Pekudei – The Light of Adar – Despite the Darkness

“LaYehudim haysa orah v’simcha, The Jews experienced light and joy.”

We have entered the second month of Adar, a time when our feelings of joy are expected to grow. That is not easy, as we are still reeling from October 7th, the continued captivity of the hostages, the ongoing war in Gaza and its many losses, and the international tidal wave of antisemitism. Joy seems hard to come by.

What about orah, light? What does it mean when the Megillah says that the redemption brought with it light to the Jews? And what are the points of light that we can identify in our current period of darkness?

The answer can be found in the Siddur, in our daily davening. When we seek peace, we ask of Hashem to “bless us all together as one b’or panecha, with the light of Your face, for by that light You have granted us a living Torah and love of kindness, charity, blessing, mercy, life and peace.” We experience G-d’s light and radiance when we are as one, peaceful and unified, and that unity is in turn the result of our living and acting upon the Torah’s highest life-impacting values of kindness and charity.

Two years ago, when Russia attacked Ukraine, Natan Sharansky shared a remarkable reflection.

When I was younger, we knew nothing about Judaism other than the antisemitism and hate that we experienced. No one seeking admission to the university ever tried to change their ethnic designation from Russian to Ukrainian as it would not have made a difference. But if they were identified as a Jew, they would make every effort to change that in order to open the door of opportunity.

This is something I recalled this week when I saw thousands standing at the borders trying to escape the tragedy in Ukraine. They stand at the border day and night, and there is one word that would help them get out: ‘Jew’. If you are Jewish, there is someone on the other side of the border looking for you, giving you a chance to get out.

The world has been overturned. When I was a child, ‘Jew’ was a word with negative implications, and no one envied us. Today on the borders of Ukraine ‘Jew’ is a word that describes someone with a place to go, with an entire nation that sees him as family, waiting for them anxiously on the outside.

Natan Sharansky was describing what we saw then and continue to see now - the incredible outpouring of concern, support, and dedication that the Jewish people have for each other, for their brothers and sisters in harm’s way, in Ukraine, in Israel, or anywhere. We are blessed to be as one, one nation, one family. That is the ultimate revelation of the Divine light.

That is the radiant light of the miracle and celebration of Purim. Both in the Megillah’s story of Esther stepping forward at great personal risk to aid her people, and in the charity and gift-giving that characterize our own celebration of Purim, the light of unity, goodness, and charity shine bright. And that light is the light of Hashem’ presence as reflected in the behavior of people who have absorbed and who are committed to radiate and reflect that light.

בימים ההם בזמן הזה “Bayamim ha’heim baz’man hazeh.” It was true then and it is true now. With the coming of Adar, that light will only grow.