“What a waste.” That was how Haman convinced Achashverosh to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:8). Haman appealed to Achashveirosh’s sense of efficiency. What a waste to have a nation like the Jews that serves no beneficial purpose. The kingdom would be better off if we got rid of them.
Waste is a theme throughout the Megillah. The first chapter is about the lavish party that Achashverosh threw for his subjects. When he searched for a queen, thousands of women were rounded up and marinated in oil and spices for a year, all for a single night with the king. After their audition, they were sequestered and cared for in a harem for the rest of their lives, presumably at the tax payer’s expense, for the off-chance that one day the king might call for them again.
Even the letters that the king sent out were wasteful. Sending a letter to the entire kingdom was not cheap. In those days there were no email or fax machines. Every letter was hand-written, which means it required a scribe; it had to be translated into every language, which means it required dozens of translators; and it had to be delivered to the far reaches of the kingdom. All of this just to tell the people that, “Every man should dominate in his household, and speak the language of his nation.”
The Talmud says that the king’s reputation of sending frivolous wasteful letters contributed to the Purim miracle. When Haman’s decree to destroy the Jews was sent out, most people didn’t read it. When they saw the envelope with the king’s seal they just assumed it was spam and hit delete without even opening it.
It’s interesting how Achashverosh suddenly became waste-conscious when Haman told him that keeping the Jews alive would be wasteful.
Waste is a terrible thing.
One of the obligations on Purim day is to send mishloach manot, gifts of food to friends. It’s a beautiful mitzvah that creates love and brotherhood among friends, family, and neighbors, but it also creates a lot of waste. The day after Purim, when the festivities have ended, we wake up drowning in hamantaschen and Hershey’s kisses only to realize that 28 days later is Pesach! Everything will end up in the trash.
Don’t let Purim be a day of waste. Every shul should have a box for depositing food for the local food bank or a similar organization. Rather than let all the extra food go to waste, make sure that it gets to someone who really needs it.
The Rambam writes that it is better to give to the poor than to give to one’s friends, because Purim is a day of joy and “there is no greater joy than gladdening the hearts of those in need.”
By keeping in mind those in need, and by acting consciously and efficiently with our resources, we can maximize our own happiness and the happiness of others.
Rabbi Jonathan Gross was the chief rabbi of Nebraska for ten years. He is the author of a number of books, including “Ai Vey: Jewish Thoughts on Thinking Machines” and “Values Investing: An Omaha Rabbi Learns Torah from Warren Buffett.” His books and writings can be found at www.ThatsGross.org