Growing up in the streets of Brooklyn, my favorite memory of Purim is the traffic logjams. While Brooklyn traffic is not at all exclusive to this one day, Purim traffic is next level. Bochurim jumping out of stalled limousines to get a quick dance in, cars blaring the latest MBD hit, sidewalks overflowing with incredible costumes, and the inevitable guy riding a horse all contributed to blissful chaos. Adding in an impossible route of Mishloach Manos deliveries for all the children’s various Rebbeim and teachers during specific timeframes did not help the flow!
עַל־כֵּ֞ן הַיְּהוּדִ֣ים הַפְּרָזִ֗ים הַיֹּשְׁבִים֮ בְּעָרֵ֣י הַפְּרָזוֹת֒ עֹשִׂ֗ים אֵ֠ת י֣וֹם אַרְבָּעָ֤ה עָשָׂר֙ לְחֹ֣דֶשׁ אֲדָ֔ר שִׂמְחָ֥ה וּמִשְׁתֶּ֖ה וְי֣וֹם ט֑וֹב וּמִשְׁל֥וֹחַ מָנ֖וֹת אִ֥ישׁ לְרֵעֵֽהוּ
That is why Jews, spread out in towns, make..a day of feasting, happiness, & holiday, and send gifts to one another. // Megilas Esther 9:19
The delivery of gifts to our friends, neighbors, family, and teachers on Purim is a highly unusual thing. On Pesach, the night we became a free nation, there is no Mitzvah to give gifts. Same for Sukkos, Shavuos, Chanukah, or any other day of the year. We only roll out the themed packages, gourmet babkas, and rolled wafers on Purim.
“Community” is a challenging concept to define. Sit down with thirty random people in a cafe or a restaurant, you won’t feel like you are in a community. If you take a flight with a hundred people for a few hours, you have not suddenly joined a new community.
What then defines a community? Is it the city limits or a zip code? Your block? Is your shul a community?
The Gemara in Megillah states that the power of communal prayer is strong enough to overturn a sealed decree. The Gemara, however, asserts that sailors praying on a capsizing boat, “have the status of individuals”.
Why are the sailors not a community?
Rav Shmuel Bornsztain, in his legendary sefer Shem M’Shmuel, explains that every sailor on that boat was thinking of their own welfare. They were not a community, but just a collection of individuals. Community is defined not by the room that has us together, but by the space we make for each other in our hearts. You can have thousands of individuals in one place that remain individuals. Community is a space where a collective mission and concern exist.
Purim was and is all about turning our people into an authentic community again.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר הָמָן֙ לַמֶּ֣לֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵר֔וֹשׁ יֶשְׁנ֣וֹ עַם־אֶחָ֗ד מְפֻזָּ֤ר וּמְפֹרָד֙ בֵּ֣ין הָֽעַמִּ֔ים בְּכֹ֖ל מְדִינ֣וֹת מַלְכוּתֶ֑ךָ וְדָתֵיהֶ֞ם שֹׁנ֣וֹת מִכָּל־עָ֗ם וְאֶת־דָּתֵ֤י הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֵינָ֣ם עֹשִׂ֔ים וְלַמֶּ֥לֶךְ אֵין־שֹׁוֶ֖ה לְהַנִּיחָֽם׃
Haman told King Achashverus, “There is a certain people, scattered and separate among the other peoples in all your provinces.. it is not in Your Majesty’s benefit to tolerate them. //Megilas Esther 3:8
Rav Shlomo Alkabetz explains Haman’s observation that we were both “mefuzar” and “mefurad” was that we were not only separate geographically. We were separated from one another in our hearts. For this reason, Esther tells the people to fast “for her” while she fasted “for them.” Caring and giving to one another is how community is created.
The culture around us is polarizing. Political and religious divides are tearing up discourses and dialogue across the world. Intolerance and disagreement precede interest and dialogue. ‘Family Feud’ has become more of a reality than a game show. Purim is a time to take our separations and relegate them to an external level.
A couple of the most special and humble people I know, Faigy and Mully Valt, started a beautiful custom in their home. When their children began compiling their rosters of Shalch Manos recipients, they asked them to think of two classmates who were least likely to receive packages, and put them on top of their lists. Extending this practice, we too can deliver our artisanal jerky and popcorn to people that will bring home this idea of community. The woman whose Covid response was way out of line or the person who is too Tzioni/anti-Tzioni. To the overly frum and to the terribly frei.The neighbor with the long tzitzis and the neighbor with the tattoo. Bernie and Ben.
Seek out someone that giving a gift to would be a bit of a stretch outside your comfort zone, and together we will expand our hearts and the borders of our community.