For many years, I wondered why the Al Hanissim of Purim mentions where these events occurred, although there was no such identification on the Chanukah side. I discovered that Rav Chaim Kanievsky (Siddur Tefilah L’Moshe, Sefard, page 131) asks the question and gives, as usual, a terse brilliant answer. “In Shushan Habirah, there was a double miracle (two days),” he explains, “whereas since Chanukah happened in Eretz Yisroel, no further location is necessary.”
This interpretation certainly requires no corroboration, but since this year Shushan Purim falls on Shabbos, it may be worthwhile to dig a bit deeper into the secrets of Shushan.
The Maharal (Sefer Ohr Chodosh, Hartman ed., page 179) cites one of the many “introductions” that Chazal (Megillah 10b) provide for Megillas Esther. We know from many of the meforshim that each of these provides a doorway (pischa) into the inner byways of this final book of Tanach: “Rav Abba Bar Efron…quoted the posuk, ‘I will place My throne in Elam…I will cause king and officers to cease from there…in the end of days…I will return the captivity of Elam…’ (Yirmiyahu 49:38).” “King” refers to Vashti, and “officers” refers to Haman and his ten sons.” The Maharal now explains this cryptic Aggada: “This means that this thing, too, was one of the causes of what happened in the Megillah, for when Klal Yisroel went into exile under the empire of Modai, the throne of Hashem was in Yerushalayim, but now it [was moved] to Elam, where the Jews found themselves. All of this was so that Hashem would not abandon Klal Yisroel to, heaven forefend, disappear amongst the nations. Hashem will always be with them, providing His providence to them.”
Rabbi Hartman demonstrates in his extensive notes on this passage that the term “throne” refers to Hashem’s monarchy. Although His throne seems to have moved, He has actually just relocated, so to speak, to where His people and children are, to be with them. This is thus one of the most consoling statements of Hashem’s concern and love for us, that wherever we are, that is where He and throne will go. The Targum at the beginning of Megillas Esther (see, also, Rav Dovid Cohen, Esther Hamalka, to 1:2) reveals that Achashveirosh deeply desired to sit on Shlomo Hamlech’s throne. He married Vashti, Nevuchadnetzar’s daughter, and the Queen of Sheba was Achashveirosh’s daughter.” All of this indicated the plan to rule by the authority of Shlomo’s throne. However, Hashem had other plans.
To plumb even deeper, the Nesivos (Megillas Sesarim to Megillas Esther) notes that Achashveirosh’s diabolical plan, like all of our mortal enemies, was to cause us to sin so that he could destroy us. His plan was to following the footsteps of the Dor Haflagah, who had hoped to defile the land. This follows the explanation of the Alshich, who asserts that just as there are places of holiness like Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdosh, so are there places that are propitious for the flourishing of evil and defilement. Achashveirosh had hoped to uproot us from our homeland so that he could implant tumah in place of kedusha.
As Rav Yitzchok Sorotzkin (Gevuros Yitzchok, Purim, page 135), explains, “that place was to have been Shushan. Just as the Bais Hamikdosh is also called Birah, so did Achashveirosh think that he could supplant Yerushalayim with Shushan Habirah.”
We might add that he nearly, G-d forbid, succeeded in that we did in fact sin at the king’s feast in Shushan. But as Rav Sorotzkin concludes, “Hashem made a miracle and saved us.”
Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein adds (Vezos L’Yaakov, Beshalach, page 241) that “according to the Gemara (Kiddushin 49b), Elam was identified as a place that was impoverished in Torah. They had scholars but somehow did not manage to educate the masses in Torah.” As he points out, “Amaleik created a barrier between the teachers potentially capable of teaching Torah and the talmidim who could have learned. It was Mordechai who reconnected the generations and taught Torah to young and old alike. That, in fact, was what brought about both the miracle of Purim and the reacceptance of the Torah out of love and joy. Rav Borenstein asserts that the Torah situation in Shushan of Elam was so dire that even Mordechai himself had to import students from elsewhere because the ground of Elam was so poisoned toward Torah.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, teaches that when Moshe Rabbeinu equates himself with Yehoshua (“Choose for us people”), he was already fighting the true battle with Amaleik, who always attempts to create a wedge between the generations.
We are now in a position to understand the words of the Pachad Yitzchok (Purim, inyan 15), who is explaining why there are two days of Purim: “The first war with Amaleik in the days of Moshe was when Amaleik attacked us. Then we went to war against them. But the second time, in the days of Shaul, we initiated the battle. Purim of necessity includes both of these approaches. Therefore, the 14th of Adar represents our response to them, but the 15th, after Hashem had performed a great miracle for us and we rested, then we went after them.”
Rav Hutner uses this concept to explain many things, as does his son-in-law, Rav Yonasan David (Mesibos Purim No. 9), but we can now better understand why Shushan is the place for the second day of Purim.
As the Maharal taught us, Shushan represents the place that our enemies wished would replace Yerushalayim. They wanted their birah of tumah to overwhelm the kedusha of our birah. But Hashem took back His throne and monarchy, His people, and freed us once again to reaccept the Torah. Shabbos, the day the Torah was given on Har Sinai, is also the host this year to Shushan Purim, when we accepted the Torah once again, this time with Torah Shebaal Peh and out of sheer love. As we enter this amazing dual kedusha, let us seize the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the true throne, the Kisei Hakavod, for which we have yearned so long.
A freilichen and lichtigen Purim, with the special kedusha of Shabbos Shushan Purim.