The Similarity of Difference by Mordechai Farkas


As we look deep into the holiday of Purim we begin to see a strong connection to Shabbat. This can be illustrated in part through a story: A well known Orthodox Rabbi was invited to a 12-course dinner at Buckingham Palace. The Rabbi explained that he was unable to attend due to Jewish dietary laws. The Palace assured him that everything would be taken care of, whereupon the Rabbi accepted the invitation. The day of the dinner arrived and the Rabbi made his way to the Palace. The appointed Mashgiach showed the Rabbi where he would sit, as well as the cutlery he would use, which had been bought new and was Toveiled (ritually immersed) especially for him; in short, everything was in order. Once the royal family arrived, the meal began. Immersed in conversation, the Rabbi suddenly noticed the lights dimming as everybody rose and began moving around the room. One of the guests explained to the rather confused Rabbi that the queen likes to move everybody around each course so that everyone gets a chance to meet each other. The Rabbi was now faced with a problem. Due to laws of Kashrut, he was prohibited from eating with the other place-settings. The Rabbi decided to carry his entire place-setting to his next location, and he repeated the process throughout the meal. While carrying his plates between one of the courses, another Jewish guest hissed at him under his breath, “Will you stop that?! You are embarrassing the Jewish people!”

“Sorry, but I keep Kosher,” was the Rabbi’s reply.

“Well, make an exception!”

Despite this encounter, the Rabbi continued to carry his plates for the rest of the dinner. At the end of the meal, the Prince bid the guests farewell. As the Rabbi approached him, the Prince said, “Excuse me, but I couldn't help noticing that you were carrying your dishes around the room.”

“Yes,” said the Rabbi, “I did it because of the Jewish dietary laws.”

“How interesting!” said the Prince. “Please, tell me more.”

The Prince and the Rabbi began to discuss Kashrut. Suddenly, the Jewish guest who had objected to the Rabbi's behavior came over to the talk to the Prince and stated confidentially, “I'm Jewish too.” The Prince looked at him and said, “Really? I didn't notice you carrying your dishes around the room.” The message of this story is that when we are different we are noticed, often for the better.

As Hashem's nation, we have big expectations to realize. We have Mitzvot to fulfill, Torah to learn, and Chesed to perform. This is how Hashem distinguishes us from the other nations of the world. However, when we discard these things we lose our uniqueness and it becomes very difficult to distinguish between Am Yisrael and the other nations. We are lost to Hashem like a child separated from his parents in a huge crowd. However, when we stand out of the crowd through Torah and Mitzvot, etc., we make ourselves noticeable to Hashem. How does being different, and therefore noticed, show a connection between Shabbat and Purim? Shabbat is the day when the Jews rest and the world works, when we stand out from the crowd. Purim shows us that when we stand out from the crowd we are noticed, as Achashveirosh’s notice of Esther ultimately led to the salvation of the Jewish people.

Standing out is only part of the connection between Shabbat and Purim. The Beit HaLeivi writes on Parashat Yitro that the salvation of the Jews of Shushan began on Shabbat because they did not attend the party of Achashveirosh that took place on Shabbat. According to Rashi, Shabbat was the day Vashti was executed for refusing to attend the party. This in turn opened a position of power for Esther, thus beginning the redemption process. Because they were separate and different on Shabbat, the Jews merited redemption.

There are still deeper ties between Purim and Shabbat. Before Shabbat is over, we recite Havdalah. The first section of the Havdalah talks about salvation and the last section is the Berachah on distinctions such as light and dark, Kodesh and Chol, and, perhaps most relevant to us, Yisrael and the other nations. In the first section, every phrase talks about salvation except for one: “LaYehudim Hayetah Orah VeSimchah VeSason VIkar,” “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor” (Esther 8:16). Why is this Pasuk included in Havdalah? This Pasuk is mentioned in the Megilah right after the evil decree was removed, which resulted in the full salvation of the Jews. This Pasuk is in Havdalah to give us an example of the salvation the first section speaks of.

The last section of the Havdalah is the Berachah on the distinctions. The Pasuk from Esther creates a connection between the first section and last section by calling our attention to the story that shows us that when we are different (as described in the section of distinction) we are noticed (as described in the section of salvation).

At last we can see the full connection between Shabbat and Purim. On Shabbat, especially the one before Purim, we stand out from the rest of the world and we should have a sense that we are different, unique, and noticeable to Hashem. As Shabbat is about to depart while we recite Havdalah, we should acknowledge that our salvation in any situation is dependent upon being different and noticeable to Hashem. As Purim arrives conveniently on Motzei Shabbat, we will read the story of Purim and note the themes of difference and salvation that tie Purim to Shabbat.

As we celebrate Purim with joy and happiness over the great miracle that Hashem did for us we should continue to remember the message behind it all: When we are different, we are noticed.

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