courage to assert one's Jewish identity when being Jewish meant certain death. And Jews passed that test with flying colours.

Purim celebrates the deep connection that Jews have with the Torah. The Jew and the Torah are inseparable!

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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