Why does Haman begin his attack on the Jews with the claim “yeshno am mefuzar u’mefurad” (“There is a people who is spread out and apart among your people”)? The claim of separation just meant that the Jewish people were weak – it was not a reason for Ahasurerus to destroy them. Why didn’t Haman accuse the Jews of not listening to the king, or of being greedy, or that they were dual-loyalty Zionists instead?
We are in the midst of a horrible epidemic that we rarely talk about: today in Canada 10 people will end their lives by suicide; up to 200 others will attempt it. In addressing this issue, we often focus on depression and mental illness. We de-stigmatize, and we work to encourage those in need to get medical attention – as we should. But we don’t spend as much time speaking about how our society is uniquely vulnerable, about how suicide is strongly associated with social isolation. Men die at higher rates then women. Single people die at higher rates than those who are married. Rural more than urban.
Our individualistic culture creates empty gaps in our social fabric where people get lost and suffer alone. Haman was speaking to this condition when he developed his anti-Semitic argument.
The separation of people from one another has deep roots in our contemporary society. This was evident recently in the United States during the college admissions scandal. Universities no longer push out students who can’t cut it academically. Students know this, too, and so do not fear failing out of an elite university. This is because universities are no longer primarily about education – rather, they serve to create social connections in place of the social bonds that communities once created. The success of university graduates, especially graduates of elite universities, comes to a great degree from the social bonds and habits they develop during their university years. People socialize with the people they went to school with. They give each other jobs. Meanwhile, churches, synagogues and mosques still work to create social bonds. But these days, fewer people partake in them.
On Purim, we perform mitzvot that counteract Haman’s accusations of Jewish isolation. This is what Esther commanded – “lech kenos et hayehudim,” “go and gather the Jews together.” We listen to the megillah together. We look out for the needy together. We bring gifts to one another. On Purim, we show that it’s not all about me – but about we.
These values must extend beyond Purim, and beyond our community. As Jews, we must seek allies, especially in the current political climate. We must not allow ourselves to be othered by those who hate us. When a tragedy strikes a mosque, our instinct should be to help people who were praying just like us. They were slaughtered because of the same hatred that confronts all of us.
We have to constantly demonstrate that we care about one another – celebrating the good, and mourning the bad together. We must continue to do this within our walls – but we must also do it beyond our walls. Let us expand our “we” as we confront the Hamans of the world and the Hamans in our heads.