The confluence of the readings of Megillat Esther and the
parshiyot detailing the construction of the Mishkan may have more to it than simply their relative positions in the Jewish calendar. If we look closely at the Megillah, there are a number of parallels to the Beit Hamikdash, which perhaps can give us insight into a major theme of Purim.
There is a general dispute between academics and our mesorah as to which of the Persian kings Achashverosh was, and by extension, the exact time period in which this historical account took place. What we do know is that it happened after the Cyrus Decree. In the first year of the first Persian Empire, Koresh (or Cyrus) declared that the Jews could return to Yerushalayim. This was a fulfillment of the prophecy of Yirmiyahu, that after 70 years of exile the Jews would have the opportunity for redemption. The question was, would they take advantage of it?
In the narrative of the Megillah we see a few subtle mikdash references which Rav Menachem Leibtag understands as criticism of the Jews at the time. They have been allowed to return to their ancestral homeland, the land promised to the Jewish people, from which they were torn away. At long last the opportunity presents itself, the redemption has arrived, and yet we still find the Jewish community in exile. But this exile is self-imposed. It is by choice. Rav Leibtag reads this in the introduction to Mordechai:
Ish Yehudi haya b'shushan - the Jews were still in Shushan despite the call of redemption!
habirah - the capital. But not the other place referred to as habirah - the Beit Hamikdash.
ushmo Mordechai!- See how assimilated they were. Even the great Mordechai was given the name of a Babylonian deity!
There is a rebuke in this story, the call of the king for his bride who refuses to come - not only by Achashverosh for Vashti, but, lehavdil, the King of all Kings for his people. But the Jews of Persia have ignored the call. They have replaced Yerushalayim with Shushan. They have heeded the call of the Persian king to his party rather than the call of their King to the promised land. In this we can understand Chazal's message that the "keilim mikeilim shonim" - the unique vessels used at Achashverosh's party - were those of the Beit Hamikdash. Look at the assimilation! Look at the disregard for what was once precious! Look at the indifference towards that which once meant everything.
But the failure of the Jews 70 years after the exile is remedied in the Purim story. Haman's letter to destroy the Jews is sent on the 13th of Nissan. Exactly 70 days later, the letter from Mordechai and Esther, the letter of redemption, is sent on the 23rd of Sivan. It takes another close call to remind us of the geulah. The message of the Megillah is that although there is often hester panim, where Hashem drives history from behind the scenes, we must always remember who we are and where we belong. And this message is so critical to Jews in exile that Mordechai and Esther make sure that we are reminded of it every year.
In this sense, the message of Purim is to never be indifferent. To never be complacent. To always yearn and strive for the redemption. To heed the call of our G-d, our land, and our mission, and to never take the keilim shonim which G-d has given us for granted.
Questions for the Shabbos table:
1. What was your takeaway from the d'var Torah this morning?
2. The Gemara in Megillah says that Achashverosh's party was in celebration of the fact that (he thought) the 70 years of Yirmiyahu had expired and the Jews had not been redeemed. How might this support Rabbi Leibtag's idea?
3. What in our lives might we take for granted because we are so entrenched in the contexts in which we find ourselves?
4. How can we continue to be metzapeh l'yeshua - to look to and yearn for our salvation?