Maamar V'Kibel Hayehudim - Chapter 1
"And the Jews took upon themselves that which they had begun to do."
Comments the Gemara: At that time [of the miracle of Purim] Jews fulfilled that which they had already a long time ago undertaken to do. This means to say that the Jewish people then repented and took upon themselves to observe all that which they had pledged to do when the Torah was given.
During the period when the episode of Purim took place, many Jews were to be found in all the countries of Achashveirosh's kingdom. From time to time these Jews became more and more distant from the observance of mitzvos.
There are two reasons given as to what caused this spiritual degradation.
Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai is of the opinion that their spiritual downfall came as a result of the opinion held by many Jews during the time of King Nevuchadnezter's reign, that man's greatest glory lied in achieving physical perfection and might.
They maintained that most important was the physical and corporeal world. Man, they believed, was to use all his intellect and craft to further develop the world. This was also the foundation block of Nevuchadnetzer's philosophy.
This is also what is meant by Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai's statement that [the sin of the Jewish people was that] "They bowed to an icon of Nevuchadnezter."
Bowing implies permitting another's opinion to supersede one's own. Their ill-grounded logic eventually led them to desecrate the Shabbos and profane Torah and mitzvos.
The second opinion is that the spiritual downfall was a result of the proximity and most cordial relationship that existed at that time between the Jews and the Persians, Medes and Babylonians.
The Jewish people at that time enjoyed an extremely close relationship with the royal court, and [were invited to and] enjoyed the non-kosher royal banquets. This led them to [further] distance themselves from Torah and mitzvos.
Satan - may Heaven protect us - several years prior to the redemption from the Babylonian exile, began to instigate and agitate the Jewish people so as to make them sin.
Satan's intent was that by getting the Jewish people to sin, G-d would - Heaven forfend - continue to allow the Jewish people to languish in exile. The Jewish people, unable to withstand the test, succumbed to temptation and led an irreligious life.
Mordechai and the members of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish supreme court] tried to stem the tide of irreligiosity, but to no avail.
A number of impudent and insolent individuals placed themselves at the head of the impious and irreligious, and scoffed at Mordechai's and the members of the Sanhedrin's efforts to get the Jewish people to repent. Mordechai and the Sanhedrin attempted to do so by relating to the Jews the glad tidings of redemption from Babylonian exile, which was to take place in the not too distant future.
Through their mockery, the insolent ones - Satan's messengers - managed to cast doubt in the minds of some of the better Jews who had, up to that time, sincerely believed in the coming redemption. However, upon hearing the words of the scoffing and impudent non-religious leaders, they too began having doubts about the veracity of the redemption.
The situation was further exacerbated by the fact that aside from Mordechai and some of the members of the Sanhedrin, nobody else ventured to speak about the coming redemption.
Others were completely mute on this subject. It was impossible for them to say that - G-d forbid - the redemption would not be coming, for they themselves firmly believed in it. They were, however, doubtful as to when the redemption would take place.
They also did not believe that Mordechai and the members of the Sanhedrin knew the appointed time. They therefore were completely silent about the matter of redemption. Their silence lent strength to the words of the evil leaders - Satan's messengers - enabling them to actually scorn and insult Mordechai and the members of the Sanhedrin, and to further lead the Jewish people down the sinful path of eating forbidden foods, desecrating the Shabbos and marrying non-Jewish spouses. This, in turn, brought about an even greater proximity between the Jewish people and the other inhabitants.
Because of their silence they managed to cast shadows of doubt among those Jews who, up to that time, had not entertained the slightest doubts about the coming redemption. These doubts and uncertainties manifested themselves in various ways, but most often in one of two ways.
Some Jews totally departed from belief in the redemption and Torah and mitzvos. Others, while still adhering to some aspects of Torah and mitzvos, lost a certain degree of faith in the coming redemption, and in various matters became close to the evil leaders who totally denied the redemption.
So it was that Jews of that time sunk ever lower into the depths of sin. This came about through the corrupt influence of the misbegotten leaders who totally denied the existence of G-d and the validity of Torah, as well as through those who were silent on the subject of the tidings of redemption.
Explains that there were two fundamental reasons for the Jewish people's sinful state:
a) the opinion that most important of all is a good material life which can be attained through one's own power and craft;
b) the opinion that it is necessary to become totally integrated, or at the very least, united with the country's inhabitants.
The free thinkers mock Mordechai's call to repentance which is to precede the coming redemption, while some of the Jewish leaders are mute on the subject of redemption. This leads to doubt and uncertainty among some of the believers in the redemption and strengthens the hands of the heretics.