Haman said to King Achashverosh, “There is a nation scattered and separated amongst the people throughout the provinces of your realm, and their laws differ from that of any other nation, and the laws of the king they do not do, and it is not worth it to tolerate them.” (Scroll of Esther 3:8) With these words Haman gives the first anti-Semitic speech in history, which highlights Jewish exceptionalism as the problem anti-Semites have with the Jews. Haman judges us for living according to our own distinct laws and customs, and his verdict is genocide. But why does Haman introduce his argument by pointing out that we are a people “scattered and separated” about?
Perhaps Haman is counseling the king that the Jews are not only different, they are also vulnerable. Being scattered and separated, it would be implausible for us to organize an effective defense if attacked. If this is Haman’s point, he seems to have exposed a profound weakness. Our distinct laws do not, on their own, keep us unified and ready to sacrifice on one another’s behalf.
Rabbi Yechiel Yaacov Weinberg (Sredei Aish Vol. I: 61) points out that whereas positive commandments are typically preceded by a blessing; a few, such as honoring one’s parents and giving charity, are not. Mishaloach Manot (sending gifts of food on Purim) is in the latter category. Rabbi Weinberg explains that the language of a blessing, “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, who has commanded us to …” would be inappropriate in any instance where the act should be inspired more by love than by commandment. If you honor your parent because Jewish Law says you must, you really don’t understand what it means to have a parent. If you give charity because it is a legal obligation, you are not giving it because you are generous. Likewise, it is important to give Purim gifts not because our laws say to do so, but out of a deeply felt need to build community and solidarity with our fellow Jews. Our laws do help keep us distinct, but by themselves they cannot keep us unified. Purim teaches us that a love for one’s fellow Jew, an authentic ahavat Yisrael, must transcend those laws.
Rabbi Mitch Levine