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Purim fun should not eclipse message on education

Rabbi Yossie Shemtov

Two thousand five hundred years ago, Haman — then prime minister of the Persian Empire — succeeded in convincing King Ahasuerus to issue a decree to destroy the Jews throughout the land.  Following the issuance of this decree, Haman and his comrades went strolling with jovial hearts and encountered the Jewish leader Mordechai.

The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:17) relates that a second group was walking toward Mordechai as well — three little Jewish boys on their way home from school.

Mordechai hastened toward them, and Haman and his band followed him so that they could hear what he was going to ask them. Mordechai asked each of the young pupils, “Recite me your verse!”

The first boy quoted Proverbs 3:25: “Do not fear sudden terror, nor the destruction of the wicked when it comes.”

The second boy quoted Isaiah 8:10, saying, “I studied scripture today, and this is the verse I just reached at school: ‘Contrive a scheme, but it will be foiled; conspire a plot, but it will not materialize, for G-d is with us.

And the third little boy quoted Isaiah 46:4: “To your old age I am [with you]; to your hoary years I will sustain you; I have made you, and I will carry you; I will sustain you and deliver you’.”

The Midrash proceeds to relate that when Mordechai heard these responses, he smiled with a happy heart. The Rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] explains that the reason for Mordechai’s joy was that in the children’s words he saw a prophecy that he had no cause to fear Haman’s decree.

But it didn’t end with that. Mordechai gathered 24,000 Jewish children and prayed with them to G-d almighty to save the Jewish people from annihilation. As King David said (Psalms 8:3), “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You have established strength because of Your adversaries, in order to put an end to enemy and avenger.”

It would be misguided to read the Purim story in past tense. The battle over our survival is a continuous one. While the players and the circumstances adapt with the times, the threats to our people remain the same — and so do the solutions.

I remember the special gatherings that the Rebbe held at Lubavitch Headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. Adults would have loved to be there to hear what the Rebbe had to teach, but these rallies were for children specifically. The Rebbe would speak to a full crowd of boys and girls about their uniqueness and potential. The result was that many of those children went on to establish Chabad centers, schools, and humanitarian organizations around the world.

Just like in 4th century BCE Persia and in Brooklyn in the ’70s, we need our children to receive an authentic Torah education taught by G-d-fearing people — teachers and parents alike. Costumes are fun and are to be encouraged on Purim but let us not leave it at that. This holiday is yet another chance for a discussion among ourselves about G-d, faith, education, and continuity.